Drama of historical proportions, a storyteller’s pacing, choice details, archival images, music, and challenges punctuate Sarah Towle’s first app, Beware Madame La Guillotine (Time Traveler Tours, LLC). That app’s narrator and guide through the streets of Paris during the Reign of Terror is Charlotte Corday, the 24-year-old from Normandy who killed journalist and Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat in his bath in 1793. In her latest production, Towle presents the story of the 1976 discovery of drawings by Michelangelo, written by Mary Hoffman. The app was created with support from Kickstarter backers. For you, it’s free.
If a 400-year-old mystery involving one of the greatest artists of all time piques your curiosity, then Buried Alive: The Secret Michelangelo Took to His Grave (Time Traveler Tours with Mary Hoffman. iOS; Android. Free. Gr 6 Up), is an app for you.
This extraordinary story is narrated by none other than Michelangelo himself, whose work has, in many ways, come to define the Renaissance city of Florence. An examination of the master’s art and his personal story, from his childhood to his later work, adds depth and focus to an experience not found in many travel books. Here, with Michelangelo as their guide, viewers learn about his work along with information about his family, influences, benefactors, and the politics of the day.
Like his massive David in Florence, so much of the art Michelangelo left is grand in scale and public in nature, commissioned by ruling families and religious leaders to commemorate their lives on the facades, walls, and ceilings of churches, mausoleums, and civic buildings. Given his tremendous exposure over hundreds of years, it’s amazing that Michelangelo could, once again, dominate the art world’s conversation centuries after his death. In 1976, an extraordinary collection of charcoal drawings that Michelangelo made while in hiding was unearthed on the walls of a passageway underneath the Basilica di San Lorenzo
For a while, the drawings were on view to the public, but when they began to show the wear and tear of human visitors, the site was closed to future viewing. With the Buried Alive app, viewers have the opportunity to see some of the drawings and understand the circumstances that led Michelangelo to create—and hide them—under plaster. Along the way, viewers learn about Michelangelo’s lifelong, rocky relationship with the ruling Medici family and the church, as well as the political intrigues of era through visits to key locations around the city, including the Baptistry, the Bargello, the Casa Buonarroti, the Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria.
The best way to use the Buried Alive app is on the ground in Florence, taking in Michelangelo’s amazing work firsthand following his trail on foot. However, thanks to a plethora of high-resolution photos and a clickable, zoomable map for speedy teleportation around the city, his fascinating story can be enjoyed from anywhere.
There are three ways to explore Michelangelo’s Florence. One is by following his story, which is told in 14 chapters through photographs and reproductions, a compelling text, and audio narration. The second is by going on one of 22 treasure hunts, which provide a focused and fun way to explore some of Michelangelo’s key works more closely. The third is by using a map of Florence to visit any, or all, of 11 stops which are clearly indicated through text labels and pictograph representations.
Other features include definitions of highlighted terms, such as braccia and florins, the option to get “More Information” from time to time, and a game, which poses questions that introduce facts about the various locations on the tour. A social media “Let’s Hack History” component lets users in Florence upload photographs taken in front of key landmarks to share with fellow travelers and friends. VERDICT Whether you are visiting Florence or sitting at home, Buried Alive is a trip worth taking.—Kathleen S. Wilson, New York University, NY, NY
For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.
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