The Botticelli Secret

The Botticelli Secret

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by Marina Fiorato

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In this exhilarating cross between The Da Vinci Code and The Birth of Venus, an irrepressible young woman in 15th-century Italy must flee for her life after stumbling upon a deadly secret when she serves as a model for Botticelli...
When part-time model and full-time prostitute Luciana Vetra is asked by one of her most exalted clients to pose for a

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In this exhilarating cross between The Da Vinci Code and The Birth of Venus, an irrepressible young woman in 15th-century Italy must flee for her life after stumbling upon a deadly secret when she serves as a model for Botticelli...
When part-time model and full-time prostitute Luciana Vetra is asked by one of her most exalted clients to pose for a painter friend, she doesn't mind serving as the model for the central figure of Flora in Sandro Botticelli's masterpiece "Primavera." But when the artist dismisses her without payment, Luciana impulsively steals an unfinished version of the painting--only to find that somone is ready to kill her to get it back.
What could possibly be so valuable about the picture? As friends and clients are slaughtered around her, Luciana turns to the one man who has never desired her beauty, novice librarian Brother Guido. Fleeing Venice together, Luciana and Guido race through the nine cities of Renaissance Italy, pursued by ruthless foes who are determined to keep them from decoding the painting's secrets.
Gloriously fresh and vivid, with a deliciously irreverent heroine, The Botticelli Secret is an irresistible blend of history, wit, and suspense.

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Editorial Reviews

Susan Vreeland

Marina Fiorato has fashioned a double tale of artistry, love, and intrigue, plotted as cunningly as her characters commit treachery....It took my breath away.

Fiorato creates her own masterpiece set at the height of Medici power. Renaissance Italy comes alive in brilliant sights and sounds from marbled halls to filthy sewers. Luciana is irrepressible, unabashed, and an absolute hoot while Guido foils her nicely as the learned, noble Holmes to her Watson.

An intriguing mix of history, mystery, art, music, poetry, romance, and politics....Gripping....Writing with charm and authenticity, Fiorato produces a blend of historical mystery and modern romance that is thoroughly entertaining.
Kate Furnivall

Fiorato captivates her reader as surely and intricately as the beautiful city of Venice enchants her characters. A fascinating tale of mystery and dedication, of love and betrayal.
Diane Haeger

The Glassblower of Murano is a compelling story, richly detailed, with wonderful, memorably drawn characters.
Jeanne Kalogrides

