5:00 pm EDT, December 15, 2015

‘Da Vinci’s Tiger’ book review: I beg your pardon, I am a mountain tiger

Da Vinci’s Tiger by Laura Malone Elliott goes beyond the portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci and tells us of the woman herself.

Young, beautiful, and witty, Ginevra de’ Benci longs to take part in the artistic ferment of Renaissance Florence. But as the daughter of a wealthy family in a society dictated by men, she is trapped in an arranged marriage, expected to limit her creativity to domestic duties. Her poetry reveals her deepest feelings, and she aches to share her work, to meet painters and sculptors mentored by the famed Lorenzo de Medici, and to find love.

When the charismatic Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo, arrives in Florence, he introduces Ginevra to a dazzling circle of patrons, artists, and philosophers — a world of thought and conversation she has yearned for. She is instantly attracted to the handsome newcomer, who admires her mind as well as her beauty. Yet Ginevra remains conflicted about his attentions. Choosing her as his Platonic muse, Bembo commissions a portrait by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires an intimate connection between them — one Ginevra can only begin to understand. In a rich and enthralling world of exquisite art, elaborate feasts, and exhilarating jousts, she faces many temptations to discover her voice, artistic companionship, and a love that defies categorization. In the end, she and Leonardo are caught up in a dangerous and deadly battle between powerful families.

da vinci's tiger cover

‘Da Vinci’s Tiger’ book review

Da Vinci’s Tiger beautifully incorporates art, history, romance, and feminism into a historical novel that is not only compelling and emotional, but informative, powerful, and engaging.

Ginevra may be modest and chaste while in the public’s eye, but her mind is full of questions, knowledge, and desire. She is an original feminist, using her wit to outsmart the men unlucky enough to find themselves up against her quick mind. She may not have much power outside her own four walls, but she finds ways to influence politics and leave her own mark on history.

Historical novels can often feel more like a textbook than a work of fiction, but Da Vinci’s Tiger never once falls into that trap. It’s clear Elliott has done her research, but each character also has his or her own personality and the events of the time are seamlessly incorporated into Ginevra’s story. The Afterword provides information about which details are historically accurate and which were expounded upon to service the story. A bibliography is also provided in case you want to look further into these real-life characters and the time in which they lived.

Though much of Ginevra’s story is centered around the various potential romances in her life — her husband, her Platonic Love, the painter creating her portrait — this was never at the expense of the woman herself. Her main characteristic was never a desire for love, though that was certainly a factor, but rather a desire for intellectual stimulation. Society saw Ginevra simply as an extension of the men in her life, but she always held herself to a higher esteem.

ginevra leonardo da vinci

If you view the above portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, and see only a demure, solemn woman looking back at you, just know that you are wrong. She is a mountain tiger.

Da Vinci’s Tiger by Laura Malone Elliott is available now. Add it to your Goodreads list, or purchase it on Amazon or IndieBound.

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