Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Putnam)
Why I decided to read: heard about it through LTER
How I acquired my copy: review copy via Amazon Vine, February 2010
Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the foremost female artists of the Renaissance. Born in a small town in Italy, she studied in Rome under Michelangelo, and became a lady in waiting and art teacher to Elizabeth of Valois who became Queen of Spain when she married King Filipe. While there, Sofonisba witnesses the budding relationship between Elizabeth and the King’s young half brother, Don Juan.
If you’re looking for a story that’s solely about Sofonisba you might be a bit disappointed. She’s more of a witness to what’s going on around her, rather an active participant in the story. Although Sofinisba led an interesting life herself, it’s Elizabeth, Felipe, and the Spanish court that take the stage here, and it’s an excellent story, well told. Like another reader here, I was very surprised by, and interested in, the author’s treatment of Felipe. I guess I, too, am too use to England-based novels set during this time period, which depict him as a cruel monster. Elizabeth is rather silly, naïve, and pathetic in the way that she behaves, but that doesn’t stop the reader from ultimately feeling sympathetic towards her. In the end, the reader realizes that Sofi and Elizabeth are very similar; they’re both trapped in positions they didn’t choose to be in, unable to make their own decisions about their lives.
I also loved the heavy amount of historical details that are in this book. The author obviously did a lot of research to get her story to feel authentic, and her hard work has paid off here. Everything is described in minute detail, without those details bogging down the natural flow of the story. The author’s writing style reminds me a lot of that of Sarah Dunant—both in tone and content.