Leonardo's Swans

Leonardo's Swans

by Karen Essex

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767923064
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/09/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 613,817
Product dimensions: 5.49(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.85(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

karen essex is an award-winning journalist, a screenwriter, and the author of two acclaimed biographical novels, Kleopatra and Pharaoh.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


X * FORTUNA (CHANCE)


FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF LEONARDO:

When Fortune comes, seize her firmly at the forelock, for I tell you, she is bald at the back.


IN THE YEAR 1489; IN THE CITY OF FERRARA


She grew up in a land of fairy tales and miracles. That is what Isabella is explaining to Francesco as they ride through Ferrara's streets. It is Christmastime, and though there is no snow on the dry stone road, the horses shoot clouds of steam into the frigid air through their nostrils.

This is the first time she has been allowed to escort her fiancé through the city on one of his visits. Francesco Gonzaga, future Marquis of Mantua, has come to Ferrara to romance his soon-to-be bride and to enjoy the city's many Christmas pageants ordered by Isabella's father, Duke Ercole d'Este, a great patron of the theater. Isabella believes that the more she tells Francesco of Ferrara's secrets and wonders, and the more she shows him of her father's spectacular building projects and improvements, the more he will realize her value.

In this very church, Isabella says, pointing to St. Mary's of the Ford, almost two hundred years ago on Easter Sunday, the priest broke the Eucharist in two, and flesh and blood came spraying forth, covering the walls of the church and splattering the entire flock.

"The parishioners watched in awe," Isabella says, eyes wide with drama. "The Bishop of Ferrara and the Archbishop of Ravenna came to see it. They instantly recognized it as the body and blood of Christ and declared it a true miracle of the Eucharist."

Francesco solemnly makes the sign of the cross as they ride past the church, but his eyebrows arch skeptically, making him look entirely out of step with the act.

Beatrice trots ahead of the pair of lovers, her long braid swinging in saucy rhythm with the horse's mane, as uninterested as her steed in their conversation.

"Isn't that right, Beatrice?" Isabella asks her sister for confirmation of her story, hoping that the odd girl does not say anything to contradict her. Beatrice is a puzzle to Isabella, a fact that the older sister blames on the girl's unsupervised upbringing in wild Naples. The girl is a feral, unformed thing, alternately shy, naive, aloof, and bold--the latter especially apparent when riding or hunting. How such a small fourteen-year-old girl, who is not particularly courageous outside of these activities, excels at all manly sport is a mystery to Isabella, but the fact of Beatrice's prowess remains, no matter how enigmatic.

"I wouldn't know. I wasn't there!" Beatrice finally answers without turning around, but they can hear her laugh at her own joke.

The animal's swaying ass taunts Isabella, who knows that her sister is dying to break away from them to test the horse's speed. Francesco has brought Drago, the pure white Spanish charger, from his family's stud farm on the island of Tejeto, as a gift for the girls' father. But Beatrice immediately took over the animal, talking to him in whispers that should be reserved for a lover, and hopping upon him and riding away, as if the painstakingly bred horse was meant to carry a little girl in a pink riding dress and not a fearsome knight in armor.

"I'll tell you a miracle that happened right here in Ferrara that is even better," Francesco says, sidling his horse right up to Isabella's so that their legs touch. She knows she should pull away, that her mother would rail against this sort of indiscriminate physical contact, even with leather riding boots providing a barrier to the couple's much-craved intimacy, but instead, she rides with slow care so that they might continue to brush against one another.

"What miracle is that?" she asks, suppressing a smile.

"That your father agreed that you should be my wife," he answers.

You have no idea just how miraculous, she thinks. If the timing had been slightly different, he would be marrying the jaunty girl riding ahead of them, but this, he does not know. When the marriage agreements were made nine years ago, Isabella was only six and Beatrice five. Who could have cared at that time which sister married what man, as long as both marriages were politically expedient for the city-state of Ferrara? Isabella wants to tell him the story but she would need him to say that if things had worked out differently, his life would have been a ruin. And he cannot possibly say that in front of Beatrice.

