Cupid and the Silent Goddess

Written by Alan Fisk
Review by Emily Retter

In 1544, Duke Cosimo de’ Medici of Florence commissioned the artist Bronzino to paint a gift for King François I of France.  The result was Allegory with Venus and Cupid, which now hangs in the National Gallery, London.

This much of Fisk’s novel is fact. Around these facts he has woven a fiction which is as intriguing as the painting itself.

The statuesque Venus is given a name, Angelina, and a curious character who can neither speak nor appear to understand.  The dominant centrepiece in Bronzino’s painting, in Fisk’s novel she is a complex victim, a heroine exploited for her beauty, and defenceless in her plight.

The angelic Cupid is Bronzino’s apprentice, Giuseppe, who struggles to form judgements and find a purpose under the crushing authority of his master. His despair and eventual strength of mind make him a memorable character.

Around these central protagonists, Fisk explores the characters of artists Bronzino and Pontormo, and paints a gritty and fascinating picture of 16th-century Florence. His writing style is plain, which suits the human honesty and earthiness of this story.

This is an excellent read, but like any novel which fictionalises a painting’s creation, it risks forever contorting the image. My advice: see the painting first, then read the book.