The Cat Came Back — All the Way From 16th-Century Rome

By Sophie Blackall

DA VINCI’S CAT
Written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

On any normal pre-Covid summer day, as many as 30,000 visitors craned their necks to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, one of the greatest achievements of Western art. I was not among them when I visited Rome a few years ago with my parents, who had already seen the ceiling and were not enthusiastic about waiting hours in line. I wasn’t among them the time before, with my toddlers, who were even less enthusiastic about lines. Nor did I see it as a backpacker in the late 1980s, when restorers were injecting polyvinylacetate resin into its cracks. From 1710 to 1713 the frescoes were cleaned with sponges dipped in Greek wine. In 1625 a dark patina was removed with damp bread. In 1511 the plaster was still wet and Michelangelo was standing on his scaffolding, painting, which is when “Da Vinci’s Cat,” by the Newbery honoree Catherine Gilbert Murdock (“The Book of Boy”), begins.

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