Italy, 1456. The Renaissance is in glorious bloom. A Carmelite monk, the great artist Fra Filippo Lippi acts as chaplain to the nuns of the Convent Santa Margherita. It is here that he encounters the greatest temptation of his life, beautiful Lucrezia Buti, who has been driven to holy orders more by poverty than piety. In Lucrezia's flawless face Lippi sees the inspiration for countless Madonnas and he brings the young woman to his studio to serve as his model. But as painter and muse are united in an exhilarating whirl of artistic discovery, a passionate love develops, one that threatens to destroy them both even as it fuels some of Lippi's greatest work.One of the things I love about reading Art History novels is that it takes just a short search engine query before you can not only read about the lives of the characters in the book you are reading, but you can see the images that are described in the pages.
I can't say that I had heard of Fra Filippo Lippi before, but I did enjoy reading about his life. In fact, it was something of a surprise to me how much I actually enjoyed this book. You see, I had seen it mentioned around the place and thought that sounds interesting, but it was only when I was offered the chance to participate in the blog tour that I really sat down and looked at what it was about, and I would have missed out on a really nice read.
Our novel opens with a young woman giving birth, attended by a nun from a convent. We then backtrack a short time and find out exactly how this young woman, who originally joined the convent along with her sister as a novitiate. Shortly after arriving there, Lucrezia catches the attention of Fra Filippo Lippi who is not only chaplain to the Santa Margherita convent, but also a famous artist who is particularly favoured by the prominent de Medici family.
Fra Lippi is a man who has more commissions than he can possibly handle, and also who is suffering from a lack of inspiration in that he hasn't seen the face that he needs to represent the Madonna - until he meets Lucrezia. She is however not meant to leave the convent, but with a word in the right ear, a relationship begins that will have to face many challenges, that will suffer at the hands of gossips, corruption and politics, not to mention the pressure on Lippi to finish some of the commissions that he has already received at least partial payments for. It will also provide the painter with badly needed inspiration, happiness and perhaps even tragedy.
The portrayal of Lucrezia was quite interesting in that she seemed quite passive, and yet she was compelling to read about. That passiveness though was more a reflection of the social restrictions for young women rather than her personality. So much of what happens in her life happens to her, as opposed to her making her own decisions. At the beginning, she is sent to the convent due to the circumstances that occur to her family. She is instructed to start working with Sister Putreza who plays a pivotal role in the novel, she is at the mercy of other important characters, and then tries to evade them. Even towards the end, decisions affecting her are made around her.
The relationship between Lippi and Lucrezia is extremely well written, and feels very organic, and really is the central image of the novel. Filling in the rest of the canvas of the novel are details of the lives of a Renaissance painter and cleric, of childbirth in a much different time, of faith, of religion, politics, corruption and power. The end result is a fascinating portrayal of an unconventional love story.
I need to mention the ending, because to be honest I felt a little bit let down by it. The events in the last chapter felt very rushed, and somewhat under-developed. It also went a long way towards undoing some of the book which I didn't quite get.
Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for sending me this book for review. I probably wouldn't have read it without this, and I would have missed out on a really nice read.
See other reviews at the blog tour stops listed below:
Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, August 11th: The Tome Traveller
Thursday, August 12th: English Major’s Junk Food
Monday, August 16th: The Whimsical Cottage
Wednesday, August 18th: Bookalicio.us
Tuesday, August 24th: Passages to the Past
Wednesday, August 25th: Lit and Life
Thursday, August 26th: Life in the Thumb
Monday, August 30th: Rundpinne
Tuesday, August 31st: Drey’s Library
Thursday, September 2nd: The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
You can also find out more about the book including seeing more of Lippi's art at Laurie Albanese's website.
This is my September read for the Year of the Historical challenge, and also counts as a read for my Art History challenge. It would seem remiss of me not to include at least one painting from Fra Lippi, so here is The Madonna della Cintola with Saints Margaret, Gregory, Augustine, and Raphael with Tobias from Wikipedia. Had to pick this one because of the reference to saint Margaret!