Marina Fiorato has beautifully recreated the bright, glittering world of the seventeenth-century glassblower, and nestled it surely within a compelling contemporary romance.
Publishers Weekly
The city-states of Renaissance Italy serve as the vibrant backdrop for this less than successful homage to The Da Vinci Code from Fiorato (TheGlassblower of Murano). In 1482 Florence, while prostitute Luciana Vetra is posing for Botticelli’s Primavera, she makes a casual comment that terrifies the artist. Sent away unpaid, Luciana steals a miniature of the painting in revenge. When she discovers that an assassin is on her trail, she flees Florence with the most trustworthy companion she can find, handsome and cultured monk Brother Guido della Torre. As the two decode the secrets hidden in the painting (and fall in love), its meanings send them on a quest through Italy to save their own lives and avert a conspiracy involving the greatest powers of the day. Luciana’s energetic narrative voice keeps the pages turning, but lengthy passages deconstructing La Primavera yield secrets, unlike those in Dan Brown’s bestseller, with little resonance for modern readers. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Fiorato (The Glassblower of Murano) crafts a historical novel in the style of Susan Vreeland's Girl with a Pearl Earring blended with painting as code à la The Da Vinci Code. The painting at issue is Botticelli's Primavera. What if one of the most famous paintings in the world was actually an elaborate military blueprint depicted symbolically? We shadow Luciana Vetra, a beautiful and foul-mouthed whore, through 15th-century Florence and much of Renaissance Italy. Employed by Botticelli as a model for one of the primary figures in the painting, Luciana becomes embroiled in intrigue when her theft of a preliminary sketch is discovered, and she is thought to know more than she does about its secret purpose. The clever nature of the interpretation of Primavera is not Fiorato's but based upon several scholarly resources cited in the author's note. VERDICT The heroine's foul mouth may be off-putting to some sensitive readers. Additionally, while large portions of the book read more like a romance than a historical thriller, romance readers will likely find it too crass. In the end, it seems as if the author had two books in mind. Recommended for libraries with generous budgets to purchase all new novels.—Laura A.B. Cifelli, Ft. Myers-Lee Cty. P.L., FL
Kirkus Reviews
Da Vinci had a code; now it's Botticelli's turn. Lusty, foul-mouthed Florentine prostitute Luciana happily plies her trade on the Ponte Vecchio in 1482. Her beauty attracts wealthy clients like Bembo, whose priceless black pearl is embedded in her navel. So when Franciscan novice Brother Guido offers her a religious pamphlet, she scoffs. She enjoys the oldest profession, and she's even been tapped to model for the goddess of spring, one of eight mythical figures depicted in Botticelli's latest masterpiece, Primavera. After she poses, Luciana steals a cartone, template for the larger Primavera, and replaces it with Guido's pamphlet. When she returns to her hovel, she finds her roommate dead, throat cut. Fearing she's angered agents of Florentine despot Lorenzo de' Medici, Luciana flees to Bembo, but the throat-slashers get there first. Off to Brother Guido's monastery, where the bloodletting continues. The cartone must be valuable, but why? Guido hopes his noble uncle, Lord Sylvio of Pisa, can intervene with Lorenzo. But Sylvio is poisoned, and his son Niccolo wants Guido dead. The cartone, and Primavera itself, apparently encode a nefarious plot by the Seven, magnates of Italia's fractious city-states, but to what end? Learning that His Holiness is a co-conspirator shakes Guido's faith-a positive development for Luciana, who hopes he'll defrock them both. Eventually, Luciana encounters her long-lost mother, the ruthless Dogaressa of Venice, who consigned her to a convent as a baby after political enemies threatened her life. Guido is arrested, and Luciana whisked back to Venice; she has been promised since infancy to Niccolo as part of her parents' political schemes. Luciana must escapeher mother, find Guido and avert the conspiracy. Though Fiorato (The Glassblower of Murano, 2009, etc.) minutely and tediously parses every development for clues, she glides right over the big question of why convent-raised Luciana strolled off at age 12 with someone who promised her a pretty dress and cheerfully spent the next four years as a street trollop. Intricate but derivative.

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St. Martin's Press
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

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The Botticelli Secret

By Marina Fiorato

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Marina Fiorato
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2880-9


Florence looks like gold and smells like sulphur.

The buildings are massive, gorgeous, and epic. They are made of glowing gilded stone and silver marble. Yet the smells — animal dung, human waste, rotting meat and vegetables left in the gutter from market — would make a tanner blanch. In fact, the city is a mass of contradictions. It is built for giants, with the huge loggias, toothsome palaces, and massy pillars, yet the Florentines are a tiny people and scuttle around the plinths like brightly dressed pygmies. The only citizens that truly fit such a scale are the statues that wrestle their stony bouts in the Piazza della Signoria.

Florence is beautiful and brutal. Her beauty is skin deep; underneath, the blood runs very near the surface. Wondrous palaces and chapels stand right next to the Bargello jail, a place worse than the Inferno. In every church, heaven and hell coexist on the walls. These opposite fates sit cheek by jowl on the ceilings too, divided only by the crossribs. In the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, our great cathedral, angels and demons whirl around together in a celestial fortune's wheel. Paradise and damnation are so close, so very close. Even the food is a contradiction. Take my favorite food, carpaccio: slabs of raw meat fair running with blood. It's delicious, but something had to die to make it.

