I was SO excited to get find this book, expecting it would be a slam dunk – because I love reading about both the Renaissance (1472- 1520) and World War II (1939-1945). AND, I’m interested in art. But, I was disappointed. Award three stars on Goodreads, but maybe 3.5 stars is more accurate.
This story is told by three people:
- Anne Guichard – a young archivist working at the Louvre, on the brink of and throughout World War II.
- Bellina Sardi – a servant who helps raise her employer’s daughter, “Lisa” Gherardini— the girl who grows up to be the woman immortalized in the famous Mona Lisa painting.
- Leonardo da Vinci – a struggling artist of the Italian Renaissance who moves from one city in Italy to another, taking on assorted commissions, many of which he has trouble completing.
The focus of the historical novel is the painting of the Mona Lisa. How it came to be when Lisa’s prosperous husband commissioned a portrait of his wife, how the painting traveled around until it wound up in France, and about the risks taken by Louvre staff to protect it (and other great pieces of art) from Nazi looting. So much drama inherent in these stories, right? But somehow, the book felt at least 100 pages too long.
While Laura Morelli switched back and forth in time, I found the chapters related to World War II much more compelling. Hiding great art during war time involved a colossal effort and much more danger than I imagined and that part of the narrative grew increasingly tense. But many of the Renaissance chapters seemed to drag. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in Leonardo’s or Bellina’s stories. I was! They just seemed to unfold VERY slowly. And I found I was NOT rushing to return to this novel, despite my interest in the subject matter.
I still recommend this historical fiction. Mostly for the fascinating story of the brave people who risked so much to protect so many art treasures during World War II.
More about the, Laura Morelli, art historian and author.
Here’s a link to more information about the hiding of French art during World War II.