Different times, different choices

da vinci's tiger

Ginevra de’ Bencia lives in Florence during the time of the Medici family’s power and Leonardo da Vinci’s early days as an artist. She is young, beautiful, and from an important family. She’s been married off to a wool merchant to benefit her family, and her husband seems to have lost interest in everything about her except how she can advance him. The idea of Platonic love, an idealized love, has become popular, so when an ambassador from Venice arrives, she is excited to be the focus of his chaste attentions and even more excited to become the subject of a portrait painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Women had limited choices then, mostly because men made the choices for them, often with little regard for the women’s opinions. Women’s lives were expected to revolve around family and duty unless they entered a convent. Neither option might seem the most attractive to young women today, so hearing the imagined thoughts of a 16-year-old from several hundred years ago is a step into another’s shoes.

Ginevra finds her own way despite these limitations. Her husband’s indifference means that she has freedom. Her education in a convent gives her knowledge others don’t have and provides a place of refuge. Her relationship with Leonardo da Vinci is one of small rebellions, and in the end, she holds on to the most important pieces of herself.

Ginevra de’ Bencia was a real person, as we learn in the notes following the story.  There’s humor and drama in her friendships and much for young people to relate to even if the setting is unfamiliar. There are moments of action and intrigue, but it’s a relatively quiet book – one well worth reading for the historical fiction fan.

Da Vinci’s Tiger by L.M. Elliott

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