The Creation of Eve
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
In Rome 1559, Sofonisba Anguissola is training to be a painter. Under the tutelage of Michelangelo, she begins to stretch her talent to heights unheard of for a woman at the time. Her father places a lot of faith in her abilities and provides her with the best teachers, but her status as a woman means she cannot study, sketch, or paint the naked body. This leaves her with little understanding of the human form itself and she is told it adds an inhibited quality to her work that she struggles to overcome.
During her time in Rome, she meets and falls in love with another student of Michelangelo’s, Tiberio Calcagni. Their brief affair causes her shame and she leaves the city hoping that what happened between her and Tiberio will not be found out by her father who worked so hard to make sure she would have the chance to learn her craft.
Unaware of what will happen between her and Tiberio as there is no forthcoming proposal of marriage, she takes a position as a lady in waiting to Elisabeth of Valois, the young bride of Felipe II, the King of Spain. She is to teach the young Queen how to draw and paint. Unfortunately, her sad love life, or lack there of, weighs heavily on her. The love trials of the young Queen breaks Sofi’s heart while all this time she wonders silently about Tiberio.
Sofi’s heart suffers while she is at court and the growing attraction she sees between the Queen and the King’s brother, Don Juan, brings her even more heartbreak. Her choices are limited and she struggles with her heart, who she is, and what she must do for the Queen.
Very little action takes place in this novel but the affairs of the heart take center stage and the entire time you’re aware that the story is being told by an artist. The descriptions, colors, and experiences are filtered through an eye that is always looking for shape, texture, and depth.
Told through diary entries, each chapter begins with a painting hint or fact. I loved that the story was told through Sofi’s point of view as it allowed you to get close to the characters. Sofi’s descriptions of the court, the Queen’s dresses, the other ladies in waiting, and the palaces are wonderful and it’s as if you’re watching and hearing the conversations first hand.
Oddly enough this is a book about a painter but very little painting takes place. Somehow that’s a good thing as you come to know the artist behind the easel instead and it’s a good story. For anyone who loves historical fiction, this is a great read. You finish the last page wanting to know more about everyone in the story.
In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above is a summary of my review, which can be read in full here. The book was provided to me by the publisher for The Book Reporter review.