I, Mona Lisaby Jeanne Kalogridis
"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/b>/b>/p>/b>/i>
"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.
“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 on The Borgia Bride
“Entertaining.” USA Today on The Borgia Bride
“...a dramatic tale from a heady mix of royal power plays and passion.” Publishers Weekly on The Borgia Bride
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I, Mona Lisa
By Jeanne Kalogridis
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Jeanne Kalogridis
All rights reserved.
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.CHAPTER 2
Three days later, the astrologer returned. Once again, I watched from the top-floor window as he climbed from the carriage and Zalumma greeted him. I was excited; Mother had agreed to call for me when the time was right. I decided that she wanted time to polish any negative news and give it a rosier glow.
This time the horoscopist wore his wealth in the form of a brilliant yellow tunic of silk damask trimmed with brown marten fur. Before entering the house, he paused and spoke to Zalumma furtively; she put a hand to her mouth as if shocked by what he said. He asked her a question. She shook her head, then put a hand on his forearm, apparently demanding something from him. He handed her a scroll of papers, then pulled away, irritated, and strode into our palazzo. Agitated, she tucked the scroll into a pocket hidden in the folds of her skirt, then followed on his heels.
I left the window and stood listening at the top of the stairs, mystified by the encounter and impatient for my summons.
Less than a quarter hour later, I started violently when, downstairs, a door was flung open with such force it slammed against the wall. I ran to the window: The astrologer was walking, unescorted, back to his carriage.
I lifted my skirts and dashed down the stairs full tilt, grateful that I encountered neither Zalumma nor my mother. Breathless, I arrived at the carriage just as the astrologer gave his driver the signal to leave.
I put my hand on the polished wooden door and looked up at the man sitting on the other side. "Please stop," I said.
He gestured for the driver to hold the horses back and scowled sourly down at me; yet his gaze also held a curious compassion. "You would be the daughter, then."
He appraised me carefully. "I will not be party to deception. Do you understand?"
"Hmm. I see that you do not." He paused to choose his words carefully. "Your mother, Madonna Lucrezia, said that you were the one who requested my services. Is that so?"
"It is." I flushed, not knowing whether my admission would anger him further.
"Then you deserve to hear at least some of the truth — for you will never hear the full of it in this house." His pompous irritation faded and his tone grew earnest and dark. "Your chart is unusual — some would say it is distressing. I take my art very seriously, and employ my intuition well, and both tell me that you are caught in a cycle of violence, of blood and deceit. What others have begun, you must finish."
I recoiled. When I could find my voice, I insisted, "I want nothing to do with such things."
"You are fire four times over," he said. "Your temper is hot, a furnace in which the sword of justice must be forged. In your stars I saw an act of violence, one which is your past and your future."
"But I would never do anything to hurt someone else!"
"God has ordained it. He has His reasons for your destiny."
I wanted to ask more, but the astrologer called to his driver, and the pair of fine black horses pulled them away.
Perplexed and troubled, I walked back toward the house. By chance, I happened to lift my gaze, and saw Zalumma, staring down at me from the top-floor window.
By the time I returned to my chamber, she was gone. There I waited for half an hour until my mother called for me.
She still sat in the grand hall where she had received the astrologer. She smiled when I entered, apparently unaware of my encounter with him. In her hand she bore a sheaf of papers.
"Come, sit beside me," she said brightly. "I shall tell you all about your stars. They should have been charted long ago, so I have decided that you still deserve a new gown. Your father will take you today into the city to choose the cloth; but you must say nothing to him about this. Otherwise, he will judge us as too extravagant."
I sat stiffly, my back straight, my hands folded tightly in my lap.
"See here." My mother set the papers in her lap and rested her fingertip on the astrologer's elegant script. "You are Gemini, of course — air. And Pisces rising, which is water. Your moon is in Aries — fire. And you have many aspects of earth in your chart, which makes you exceedingly well balanced. This indicates a most fortunate future."
As she spoke, my anger grew. She had spent the past half hour composing herself and concocting a happy falsehood. The astrologer had been right; I could not expect to find the truth here.
"You will have a long, good life, wealth, and many children," my mother continued. "You need not worry about which man you marry, for you are so well aspected toward every sign that —"
I cut her off. "No," I said. "I am fire four times over. My life will be marked by treachery and blood."
My mother rose swiftly; the papers in her lap slipped to the floor and scattered. "Zalumma!" she hissed, her eyes lit by a fury I had never seen in her before. "Did she speak to you?"
"I spoke to the astrologer myself."
This quieted her at once, and her expression grew unreadable. Carefully, she asked, "What else did he tell you?"
"Only what I just said."
Abruptly drained, she sank back into her chair.
Lost in my own anger, I did not stop to think that my kind and doting mother wished only to shield me from evil news. I jumped to my feet. "All that you have said is a lie. What others have you told me?"
It was a cruel thing to say. She glanced at me, stricken. Yet I turned and left her sitting there, with her hand pressed to her heart.