Duchess Leonora had long ago drummed into her daughters' heads that marriage between noble houses was no whimsical arrangement based on ephemeral qualities of preference or attraction. The peace of Italy depended on these unions, especially at this juncture. The Venetians had become doubly aggressive since the Turks pushed them out of Constantinople. They began to push farther and farther inland into Italy because they needed land for their farms and their citizens. They hired condottieri to take over towns--Verona, Padua, and Vincenza, all near Ferrara. The Venetians wanted complete control over the trade routes and the rivers, as well as the land. Ferrara was venerable and strong, but small. For her to remain independent, she must have strong alliances with the city-states of Mantua and Milan.

"You girls are ambassadors of Ferrara. Its welfare depends upon the success of your marriages. Therefore, you must do nothing, nothing, to endanger these alliances. You must do nothing prior to the marriages that may cause the families to renege on the commitments. Your behavior must be impeccable. You are as much the protectors of Ferrara's welfare as our army or our treasury. You are, in fact, its greatest treasures. And when you enter your husbands' houses, I expect you to act like it. Your bodies are the very bindings that will hold us all together and stave off conflicts and wars. Do not think that you can behave like the women in fairy tales and poetry. The duke and I will not tolerate it."

Looking at Francesco now, Isabella thinks that she must be the most fortunate of women. Her fiance is not handsome, but has a rugged quality that gives an ugly man appeal. Already three and twenty, he will never be tall, and his eyes bulge, a condition that she knows will worsen over time, because she has seen old men with this affliction, and they look like reptiles. Yet he is as solidly built as any man alive, and his courtly manners contrast so thrillingly with the wicked look in his protruding brown eyes. Besides being from one of the oldest noble families in Italy, he already is considered a brilliant student of warfare, destined for an illustrious career in the military arts. Undoubtedly he will lead one of Italy's great armies to many victories. Isabella feels that Francesco is the perfect man to help her realize her destiny--which is to have a powerful husband and reign with him over a great and enlightened realm.

Beatrice, riding three lengths in front of them, begins to pick up speed. She turns her head to the side, giving the lovers a sprightly profile, before dashing off with the horse.

"We had better follow her," Francesco says, a look of grave concern coming over his face.

"That will not be easy," Isabella replies.

Isabella does not like to see any interest in her sister from her betrothed, though she cannot imagine why. With her exceptional qualities, she should not worry one bit. But worry she does. Francesco is from a family famous for breeding horses. Nothing arouses the passions of the Gonzagas of Mantua like a great horse, or a rider who can handle one. Beatrice looks back one more time before guiding Drago through one of the city's grand arched portals to a road where she can ride faster. Francesco takes up the challenge and speeds after her on his dark stallion, the jewels in his silver saddle catching just enough of the winter sun to sparkle.

Isabella follows, but at a slower pace. It would be extremely unladylike for her to compete with her boyish sister in this game for Francesco's attention. Besides, she does not want to sweat so badly under her new habit that she will be embarrassed later, when, helping her descend from the steed, Francesco will take her small hand and slyly raise it to his lips. Let Beatrice dismount in her typical disheveled state--damp, stringy hairs hanging about her face, and oozing sweat like the horses she rides into the ground. Isabella settles into a steady canter as the two race ahead of her, first Francesco taking the lead, then Beatrice gaining on him, so close that it looks from this distance as if she is trying to make her horse bite his stallion's rear end.

If one is to look upon the two sisters objectively, as Isabella prays Francesco does, one has to observe Isabella's advantages. Isabella has spent all her life at her distinguished mother's knee, while Beatrice, from the ages of two to ten, was left behind at the court of Naples all the way on the other side of Italy as a peace offering to their grandfather, King Ferrante, whom everyone feared and hated, but who had taken an instant liking to Beatrice. Isabella reads Latin impeccably and can recite Virgil's Eclogues to the satisfaction of her tutors and her father's eminent guests. Beatrice, on the other hand, has spent the four years since her return to Ferrara being pushed to catch up with her sister in their studies. She can barely spell. She can recite a poem or two in Latin, but Isabella doubts that she has any idea of what she is saying. Isabella plays musical instruments and sings like an angel. Beatrice loves music, but must be sung to. Isabella has studied rhetoric and mathematics and can take either side in an argument over at least one Platonic dialogue. Beatrice enjoys poetry, but prefers that others read it to her. Isabella is the loveliest dancer in all of Ferrara, turning her head elegantly this way and that. Not only does she have the correct timing, style, and balance necessary for the art, she also knows just where to place her smile as she turns, dips, and lowers her head, eyes lingering on their specific target, until the lids fall modestly in time with the music. Beatrice manages at dance, but is no match for her graceful sibling. Isabella has read all of the books in her father's library and all of her mother's romance novels about the chivalric days of old. She has watched carefully as her parents commissioned and acquired paintings and other works of art from the most illustrious talents of the age.

