Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

I am so excited to welcome Robin Maxwell, author of Signora da Vinci to So Many Precious Books, So Little Time! When I first heard about this book, I went begging for a review copy. It did not disappoint! (See my review).

Now for the interview:

Teddy: What inspired you to write about Leonardo da Vinci’s mother?

Actually, my first thought was to write a book about Leonardo, because he was — and remains today — much more than just an astonishing artist. He had the most original mind of any man of any century. He was an inventor, scientist, philosopher, atheist, believer in Nature as God, vegetarian (when such a thing was a heretical act!), a homosexual, a believer in freedom of the human spirit, and that learning did not come from books but from personal, first-hand experience. However, the publishing business today — especially in the historical fiction genre — is quite fixated on stories told from a woman’s point of view. So I was forced to revise my thinking.

In retrospect, SIGNORA DA VINCI might not have been quite as appealing a book as it was with Caterina, because with her as the protagonist, she was able to observe Florence’s all-male “inner circle”, secretly, through female eyes, as well as have a love relationship with a man. If I’d only had Leonardo to work with, I would have been writing primarily about homosexual relationships and truthfully, though I have several close friends who are gay, I’m not familiar (from an “insiders” point of view) with that kind of sexuality.

Teddy: How long did it take you to do research for this book? Please tell us about your research process for the book.

R.M.: Since this was, after having written six novels of Tudor England and Ireland, my first in Renaissance Italy, I was starting from scratch — locations, characters, world view, philosophies, politics, arts and sciences — absolutely everything was new to me. I’d never been to Florence or Milan, had never set foot in Italy at all, yet I knew I had to really evoke a sense of this most extraordinary moment in time, as it was in Florence, with this particular group of people, where the Renaissance began. The Renaissance was the most significant turning point in history up to that time, and I had to do it justice.

So I stared buying and acquiring research books — mostly online through Amazon, Powell’s, and Alibris — and scouring the internet, and I began immersing myself in the period. I read a dozen books on Leonardo alone. Not only his body of work in painting, architecture and sculpture, but his NOTEBOOKS, a prodigious treasury of technologic inventions, science, biology, anatomy and optics, as well as his philosophies which — it would be an understatement to say — were radical…downright heretical.
I was lucky enough to find some great books on Florence, one that had a street map of the city in 1500 with all the important landmarks, churches, palazzos, public buidlings and bridges, and I referred to that constantly, making sure my characters were getting around from place to place on the correct streets.
I read several wonderful biographies of Lorenzo “The Magnificent” de‘ Medici, and one autobiography with all his famous sonnets and explanation of their meanings. I also saw every visual image we have of him — paintings, busts and even his death mask. During the course of researching and writing this book, I totally fell in love with Lorenzo, so it was easy to write my protagonist — Caterina da Vinci — falling in love with him, too.
With regard to the Turin Shroud hoax, which is an important part of the plot, I used two books by the non-fiction authors, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, and depended upon their research and experiments very heavily.
In terms of length of time and depth of effort doing research for a novel: SIGNORA DA VINCI takes its place alongside THE QUEEN’S BASTARD and THE WILD IRISH, though in SIGNORA DA VINCI I was still sitting there with research books in my lap as I was writing the very last page of the epilogue. When I was finished I had a bit of a mental meltdown where I couldn’t put two thoughts together, was forgetting simple words, and literally walking around in circles. I can finally say (after nearly a year) that my head is back to normal.

Teddy: At what point in your writing the book did you decide that Caterina would become Cato?

R.M.: I always write a detailed outline of my novels to start (this is how I sell my books — based on proposals) so as soon as I came up with my storyline, it became clear that if I wanted Caterina to follow her beloved son, Leonardo, into Florence to watch over him, and if I wanted to illuminate the secret world of the city — what I call “The Shadow Renaissance,” (see more about that in a page on my website http://robinmaxwell.com, BONUS PASSPORT TO THE 15th CENTURY called “What is the Shadow Renaissance?”), from the inside, from her perspective, she could not be a woman. Women were kept cloistered in their fathers’ houses till they were married (or went to a convent) and then cloistered in their husband’s houses till they died. They were only allowed to go out to confession or gather with their women friends for special occasions like marriages and the birth of children. And since I learned that there were women who cross-dressed all throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance (and found some wonderful research books on the subject), I had no choice but to turn Caterina into “Cato.”