On the streets, too, gods and monsters live together. I have no illusions. I am one of the monsters — Luciana Vetra, part-time model and full-time whore. The preachers spill poison about the likes of me from their pulpits, and decent women spit at me in the street. The Lord and the Devil compete for the souls of the Florentines, and sometimes I think the Devil is winning; if you enter the Battistero and look upon the mosaics of the Last Judgment, which bit do you look at first? Heaven, with the do-gooding angels and their haloes and hallelujahs? Or hell, with the long-eared Lucifer devouring the damned? And if you were to read Signor Dante's Divina commedia, would you start with Paradiso, with its priests and pope-holy prelates? Or the Inferno, where the skies rain blood and feckless nobles fry feet first? You know the answer. So there was I, a jade and a jezebel, reviled by decent folk, touting one or more of the Deadly Sins on the street. A lost sheep. Sometimes, though, a shepherd will come among us, one of the godly, selling salvation.

And that's how I met Brother Guido della Torre.

It was not an auspicious meeting. He did not see me at my best. I was dressed in my best, to be sure, for I am always aware of the passing trade. But I happened to be sitting on the balustrade of the river, pissing into the Arno. Framed poetically by the saffron arches of the Ponte Vecchio looming behind. In fairness, it would not have been immediately obvious to the good brother what I was doing, as my skirts were voluminous. But I had just come from Bembo's bed, was on my way to Signor Botticelli's studio, and the quantity of muscat I had drunk for breakfast begged for evacuation.

Actually, I'm telling this all wrong — before we go on to talk about Brother Guido, and the right path, let me give you a glimpse of my old life, and the wrong one. Because unless you know about Bembo, and how I came to model for Signor Botticelli, you will never get to understand the secret, and the secret is the story. So let's go back to ... the night before? No; no need to take you through all the depraved sex acts we committed for pleasure on Bembo's part and payment on mine. That morning would be time enough: Friday, the thirteenth of June, an unlucky day for so many reasons. Spring — the right place to start.



Madonna. I hated being woken up after a hard night's work. "Yes?"

"Will you do a favor for me?"

Another one? After the night he'd just had, Bembo should've been doing me favors. Over and above our agreed rate, of course. But business is business. I smiled sleepily. "Of course."

Bembo hauled his considerable weight to his elbow and I caught a whiff of his armpit. Madonna. I reached for the lavender pomade from the night table and pressed it to my nose. Smiling coquettishly to dissolve the insult, I waited for what came next. It was always hard to tell with Bembo; obscenely rich men reserve the right to be unpredictable.

Benvolio Malatesta.

Fact one, Fatto Uno: he was called Benvolio Malatesta, but everyone called him Bembo. Maybe because he had a carefully studied jocular air, like your favorite uncle; a quality totally belied by his utter ruthlessness in business. He smiled and joked a lot but;

Fact two, Fatto Due: Bembo was one of the richest men in Florence. He made all his money from importing pearls from the Orient. Lovely things they were: big and fat and as white as an olive is black. He sent little boys with oyster knives to dive for them. Sometimes they ran out of breath or got tangled in seaweed.

Once Bembo brought his finest pearl round for me to wear in my navel when we were fucking (do you see what I mean about never knowing what to expect from him?) Afterward he wanted it back but I told him I couldn't get it out. That was a lie. I tried later in my bath and it came out, just ... but it hurt a lot. I put it back in there. It fit so well, and now I am known for it — I make it one of the things I am famous for. (Like my tits and my hair.) I always wear gowns with cropped bodices or cut-out holes to show off my pearl. Clients always love something unusual. Especially the rich ones.

Bembo didn't seem to mind. His big pearls were used in jewelery, and the little ones ground down for toothpaste for rich gentlemen or face powder for rich ladies. The pearls made their teeth and skin glow, even when they were as spotted as liver or as raddled as hags. My navel pearl was all good advertising for Bembo. He said that the pearl would pop out one day when my belly grows big with child. (I didn't tell him there's no chance of that happening. Every middle of the month I stuff waxed cotton squares up my hole to stop men's tallow getting through to my woman's parts. It makes me tighter but no one has complained yet.) For one horrible moment I thought that Bembo was planning to get me pregnant. Was he so cock-dazzled that he wanted marriage? Madonna. Is that why he let me keep the pearl? But then I came to my senses. A man like Bembo would hardly want to father a brat on a whore like me, for all my beauty: he has a rich frigid wife at home to cool his bed and bear his sons. And he has never asked for the pearl since, though some clients would have cut a girl's navel to prise it out, not caring if she lived or died. Bembo wouldn't do that to me though. He likes me. He even paid me three dinari for the night when the pearl got stuck, despite the fact that he couldn't get his gem back. Must have been a good fuck.

