Delight in the details

Mischief in Tuscany

Ellen Wert
May 29, 2008

‘This little pig went to market...' is the premise of Nancy Shroyer Howard's engaging Mischief in Tuscany: Running Wild in a Famous Painting. When a Cinta Senese pig with an imagination bigger than his splendid white belly goes to market by way of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's painting in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico, all manner of fun and instructive chaos ensues.

 

Howard, a museum educator who has written children's books about artists, Florence and Chianti, deftly employs wit and humor to introduce young readers to two frescoes in Lorenzetti's famous cycle, Allegories of Good and Bad Government.

 

From a black and white pig trudging toward Siena in The Effects of Good Government in the City and the Countryside, Howard conjures Cinta, who blithely believes that ‘going to market' means exploring the great world beyond his pen. Through the eyes of the enthusiastic pig, she takes her readers from the tidy farm where Cinta has been happily munching on apples and figs, through harvest-ripe fields to Siena's busy, prosperous streets. When Cinta's exuberant delight in everything new disrupts the happy order, the citizens, although outraged, are fair. They turn to the City and the Virtues who guide it, the subject of The Allegory of Good Government. The City defers to the Virtues, and the Virtues, playing to type, are eager to maintain the status quo.

 

Cinta's romp animates Lorenzetti's painted world, a rich illustration of life in the Middle Ages. Layering her contemporary illustrations over and under Lorenzetti's fourteenth-century images, Howard gently invites a game of ‘I spy'. At each turn in Cinta's adventure, the reader can consult large, foldout reproductions of the frescoes to find the particular-a hawk leaving a nobleman's arm, a pair of red boots, a bookkeeper looking over neatly stacked folios, Peace lounging on a pile of armor. The story's happy resolution draws the reader back to discover more details.

 

With its visual treats, wordplay and slapstick humor, Mischief in Tuscany will appeal to children ages 6 to 9, and adults will recognize its utility for travel, school and museum, as well as fun reading at home.

 

Children and adult readers alike will enjoy Howard's lesson on ‘reading' a painting: take it apart before trying to take it all in. Think about what's behind the hill or just inside the window. Look at the feisty black and white pig and let your imagination run wild.

 

 

Mischief in Tuscany:

Running Wild in a Famous Painting

by Nancy Shroyer Howard

Ed. Mandragora, 2008; €10

 

 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegories of Good and Bad Government are in the Museo Civico, within Siena's Palazzo Pubblico. Commissioned in 1338, they are the earliest known examples of panoramic painting in Western art and are important examples of secular painting. The museum is open daily, 10am-7pm (March-October); 10am-5:30pm (winter).

Information: 0577.292226; www.comune.siena.it.

 

GETTING THERE

From Florence, take the TRA-IN bus (www.trainspa.it) to Piazza Gramsci and follow signs to the Campo.

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