In addition to her intellectual accomplishments, Isabella has tumbling blond curls, large, wide-set black eyes, and a slender body. Beatrice shows signs of stoutness, with thick thighs and ankles, though only her sister, her servants, and her husband--should the man to whom she is engaged actually honor their betrothal--will ever know this. She has a round face, a small, uninteresting nose, and dark hair that lacks luster, so much so that she must wear it in a long pigtail down her back. She prefers the outdoors to all pursuits. She is the kind of person Isabella would not find terribly interesting if she were not her sister.

Isabella consistently outperforms Beatrice in all pursuits but this, the equestrian. Now, and in the presence of her betrothed, Isabella fears Beatrice is trying to make her pay for her crimes of superiority.

Suddenly Francesco stops, pulling in the animal, whipping him about so that he is facing Isabella. She realizes that he is looking for her, has stopped this competition with her sister because she has entered his mind, even in the midst of the wild ride.

Beatrice, who has bolted ahead, stops too. No longer enjoying the ride without the competitive aspect, she trots back to him. Isabella hears Francesco say, "I wanted you to show me the city's newest improvements, not race me to your death."

"You just don't want to lose to a woman," Beatrice retorts, flushed scarlet from her escapade, adjusting the velvet cap that she wears at a clever tilt.

"Do you fail to remember that I was not losing?" he answers.

"Settle down," Isabella says in Beatrice's direction, hoping that she does not sound too much like the admonishing older sister, the sour one who does not want to be a part of their game. "We are supposed to be showing him the city!"

"Be a good girl, or I'm going to take Drago back home with me," Francesco says to Beatrice in a tone that conspires with Isabella's parental attitude toward her sister.

Beatrice clutches the reins close to her chest. "He wouldn't go. He would run away with me first!"

"Don't be too sure, little princess," he replies, sounding like a father.

Thank God he considers her a child and Isabella a woman! Satisfied that she can recapture Francesco's attention with her more mature demeanor, Isabella leads them over the bridge and back inside the city walls.

"Now, Beatrice, do listen to what I am telling Francesco so that when your betrothed comes to visit Ferrara, you might show him these same things."

Beatrice groans. The subject is a sore one.

Mistress once more of the little expedition, Isabella explains how the city of Ferrara has changed in recent years; how her father, the duke, had gotten it into his mind to rebuild the city along the enlightened architectural guidelines set by Leon Battista Alberti, the Genoan. She explains (to demonstrate her knowledge of not only architecture, city planning, and mathematics but political subtleties as well) how Ercole had sent to his ally, Lorenzo the Magnificent in Florence, for the ten manuscripts of Alberti's De Re Aedificatoria, to set about modernizing his city and its buildings according to that great theorist's vision. Streets were widened into broad avenues. New structures were created with careful attention to classical values of proportion and harmony. Aesthetics were linked with and equal to the mathematical proportions of things.

While all this construction had flown up around her, Isabella had felt that, along with the old-fashioned city of pointed arches and endless spires, life itself was spreading out in broader directions. Narrow streets, dark halls with low ceilings, and cramped corridors were things of the past. Lamps and candles illuminated rooms once kept dark. People were reading and talking in these well-lit drawing rooms late into the night. Ancient manuscripts, once the property of the church and private collectors alone, were being translated from Greek and Latin into Italian right here at Ferrara's university, and Venetian and Milanese printers were making copies of them and selling them all over the country. In the years after her father had defeated and executed his rivals and made peace with the Venetian Republic, the old Castello d'Este with its famous four towers was quickly transformed from fortress to grand residential palazzo. The soldiers, along with their weapons and artillery, were moved to the older, colder, more stern quarters, while the family and members of the court occupied the newer and more spacious halls and apartments, decorated with the works of the greatest artists of the decades, all of whom had passed through Ferrara in the service of the Este family--Pisanello, Piero della Francesca, the Venetian Jacopo Bellini, Cosimo Tura.


