Signora Da Vinci
An imaginative speculation on the life of Caterina, Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, this first-person account begins in 1452, when a tryst with a faithless lover produces the child who proves to be great love of her life. She endures scorn from both the small town of Vinci and the ambitious family of Leonardo’s father, but has an ally in her learned and unconventional father. He hatches the idea of Caterina following her young apprentice artist son to Florence as the proprietor of an alchemist shop. Once she takes on her scholar’s garb, the world of the Italian Renaissance opens to “Cato.” She becomes her son’s beloved “uncle” and gains admittance into the “Companies of the Night,” a secret underground society led by Lorenzo de Medici. When her friendship with Lorenzo catches fire, Cato is delighted to shed her bindings, and the two become lovers.
But trouble is brewing in the form of Savonarola, the “mad monk” who is threatening Florence with his inquisition of heretics. Leonardo must be sent to Milan, while Lorenzo and Caterina struggle against the fear and torture enveloping their city. Together, all three seek to end the monk’s influence by creating a hoax centering on the shroud of Turin.
Maxwell provides an adoring mother’s eye view of Leonardo’s life and inventions as well as Florentines rediscovering ancient wisdom and the joy of their own expression. Playful nods to the future spark sometimes dark proceedings as Lorenzo “makes him an offer he cannot refuse” and extols the “embarrassment of riches” of his life. Caterina is both a witness to and participant in history. And if you wonder what the mother of the incomparable Leonardo looked like, by her journey’s end, the answer will be provided. Great fun!