I soon surmised that my mother and Zalumma had had a terrible argument. They had always been on the most amiable terms, but after the astrologer's second visit, my mother grew cold each time Zalumma entered the room. She would not meet her slave's gaze, nor would she speak more than a few words to her. Zalumma, in turn, was sullen and silent. Several weeks passed before they were friends once again.
My mother never spoke to me again of my stars. I often thought of asking Zalumma to find the papers the astrologer had given my mother so that I could read for myself the truth of my fate. But each time, a sense of dread held me back.
I already knew more than I wished.
Almost two years would pass before I learned of the crime to which I was inextricably bound.CHAPTER 3
In the stark, massive Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli stood before the altar and fought to steady his shaking hands. He could not, of course — no more than he could hide the blackness in his heart from God. He pressed palms and fingers together in a gesture of prayer and held them to his lips. Voice unsteady, he whispered, pleading for the success of the dark venture in which he found himself entangled, pleading for forgiveness should it succeed.
I am a good man. Baroncelli directed the thought to the Almighty. I have always meant others well. How did I come to find myself here?
No answer came. Baroncelli fixed his gaze on the altar, fashioned of dark wood and gold. Through the stained-glass windows in the cupola, the morning light streamed down in golden rays, glittering with dust as they glinted off the golden fixtures. The sight evoked unsullied Eden. Surely God was here, but Baroncelli sensed no divine presence, only his own wickedness.
"God forgive me, a most miserable sinner," he murmured. His quiet prayer mingled with the hundreds of hushed voices inside the cavernous Church of Saint Mary of the Flower — in this case, a lily. The sanctuary was one of the largest in the world, and built in the shape of a Latin cross. Atop the juncture of the arms rested the architect Brunelleschi's greatest achievement: il Duomo. Dazzling in its sheer expanse, the huge dome had no apparent means of support. Visible from any part of the city, the orange brick cupola majestically dominated the skyline and had, like the lily, become a symbol of Florence. It stretched so high that when he first set eyes upon it, Baroncelli thought it surely touched the Gates of Heaven.
Baroncelli dwelled in a far lower realm this particular morning. Though the plan had seemed simple enough to be foolproof, now the painfully bright day had dawned, he was overwhelmed with foreboding and regret. The latter emotion had always marked his life: Born into one of the city's wealthiest and most eminent families, he had squandered his fortune and fallen into debt at an advanced age. He had spent his life as a banker and knew nothing else. His only choices were to move wife and children down to Naples and beg for sponsorship from one of his rich cousins — an option his outspoken spouse, Giovanna, would never have tolerated — or to offer his services to one of the two largest and most prestigious banking families in Florence: the Medici, or the Pazzi.
He had gone first to the most powerful: the Medici. They had rejected him, a fact he still resented. But their rivals, the Pazzi, welcomed him into their fold; and it was for that reason that today he stood in the front row of the throng of faithful beside his employer, Francesco de' Pazzi. With his uncle, the knight Messer Iacopo, Francesco ran his family's international business concerns. He was a small man, with a sharp nose and chin, and eyes that narrowed beneath dark, disproportionately large brows; beside the tall, dignified Baroncelli, he resembled an ugly dwarf. Baroncelli had eventually come to resent Francesco more than the Medici, for the man was given to fits of temper and had often loosed a nasty tongue on his employee, reminding Baroncelli of his bankruptcy with stinging words.
In order to provide for his family, Baroncelli was forced to grin while the Pazzi — Messer Iacopo as well as young Francesco — insulted him and treated him as an inferior when in fact he came from a family with equal, if not more, prestige. So when the matter of the plot presented itself, Baroncelli had a choice: risk his neck by confessing everything to the Medici, or let the Pazzi force him to be their accomplice, and win for himself a position in the new government.
Now, as he stood asking God for forgiveness, he felt the warm breath of a fellow conspirator upon his right shoulder. The man praying just behind him wore the burlap robes of a penitent.
Standing to Baroncelli's left, Francesco fidgeted and glanced right, past his employee. Baroncelli followed his gaze: It rested on Lorenzo de' Medici, who at age twenty-nine was the de facto ruler of Florence. Technically, Florence was governed by the Signoria, a council of eight priors and the head of state, the gonfaloniere of justice; these men were chosen from among all the notable Florentine families. Supposedly the process was fair, but curiously, the majority of those chosen were always loyal to Lorenzo, and the gonfaloniere was his to control.
Francesco de' Pazzi was ugly, but Lorenzo was uglier still. Though he was taller than most and muscular in build, his fine body was marred by one of Florence's homeliest faces. His nose — long and pointed, ending in a pronounced upward slope that tilted to one side — had a flattened bridge, leaving Lorenzo with a peculiarly nasal voice. His lower jaw jutted out so severely that whenever he entered a room, his chin preceded him by a thumb's breadth. His disturbing profile was framed by a jaw-length hank of dark hair.
Excerpted from I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis. Copyright © 2006 Jeanne Kalogridis. 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.
Meet the Author
Jeanne Kalogridis lives with her partner on the West Coast, where they share a house with two dogs. She is the author of The Borgia Bride, The Scarlet Contessa, The Devil's Queen, and other dark fantasy and historical novels. Born in Florida, Kalogridis has a B.A. in Russian and a master's in linguistics, and taught English as a second language at The American University for eight years before retiring to write full-time.
