Leonardo's Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo Da Vinci's Servant
  • Leonardo's Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo Da Vinci's Servant
  • Leonardo's Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo Da Vinci's Servant

Leonardo's Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo Da Vinci's Servant

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by Christopher Grey

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Milan, 1497. The height of the Renaissance. And for Giacomo, servant of the famous painter Leonardo da Vinci, it's the most difficult time of all. His Master has been working on the Last Supper, his greatest painting ever, for nearly two years. But has he finished it? He's barely started! The all-powerful Duke of Milan is demanding that it be completed by

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Milan, 1497. The height of the Renaissance. And for Giacomo, servant of the famous painter Leonardo da Vinci, it's the most difficult time of all. His Master has been working on the Last Supper, his greatest painting ever, for nearly two years. But has he finished it? He's barely started! The all-powerful Duke of Milan is demanding that it be completed by the time the Pope visits at Easter. And Giacomo knows that if Leonardo doesn't pick up his pace, the Duke may invite a young genius — Michelangelo — to finish the painting instead. Which means that Leonardo won't be paid, which means that Milan's shopkeepers (to whom he owes massive amounts) will take drastic measures against him.

It's all down to Giacomo, and whether he can come up with a brilliant solution. And if he does, will his Master go for it? After all, Leonardo still doesn't seem to trust him. He refuses to teach Giacomo how to paint; he won't help him find his parents; nor will he discuss the significance of the medallion, ring, and cross that Giacomo was carrying when Leonardo found him. But with the secret arrival of a powerful stranger, Giacomo is about to discover much more than the answers he has been looking for. And he will also receive an invitation to help arrange a meeting that could change his life. . . and the future course of history.

With more twists and turns than a spiral staircase, this thriller is as unique as its two heroes — the most celebrated artist who ever lived, and a young man without a past, who will stop at nothing to find the truth about his life.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Kathleen Isaacs
Giacomo, servant to the stubborn but supremely talented Leonardo da Vinci, attempts to stave off his master's creditors as well as the impatient duke, encourage the artist to finish painting The Last Supper, fulfill the requests of a scheming alchemist and the beautiful Cecilia, and discover the secret of his own origins. From the opening scene in which Giacomo flees pursuers by climbing to the top of the Cathedral and falls off, the story moves quickly through the last few years of the sixteenth century, as the duke impatiently waited and da Vinci stalled before finally completing his most famous painting while working on his new invention, a flying machine. Giacomo himself tells us about the accident and fever that wiped his memory clean, his recovery and work as da Vinci's servant, his dream of becoming an artist himself, his friendships and his struggles, some of his own making and some as a result of the careless bullying and violence that seem to be the pattern of the times. Details of daily life in Milan and the work of a Renaissance painter are smoothly woven into the narrative, which, though lengthy, has plenty of suspense to keep the reader engaged. High school readers may find the author's explanation of da Vinci's delay and his choice of models for his apostles intriguing. They will sympathize with the impatient and impulsive Giacomo, and rejoice when he finally achieves at least a portion of his dreams.
Giacomo has been the servant of the renowned Leonardo Da Vinci almost as long as he has been alive. After all, he owes his very life to this man of incredible talent. Why, then, does Da Vinci refuse to teach the eager servant about art and painting? Instead, the hapless Giacomo must attend to the dubious duties of trying to get more credit from shopkeepers and suppliers as his master toils away on inventing and painting. Time is running out, though, for the painting of The Last Supper, one promised to the Duke by Easter. Giacomo fears that the deadline will not be met. What will happen to him and to the household if Da Vinci cannot complete the masterpiece? Giacomo is willing to go to great lengths to ensure his survival and his master's rightful place in the history of art. Grey creates interesting insight into the world of the Renaissance and especially the life of Da Vinci at the height of his creativity. Although the focus of the story is that of the young servant, it is through his unjaundiced eyes that readers will see a very human Da Vinci, a man insecure about his enormous talent. Giacomo's own story will attract middle school readers who enjoy history with a dash of mystery. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Simon & Schuster, 400p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Teri Lesesne
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.

