I love this line from "Leonardo's Holy Child": "If anything can be anywhere, then chance will favor the prepared mind." Art historian & art dealerI love this line from "Leonardo's Holy Child": "If anything can be anywhere, then chance will favor the prepared mind." Art historian & art dealer Kline wrote this book to describe happening across a centuries-old sketch in the summer of 2000, coming to believe it was by Leonardo da Vinci--and then proving it to himself, relying on intuition and inspiration. In this, he succeeds, I think. As yet, he has not, he says, sought the standard, "peer-group review," though he feels this is not far down the road with the publication of this book. For now, he prefers to hold the sketch close (rather than go through all the attendant attention and--no-doubt--the yaying and naying that surely will surround proving or firmly disproving its provenance. (He purchased the sketch at a Christie auction for $1,700, believing it was, indeed, by Leonardo, despite the catalogue description, which attributed it to 1500s Italian artist Annibale Carracci). This book, as Klein says, is its first "exhibition." At the moment, it remains "safe and secure" in his private collection. ...more
This lovely middle-grade novel about disabled "Ada" who is transported from London to the English countryside as part of the effort to move children tThis lovely middle-grade novel about disabled "Ada" who is transported from London to the English countryside as part of the effort to move children to safety during WWII deserves all the praise it has received, including the Newbery Honor Medal. I enjoyed it thoroughly and look forward to the sequel....more
Seldom have I read a novel with such lush imagery. "As the wind made a violent pass over the roof, they both turned to glance at the streaming raindroSeldom have I read a novel with such lush imagery. "As the wind made a violent pass over the roof, they both turned to glance at the streaming raindrops that glittered like topaz in the streetlight," and, "On the other side of the field stood a line of poplars barely budded, their shoots shimmering like lemon drops in the morning light." The wonderful "Amour Provence" follows Gilberte (Berti) and Didier whose lives have taken different paths while remaining intertwined with those of their neighbors and friends. It is the story of two villages in Provence told over several decades via connected stories about people who know one another's histories, including their secret attachments and unremitting jealousies. All the stories herein are riveting. I especially liked "The Names of Trees," and—oh, all of them, so very, very much. ...more
From the book jacket: Alexandra Horowitz, "a cognitive scientist, explains how dogs perceive their daily worlds, each other, and that other quirky aniFrom the book jacket: Alexandra Horowitz, "a cognitive scientist, explains how dogs perceive their daily worlds, each other, and that other quirky animal, the human." I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am now looking at our Schnauzer man through new eyes....more
From the Historical Novel Society: my feature article (rather than a review) on "The Black Prince." British author Catherine Fletcher has said that whFrom the Historical Novel Society: my feature article (rather than a review) on "The Black Prince." British author Catherine Fletcher has said that while she is an historian specializing in Renaissance and early modern Europe—the world of the Tudors, the Medici and the Borgias—she is not “exclusively interested in the glitzy people at the top.” Her first nonfiction book, The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican, explored the diplomacy behind Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Fletcher’s focus then was King Henry’s man in Rome, Italian diplomat Gregorio Casali, a relatively unknown key player in one of history’s great events. Research for that book involved Pope Clement VII, the Medici pope who refused to end Henry’s marriage. This led Fletcher to the shadowy figure of Alessandro de’ Medici, the “black prince,” who was a papal nephew. Her interest in Alessandro deepened when she became involved in a proposed production of Othello in Florence. “The show didn’t go ahead, but it did prompt me to read around the literature on early modern race and ethnicity, which is an important part of Alessandro’s story . . . (along with) the tradition he was of African descent.” Thus was born The Black Prince of Florence, wherein Fletcher, Associate Professor in History and Heritage at Swansea University, turns her spotlight on the rise and fall of the dark-skinned youth named the first hereditary duke of Florence when he was nineteen, and who was assassinated six years later during an adulterous midnight assignation arranged by his treacherous young cousins.
