There are poets. There are muses. There are revolutionaries. But is there one who captures all of those traits? What would they look like? What would they be like? Who would the be? Well, I beg your pardon, she is a mountain tiger. And her name is Ginevra De Benci a woman of the Renaissance whose gaze and portrait has entranced people for centuries. Now her story between the portrait and it’s back.
This historical novel explores the exquisite and splendor of Florence, Italy where the sixteen-year-old Ginevra De Benci is wading through life. Recently a graduate of a convent school and newly wed woman to a wool dyer, Ginevra is rather uninspired and unprovoked. Until she is invited to the Medici’s family residence for a dinner where she meets two compelling men; ambassador Bernardo Bembo and artist Leonardo Da Vinci. That night Ginevra enchants the ambassador who then pursues Ginevra as his Platonic Love. A platonic love in Florence is a relationship between a man and woman where a man is inspired by a woman to become closer to God and kept strictly to emotional and mental intimacy. Not physical. The platonic love is entertained by the rich and well-to-do who have the money to pay for gorgeous portraits of stone, oil or any other medium to capture the women in her chaste beauty. So when Leonardo Da Vinci is commissioned by ambassador Bembo to capture Ginevra De Benci and a different love blossoms between them.
Love in all its forms is explored in Da Vinci’s Tiger and does beg the question of what is love and can love be platonic? Readers will see familiar lover between brothers and sisters, marital love, devotional love, platonic love and scandalous love. Which really reminds me of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with how people experience many different loves and not just one. Love is a spectrum and felt on many varying levels. That is especially apparent in Da Vinci and Ginevra’s relationship where Da Vinci is a Florenzer or gay, but he and Ginevra still have this very intimate adoration for each other.
Alright, now onto the characters. Obviously beginning with Ginevra who is an excellent woman. A woman who is not particularly upset with her position in life because she is comfortable and her relationship with her husband is cordile. Yet she still has a mind of her own that provokes her to write poetry inspired by ancient texts, the teachings of Abbess Scholastica and of her own heart. Which is why she is a mountain tiger whose gaze enchants all. Ginevra De Benci is a poet, inspiration to Da Vinci and readily encourages Da Vinci to break tradition and societal norm with her drab garb and being place in a landscape when women were not compared to the forces of nature. On to Leonardo Da Vinci the wild, inspired and rash artist. Who has just finished his apprenticeship with the great Varricchio who is helping him find work and establish Leonardo in Florence. Da Vinci is so progressive and thoughtful with how he works conversing with Ginevra on an academic and philosophical level that Ginevra is very unused to being a woman. He gives Ginevra a lot of freedom and security over the months they spend together creating a portrait to astound audiences for year and years to come, Da Vinci may have physically painted the portrait, but Ginevra was just as present in the creation of the piece. The final person I would like to give the spotlight to is Luigi, Ginevra’s husband whom we spend little time with. Although he is still worth mentioning because of how kind and supportive he is, he isn’t cold or cruel unlike most other husbands depicted in italian historical fiction. Luigi is very supportive of Ginevra for more reasons than practical advantages he wants to see her happy and understands that them together won’t produce that. And that’s just amazes me.
Da Vinci’s Tiger is a excellent italian historical romance. Elliott masterfully captures Florentine culture and weaves a new story. Since Italian historical fiction is by far my favorite genre that I am always on the quest for more of and it’s aggravating when I read novels telling very similar stories of the same family -typically Medici- so nothing is very surprising, but here there is a novel that is fresh and new. Definitely something for any renaissance or historical fiction fan to pick up. Since I came, I read and I was conquered.