1508. In Rome artists are everywhere, and feted as gods. But the most celebrated amongst them, a man who can paint beauty itself, is Raphael. When he touches brush to canvas, his subjects burst to life; he takes base metal and turns it to glistening gold.
When Raphael meets Margarita Luti, a baker’s daughter, he is beguiled and inspired in equal measure. As his muse, her face becomes that of a thousand Madonnas, but it is his portraits of her which reveal his full talents – and which will become his downfall.
For Raphael is wanted for greater things than a mere baker’s daughter. He is soon promised to the niece of a cardinal, a man upon whose connections and commissions the artist’s future relies. Without his good will, Raphael will be ruined.
Raphael must make a choice between his love for Margarita and his future as an artist – a choice that will have devastating consequences.
The Bottom Line: As an Art Historian, I have spent a great deal of my adult life studying and learning about the various periods of history and the art that defined those periods. My point? I am not, by any means, an uneducated reader (and I am NOT suggesting those who enjoy this book are!) when it comes to this particular type of historical fiction. Though I certainly don’t profess to know everything about this time and place, I do know a great deal and I think that’s what turned me off this book so completely. While I certainly concede there was a great deal of misdeeds, misguided behavior, and corruption during the time of the Renaissance, not every man in a position of power was corrupt and that isn’t at all made clear in this book. In truth, there are roughly two characters in this book who exhibit only good intentions and good behavior, and those traits are all but beaten out of them by ALL the corruption, scheming, and power plays surrounding their lives. I found it tedious to find so much awful all the time and very little goodness to come out of this story. While I realize all the drama makes for a good story, it just didn’t come together for me in this book. The only aspect of this book I truly enjoyed was the discussion and placement of Raphael’s art. Knowing what I know about Art and Art History, I find it hard to believe, even in historical fiction, that every person, every action, and every motivation could be as evil and awful as presented here. For me, the bad intentions and the constant scheming was simply too much to make this read enjoyable.