From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

1. While Leonardo’s Swans is written from the points of view of the Este sisters, each chapter begins with an excerpt from the actual notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, who is a pivotal character. How did the portrayal of Leonardo change your opinion of this iconic artist? Were you aware of the breadth of his work, which included weaponry design, anatomy, sculpture, and machinery?

2. Leonardo’s challenges as a genius with a great vision and also a human being who needs to pay his bills and feed his dependents is explored throughout the novel. Did the fact that this great man was plagued by so many ordinary woes surprise you? Is his situation different from the artist’s plight today? Did his problems change your opinion about, or shed light upon, the struggles facing any contemporary artists that you might know?

3. The novel explores the eternal relationship between art and power. What is created and what survives is a direct result of who is in power and who is controlling the purse strings. Leonardo’s most famous paintings were commissioned by his patrons. Other works were not executed because of both war and whim. How does this theme continue to play out in our own culture? Did you make the connection between, say, the destruction of the colossal Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban and Leonardo’s bronze for his colossal horse sculpture being shipped away to make cannons? Or the French soldiers destroying the clay sculpture after the fall of Milan? What works of art have been commissioned with public money in your community? Do you think they reflect the vision of the artist or the vision of those who commissioned them?

4. Isabella d’Este was obsessed with being immortalized by the great artists of her day. What would be a parallel in our own society? Is today’s quest for publicity and self-promotion the same instinct? How do today’s power players seek immortality through art and architecture?

5. Beatrice and Isabella d’Este were mere teenagers when they married and took their positions as co–rulers of great Italian city–states. If they were alive today, they would have been in high school instead of administering huge and complex governments. It is unimaginable that seventeen year–old girls would control treasuries, hear pleas from members of the community and decide resolutions, or commission works of art from great masters. How has our idea of adolescence and womanhood changed over the centuries? Do you think this is a positive or negative evolution?

6. The portrayal of the Este sisters accurately reflects their roles in their communities. Were you surprised that young women wielded such enormous power and influence during the Renaissance? Why is it that women of power are generally left out of the history books? Is all women’s history hidden history? Do you think that today’s young girls would be enriched by learning about the stories of these extraordinary women of the past?

7. The timing of Isabella’s marriage proposal from Francesco Gonzaga prevented her from marrying the man who might have been her true soul mate, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Could history have been changed if Ludovico had been subject to Isabella’s stronger control? Do you think that if the marriages had been reversed and Beatrice would have wed Francesco, the outcome for both sisters—indeed, the outcome for the duchy of Milan—would have been more successful?

8. Isabella d’Este’s superior survival skills enabled her to weather the constantly changing political loyalties of her contemporaries, even those in her own family. She went on to become a great collector and patron of the arts and a strong political influence in Italy and beyond. Did she emerge as your favorite character, or did you have more sympathy for Beatrice? Is survival the most important goal after all? Do you think Isabella might have paid a price for “winning?”

9. Each chapter of Leonardo’s Swans is entitled with the name of a tarot card. The tarot deck was invented at the court of Milan and painted most famously by the artist Bonifacio Bembo. The cards reflected the nature of other playing cards of the day and were used to play a Game of Triumphs, or trumps, as is referred to in the novel. Beatrice, in fact, did excel at this game. Do you see the correlation between the tarot cards and the events of the chapters? Do you agree, along with Isabella, that la Fortuna, or the Wheel of Fortune, has a hand in human events?

10. Leonardo da Vinci was recognized in his own time as an innovator and a genius. To put it in contemporary terminology, he was one of the “rock stars” of his day, owing solely to his talent. Has the power of fine art such as painting and sculpture been reduced by the advent of television, video, cinema, and other alternative art forms and media? How important is it to preserve and support the fine arts?

