The author, a well-respected Renaissance art historian and artist, peppers this first novel about the model for Titian’s St. Mary Magdalen with color sketches of various scenes. For me, this is a first!
It is Rome in the 1560s. Cardinal Alessandro Farnese is in line for the papacy after the death of Pope Pius V. But the Cardinal, who is a powerful prelate, develops an attraction for Monna Rebecca, the daughter of a Jewish apothecary. After Rebecca nurses Alessandro through a life-threatening illness, they realize that their passion for each other must be consummated. They begin a long and scandalous affair that, eventually, costs the Cardinal the papacy and converts Rebecca to Maddalena, a Christian.
Moving back and forth between the art studios of the period, the music, the science, and the religious and political backdrop of Renaissance Rome, Siroka does a first-rate job of crystallizing the greed, betrayal and passion of that period. The Cardinal is a fascinating and sensuous man, addicted to women and to art. Monna Rebecca is mysterious in many ways: why she so easily leaves her family and her religion is not entirely clear. The color paintings, although a nice touch, really add nothing to the story other than communicating on another level the author’s expansive talents.
I look forward to the second instalment in this series, to be set in imperial Prague.