Thursday, October 6, 2011

Leonardo’s Swans by Karen Essex

(In which history is a knot woven by art and blood.)


Karen Essex’ Leonardo’s Swans seems to be a modern answer to Joanne Brown’s question asked more than a decade later regarding whether this literary genre is Historical Fiction or Fictionalized History, discussing the problem of truth, balance, accuracy and the necessity for a well-grounded research. Essex’ novel was like saying “Why choose between history and fiction when you can have both?”

The novel traverses the life of illustrious women in Italian history – Isabella d-Este, the high-brow Marchesa of Mantua and her sister Beatrice d’Este, Duchess of Milan; the mistress of Beatrice’s husband, Cecilia Gallerani; and Lucrezia Crivelli, the duke’s later mistress. Most apparent was the central women of the novel, the Este sisters whose prominence and patronage of arts and literature, especially in their outward appreciation of the genius that was Leonardo da Vinci, were historically recorded, but not the possibility of a complicated sibling rivalry that could have encompassed not only their artistic purposes but the attention of the men around them.

Written with prefatory references to dates and excerpts from da Vinci’s notebooks in each chapter provides a channel from then to now and vice versa. It was like peeking at the magnificent labyrinth that was the master’s brain, and then being pulled out to see the old world as it makes his ideas come to pass. All those and intriguing political scandals combine to create a tale worth reading.

Currently reading

The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra

Photo Sources
Leonardo’s Swans
The Secret Supper