By: Marina Fiorato
Publisher: Beautiful Books Limited
Publication Date: June 2010
Reviewed by: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
Date of review: June 2010
If the works of Leonardo da Vinci reveal a code, then Botticelliís La Primavera holds a secret or two. At least thatís what art historians have long believed. In her authorís note, Marina Fiorato cites several scholarly works, most importantly La Primavera di Botticelli: Líarmonia tra le cittŠ nellíItalia di Lorenzo il Magnifico by Professor Enrico Guidoni of the University of Rome.
So itís 1482 in the magnificent city-state of Florence, and we meet our heroine, Luciana Vetra, a plucky teenage whore, and her soon-to-be best friend, Brother Guido della Torre:
"It was not an auspicious meeting. He did not see me at my best. I was dressed in my best, to be sure, for I am always aware of the passing trade. But I happened to be sitting on the balustrade of the river, pissing into the Arno. Framed poetically by the saffron arches of the Ponte Vecchio looming behind. In fairness, it would not have been immediately obvious to the good brother what I was doing, as my skirts were voluminous. But I had just come from Bemboís bed, was on my way to Signor Botticelliís studio, and the quantity of Muscat I had drunk for breakfast begged for evacuation." (pg. 4)
And thus begin a detective story and a love story. Luciana is sent by one of her clients to Sandro Botticelli, whose famous painting La Primavera is complete except for the crucial figure, Flora. Luciana models for the artist and during their conversation mentions renaissance Italyís famous maritime cities. The artist becomes unaccountably angry, the model feels insulted. While changing clothes, she notices a tiny secret door in his studio. Behind that door is hidden the cartoon of the painting, which is the painting in miniature with the grid lines used by the artist to transfer the painting to its enormous canvas. In a pique, Luciana steals the cartoon and leaves behind the religious tract she had received earlier from Brother Guido.
And now begins the quest to discover the meaning of the painting and the conspiracy of seven great cities its figures symbolize. There are immediate murders. As Luciana and Brother Guido examine the cartoonís details, they are led across Italyís city-states from Florence to Pisa to Naples (currently ruled by the bastard son of the king of Aragon) to Rome. In Rome, they meet Pope Sixtus IV (one of a long line of corrupt popes) in his famous chapel. (We learn that the Vatican is talking about hiring a young artist named Michelangelo to paint the ceiling.) The plot thickens as the devout Brother Guido becomes disillusioned with the one holy and universal church. From Rome, they return to Florence for a Medici wedding, and then Luciana is suddenly taken to Venice, where she finds out who she really is and receives an education. Among her tutors is one Signor Cristoforo, a Genoese mapmaker. (Itís ten years before his famous voyage.)
No spoiler hereóbut Luciana and Guido (no longer a monk) are reunited, and when they reach Milan, they briefly meet Leonardo, who is building siege machines for Ludovico Sforza, il Moro, the Duke of Milan. What are the seven conspirators planning? What is the meaning of a silver coin with a relief of Lorenzo il Magnifico on one side and the word Italia on the other? Who is the leper with the silver eyes who has been following Luciana? She and Guido flee to Genoa and come to the climax of the plot.
Quill says: If youíre tired of partisan politics and ecological disaster, turn off the TV and follow this Quattrocento Nancy Drew through a conspiracy that is as much fun as that described in Holy Blood/Holy Grail and the famous novel.