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A Review of Anita Mathias’ Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much

Anita Mathias’ Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much is the story of a Florentine artisan skilled in the art of pietre dure, also referred to as the art of painting in stone. If “…a picture is a poem without words…” as Horace once said, than pietre dure is poetry in stone.

Semi-precious stones and marble are cut and inlaid to form beautiful images of nature, including birds, flowers, and trees, on to objects such as vases, fountains, and bowls.

Mathias skillfully weaves the story of Francesco and his ongoing conundrum of getting his art into the hands of those who desire it. He desires that all who wish to enjoy such elegance and beauty should have the same opportunities as the Florentine elite – the wealthy and prominent Medici’s. This desire to make his art available to the average Florentine is juxtaposed with an inner desire to have his art appreciated and valued for what it is worth. And, he is acutely aware that he, himself, has benefited from the generosity of others. The craftsmen of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, the workshop of precious stones, have provided him with jewels such as lapis lazuli, jade, moonstone, topaz and amethyst at a very low cost.

Mathias does a wonderful job of bringing Francesco’s artisan world to life, as she presents his struggles as an artist, husband and father. A compassionate man, wanting to provide the opportunity for all to appreciate such beauty, along with providing for his family, Francesco views his struggle as a personal weakness, asking God to forgive him for allowing himself to be manipulated and for the wisdom and strength to present his art for what it is worth. He even prays to forgive those who’ve taken advantage of his generosity.

As you enter into Francesco’s world you get a glimpse of 16th century Florence, an exquisite place of art and beauty through the eyes and hands of one of its struggling artisans, who introduces you to its residents. Reading Francesco’s story is a bit like taking a stroll down one of the cobbled streets of Florence, as you meet his neighbors made up of former schoolmates, children and a mother desiring to provide a worthy dowry for her daughter.

Although I’ve never visited Florence, I have seen the stunningly beautiful mosaic “paintings” adorning St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Both my husband and I were awestruck at their beauty. After viewing them, we discussed the amount of time and dedication necessary to apprentice to learn a craft and create such beauty out of stone. In reading Mathias’ story, I was reminded of that conversation and of the beauty that exists in art, because people like Francesco are called and dedicated to a craft. The book includes rich and vibrant illustrations of pietre dure that go hand in hand with Francesco’s story.

Although Francesco is a children’s book, readers of all ages will walk away from Mathias’ tale having had an enjoyable journey into this artisan’s world and experiencing the beauty and artistry of Florence and pietre dure.


Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much is available at



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