The best books about art & Italy

Kathleen Reid Author Of Secrets in the Palazzo
By Kathleen Reid

Who am I?

I’m a Virginia author who loves everything Italian! Artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci have always inspired me with their genius. I’m very involved with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) where I was a tour guide for many years. Now I’m on the VMFA’s Canvas Advisory Committee which helps guide programming and events. In addition, my articles for the Canvas newsletter give a robust behind-the-scenes look at the museum’s amazing exhibitions. In my books my main character schoolteacher Rose Maning fulfills her dream of buying an apartment in Florence and becoming an artist. It is a true joy to write about Rose’s adventures abroad.  


I wrote...

Secrets in the Palazzo

By Kathleen Reid,

Book cover of Secrets in the Palazzo

What is my book about?

Sunrise in Florence has won five Indie Book Awards in Romance and Romantic Suspense. Rose, a former schoolteacher, is passionate about the life and works of Michelangelo; she makes a mysterious discovery in her new apartment that reveals the character of the men in her life. Does Rose find something that could alter art history as we know it today?

Rose’s journey continues in Secrets in the Palazzo which is based on a true story about a centuries-old mystery surrounding a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting. Rose and her conservator friend, Beatrice, find a series of clues that could lead to its discovery. Rose learns some hard lessons about greed and the healing power of love. 

The books I picked & why

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The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo

By Irving Stone,

Book cover of The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo

Why this book?

This book is as timeless as Michelangelo himself! It’s also a personal favorite of mine. I’ve read this book numerous times and, in my opinion, it is a riveting portrait of a genius which does not overlook many of his foibles. Michelangelo was passionate, hot-tempered and even had many moments of insecurity. Stone does a brilliant job of bringing the Renaissance to life and how this icon created many of the masterpieces that we revere today. The descriptions and detail of Michelangelo’s artistic prowess are sublime. For example, I loved learning how Michelangelo was the third artist to carve that piece of marble known as the “Giant" which had sat in a quarry for twenty-five years before he sculpted the iconic David.  

The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo

By Irving Stone,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Agony and the Ecstasy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Irving Stone's classic biographical novel of Michelangelo-the #1 New York Times bestseller in which both the artist and the man are brought to vivid, captivating life.

His time-the turbulent Renaissance, the years of poisoning princes, warring Popes, and the all-powerful de'Medici family...

His loves-the frail and lovely daughter of Lorenzo de'Medici, the ardent mistress of Marco Aldovrandi, and his last love, his greatest love-the beautiful, unhappy Vittoria Colonna...

His genius-a God-driven fury from which he wrested brilliant work that made a grasp for heaven unmatched in half a millennium...

His name-Michelangelo Buonarroti. Creator of the David, painter of the ceiling…


Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

By Stephanie Storey,

Book cover of Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

Why this book?

This novel does an excellent job of telling the story of the artistic rivalry between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in 16th century Florence, Italy from 1501-1504. They were completely different artists, both fueled by ambition and a desire to be the best of all time. Leonardo was in his fifties and an internationally revered Master, when a young Michelangelo created the iconic David sculpture which thrust him onto the world stage. I enjoyed how Stephanie Storey paints an intimate portrait of both men. Leonardo was fastidious, brilliant, and had an ego. Michelangelo was known as hot-tempered, passionate, and someone who became so engrossed in his work that he did not bathe or clean his clothes. A must-read for lovers of Italy and the Renaissance.

Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

By Stephanie Storey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oil and Marble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her brilliant debut, Storey brings early 16th-century Florence alive, entering with extraordinary empathy into the minds and souls of two Renaissance masters, creating a stunning art history thriller. From 1501 to 1505, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome fifty year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-twenties, desperate to make a name for himself.

Michelangelo is a virtual unknown when he returns to Florence and wins the commission to carve what will become one of the most famous sculptures of all…


Leonardo Da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson,

Book cover of Leonardo Da Vinci

Why this book?

This intimate biography of Leonardo made me feel like I had a front-row seat in his life and legacy. He was best known for his two paintings: The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. His genius was unparalleled and it’s easier to list what he could not do! One of the stories that I adored learning about this Master was how Leonardo layered his brushstrokes to create an almost ethereal effect on canvas. Angels were usually depicted with a halo and yet Leonardo created faces and figures that needed no adornment. Leonardo da Vinci was one of the most extraordinary human beings of all time!  Isaacson is a gifted storyteller, bringing this legend’s life and legacy to life through his vivid descriptions and exceptional research.  

Leonardo Da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Leonardo Da Vinci as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller from Walter Isaacson brings Leonardo da Vinci to life in this exciting new biography that is "a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it...Most important, it is a powerful story of an exhilarating mind and life" (The New Yorker).

Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo da Vinci's astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson "deftly reveals an intimate Leonardo" (San Francisco Chronicle) in a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo's genius was based on skills we can improve…


The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects

By Giorgio Vasari, Gaston du C. de Vere (translator),

Book cover of The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects

Why this book?

Many art historians consider this book sacred and the best first-hand account of the wondrous artists of the Renaissance. I found the stories extremely interesting about the character of these artists. Vasari was the biographer who gave the original account of how Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci hated each other. It also told the story of how both Michelangelo and Leonardo were hired to paint significant battle scenes on the same wall inside the Palazzo Vecchio. It was considered the greatest painting competition of all time as both men completed massive cartoons (preliminary drawings) on The Battle of Cascina and the Battle of Anghiari respectively.  

The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects

By Giorgio Vasari, Gaston du C. de Vere (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A painter and architect in his own right, Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) achieved immortality for this book on the lives of his fellow Renaissance artists, first published in Florence in 1550. Although he based his work on a long tradition of biographical writing, Vasari infused these literary portraits with a decidedly modern form of critical judgment. The result is a work that remains to this day the cornerstone of art historical scholarship.
Spanning the period from the thirteenth century to Vasari’s own time, the Lives opens a window on the greatest personalities of the period, including Giotto, Brunelleschi, Mantegna, Leonardo, Raphael,…


Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

By Anthony Doerr,

Book cover of Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

Why this book?

Life in Roma! This memoir is a gem and quite funny. Doerr’s prose is razor sharp and he cleverly shares his adventures of a year in Rome as a new parent of twins. Having just visited the Pantheon, I particularly enjoyed Doer’s description of this temple built by the emperor Hadrian in AD 125. He wrote, “When you first see it, the Pantheon is about wonder. You walk through the gigantic doorway and your attention is sucked upward toward a circle of sky. A filtering haze floats inside; a column of light strikes through the oculus and leans against the floor. The space is both intimate and explosive: your humanity is not diminished in the least, and yet simultaneously the Pantheon forces you to pay attention to the fact that the world includes things far greater than yourself.” Highly recommend his relatable adventures.

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

By Anthony Doerr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Four Seasons in Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning #1 New York Times bestseller All the Light We Cannot See and Cloud Cuckoo Land, a "dazzling" (Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) memoir about art and adventures in Rome.

Anthony Doerr has received many awards—from the New York Public Library, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Library Association. Then came the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and with it a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year. Doerr learned of the award…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Italy, Michelangelo, and artists?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Italy, Michelangelo, and artists.

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