I, Mona Lisa – a netgalley book that I couldn’t resist. The Mona Lisa telling her own story – the painting itself? How would that work? Brilliantly, as it turns out! A great addition to my Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, too.
I, Mona Lisa
by Natasha Solomons
Listen to my history. My adventures are worth hearing. I have lived many lifetimes and been loved by emperors, kings and thieves. I have survived kidnap and assault. Revolution and two world wars. But this is also a love story. And the story of what we will do for those we love.
In Leonardo da Vinci’s studio, bursting with genius imagination, towering commissions and needling patrons, as well as discontented muses, friends and rivals, sits the painting of the Mona Lisa. For five hundred tumultuous years, amid a whirlwind of power, money, intrigue, the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo is sought after and stolen. Over the centuries, few could hear her voice, but now she is ready to tell her own story, in her own words – a tale of rivalry, murder and heartbreak. Weaving through the years, she takes us from the dazzling world of Florentine studios to the French courts at Fontainebleau and Versailles, and into the Twentieth Century.
I, Mona Lisa is a deliciously vivid, compulsive and illuminating story about the lost and forgotten women throughout history.(goodreads)
I have a liking for art, although my taste is for the more modern variety. Well, not very modern; Impressionist to just before I was born! But I have seen the Mona Lisa, when I was a teenager. I don’t remember being impressed. I’d go back now, but the Louvre has encased her in bullet-proof glass, from what she says in this book. But oh, what a story! What a history! And at last I have some sort of handle on Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, who all feature, larger than life, in this tale from Mona Lisa’s point of view.
She also has plenty to say about Mona Lisa del Giocondo, the woman Leonardo painted. But he turned her into his own muse, and never let her go.
I am taking it for granted that Natasha Solomons has got her history right. I haven’t checked, but it feels right. The weather, for a start. Renaissance Italy was a turbulent time for weather. There’s a great deal of rain and mud that ruins the maestro’s paintings, especially his more experimental works, and all up against the pressure of completion before the powerful ruler of Florence (brother of Pope Leo) loses patience. I am so glad I don’t have to toady to people like that in order to make a living–not just for myself, but for all my acolytes. They come to learn at Leonardo’s feet, but really to do all the boring bits that need to be done in an artist’s studio.
Solomons makes this more than a history, though. She traces the picture’s life through the centuries, to the horrible conditions within the king of France’s bathing suite–like a Roman baths, with rooms at different humidity and temperature. And the naked observers. It’s very funny at times, but pulls no punches, so if you take offence at nude men (even if they are kings) playing with themselves, look away now.
I really liked the way she skipped forward to make some point about her later existence, and the dangers she endured, but then returned to the narrative of life with Leonardo. Although it confused other reviewers.
It’s akin to time travel, since she’s travelling while Leonardo is just ageing. Several dangers she endured were unknown to me, but her World War 2 experience is very well handled.
Altogether I found this a gripping story, told with a real woman’s voice, even if she was a
painting work of art masterpiece icon goddess. Totally believable. I loved it.