Born in 1511/12, Alessandro was the by-blow of a Medici duke and a maid or slave rumored to be a Moor or a “half-Negro” woman. Given the circumstances—Alessandro was a bastard, but he was a Medici bastard—a privileged boy who might have been lost to history but for a remarkable series of events. In 1519, his father—the duke of Urbino and the de facto, or behind-the-scenes, ruler of Florence—died, leaving no legitimate male heir and a yawning void in the leadership of Florence. Ironically, the fate of the Medici dynasty now lay with Alessandro and another Medici boy, both born on the wrong side of the blanket. (Since Alessandro’s legitimate half-sister, Catherine de’ Medici, was female, she did not qualify to “rule.”) Alessandro’s cousin Ippolito de’ Medici, whose father also was dead, trumped Alessandro in two ways: Ippolito was one year older and his mother a noblewoman. How then did Alessandro come to ride into Florence and accept the keys to the city when he was still a teen (July 1531), besting a host of oligarchs and family rivals?
Writing in an entertaining style that contains a wealth of scholarly research, Fletcher fills in the details, painting a sweeping portrait not only of Alessandro, but also of his family, whose power and survival always seemed to hang in the balance between magnificence and vile deeds. Because after his assassination many of Alessandro’s personal documents were destroyed, and since until now he has received little serious attention, Fletcher had to dig deep for her story. “Some intriguing material came from Mantua rather than from the archives and libraries in Florence,” she said when asked about her research. In Mantua, “there’s a marvellously gossipy set of letters from a secretary in the household of Alessandro’s chief minister.”
Regarding Alessandro’s controversial reputation, Fletcher writes it was his misfortune to be “assassinated twice: first with a sword, then with a pen.” After the twenty-five-year-old duke’s murder at the hands of his cousin Lorenzaccio (“Bad Lorenzo”) de’ Medici in 1537, Alessandro’s enemies labeled Alessandro a depraved tyrant. Yet, while Lorenzino claimed he had killed his cousin for the sake of the Florentine Republic, the anti-Medici faction failed to rise. Was Alessandro an oppressive ruler, or was he a youth who reveled in parties and sporting events, preferring, in the main, to leave political shennigans to others? In weighing the evidence, Catherine Fletcher has written a complex biographical narrative, one sympathetic but honest in relating the strengths and weaknesses of the last member of the senior branch of the Medici family dynasty to rule Florence.
Fletcher details the duke’s racial heritage with grace in both her prologue and in her afterword, “Alessandro’s Ethnicity: Historical Sources and Debates.” His contemporaries did not consider his parentage overmuch. In Renaissance Italy, “The color of one’s skin meant little but the strength of one’s allegiances meant everything.” Only in the years and centuries after Alessandro’s death did his roots become a focus, “first by those who wanted to emphasize his ‘savagery’ to justify his murder, and later to argue his case as the first ruler of color in the Western world.” Fletcher comes nicely full circle at the end of The Black Prince of Florence, writing, “Only in the 21st century has the question of Alessandro’s race begun to attract more serious scholarly interest. With a fuller account of his life now at hand, perhaps we may put paid to . . . ill-informed comment(s).”
Fletcher completed her PhD in History at Royal Holloway, University of London. In 2015, she was a historical advisor on the BBC’s television adaption of Hilary Mantel’s books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Asked how she organized her research for The Black Prince, she said, “This was the first project where I really got into using technology for organising my work. I had Zotero, which is free open-source bibliographic software designed for historians, to keep all my book and article references in order. And I used Scrivener to write the book, along with Simplenote on the iPad. It’s so much easier than trying to write with a traditional word-processing package, and I highly recommend it.”
In future, she says, “I’m sticking with the period of the Italian Wars, 1494-1559, and I have a new research project on handguns. The 16th century was the first time portable firearms came into wide use. I’ve been reading debates about gun control then and there are some staggering parallels with arguments in the USA today. So the next book will tie into that in some way—perhaps not directly but I’m finding it fascinating getting into the new material.” ...more