Teddy: Was there really a tie in history with Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo de’Medici. Please tell us about that tie.

R.M.: There’s actually a controversy about that. Some historians say that because Lorenzo de‘ Medici did not send Leonardo with other painters like Botticelli (on loan) to Rome to decorate the Vatican, and because he DID send the 30 year-old already famous painter to live and work in Milan in the court of Ludovico Sforza, that Lorenzo did not think highly of Leonardo. That is because Leo was not a highly educated man (as Lorenzo was), but something of a “country bumpkin,” Lorenzo felt Leo was “below him” socially. I think that’s hogwash.

Other historians say Lorenzo was Leonardo’s patron and “godfather,” and while only one suggests that da Vinci may have lived for a while at the Palazzo Medici (like Michelangelo and Botticelli certainly did for several years as “adopted sons”) I don’t think Lorenzo went that far with Leonardo. He did appreciate his genius, from a very young age (Leo was an apprentice with the Medici court Artist, Verrocchio), and there’s reason to believe that if Lorenzo knew of Leo’s heretical leanings (which he had to have known about, as Leo was very open about them) then sending him to his friend Ludovico in Milan, to a much less religiously repressive place than Florence under Savonarola, was a protective measure. In any event, the latter was the choice I made that fit my story and the interaction between Leonardo, his mother and the Medici family.

Teddy: What are you working on now?

R.M.: My next novel, O, JULIET, is the first retelling of the the world’s greatest love story in the form of a historical novel. I set it in Florence (and only a few parts in Verona) in 1444. Lorenzo de‘ Medici’s mother, Lucrezia (at age 18, just before she marries into the Medici family), is Juliet’s best girlfriend, and while the story is told primarily in Juliet’s voice, Romeo gets to tell his side of it as well. It’ll be published in the beginning of 2010.

Teddy: What is one of your favourite books/authors?

R.M.: I have too many much-loved authors and books to list, but my new two favorites in historical fiction are C.W. Gortner (THE LAST QUEEN) and Michelle Moran (NEFERTITI and THE HERETIC QUEEN).

I would like to thanks Robin Maxwell for taking time out of her busy schedule for this interview!

I loved this book and know that my readers will to. On that note, please look for my giveaway where one lucky reader will win a copy of Signora da Vinci!

Copyright 2007-2010: All the posts within this blog were originally posted by Teddy Rose and should not be reproduced without express written permission.

Signora da Vinci by Robin Maxwell

Posted by Teddyrose@1 on April 25, 2009
Posted in Books Read in 2009Historical FictionItalyRobin Maxwell  | 12 Comments

Stirring Portrait of Renascence Italy

Historical records tell us very little about Leonardo Da Vinci’s mother, Caterina. All that is really know is that she had Leonardo out of wedlock and that he was taken from her by his father’s family and raise by them.

Robin Maxwell tries to fill in the blanks and the remarkable work of historical fiction. Caterenia grew up in a small village with her father, Ernesto, an apothecary. Her mother died when Caterina was very young. Ernesto was a true believer in education and educated Caterina even though it was almost unheard of for a woman to have an education. He also taught her how to be an apothecary.

One day Caterenia was gathering plants for the apothecary when she happened to meet Piero, the son of the richest family in the village. After that they met regularly until he finally propose marriage. With the promise of marriage, they consummated their love for each other.

Piero went home to tell his family about his future wife and he was forbidden to see her again, let alone marry her. A couple months after that, Caterina realized she was pregnant. After she gives birth, is when the story really spices up!

Caterina was an intelligent, kind, caring mother who would do anything for her son, even at great personal risk to herself and her identity.

Robin Maxwell writes a very colourful story of Caterina and her relationship with her son. She captures the essence of the Italian Renascence with vivid prose and includes details of real people such as Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo de’Medici.

Maxwell did make one mistake, when Leonardo was almost 16 years old, Caterina was 21. She was 15 when she had him. The math does not add up at all. LOL!

Despite that, Maxwell wrote a stirring portrait of Renascence Italy and Leonardo da Vinci’s mother. Highly recommended!


Stay tuned, in mid-May I will be posting my interview with Robin Maxwell and a giveaway!

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Copyright 2007-2010: All the posts within this blog were originally posted by Teddy Rose and should not be reproduced without express written permission.