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Leonardo's Swans 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
dll More than 1 year ago
With the landslide of women's historical fiction triggered mostly by Phillipa Gregory (unfortunately, in my opinion), it is a relief to find an interesting and historically accurate novel. The author relies on her ablities to describe and conjecture about the women within historically accurate surroundings and events rather than full blown sex scenes to propel the reader's interest. Further, there is comparitively speaking, very little good historical fiction written about the area which later became Italy (or any other country that is not either England or Scotland) during the 15th and 16th centuries, yet many historically defining events occured within the region. I recommend it highly - for newbies it gives a taste of what well-written historical fiction can really be like, and for those of us who have been reading historical fiction for 30 years or more, it helps flesh out a time when all areas of life were being turbulently and thrillingly changed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beatrice and Isabella d'Este, two 16th-century noblewomen, are depicted here as sisters who love each other dearly despite their ongoing rivalry. Both of them marry well (though not always happily), and as patronesses of the arts are closely associated with Leonardo da Vinci. This fictional recreation of their lives as young women is lively and fascinating. Both are strong-minded and independent, and would probably have made better rulers than their husbands in their respective cities of Milan and Mantua. The author's historical notes about the characters are an added bonus at the end of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Karen Essex does an incredible job of bringing these historical characters to life. I found myself engrossed in these people's lives and this moment in Italian history. I've read a number of historical fiction from this period, and Leonardo's Swans is by far my favorite! Great read. Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
if you like history in Renaissance Italy.1490-1550..you will love it...while these events happened Christopher Columbus was just discovering America........
AlisaLorrine More than 1 year ago
After reading this book, I wanted to go back in time and meet (at least the fictional version) of Leonardo. Beatrice and Isabella are such polar opposite characters, and their lives are full of intrigue and plot twists. Sticks pretty true to historical facts, Essex has tied in fiction seamlessly. Gorgeous writing style, character development and plot. I sure wish I had my own treasury room like Beatrice!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very good, I still think that The Other Boleyn Girl is the best historical fiction book I have ever read, but this novel took me into the Italian times of Leonardo Da Vinci and made the author made the characters realistic through the sisterly competion, which occurs with all siblings and people. I'm not sure if I liked the ending, but I liked the book overall. It was a fantastic way to start my summer reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
LEONARDO¿S SWANS by Karen Essex is a tempestuous tale of two sisters. The sisters in question are Isabella and Beatrice D¿Este. In personality and looks they are very different but their lives are intertwined in the turbulent history of the Italian city-states during the Renaissance. A third character is braided into this very readable historical novel ¿ Leonardo (da Vinci). Here he is called the Magistro, and the portrait of him comes across as an enigmatic but truthful image of the artist/engineer. Essex has a way of allowing the reader to enter into the history through the characters. It is a well-written novel with each of the chapters bearing the title of a Tarot card. Nice touch since the Sforza-Visconti¿s had some influence on the Renaissance invention. ¿ Leslie Strang Akers
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just read Leonardo's Swans, which I thought was simply fantastic. It was brought even more to life by the lively read by the author, Karen Essex, who swung through Pasadena on a book tour. The characters are beautifully and specifically drawn and it is simply fascinating to finally learn of the other components, namely the women, in Da Vinci's life. I was both educated AND entertained. I couldn't recommend this book more highly!
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction at its finest aptly describes 'Leonardo's Swans,' which is rich in period detail and court intrigue. A voice performance at its finest is also an appropriate description of Elizabeth Sartre's narration. She brings alive the longings and loves of two sisters in Renaissance Italy. Ferrara is home to Isabella and Beatrice. They're close together in age but miles apart in ersonality. 'Beatrice is a puzzle to Isabella, a fact that the older sister blames on the girl's unsupervised upbringing in wild Naples.' Isabella is engaged to Francesco, while the younger Beatrice will wed Ludovico, the future Duke of Milan. These marriages had been arranged when the girls were 5 and 6 years of age. It little mattered at the time which girl would be wed to which man as long as the match was beneficial for the city-state of Ferrara. In later life the girls will be rivals as Isabella catches the eye of Ludovico, a man lacking in morals with a beautiful mistress, to say nothing of being her brother-in-law. He may have met his match in the ambitious Isabella who would use him so that his court painter, Leonardo da Vinci, might capture her image in oils. These maneuverinsg are set against the plotting of France's rulers to invade Italy. Essex depicts the Renaissance with all its ribaldry and rivalry - wonderful listening! - Gail Cooke
elleeldritch on LibraryThing 25 days ago
