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Monday, August 17, 2009

Leonardo's Swans - Karen Essex

A little while back I found a copy of Karen Essex's Leonardo's Swans at a Library book sale. I've always wanted to read one of her books and I have a slight fascination with Leonardo da Vinci. And it's a perfect read for the Art History Reading Challenge.

In brief:

Thought I was going to hate it but ended up loving it. A story of two sisters. A story of Leonardo da Vinci. Check it out.


The story revolves around two sisters, Isabella and Beatrice d'Este. Isabella is the typical blond gorgeous beauty:

And Beatrice is the younger, more wild and less traditionally beautiful sister:
At first Isabella is ecstatic that she is engaged to handsome young Marquess of Mantua. And they are actually in love with each other. Here's the handsome Francesco:

And poor Beatrice. She is engaged to the OLD Duke of Milan. I mean, hey, he's a Duke, but he's so old! Here's the Duke, Ludovico Sforza, a.k.a. Il Moro "The Moor".

The Duke is known for being wealthy, having mistresses, and being a patron to Leonardo da Vinci. He's also known for having Leonardo paint portraits of his mistresses. Here's the famous da Vinci portrait, Lady with an Ermine, which was The Duke's favorite mistress Cecilia Gallerani:

And another mistress by da Vinci of Lucrezia Crivelli:
But against all odds, when Beatrice marries The Duke, this wild, dark-haired, lover of horses gets her husband to fall in love with her. And she become a great Duchess.

And Isabella is at odds. Now she is slightly jealous. She's not a Duchess and she's never going to be immortalized by Leonardo da Beatrice will be. Not that Beatrice cares.

So I thought I wasn't going to like this book because I thought Isabella was going to be a scheming evil sister and poor Beatrice was going to get trampled over by The Duke. But that's not what happened.

Even though the sisters are separated, through their letters and life circumstances, they actually become fairly close and bond. I loved watching that unfold.

And Beatrice became my favorite. She became such a strong capable Duchess able to woo and win her husband while becoming a fairly apt ruler herself.

While this would have been an interesting story on it's own, folded in is the story of Leonardo's time under the patronage of The Duke. So we get to see tidbits of his life and art during this period and how and why he made them. For instance, this little piece of art for The Duke:

Also Reviewed By:
Hist-Fic Chick

The Raucous Royals on Cecilia Gallerani

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