November 5, 2015

A Platonic Love • Da Vinci's Tiger

Da Vinci's Tiger book cover
Da Vinci's Tiger by L.M. Elliott
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: November 10, 2015
Source/Format: Edelweiss || e-galley
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the contents of my review.]

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. Choosing her as his Platonic muse, Bembo commissions a portrait by a young Leonardo da Vinci. 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. 

Da Vinci's Tiger was a good read. It is filled with historical detail, providing a rich, vivid depiction of Florence in the 15th century that makes the reader feel like they are actually there. The inclusion of famous names in art and history is done seamlessly, in such a way that these people feel like they're real and not just the individuals we have learned about in history class. It was, in fact, incredibly well-written, and an unexpectedly interesting look at the life and times of someone who lived in a society with completely different standards. At its core, it's the story of a girl who wants more than what is expected of her - and how she achieves her goal by unexpected means.

Elliott chooses to portray Ginevra's journey as a transformation. At the beginning of the novel, Ginevra is defined by other people - her husband, her family, her adoring public. More often than not, it is her beauty and her bloodline that are the things people know of her. But Ginevra is revealed to be more than a pretty face. She's got a keen intelligence and a poet's soul, and she's still a young teen trying to figure out herself and her way in the world. By the time the end hits though, Ginevra has shown everyone - her fellow men and women in Florence and readers alike - that she is smart, spunky and altogether more than they ever thought she could be.

I really like witnessing Ginevra's personal growth, especially amidst the political and romantic intrigue that were part and parcel of her life. And the nods to art and philosophy were great! But I do hesitate to give this novel a sweeping recommendation, since not everyone is going to be comfortable with certain bits of this time in history (Platonic love being one such concept). While I do think you should give it a shot if you like history and art, or even just reading about an interesting character, Da Vinci's Tiger is a story that requires the reader to exercise his own judgment when choosing whether or not to pick it up.
What is your favorite piece by Leonardo da Vinci?

I still aspire to visit the Mona Lisa when I go to the Louvre one day! But I wanted to pick something I was familiar with, so I decided to go with his piece "The Last Supper". It not only depicts an important scene from Biblical history, but it also happens to be a piece that is known in a worldwide capacity.


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