I picked this up in the hopes of reading a fictional story about Leonardo da Vinci and people that surrounded him. While it is true that he plays a role in this novel, he takes a back seat to the d'Este sisters. The story surrounding the sisters was interesting and intriguing, enough to make me finish the book, however I was unsatisfied overall. When I started to read this, I was hoping for a book similar to Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus or Susan Vreeland's The Passion of Artemisia, something that expounded on the life of the artist. This is worth a read if you have never heard of these people (excluding Leonardo, as you won't get much information here other than a brief overview of his personality) and are interested in the time period, including the natural intrigue that comes along with a royal-like court.
bolgai on LibraryThing 25 days ago
My favorite thing about this book is that it exposed me to some very interesting people who lived in 15th century Italy. Without it I may have never heard about the incredible Isabella d'Este, may have never looked up the paintings mentioned in this book, may have never thought about Leonardo da Vinci as a man outside of his work. Ms. Essex did a great job of getting into the women's heads and showing us what they thought and felt at the most important times of their lives. I preferred Isabella not because her character was easier to relate to but because her sections were deeper, more intimate. She was a woman of great intellect, an art connoisseur, a formidable opponent for any man in the political arena as well as a woman of great beauty, grace and charm. It was fascinating to learn about her and I intend to read more about her in the future. Leonardo da Vinci is a prominent character in this book but we never get to hear about the events from him. He is always talked about by either Esabella or Beatrice and while their descriptions paint an interesting portrait (no pun intended) it would've been very interesting to get his take on the events of the time and the people with whom he was in such close contact. Throughout the book there are excerpts from Leonardo's notes that are both his reflections about the subjects of his studies and to-do lists that give us a glimpse into the mundane part of his life. These excerpts are not invention of the author, they are actually taken from da Vinci's notebooks and effectively bring the reader closer to the time and the characters of the book. As impressed as I was by the characters this book fell a bit flat for me because of the writing. The narrative went from lively scenes that were very engaging to sections that read more like a chronicle and back. Because of this the novel didn't hold my interest as much as it could have and I had no trouble setting it down and sometimes even found myself zoning out during the accounts of who invaded whom and who was suspected of whose death. The fact that the narrative often changed between past and present tense from one paragraph to the next didn't help eather and even though eventually I managed to ignore the back and forth between the "is" and the "was" the challenge of having to do it detracted from the enjoyment of the book. I would recommend this novel to those readers who are interested in learning about Italy at that tumultuous time in history, enjoy fascinating characters and feel they'll be able to ignore the inconsistencies in tense and less than stellar bridges between the scenes that actually had some life to them.
nycbookgirl on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Thought I was going to hate it but ended up loving it. A story of two sisters. A story of Leonardo da Vinci. Check it out.Synopsis:The story revolves around two sisters, Isabella and Beatrice d'Este. Isabella is the typical blond gorgeous beauty. And Beatrice is the younger, more wild and less traditionally beautiful sister. At first Isabella is ecstatic that she is engaged to handsome young Marquess of Mantua. And they are actually in love with each other. And poor Beatrice. She is engaged to the OLD Duke of Milan, Ludovico "Il Moro" Sforza,. I mean, hey, he's a Duke, but he's so old! The Duke is known for being wealthy, having mistresses, and being a patron to Leonardo da Vinci. He's also known for having Leonardo paint portraits of his mistresses. A famous example is the portrait of his favorite mistress, Cecilia Gallerani entitled "Lady with an Ermine."But against all odds, when Beatrice marries The Duke, this wild, dark-haired, lover of horses gets her husband to fall in love with her. And she become a great Duchess.And Isabella is at odds. Now she is slightly jealous. She's not a Duchess and she's never going to be immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci...like Beatrice will be. Not that Beatrice cares.So I thought I wasn't going to like this book because I thought Isabella was going to be a scheming evil sister and poor Beatrice was going to get trampled over by The Duke. But that's not what happened.Even though the sisters are separated, through their letters and life circumstances, they actually become fairly close and bond. I loved watching that unfold.And Beatrice became my favorite. She became such a strong capable Duchess able to woo and win her husband while becoming a fairly apt ruler herself.While this would have been an interesting story on it's own, folded in is the story of Leonardo's time under the patronage of The Duke. So we get to see tidbits of his life and art during this period and how and why he made them.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing 28 days ago
This really is a fabulous read. The interweavings of the Este sisters lives and that of Leonardo da Vinci is quite brilliant. You not only get a sense of the life style of those times, but a deeper look at the intricacies of that time. THe two sisters are wonderfully portrayed and their distinct and different personalites shiine through. Fans of this historical period should most definately read this one.
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