26 August 2015

Review: Signora da Vinci by Robin Maxwell

Robin Maxwell is one of my favourite historical fiction authors and she's written about some famous and influential female figures from history, including: Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.

Signora da Vinci is told from the perspective of Leonardo da Vinci's mother, Caterina. We begin in 1452, when Caterina gives birth out of wedlock to Leonardo. Her heart is broken when her lover's family refuse to accept the match and rip Leonardo from her arms to raise in their - more noble - family.

Caterina is an apothecary after her father, who is a well-travelled, well-read and respected man in their little town of Vinci in Italy. When her son becomes a man, he moves to Florence and Caterina wishes to see him. Not being able to travel alone (as a woman) and fearing recognition from Leonardo's father, she disguises herself as a man and changes her name to Cato.

Her disguise works and the novel really takes off from here. Lorenzo de' Medici becomes Leonardo's patron and Cato one of his closest friends.

Signora da Vinci is filled with art (the great Botticelli is also a character), religion (including the making of the Shroud of Turin by Leonardo) alchemy and the pursuit of knowledge, however forbidden it might be. 

Cato is invited to join The Platonic Academy and I thoroughly enjoyed his deception and the insights Caterina was able to get from carrying herself as a man. I also have a new appreciation for the portrait of the Mona Lisa, but no spoilers here.

Not much is really known about Leonardo's mother Caterina, and so when reading Signora da Vinci you will enjoy it more if you suspend your disbelief and just dive in. It's fair to say that a number of liberties have been taken with dates and events, but the period has been well researched and this is a fun 'what if' read.

My Rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

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