Fact three, Fatto Tre: Bembo knows a lot of artists. I think it makes him feel a little bit cultured, like one of his pearls, even though he is actually more like the common little ugly oysters that crowd the seabed. He came from nothing, from a line of fishermen, so he is trying to drag himself up to the surface and the light. Like his oysters he is an ugly creature capable of creating beauty, and he does this by his patronage of painters. It's this third fact that he hit me with. And it bought me a whole heap of trouble.

"Will you pose for a friend of mine?"

I was still half asleep. "Which friend?" My voice was a crow's croak.

"Alessandro Botticelli. Sandro."

I vaguely knew the name.

"He thinks you'd be perfect for the central figure for his new panel painting."

I opened one eye. "The central figure?"

He smiled and his teeth flashed pearl. I swear Bembo wore his wealth in his mouth. "Yes, Chi-chi. Don't worry. You will be center stage and all the other figures will pale before your beauty." Poetry didn't sit well on Bembo's tongue.

"How many figures?"

"Seven others. Eight in total."

Crowd work. "Doesn't sound very central to me."

His smile widened. "Oh, but you will be, Chi-chi. The whole panel is to be called La Primavera — Spring — and you will be the goddess Flora herself."

Still I grumbled. "At least it could have been the Madonna."

Then he laughed. "You, the virginal queen of heaven? The notorious Chi-chi untouched by a man's hand? No and no and no."

I sulked and turned my head. He tickled my nipples to placate me. "Listen, pigeon. Sandro wants you because you have known the heat of a bed. Flora is to be experienced, fruitful, with a knowing face — even a suggestion that she is with child. But more beautiful than the day." He knew how to appeal to my vanity.

"And how does Sandro know of my charms?"

Bembo collapsed onto his back again and the mattress buckled. He waved his arm to the thin muslin panel stretched like a window next to the bed. I had seen such things before in pleasure palaces and private rooms — a finestra d'amore, love's window. Sometimes the host's friends would watch him in a sex act, if the client liked to feel he was being watched. Or another couple would ... well ... couple in a chamber on the other side, sharing the sounds of their union. I had no problem with the concept normally — in fact, Signor Botticelli must have had quite a show if I remember some of the positions of last night; but suddenly I felt nervous. Watched by clients pleasuring themselves, fine; watched by an artist who was all set to immortalize me, unsettling.

I sat bolt upright and pulled two ropes of wheat-blond hair over my breasts in an unaccustomed gesture of modesty. Actually, I should tell you my three facts since I've now mentioned two of them.

Fatto Uno: I was named Luciana Vetra because I came from Venice as a baby in a bottle. True story; I'll tell you all about it sometime.

Fatto Due: I have lots of golden hair — natural color untouched by lemon juice, before you ask — waist length, with ringlets that have never seen a poker.

Fatto Tre: I have fantastic tette — round and firm and small like cantaloupes. And they taste just as sweet according to my clients. But can you really believe what a man says about your breasts just before he spills his cuckoo spit?

"What do you say?" Bembo interrupted my musings.

I crashed back onto the pillows. "I'll think about it." I knew what Bembo wanted. He wanted everyone to see the panel so he could tell them that he'd fucked Flora.

"Perhaps this" — he tapped the pearl in my navel — "will help you think well of my request?" He was wheedling now.

I looked down at the glowing, milky gem and back at him. That fucking pearl. I knew I'd have to pay for it one day. "All right," I said. "Give me his address."

And that's how I found myself by the Arno that day, all dressed up on the way to Sandro Botticelli's and badly needing a wee.


Unwilling to go all the way back home just for a piss, I answered nature's call, and this was the moment when the monk approached me. He was holding a pamphlet.

I groaned inwardly and would have sent him packing with a well-chosen epithet (I know many), but as he came close I saw that he was, in fact, extremely well favored.

Fatto Uno: he had thick, curling black hair with the sheen of a magpie's breast.

Fatto Due: he had astonishing eyes, the same blue as the Della Robbia roundels in Santa Croce.

