CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 16. . . . April 11, 2003
Long ago in Venice there was a girl named Marietta who loved to paint. She was the daughter of the great artist, Tintoretto. Her father adored her and took her everywhere dressed in hose and a doublet as a boy would be.
The disguise was a necessary secret between Marietta and her father for a girl in Renaissance Italy was not be allowed to wander about the city exploring the studios and galleries. Marietta's most treasured possession is the paint box her father has presented to her as a gift from one painter to another. "The work of an artist can fill the heart with light," he says to her as he hands her the box. "Use it well, Marietta, and your heart will know happiness."
One day Marietta meets a young cabin boy whose master is having his portrait painted by her father. Although their lives could not be more different, a love of drawing brings the two youngsters together. Whereas Piero's impoverished family has sold him into bondage, Marietta lives with a doting and well-to-do father. Nevertheless, their friendship grows, and, as the summer goes by, the two become inseparable. They row up and down the city canals in Marietta's small boat sketching, and talking. Piero's life of adventure on the sea appeals to Marietta, while Piero longs for nothing more than to stay in Venice and paint. All too soon, the day of Piero's departure dawns, and Marietta must think of a way to help her young friend escape to his home. When the time comes to say good-bye to Piero, Marietta reflects on how each of them is bound in a different way. "There are different kinds of slavery, she thought. I am bound to one thing, and he to another." Remembering her father's words, she holds out the paint box to her friend-- a gift from one artist to another. Later that day, she discovers Piero's gift to her, and her heart is filled with light as her father wished it to be.
As befits a book about a Renaissance artist, Stella East's richly detailed paintings in gorgeous colours are a feast for the eyes. The illustrator has visited Tintoretto's home in Venice and has combined photographs and paintings to capture the beauty of the Renaissance city. Her depictions of the two children are captivating.
Maxine Trottier is a talented and versatile writer who often sets her stories in the past. Her picture books have included Flags and Dreamstones (both published 1999, the latter illustrated by Stella East) and There Have Always Been Foxes, published in 2001. Her story of Marietta and Piero, told in a simple and stately prose, manages to suggest a sixteenth century manner of speaking. In a few short pages, she creates believable characters, a vivid setting and a gripping theme.
The Paint Box will be a worthwhile addition to the elementary school library's collection of books with a medieval setting. Teachers will appreciate the author's note which, in addition to telling the reader that Marietta Tintoretto, dressed in boy's clothing, did indeed work and study with her father, includes a reproduction of her painting "Portrait of an Old Man with Boy."
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.