Da Vinci's Tiger
by L.M. Elliott
by L.M. Elliott
Publication Date: November 10th, 2015
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
“Pardon me, but I am a mountain tiger” is the only surviving line of poetry written by the woman in Leonardo da Vinci’s very first solo portrait. Though not as well-known as, say, Mona Lisa, the picture he painted of Ginevra de’ Benci contains the rich and untold story of an intelligent and beautiful woman of the Florentine Renaissance. DA VINCI'S TIGER tells a tale of the art, politics, and romance that defined the life of an upper class noble in a wealthy city of shifting alliances and ideas. Ginevra is born to an ennobled close friend of the ruling Medici family. Even though she is intellectually brilliant, she is merely seen by her calculating uncle as a pawn to be paired off in order to further the family’s political position. While she is married to a merchant who is ultimately disinterested neither love -with a woman, at least- nor philosophical and intellectual discussions, Ginevra has a chance at both when the charming and eloquent
Venetian ambassador Bernardo Bembo arrives in town. His declaration of “Platonic love” (admiration from afar due to her beauty and virtue) for her leads to a slew of social opportunities, including the chance to sit for a portrait commissioned to none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. She finds that the more she works with Leonardo, the more she discovers about her own identity and the art of expressing this identity through painting and she beings to discover who she really is. However, not everything is so great. Political strife is amiss and conspiracies, rivalries, and subterfuge run amok, and her new admirer is not all that he seems, so Ginevra must learn to navigate the dangerous waters of the nobility if she wishes to stay afloat.
One of the things I appreciated most was how realistically the main character was written. Her wants and needs add dimensions to her character without overpowering the entire plot line. While Ginevra is frustrated about her lack of intellectual opportunities, she doesn’t wallow in angst and anger and she still enjoys many aspects of Florentine society. Instead, she figures out a way to quietly defy the social norms and gender restrictions placed upon her by having a portrait painted that showed her as more than just another beautiful face by utilizing certain painting techniques that were unheard of in her time. It was a refreshingly realistic change that I felt gave the book more authenticity.
Overall, I thought this was an educational and interesting read. I have never come across another historical fiction YA novel from this particular time period, let alone one that managed to still be almost accurate while telling a good story, especially considering that Ginevra only left behind a single line of poetry. Though the book starts out a little slow and overly formal in language, I encourage readers to push though because it turns into a wonderful read in which one learns not just about the characters, but an enormous deal about the ideologies of the time period and they art they inspired.