Fatto Tre: I could see that he was not tonsured, so he must be a novice (not that full orders would have prevented our coupling ... If I couldn't rely on a steady stream of monastic clients I would go out of business. Let them take care of their souls; I would take care of mine).

And yet, this baby monk did seem to want to be a part of my salvation. He sketched a cross over my head and wished me peace. Then he handed me the pamphlet. I sighed and said, "Brother, this is no good to me."

His face became lively. "Sister, you may think that the words writ there are not for you." His voice was sweet and low. Cultured. Posh. "But God loves everyone, even the fallen. I think even you might find some assistance from these pages."

I wriggled out the last drops of urine, registered the unintentional insult in "even you," and decided to have some fun with him. "You are right," I said penitently. I took the pamphlet from his hand, wiped my arse on it, and dropped the paper in the churning Arno. "It was very useful, thank you," I said sweetly.

He took in my action and at the same moment realization dawned that I had been relieving myself while he spoke to me. A fiery blush spread across his face and I saw him struggling with his conscience. He badly wanted to leave this thankless slut, but his ministry demanded that he at least try to recover one very lost sheep.

He took another pamphlet from the sheaf shoved in the rope belt of his habit. "I am Brother Guido della Torre, novice of the monastery of Santa Croce. These teachings are important, sister, for they speak to us of the salvation of our souls."

Now I was enjoying myself. "Arseholes?" I kept my features straight. "Do you think arseholes are important?"

"Nothing could be more so."

"And do you pray for arseholes?" My tone was earnest. "Every night."

"And if I was to repent of my ill ways, and follow a life of virtue, do you think arseholes could ever be saved?"

His eyes burned even bluer with a zealot's light. "Surely, sister. For if we pray and strive for all the days on earth, one day our souls will rejoice together in heaven."

I nodded sagely. "So on that day, one might even say that heaven is full of arseholes."

He closed his eyes with joy at the sentiment. "Indeed it would be."

"Then we have certainly found agreement." Poor booby. I decided to relent. "But despite our accord, your pamphlets are truly no use to me. For I cannot read." Typical monks: printing pamplets for whores who were so ignorant they could not read "cock" on a wall.


"Yes." My early entry into prostitution had given me little time for letters. I did, however, have a fantastic memory — I only had to look at a picture or face to remember it forever. I had trained my mind too — I try, as you have probably noticed by now, to remember three facts about everyone and everything I know. So although I am ignorant of letters, I am not stupid, so don't go thinking that I am.

The monk shook his head, as if he had glimpsed another world. "I'm sorry ... it's just ... I have always been around books. They are everything to me. I have read hundreds, and even now" — he blushed again, but this time with pride — "I have been given the honor of becoming the assistant librarian at Santa Croce, even though I have not yet taken full vows."

Now it was I who glimpsed another world. A world of words where the black characters printed on the parchment he held meant more to this monk than the people or places around him. I looked in his eyes and at that moment he saw through me. He knew that he had something I did not, and that for all my braggadocio and insolence, and my gutter-snipe ways, I would like to have what he had, and know what he knew.

"How old are you, signorina?"

This was a first. No one has ever called me "signorina" before. I was so shocked that I actually answered truthfully.

"I don't know." Now was not the time to recount that I came from Venice as a baby in a bottle. I decided a little more filth might help me regain ground. "I began my woman's courses last winter, if that helps you."

"Woman's courses?" He brightened, no doubt thinking that I'd already embarked on a program of study.

I let him have it. "I bleed from my cunt once a month." I leaned in conspiratorially and added in a stage whisper, "I have to stuff cotton rags up my gatto."

He backed away and blushed again — hotter this time. I liked seeing it. But he was not such a booby after all — he had more in his armory.

"Young, then, but you will not always be young." He was good — he used the ultimate threat to all women, impending age. His hand reached out as if to touch my cheek, then drew back, like one who reaches into fire. "You will not always have the face of an angel, as you do now. Will you still live this way, when you are old, signorina ...?" His voice rose in a prompt.


Excerpted from The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato. Copyright © 2010 Marina Fiorato. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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