I, Mona Lisa
  • I, Mona Lisa
  • I, Mona Lisa

I, Mona Lisa

4.1 59
by Jeanne Kalogridis

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"My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini Giocondo, though to acquaintances, I am known simply as Madonna Lisa. My story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born…"

Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de' Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence's magnificent Duomo. The shock of the

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"My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini Giocondo, though to acquaintances, I am known simply as Madonna Lisa. My story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born…"

Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de' Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence's magnificent Duomo. The shock of the murder ripples throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to a wealthy wool merchant and his extraordinarily beautiful daughter, Madonna Lisa.

More than a decade later, Florence falls under the dark spell of the preacher Savonarola, a fanatic who burns paintings and books as easily as he sends men to their deaths. Lisa, now grown into an alluring woman, captures the heart of Giuliano's nephew and namesake. But when Guiliano, her love, meets a tragic end, Lisa must gather all her courage and cunning to untangle a sinister web of illicit love, treachery, and dangerous secrets that threatens her life.

Set against the drama of 15th Century Florence, I, Mona Lisa is painted in many layers of fact and fiction, with each intricately drawn twist told through the captivating voice of Mona Lisa herself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for THE BORGIA BRIDE  “From sexual passion to mortal danger, the dramatic shift of real historical events will keep the reader turning the pages.” –Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl


“Entertaining.” USA Today


"...a dramatic tale from a heady mix of royal power plays and passion."  Publishers Weekly

Philippa Gregory
From sexual passion to mortal danger, the dramatic shift of real historical events will keep the reader turning the pages.
USA Today on The Borgia Bride
Publishers Weekly
Set against a backdrop of political and religious conflicts in 15th-century Medici-ruled Florence, Kalogridis's bloody historical (after The Borgia Bride) identifies the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's painting as Lisa di Antonio Gherardini. Lisa was the daughter of Madonna Lucrezia, wife of a wealthy wool merchant who also enchanted both da Vinci and Lorenzo de' Medici's brother Giuliano, murdered by conspirators in 1478. Giuliano's assassination and the later murder of Lucrezia presage a reign of religious terror led by a monk known as Savonarola and the retreat of the Medicis in the face of invasion from France's King Charles. An adult Lisa attracts the romantic attentions of a young Medici scion, whom she marries for love. (His father, Lorenzo, commissions her portrait from da Vinci.) But violent events soon separate the couple and a brutal Savonarola follower tells Lisa that her husband is dead and her father's life in danger unless she marries him instead. Lisa survives, an avenging angel, proving herself worthy of da Vinci's immortal artistry. Kalogridis's fevered bodice ripper invents a passionate woman behind La Gioconda's enigmatic smile. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Kalogridis (The Borgia Bride) revisits turbulent 15th-century Italy in her latest novel. Young Mona Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, daughter of a respected wool merchant, questions the strained relationship that exists between her sad and intelligent mother, Mona Anna, and her politically motivated father, Ser Antonio. Her mother harbors a secret love for Lorenzo de Medici's brother, Guiliano, while her father is a staunch supporter of a monk who preaches the overthrow of the Medici and urges the populace to burn pagan works of art collected by Lorenzo. The political struggles of the opposing ruling houses, the Medici and the Pazzi, have a major impact on Mona Lisa's life. When Lorenzo asks Leonardo da Vinci to paint her portrait, the commission is a labor of love for the artist, who holds the key to the mystery surrounding Mona Lisa's parentage. Kalogridis vividly describes the artistic and political milieus of Renaissance Florence. Fans of Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus and Karen Essex's Leonardo's Swans will enjoy her book. Highly recommended for public libraries. [Extensive library outreach planned. Ed.] Loralyn Whitney, Edinboro Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Kalogridis (The Borgia Bride, 2005, etc.) chronicles the perils of young Lisa di Antonio Gherardini long before she became the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting. "Known . . . to those of the common class [as] 'Monna Lisa,' " she is the only child of a rich Florentine wool merchant with close ties to the ruling Medici family. In 1478, a year before Lisa was born, an attempt to slaughter the Medicis during mass ended the life of Lorenzo's beloved younger brother Giuliano. Two of the murderers were hunted down and executed; a third remains at large 13 years later, when Lisa's epileptic mother dies at the hands of fanatical priests who believe she is possessed. Within a month of witnessing her mother's horrible end, Lisa is summoned to the home of Lorenzo de' Medici, head of the family and a dazzlingly wealthy patron of the arts. He displays a mysterious fondness for the girl and commissions reigning artist Leonardo to paint her portrait. On his deathbed not long after, Lorenzo promises Lisa a large dowry and mumbles something about "the third man." With his demise and the political turmoil among rival families that ensues, Lisa and her father are caught in dangerous limbo. (Also as a result of Lorenzo's death, Leonardo's portrait of her languishes.) Lisa falls in love with Lorenzo's son Giuliano, named after his dead uncle, and they secretly marry. Giuliano is chased into exile in Rome, but Lisa, pregnant with his baby, is told he is dead. She agrees to marry her father's odious savior, Francesco del Giocondo, although he is much older; moreover, she soon chillingly learns that Francesco has ties to the third murderer. The author provides plenty of cloak-and-dagger goings-on asLisa reconnects with Leonardo, who lives in hiding because of his past ties to the Medicis, and reveals some stunning secrets about her mother. The story is endearingly told in Lisa's sweet, gullible voice, but the characters ring more romantic than true, especially Leonardo. A clever reworking, though not completely convincing.

