Synopsis: The beautiful, witty daughter of a wealthy family, Ginevra de' Benci longs to share her poetry and participate in the artistic ferment of Renaissance Florence. But she is trapped in an arranged marriage in a society dictated by men, expected to limit her creativity to household duties.
When 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 attracted to the handsome newcomer, yet conflicted about his attentions. Choosing Ginevra as his Platonic muse, Bembo commissions her portrait by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires a captivating intimacy between them. In a vivid backdrop of exquisite art, jousts, and festivals, the young poet faces many challenges to discover her voice, artistic companionship, and a love that defies categorization. In the end, she and Leonardo are caught up in a deadly battle between powerful families.
In this beautifully written exploration of a real-life Renaissance woman, L.M. Elliott delivers the stunning tale of Ginevra de' Benci, captured forever in Leonardo da Vinci's first portrait, a painting that broke convention and established the master as a force of artistic honesty.
Date Published: November 10, 2015
Published By: Katherine Tegan Books
Number of Pages: 287
It's been a while since I've read a historical fiction novel based on a real-life person. Before I picked up Da Vinci's Tiger I had never even heard of Ginevra de' Benci. Apparently, her portrait is famous for being the only da Vinci painting to reside in the Americas. (Something else I didn't know.) If I got nothing else from this book, I at least picked up some cool art trivia.
Thankfully, I did get more out of this book then just some art facts. There is some incredibly rich imagery in this novel that goes hand in hand with the art theme. The joust scene at the beginning of the book is especially vivid and immediately hooked me into the story while at the same time establishing the time period.
The book takes place in Florence during the Renaissance age. L.M. Elliott establishes her story firmly in reality through extensive research - almost all of the characters in her novel are based on real-life people. She also weaves a lot of background information about everyday society in 15th-century Florence. While there is some fascinating stuff in here, I find sometimes that the author relies too much on exposition - 'telling' the reader instead of 'showing' them.
What I loved most about this book was its feminist message - Ginevra struggles to have her voice heard in her male-dominated society. Forming a tentative friendship with Leonardo and exchanging ideas with him helps her to unleash her creativity and take charge of her own life.
Another thing I love about Ginevra is that she remains true to herself throughout the story. Some readers might bemoan the lack of romance but the book isn't really about that - it's about a young girl struggling to be seen as her own person instead of something that men can objectify and use for their own spiritual or material gain. Ginevra is tempted at times to give in to her more romantic side but in the end, she is able to discern for herself what true love really means.
The story is a little slow at times and I wished the relationship between Ginevra and Leonardo could have developed a little more but overall, this is a great historical YA novel that will appeal to those who are interested in the Renaissance period.