Sean Wylie's Reviews > Leonardo's Swans

Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex
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's review
Apr 30, 2012

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Set in early Renaissance Italy this book provides an intimate, engaging, and un-told story of the role of women in power during this fascinating point in history. All the character, settings, situations are true to history with the dialogue and interaction fictionalize and dramatized by the story teller. This is a piece of historical fiction that follows 2 beautiful sisters born as princesses of one of the many Italian city states that existed in the 14th century. They are promised in marriage at age 5 & 6 to Dukes leading other city states, to solidify alliances and power through marriage bonds. Once they come of age, they are married and leave home to fill their roles as Duchesses. This book follows their parallel stories as they find themselves thrust into a whole new world of intrigue, betrayal, love, death, child-bearing, amidst a world exploding with art and education while also constantly teetering on the edge of war. They also compete with each other in wardrobes, jewels, homes, and who employes the best artists. They both become quick learners on how to manage and exploit their power over the courts and over their often difficult Duke husbands.

The title may be the most misleading I have seen in a while. Leonardo De Vinci does serve as a central theme and back drop throughout the story (his quotes open each chapter), however as an actual character he appears in only about 6 scenes and speaks very briefly in each. I think the 'Swans' refer to the sisters as each serves as a muse (model) for Leonardo at different points in the story. One of the more fascinating pieces involving Leonardo is the development of the Mona Lisa. The book implies that the Mona Lisa is not one woman, but a collection of parts of many women who sat for Leonardo throughout his life. Meant to be more of an embodiment of the 'Italian Women' than an actual Italian woman.

Fun read all around, but believe me you will get sick of being inside the heads of these 2 women. They are at times pompous and completely obsessed with their own 'suffering'. Completely overlooking any problems that may be happening to the populations of people supporting their incredible wealth and lifestyle. They are also obsessed with their immortality. One focused on achieving that through her children, another through the longevity of art. The art did last and you can find their faces in the Louvre today.

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