I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Da Vinci's Tiger by L. M. Elliott
Published by HarperCollins on November 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Europe, Art & Architecture, Girls & Women, General, Performing Arts
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For fans of rich and complex historical novels like Girl with a Pearl Earring or Code Name Verity, Laura Malone Elliott delivers the stunning tale of real-life Renaissance woman Ginevra de' Benci, the inspiration for one of Leonardo da Vinci's earliest masterpieces.
The young and beautiful daughter of a wealthy family, Ginevra longs to share her poetry and participate in the artistic ferment of Renaissance Florence but is trapped in an arranged marriage in a society dictated by men. The arrival of the charismatic Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo, introduces Ginevra to a dazzling circle of patrons, artists, and philosophers. Bembo chooses Ginevra as his Platonic muse and commissions a portrait of her by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires an intimate connection between them, one Ginevra only begins to understand. In a rich and vivid world of exquisite art with a dangerous underbelly of deadly political feuds, Ginevra faces many challenges to discover her voice and artistic companionship—and to find love.
I read Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott because art history is actually quite fascinating to me. I mean, I am not a super huge into art kind of person, however, I think the history of it is interesting as a whole. It surprises me a little bit that I have not personally come across a lot of young adult books with art history as a main theme, but alas that just means there’s some space for it, am I right? Elliot’s Da Vinci’s Tiger is set during the Renaissance era and all about the girl who is the face of Da Vinci’s first portrait.
So, Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott opens up on a kind of weird note — I will admit that if I had just stopped at the opening chapter, I probably would not have been a huge fan of the book. It opens with a portrait in Washington, DC talking about how people look at her all day and now she’s going to tell us her story. It reminded me a little bit of the beginning of Ever After, just without a charming elderly woman talking to I think it is the Brothers Grimm. Anyways, so then after we meet the portrait we go back in time to before the portrait was even painted. We find ourselves in Florence, Italy just as the Renaissance is really taking off. It is an exciting time to be alive, I think.
Main character Ginevra de Benci is in a marriage of alliance to a powerful wool merchant. Her uncle is great friends with the Medicis, which if you paid attention in history class is a big deal. So, anyways, Ginevra is also friends with this girl, Simonetta who is the platonic love of one of the Medici’s. Simonetta is the toast of Florence and her circle is the one you want to be a part of. Anyways, as part and parcel of being friends with Simonetta, Ginevra meets this ambassador named Bernado Bembo who decides that Ginevra will be his platonic love.
She is still in her loveless marriage yes, but their relationship is all about inspiring Bembo with Ginevra’s virtue. It’s one of those look but don’t touch relationships. Due to all this looking, Bembo decides to commission an artist to paint Ginevra’s portrait and also to sculpt her. The painter is none other than Da Vinci, hence the title of the book, Da Vinci’s Tiger.
L.M. Elliott’s Ginevra is a scholarly girl who is given to writing poetry and studying philosophy. She takes comfort in visiting the convent where she was educated and seeing the mother superior who is a dear friend of the family. The mother superior gives Ginevra the advice to essentially sing of women’s virtues. I do not mean actually sing, but to get other people to take note that women are intelligent and have thoughts beyond what happens in the household. In a way, it is like Ginevra is a historical feminist, and I quite loved that characterization of her in Da Vinci’s Tiger.
As for Leonardo Da Vinci, himself, he is just so interesting. L.M. Elliot’s Da Vinci’s Tiger reinforces this. I loved that Da Vinci was so against these boxes where people could drop in accusations of their neighbors’ sins. He has some very interesting moral viewpoints for sure, and acts on them. Also? The book does not shy away from the possibility that Da Vinci was gay – it is something explored in the book. I liked that L.M. Elliott didn’t erase that. Instead, it causes a few awkward moments for Ginevra, as she gets some feelings. I mean, I can’t blame her for having feelings towards young men given that her marriage is loveless. Also? Da Vinci ignites something in her mind and well, it just makes sense.
Overall, I was a super huge fan of the setting in this book. I would love to read more books set in Renaissance Italy, it is just a matter of finding them, I suppose. Elliott does quite the job in bringing this time period to life. I mean, yes, there was artistic innovation. However, the Church still reigned supreme. Art was centered around patrons. Women essentially got the shaft. Sure, there was pageantry and excitement, but I am not so sure I would have wanted to be around during this time period. I am, however, more than happy to read about it. This book takes place when Da Vinci is an apprentice and I thought that was good because we get to meet the man before he became an icon. Also! Also! L.M. Elliott explores the process of making art and painting and even how they mixed paint in this book. OH and this whole embossing the back with like a seal, I never even knew about that, so kudos to this book for teaching me something.
Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott is a quick read and an easily digestible historical fiction young adult book. I think that if you’re looking for an epic, sweeping romance you should look elsewhere. You will not find that in this book. If, on the other hand, you want a book with somewhat feminist themes and an exploration of who Da Vinci was before he became DA VINCI, this is the book for you. I am glad I took the time to read this book randomly from my pile – as the character of Ginevra is compelling. I personally enjoy books about strong girls – even when they lead lives in gilded cages, so to speak. Also, this book ignited my curiosity and so after reading the author note at the end, I went online and looked up Ginevra’s portrait as well as the one of Simonetta because they were real people. If you are looking for a book that will make you curious and actually teach you something that could come in handy if you ever end up on Jeopardy or at Team Trivia, this is one book that may fill that need, but only for the Early Days Of Da Vinci category.
Other Reviews of Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott:
Snuggly Oranges – “no romantic flutterings to set my heart on fire”
Between My Lines – “The research was meticulous.”
Read.Breathe.Relax. – “one of the most authentic YA historical fiction books I’ve ever read”
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