To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2006: Although Leonardo da Vinci and the Duke of Milan figure prominently in this novel, this is a creative rendering of the life of Giacomo, da Vinci�s servant/apprentice. Beginning with the historical fact that da Vinci took in a young boy accused of thievery and provided for him throughout his life (as mentioned in legal papers, journals and letters), this novel provides a back story and a prominent role for Giacomo in da Vinci�s painting of the Last Supper. Readers will be quickly drawn into the world of art patronage in the Renaissance, as well as into the clash between peasants and aristocracy. Artists were themselves caught between two worlds and da Vinci is portrayed as having both a creative mind and a shrewd sense of survival. Giacomo himself is interested in the art and caught in the intrigue of Milan in the 15th century. Da Vinci has had a falling out with the Duke; the painting of the Last Supper has been endlessly delayed and now with France threatening war, the Duke wants the painting in the refectory to serve as a peace offering to the Pope, uniting the Pope�s army with Milan�s. There are spies for the French, spies for the Duke and spies for the Brotherhood of Alchemists. There is also a need for food when the merchants finally refuse to allow da Vinci any more credit. Male readers will be drawn into the adventures of the young servant; there is plenty of drinking and carousing and gang-type fighting. But readers will also find themselves wanting to know more about the young thief who worked so closely with the art master. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-It is 1497, and young Giacomo does chores for his master, accompanying him when needed and running errands to the merchants of Milan. He also spends much of his time making excuses to those who have commissioned the artist's work and fending off the many merchants who come trying to collect debts. With smooth words and false promises, the boy keeps them at bay-for the time being. Da Vinci has a commission for a great painting, but he will not work. Why is a mystery, but until he finishes this painting of the Last Supper, he will not be paid. Even worse, the Duke of Milan, whose temper is legendary, is getting impatient. Giacomo worries about starving, about freezing, and about dying by order of the duke or the gentlemen whom Da Vinci insults. But, mostly, he worries about his great master, whom he thinks might be his father. In the beginning of the book, he is chatty and breezy as he introduces his city and surroundings. As the book progresses, he becomes more serious, and readers can see him maturing and becoming more responsive to the atmosphere and problems around him. Grey seamlessly blends fact and research about the inventor/artist with imagination. The basic time line and characters of the story fit with what we know of Da Vinci's life. Easily readable, this novel incorporates adventure and mystery with history.-Heather E. Miller, Homewood Public Library, AL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


What do I remember?


"Grab him!"

"There he goes — !"

"Don't let him escape — !"

I was running right and left, wildly and without thought, threading my way through the stalls of the market in the main square.

Ten paces behind, a great crowd was chasing me, waving sticks and fists, cursing and shouting. Some of them were old, but that didn't stop them. There were women, too. All had sour faces.

They thought I was a thief.

If I was caught I would be strung up by the neck from the nearest doorway and left there to swing, for the dogs to bark at.

So I ran and I ran, skipping in between the market stalls, knocking down barrels of salt fish and baskets of red plums, always keeping a tight hold on my ragbag.

Each time someone new saw me running, they took up the alarm —

"Stop, thief!"

"Somebody take him!"

"The boy must be stopped!"

But I would never let them — even though I felt sick almost to death. I had the fever, I knew that. There was a mist in front of my eyes and I was burning up inside.

But to stop now was to stop forever.

Never! They would never take me while I lived.

I led them around and around, diving under tables and over carts, pulling down barrows and boxes behind me, but still they followed, more and more of them.

The sun was blazing overhead. It was midsummer. The flies were thick in the air, hanging heavily over the meat and fish.

There was a terrible smell. I wanted to vomit.

And then I stumbled — and a great cheer arose from behind me.

"He's fallen!"

"Take him now! Now!"

But I got up almost as quickly, my head spinning, bright lights flashing in front of my eyes. Which way — ?

Fifty paces ahead of me was the Cathedral.

The great doors were wide open.

I started for them.

Up the marble steps — one, three, five — leaping over a beggar, fast asleep —

"He's entering the Cathedral!"

"He mustn't — !"

And then I was inside.

Running from the bright white summer light into the dense dark gloom straightway robbed my eyes of their sight. I rubbed them again and again.

The marble under my bare feet was cool. It made me shiver.

High above me in the Cathedral vaulting I could hear birds flapping their wings. The sound filled my head. I clapped my hands over my ears. All my senses were on fire because of the accursed fever.

The windows were made of glass stained blue and green and red. The light streamed through them. I looked at my hands, covered with colored bands. The marble floor was filled with a rainbow light. The colors were swirling before my eyes. I was going to fall — I couldn't stay up —

"There he is!"

No time to rest. No time to think. They were still on my tail.

