There are several novels in which world famous art works are in the centre of narratives and are their active plot devices. The authors of these books have used cunningly and intriguingly art history as an inspiration for writing. And which are these art historical fiction novels alla Dan Brown and who are their authors? And one more thing…..Which are the exact paintings?
Lisa di Antonio Gherardini del Giocondo, or simply known as Madonna Lisa in the 15th century Florence or we know her as Mona Lisa ……. Her story is retold in the historical fiction novel “I, Mona Lisa” by Jeanne Kalogridis. The author vividly depicts the world of Lorenzo de’ Medici the Magnificent who had a strong appeal and passion for art, took talented artists like Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci under his wing and helped them flourish. The last years of his rule were marked by the bloody Pazzi Conspiracy of April 26, 1478 in The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence when he was wounded while his beloved brother Giuliano de’Medici was assassinated. This murder and the related secrets are, actually, in the centre of the plot and the beginning of Madonna Lisa’s story. Other historical facts entangled in the book and circumstances that follow the main character all the time concern the fanatical monk Girolamo Savonarola who turned Florence upside down with his extreme religious beliefs against the art, splendor, comfort and power of the world of the Medici and even against the Pope. In conclusion, much love and passion, deep secrets of violence and unexpected twists and turns, real historical facts and much fiction (the main character turns out to be the artist’s daughter; her painting was commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici and so on) are hidden under Mona Lisa’s secret smile capably depicted by Leonardo da Vinci in his masterpiece that is permanently on display in The Louvre nowadays. The book is worth reading holus-bolus.
Again 1482, in the cradle of the Renaissance … Again Lorenzo the Magnificent …. And again his great passion for works of art …. But this time it’s another favourite artist of his – Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi (better known as Sandro Botticelli) and his La Primavera that is an Allegory of Spring, a symbol of a new beginning depicting through Gods, Nymphs and Graces (i.e. Mercury, The Three Graces, Cupid, Venus, Flora, Chloris and Zephyr). But “The Botticelli Secret” by Marina Fiorato reveals a carefully coded map, part of Lorenzo de’Medici’s Conspiracy and political plans of the unification of the 15th century Italy. The hard task of decoding the map belongs to the smart and feisty girl Luciana who both practises the oldest profession along the banks of the Arno River and is a part-time model. While modelling for Botticeli, her hardships commence. She is unpaid for her work and she steals the painting in which she’s Flora. The young lady has no idea that she herself plays the central role in the conspiracy, firstly, because she is the Goddess of Flowers in the painting, and secondly because she’s the Venetian dogaressa’s daughter. Luckily she is not alone in her discovery journey. She is helped by Brother Guido della Torre of Santa Croce with whom she finds out that, as a matter of fact, the portrayed figures by Botticelli stand for the nine Italian city-states of the 15th century. Milan (Mercury), the major maritime powers Pisa, Naples and Genoa (The Three Graces), Rome (Cupid), Mantua (Venus), Florence (Flora), Venice (Chloris) and Bolzano (Zephyr) are in a peaceful co-existence in La Primavera that is on display in Uffizi in Florence.
Almost a century later there lived another greatest Italian artist – Michelangelo Merisi (or Amerighi) da Caravaggio. The available sound and grounded evidence about his life and character presents him as an unstable and violent genius of art. Caravaggio’s wild character brought him from Rome to Naples, to Malta and Sicily and in the end to Porto Ercole where he died in 1610. Namely that part of the artist’s life (from 1606-1610) has been well described in “The Caravggio Conspiracy” by Walter Ellis. The author entangles two storylines in one another and the two strands of the narrative go in parallel in the whole book. The first story describes the 16th century painter’s discovery of a conspiracy in the Vatican. He finds a senior cardinal practising a religion different from Christianity and soon after that a witness is murdered. Caravaggio encodes the evidence in his painting The Taking of Christ (or also known as The Betrayal of Christ). The second story is a modern one. It is placed in Rome of the 21st century during the conclave and papal elections. This second strand is as similar as the first storyline showing that things could hardly change and that betrayal is always live. Today Caravaggio’s painting is on display in the National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin) after 200 years during which its whereabouts remained unknown.