Title: Da Vinci’s Tiger
Author: L.M. Elliott
Series: No Series – Stand Alone
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Published: November 10th, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)
The summary of Da Vinci’s Tiger 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 first learned about Florence and the influence of the de Medici family when I took AP European History in high school. Although the family, and their wealth and power, was certainly interesting, I hadn’t come across a book that was set in that period and was written well until reading Da Vinci’s Tiger.
The first mark of a good historical fiction novel, in my opinion, is how much time I spend looking up information online. It always takes me a while to finish good historical fiction novels because I spend a crazy amount of time online reading about the people and places in the book.
With Da Vinci’s Tiger, I would look up something online every few pages. I wanted to know these characters, not as characters in a novel, but as the people they really were. I had never seen the painting the book is based on, nor had I ever heard of the woman in the painting. Yet, reading this book brought her, and the painting of her, to life.
It’s traditionally thought that women of this era had no real power. And while that might be true, if we are speaking only in terms of who usually made the decisions, the women were not powerless. They just had to be more creative with how they demonstrated their power. An outright challenge to male authority was dangerous, but women could subvert male authority through other ways. Ginevra, with the help of Da Vinci, makes it clear though her portrait that she is not a simpering, powerless woman. She is a tiger.
Obviously, we can’t know the entire true story around the painting and the life of Ginevra, but Da Vinci’s Tiger does a good job of creating a very plausible, relatable story. Ginevra accepts her role in an arranged marriage because she knows that is just the way of the world. She does not accept, however, that being a female means she has no place in the world or that she cannot create things that make the world more beautiful. Her heart wants to write poetry, to write things that move people and that add to the culture she’s immersed in.
Most think if Da Vinci in terms of his later works, but this book focuses on his younger years. He’s only just out of his apprenticeship, something that feels strange to say about someone as great as Da Vinci. It’s hard to connect Da Vinci to studying as an apprentice because he was so talented and could create such beauty. However, Da Vinci’s Tiger shows a young Da Vinci, one who knows he’s talented, but is still discovering the full scope of his talents.
The characters are what really made this novel work for me.
I’m not really classifying these as negatives about the book, because I didn’t really have a problem with them. There wasn’t really any mystery or hero’s journey. It was simply telling the story of Ginevra and Da Vinci’s painting of her. I can certainly see how others might struggle to get into the book, even though I didn’t.
This is a fantastic historical fiction novel. It also focuses on the art and culture of the period, and I think it could appeal to those readers who like a focus on the arts. I don’t think this book is going to be for people who like a lot of action in their books, but I’d still say it’s worth a read.
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Thank you to Edelweiss and Katherine Tegan Books for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.