I, Mona Lisa
In her follow-up to 2005’s The Borgia Bride, Jeanne Kalogridis brings to life the woman behind the enigmatic smile of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting. Lisa di Antonio Gherardini is born the daughter of a successful cloth merchant in 15th century Florence, a city dominated by the Medici family and rife with dangerous intrigue and treachery since the assassination attempt known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. During this attempt, the Medici overlord, Lorenzo Il Magnifico, lost his younger brother and nearly his own life. Lisa grows into womanhood overshadowed by these traumatic events and the popular rise of the fanatic monk, Savonarola, whose rabid crusade against the Medici results in a dark period of fear and persecution. Unbeknownst to her, Lisa also carries a secret, one that binds her to the Medici cause and brings her to the attention of Leonardo.
Kalogridis vividly recreates the Pazzi Conspiracy through the eyes of one of its conspirators, and details her narrative with a realistic depiction of life in Renaissance Florence. Likewise, the Medicis’ magnetic appeal and passion for power and the arts offer a fascinating contrast to Savonarola’s brimstone condemnation, while the inclusion of a slave in Lisa’s household underscores the deep division between social classes. Lisa herself, however, evolves less in complexity, emerging as a quintessential headstrong heroine whose unlikely love affair carries few surprises. This is offset by a more interesting relationship with the exceptional artist who will eventually immortalize her, as well as an intriguing interpretation of his painting’s genesis.
Romantic conventions aside, I, Mona Lisa offers readers a well-researched foray into this turbulent episode in Italian history.
Painting Mona Lisa (UK)
544 (US), 576 (UK)