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Product Details

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

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Chapter One

My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, though to acquaintances I am known simply as Madonna Lisa, and to those of the common class, Monna Lisa.

My likeness has been recorded on wood, with boiled linseed oil and pigments dug from earth or crushed from semiprecious stones and applied with brushes made from the feathers of birds and the silken fur of animals.

I have seen the painting. It does not look like me. I stare at it and see instead the faces of my mother and father. I listen and hear their voices. I feel their love and their sorrow, and I witness, again and again, the crime that bound them together; the crime that bound them to me.

For my story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born.

It was first revealed to me during an encounter with the astrologer two weeks before my birthday, which was celebrated on the fifteenth of June. My mother announced that I would have my choice of a present. She assumed that I would request a new gown, for nowhere has sartorial ostentation been practiced more avidly than my native Florence. My father was one of the city's wealthiest wool merchants, and his business connections afforded me my pick of sumptuous silks, brocades, velvets, and furs.

But I did not want a gown. I had recently attended the wedding of my uncle Lauro and his young bride, Giovanna Maria. During the celebration afterward, my grandmother had remarked sourly:

"It cannot last happily. She is a Sagittarius, with Taurus ascendant. Lauro is Aries, the Ram. They will constantly be butting heads."

"Mother," my own had reproached gently.

"If you and Antonio had paid attention to such matters--" My grandmother had broken off at my mother's sharp glance.

I was intrigued. My parents loved each other, but had never been happy. And I realized that they had never discussed my stars with me.

When I questioned my mother, I discovered that my chart had never been cast. This shocked me: Well-to-do Florentine families often consulted astrologers on important matters, and charts were routinely drawn up for newborns. And I was a rare creature: an only child, the bearer of my family's hopes.

And as an only child, I was well aware of the power I possessed; I whined and pleaded pitifully until my reluctant mother yielded.

Had I known then what was to follow, I would not have pressed so hard.

Because it was not safe for my mother to venture out, we did not go to the astrologer's residence, but instead summoned him to our palazzo.

From a window in the corridor near my bedroom, I watched as the astrologer's gilded carriage, its door painted with his familial crest, arrived in the courtyard behind our house. Two elegantly appointed servants attended him as he stepped down, clad in a farsetto, the close-fitting man's garment which some wore in place of a tunic. The fabric was a violet velvet quilt, covered by a sleeveless brocade cloak in a darker shade of the same hue. His body was thin and sunken-chested, his posture and movements imperious.

Zalumma, my mother's slave, moved forward to meet him. Zalumma was a well-dressed lady-in-waiting that day. She was devoted to my mother, whose gentleness inspired loyalty, and who treated her slave like a beloved companion. Zalumma was a Circassian, from the high mountains in the mysterious East; her people were prized for their beauty and Zalumma--tall as a man, with black hair and eyebrows and a face whiter than marble--was no exception. Her tight ringlets were formed not by a hot poker but by God, and were the envy of every Florentine woman. At times, she muttered to herself in her native tongue, which sounded like no language I had ever heard; she called it "Adyghabza."

Zalumma curtsied, then led the man into the house to meet my mother. She had been nervous that morning, no doubt because the astrologer was the most prestigious in town and had, when the Pope's forecaster had taken ill, even been consulted by His Holiness. I was to remain out of view; this first encounter was a business matter, and I would be a distraction.

I left my room and stepped lightly to the top of the stairs to see if I could make out what was going on two floors below me. The stone walls were thick, and my mother had shut the door to the reception chamber. I could not even make out muffled voices.

The meeting did not last long. My mother opened the door and called for Zalumma; I heard her quick steps on the marble, then a man's voice.

I retreated from the stairs and hurried back to the window, with its view of the astrologer's carriage.

Zalumma escorted him from the house--then, after glancing about, handed him a small object, perhaps a purse. He refused it at first, but Zalumma addressed him earnestly, urgently. After a moment of indecision, he pocketed the object, then climbed into his carriage and was driven away.

I assumed that she had paid him for a reading, though I was surprised that a man with such stature would read for a slave. Or perhaps my mother had simply forgotten to pay him.

As she walked back toward the house, Zalumma happened to glance up and meet my gaze. Flustered at being caught spying, I withdrew.

I expected Zalumma, who enjoyed teasing me about my misdeeds, to mention it later; but she remained altogether silent on the matter.

Copyright © 2006 by Jeanne Kalogridis. All rights reserved.

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