Review: Da Vinci’s Tiger

Da Vinci's Tiger
Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young, beautiful, and witty, Ginevra 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.

When charismatic 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. She is attracted to the handsome newcomer, yet Ginevra remains conflicted about his attentions. Choosing her as his Platonic muse, Bembo commissions a portrait by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires an intimate connection between them—one Ginevra can only begin to understand. In a world of exquisite art, elaborate feats, and exhilarating jousts, she discovers romance, friendship, temptation, and a deadly battle between powerful families.

Da Vinci’s Tiger chronicles the creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s first solo portrait commission, that of Ginevra de’ Benci. While the plot of the novel is mostly fictional, based on anecdotes, much of the novel is well detailed historically. I’m no art history expert, but the research on this book seems meticulous with plenty of detail thrown in to imagine it vividly. That’s the best part of the book – the beautiful writing, filled with lush descriptions of the characters, their feeling, each scene wonderfully rendered. The painting serves only a backdrop, as we are seeing through the eyes of Ginerva herself, who so boldly showed her gaze into a portrait at a time when it wasn’t customary to do so.

The writer has definitely taken a few liberties with the storyline, as to the wager going on between Leonarda and his master, as well as the romance between Ginerva and Bembo, which didn’t really end well. But the central message, which is quite evident, that she is a woman in a time where beauty was revered and celebrated but still was nothing more than some sort of symbol to men. Her husband saw her as a path to political success, Bembo first saw her as a muse but reveals a sexual attraction to her, and even her uncle just misuses her to further the family name. Leonardo sees the person behind her facade, and though they have no romance to speak of, it is a pure kind of love they share. Again this was conjecture, but going through the novel, you see it was entirely possible. Ginerva is certainly an interesting protagonist, a wife at a young age, naive in matters of love or seduction, and unsure what her role is to be; mostly deferring to others for guidance. But she also shows inner conviction in what she believes, like manipulating the choice of the portrait and spurning unwanted advances.

The pacing is pretty slow, so there is not much action going on until the last quarter, but by then secondary characters have faded into the background, so I was hardly invested in them. But the writing captivated me, and the way the literature and art of that time was depicted – honestly, I was in love. A person who enjoys historical fiction would find this book delightful.

Received a free galley from Katherine Tegen Books via Edelweiss; this does not influence my opinions or the review.

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