Book Review: Da Vinci's Tiger
By: L.M. Elliott
Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: November 10, 2015
Page Count: 304
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction
Leonardo Da Vinci is a historical figure that everyone knows. Many of us focus on his most famous works of art as well as his fascinating inventions, but I have never taken the time to think about him as a young man or to consider what his life was like during the Italian Renaissance. L.M. Elliott seeks to bring Da Vinci to life in a time when he was beginning to make a name for himself in Florence by focusing on the subject of one of his earliest paintings, Ginerva de' Benci. If you're ever in Washington, D.C. and make a stop by The National Art Gallery, you can see Ginerva's portrait. The fact that this novel centers around a painting and the exceptional woman who inspired it fascinated me.
Ginerva is sixteen at the height of the Medici's power in Florence. A youthful bride trapped in an arranged marriage that provides no passion, she is constantly seeking outlets to provide happiness. She throws herself into her poetry and reminds herself that a woman must serve the needs of her family. Women in this time period are given little choice or freedom. The only amount of freedom for Ginerva comes through her reading and studies which started when she was a student at a nearby convent. She finds comfort with the Mother Superior and nuns in times of great strife. The convent becomes Ginerva's sanctuary from the outside world when things become too trying.
The novel focuses on the time period when Ginerva's life is at a crucial transition point. She has become the plutonic love of a Venetian ambassador and begins to interact with Da Vinci. She finds herself drawn to both men as they each stir in her longings that she feels will not be realized within her marriage. Her relationship with Bernardo, the ambassador, was confusing to me because it was portrayed as a love that didn't act out on passions, but focused on the growth of the soul. Women were meant to inspire greatness and purity in their plutonic mates. This just seemed like emotional cheating to me and garnered multiple eye rolls as I read. These sorts of relationships seemed commonplace in Renaissance Italy, but seemed supremely unfair to the women who were forced into marriages and then forced to watch their husband adore another woman.
On the other hand, Ginerva's relationship with Da Vinci is one of her own choosing, but it is not the sort of romance I expected based on the summary. It is more of a relationship of intellect and mutual respect.
The strength of this novel is in the meticulous details and historical research. It showcases the life of women in a time period when they were considered political pawns and decorations on the arms of their husbands. There was no free will and the restrictions would have been suffocating. It seems unfair that in a time when Europe was reawakening that not all of its citizens benefitted.
I would highly recommend this novel to those interested in Renaissance Italy, the life of Da Vinci, or women's history.
One Last Gripe: The pacing felt a little off in some parts. There were a lot of slow moments.
Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning about a woman I had never heard of before - it saddens me that so little of her story remains, but I am glad that Elliott decided to fill in the gaps with her creativity
First Sentence: I beg your pardon, I am a mountain tiger.
Favorite Character: Ginerva
Least Favorite Character: Bernardo
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.