I took a deep breath and started to run again —

Up the central nave towards the high altar at the far end of the Cathedral.

God will save me!

A priest ran out of the shadows —

"Halt, boy! You cannot — "

No! I pulled myself past him, leaving him to fill his arms with air.

I looked left and right —

The mob was inside the Cathedral, fifty or more of them, fanning out across the vast floor, their cries echoing against the high walls.

"He's over there!"

"We've got him now!"

Then I saw it.

A candle in one of the side chapels gave off a dull yellow light.

A half-open door.

I ran between the benches, falling over one old man praying — no, he was drunk, by God, and let out an awful groan —

Across the aisles and to the door. I pushed it open.

A staircase leading upwards.

Nowhere else to go —

I started to mount it at a run, counting the steps in my mind as I went.

Twenty . . .

Round and round, the stairway wound.

Forty . . .

A small, barred window. I looked out. Below me, roofs and more roofs.

Sixty . . .

The dizziness came over me again. I leaned against the cool white marble wall for a few breaths, until the strange feeling had passed.

The walls surrounding the stairway were so close now that they almost grazed my shoulders as I made my way ever upwards.

Eighty . . .

The only light was a dull gray haze that came from small square holes in the wall.

It was cold.

But I was sweating fit to melt. The fever gripped me in every part. My legs felt lead-heavy. How much longer did I have?

Voices! Almost like whispers, so far below.

At least I had a good start. And they would only be able to climb the stairway in single file. It was too narrow to let them all up at once.

One hundred . . .

My breath was coming so fast I had to slow myself, I was coughing madly.

Up and up the stairway went. Would it never end?

One hundred and twenty . . .

I stopped again to listen. Not a sound. Had they abandoned the chase? Silence, except for my heart, thump, thump, thump.

The air grew even colder.

One hundred and forty . . .

And then, when I thought my legs would give way from the effort, I was face-to-face with a small door.

I pushed at it. And again. Rusted hinges. At last it opened —

And for a moment I had to shield my eyes from the dazzle of the afternoon sun.

On each side of the walkway were many carved spires pointing upwards to Heaven.

The wind was blowing a gale up here.

The clouds were so low they were almost grazing the tops of the spires.

Birds were perched on the statues lining the sides. There were nests tucked into the stonework.

I was on the very roof of the Cathedral.

I ran to the edge and looked out between the spires to see what was below.

Roofs, streets, and people small as crumbs.

I looked up. Beyond the city — fields, forests, and, in the far distance, snow-capped mountains.

It was so beautiful.

But I had no time to admire it.

"I see him!"

They had followed me up, and faster than I thought they could — now they were spilling through the little door, one after another.

I ran headlong to the front of the Cathedral.

"He can't escape!"

Nowhere to go now. Nothing in front of me but air. I stuffed my ragbag inside my shirt.

Then I climbed up the marble carvings and stood at the top, holding on to the cross at the highest point.

"Come any closer and I'll jump," I shouted.

They halted, the great crowd of them.

One man, bearded, stepped forward.

"You're a thief. And you've led us a fine dance. Now give back what you stole and we'll hand you over to the Guard."

"String him up!" someone shouted.

"I'm not a thief — I took nothing!" I shouted back.

"Come down, boy, or suffer for it," the man said.

"I'll die before I let you take me," I yelled, and cast a quick glance downward. It made my head spin. Could I jump? Did I have the courage? I hoped I would not feel anything when my head hit the ground. Perhaps it would all be —

"Get him!"

And they ran at me.

I climbed to the very tip, and then, standing as tall as I could — I let go, holding my arms out wide.

They gasped.

"You'll fall, you little fool!"

I smiled. Truly, I did not care.

"I'm not a thief!" I shouted at them.

"Then show us what's in the bag!" one of them bellowed.

I pulled it out from inside my shirt and prepared to undo the knot.

And then —

The great bells started to ring. Dong! Dong! Dong!

And at that moment the sun turned its face towards me and my eyes were filled with light — my whole head was bursting with light and sound — I shut my eyes, and for a moment I felt calm and at peace, nothing but the feeling of the air surrounding me — and then I felt myself falling over the side — but I did not try to stop myself or clutch at the stone ledge as I fell — it felt good to be free of the earth and to close my eyes, I did not want to open them again, ever — and I let myself fall over the side of Milan Cathedral, still clutching my ragbag, and as I fell I was so happy that now I would be able to sleep and sleep forever —

Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Grey

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