In the late 15th century, at the height of the Renaissance, Florence is undergoing a transformation in terms of thought and principles. After many years of wealth, Florence finds itself held in thrall by the charismatic Dominican monk Savonarola.
At the same time, a young girl named Alessandra Cecci comes of age. She’s intelligent and free-spirited, but her life is more or less prescribed for her when she marries. Her life changes when a celebrated and unnamed painter comes to paint the ceiling of the Cecci family’s chapel. From there on out, Alessandra is torn between her desire to have the freedom to paint and the frustration she feels at having to follow the traditional path of a late-15th century Florentine woman. Dunant has a flair for writing description, and she really puts it to good use in this novel.
Although Dunant, who’s also written a number of modern-day crime novels, hits the reader over the head a little too much with her erotic sex scenes, her writing and sense for language is superb. Alessandra’s mysterious painter is never named, and right up through the end of the novel, he’s depicted as this brooding, silent, worldly type. Every girl's fantasy, right? And although Alessandra’s mindset is a little bit too modern-day for my taste, it’s clear that Dunant has put a lot of time, and effort, into doing the painstaking research necessary for such a book.