***I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way changed my opinion of the book. The review below is my open and honest opinion.***
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Young, beautiful, and witty, Ginevra de’ Benci longs to take part in the artistic ferment of Renaissance Florence. But as the daughter of a wealthy family in a society dictated by men, she is trapped in an arranged marriage, expected to limit her creativity to domestic duties. Her poetry reveals her deepest feelings, and she aches to share her work, to meet painters and sculptors mentored by the famed Lorenzo de Medici, and to find love.
When the charismatic Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo, arrives in Florence, he introduces Ginevra to a dazzling circle of patrons, artists, and philosophers—a world of thought and conversation she has yearned for. She is instantly attracted to the handsome newcomer, who admires her mind as well as her beauty. Yet Ginevra remains conflicted about his attentions. Choosing her as his Platonic muse, Bembo commissions a portrait by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires an intimate connection between them—one Ginevra can only begin to understand. In a rich and enthralling world of exquisite art, elaborate feasts, and exhilarating jousts, she faces many temptations to discover her voice, artistic companionship, and a love that defies categorization. In the end, she and Leonardo are caught up in a dangerous and deadly battle between powerful families.
I originally decided to read this book because the synopsis reminded me of A Mad, Wicked Folly
, a book that I adored, and I was craving more art and women born before their time. And even though this book didn’t quite hit that same love I felt for Sharon Biggs Waller’s story, I still really enjoyed it.
It is absolutely clear that the author did a TON of research for this book. The historical detail is rich and well-written. I felt as if I had been transported to Florence at the start of the Renaissance. I loved being immersed in a culture where art and creativity were so important. Her descriptions of the artwork were exquisite and I found myself itching to book a plane ticket to Florence to go explore everything she mentioned. I also felt myself itching for a portal to take me back to this time so I could experience it for myself. What an amazing time period to have lived in where art and culture were the height of society. Beauty surrounded you everywhere you went. I wish that our culture today could capture just a tiny portion of what it was back then.
The main character, Ginevra, was really interesting. She was definitely a woman born before her time. Highly intelligent and somewhat outspoken (for a woman of that time). Ginevra’s ideas and writings were beautiful and it was a shame that it wasn’t acceptable for her to share those ideals during that time period. It was a shame that men dictated the direction her life went in when she had so much to contribute to society. But I loved seeing her rebel in her own small ways. Like facing forward for her portrait and subtly undermining the men around her. She was a mountain tiger, untamed and wild in a world where she was supposed to be delicate and conservative.
The relationship between her and Leonardo was enticing. I watched breathlessly during their exchanges as he painted her. There was a beautiful quote in the book about the relationship between artist and subject, that relationship being one of the most intimate. The forbidden nature of the relationship sucked me in and gave me all the feels. I definitely wish that more had happened romance-wise, but that wouldn’t have been authentic and I appreciated the author sticking to what was most likely historical.
I’ve seen the Ginevra painting myself as it resides in the National Gallery of Art in D.C. so it was really cool to read about the girl behind the painting. I’m itching to visit the gallery again now so I can see it after reading the book. And apparently there is a statue that was mentioned in this book also housed in the Gallery of Art that I don’t remember seeing. I’m so ready to go explore again. This book truly made me want to just wander an art museum for a day and enjoy the breath-taking beauty of it all. I’m not super into art, but this book had me drooling over all the descriptions. I loved learning a little bit more about art as well – how they used to mix the paints, how the artists would really study how the body moves in order to better paint and/or sculpt their subjects. It gave me a whole new perspective on art and a new appreciation of the craft.
If you’re into art and history, I highly recommend this one. And if you were a fan of A Mad, Wicked Folly I think you’ll really enjoy this book.
Have you read this one yet? What did you think? Were you enthralled with the art and historical detail? Anybody want to go wander the National Gallery of Art with me?