Jeanne Kalogridis lives with her partner on the West Coast, where they share a house with two dogs. She is the author of The Borgia Bride, The Scarlet Contessa, The Devil’s Queen, and other dark fantasy and historical novels. Born in Florida, Kalogridis has a B.A. in Russian and a master’s in linguistics, and taught English as a second language at The American University for eight years before retiring to write full-time.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Wow, what a delightful find! A trip through ancient Italy with an all star cast, da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Medici family, the Pazzi family and of course Mona Lisa and her family. The book is a good blend of historical fiction and non-fiction creating a garden of delightful tales in an otherwise bloody point in Florence's history. A new twist as to who Mona Lisa is, at least one I haven't heard of before; and a well told family story to go along with it. The book has everything one could want; action, adventure, villains, unlikely heroes, tragedy, murder, passion, revenge. I am looking forward to trying another book by Jeanne Kalogridis, her writing style was a breath of fresh air and built a world that was not only believable but somewhere I didn't want to leave when the book ended. Godere!
The story takes place in Renaissance Florence and incorporates many sites, people and events of the period. The portrait of Savanarola is strong, and seems quite accurate, however, it appears the author has taken quite a bit of liberties with other actual people, and that's confusing and disconcerting. It would be better if she'd limited her imagination to those characters she invented while constraining her accounts of historial people by actual, reliable facts. Aside from that it is an interesting read, painting a vivid picture of upper class lifestyles during this period against the poverty of the struggling worker classes. It also quite accurately portrays the instability of a government that yearned to be a republic as long as their own people where in charge, and the ruthless tactics required to retain power. But if that truly interests you, read Machiavelli. This is fiction and should be read as such. Slow starting, gains interest about mid-way. Characters are lively, but not always well-developed. Some are even conflicting. However, the suspense builds and is not resolved until the very end, which does make for a good story.
Far-fetched but enjoyable tale of the lady behind the mysterious smile in the portrait of the Mona Lisa. Lisa Ghirardini, who later becomes the wife of Francesco Giacondo, a well-to-do merchant in Florence, becomes involved in treachery, murder, and religious terror during the time of Savonarola (who seems to have been given a bum rap by history). Ms. Kalogridis plays fast and loose with historical facts when Lisa marries Giuliano de Medici, who actually married a member of a prominent family, while Lisa remained married to Francesco Giocomo for decades and bore him several children. But never mind that, the story is a real page-turner and could even be classified as a thriller. Good reading!
I love historical fiction and this book was a great read!
Overall, I really liked this book. Because I read through it so fast, sometimes I would confuse certain characters. The plot was really well done and I certainly applaud that! I think the very beginning of the book could have moved a bit faster as well. The Lisa and Guiliano romance had a strong Romeo and Juliet vibe to it, but that was okay with me. I would recommend this book to any historical fiction reader.
This book was great! The reader gets to meet so many famous characters of the Italian Renaissance. I had some misgivings about whether it would be cheesy to try to make a story about how a painting came about, but they were quickly proven unfounded. I thouroughly enjoyed this one. I bought it forever ago and only recently read it because I had some issues with the download. But they fixed it & all is well.
Very good read. Fictionalized storyline was fast paced, with romance, mystery and wonderful historic detail of actual historic events and characters. I would consider reading again and highly recommend it for a first time read.
On one hand this is a very well written book with lots of research behind it. I was drawn in right away, and my interest held through the entire novel. I learned a lot about historical Florence, particularly dealing with the Medici dynasty. It was a captivating novel all the way through and I fully enjoyed it. However, I can only give it three stars. It is obvious the author put in a lot of research. The novel was packed with historical information. That is why it was severely disappointing how she portrayed the main character Lisa. Lisa del Giocondo was a real person, and scholars are pretty certain that she is the face behind the famous Mona Lisa. While she made an effort to stick with actual history when dealing with the general atmosphere of the setting, she completely dismissed the history behind Lisa del Giocondo and the Mona Lisa. The Lisa in the book is in a situation completely opposite from the real life Lisa. In a Q&A section in the back of the book, the author spoke of how she wouldn't change what is historical fact. Unfortunate that is exactly what she did with Lisa's character. At one point she mentioned that there was not a lot known about Lisa del Giocondo, so she had a lot of room to take artistic liberties. That may be true for some details, but what we do know about Lisa del Giocondo was completely ignored in this novel. The author is a wonderful writer, but not so great at historical fiction. A truly gifted historical fiction writer could take historical fact and make it an interesting story without completely changing who a person was and what their life was like.
It was historically accurate in regards to events occuring. It was interesting but the similar names were confusing.there are a lot of characters to keep up with. The climax was intense but rushed and short lived.the ending was satisfactory...nothing spectaclar.
It is quite an entertaining read, nothing more than an engaging story full of twists and plots involving the Medici clan and Leonardo DaVinci. By the end, it gets a little flat.