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Signora Da Vinci Paperback – January 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Maxwell (Mademoiselle Boleyn) re-creates Renaissance Italy in splendid detail, but fails to deliver a convincing narrative in her tale of da Vinci's mother, Caterina, an apothecary's daughter who is schooled from an early age in the art of alchemy. At 14, Caterina falls in love with Piero da Vinci, an older man above her station. After he promises to marry her, they make love, and the seed of the great artist is planted. But their plans doesn't work out: Piero's family forbids him from marrying Caterina and later takes baby Leonardo from his unwed mother. Leonardo is not treated well by the da Vinci family, but in his occasional visits to the apothecary shop, precocious Leonardo thrives. Soon his skillful drawings compel Caterina to seek an artist's apprenticeship for Leonardo in Florence, where he matures into a highly accomplished artist. Caterina misses him so terribly that she plans a hard-to-imagine reunion that changes her life in unbelievable ways. While the setting and known events of the artist's life are meticulously rendered, the plot relies too much on suspension of disbelief. (Jan.)
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“In this exquisite gem of a novel, Robin Maxwell conjures a fascinating account of Leonardo Da Vinci's mother, a bold woman whose adventurous spirit and quest for her own truth captures the exuberance of the Italian Renaissance. Though little is known of the historical Caterina da Vinci, Maxwell's impressive research and keen storytelling skills sweep us into a very plausible account of a young alchemist's daughter whose unfortunate love affair brings her the greatest love of her life - her genius son - as well as the opportunity to escape the restrictions of her gender and enter a seductive garden of philosophy, art, learning, and danger. From the dusty streets of Vinci to the glories of Lorenzo Il Magnifico's Florence and the conspiratorial halls of Rome and Milan, Signora da Vinci is a tour de force celebration of one woman's unquenchable ardor for knowledge and of a secret world that historical fiction readers rarely see.”
—C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen

"A glorious novel of fifteenth century Florence, utterly engrossing and glittering with color. Lorenzo the Magnificent, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and his courageous, passionate mother, Caterina walk through the pages of this book, radiating life and touching the heart. I will never see the Mona Lisa with the same eyes again. Robin Maxwell has a stunning achievement in Signora Da Vinci."
—Sandra Worth, author of The King's Daughter

"Signora da Vinci is without a doubt the best historical fiction I have read all year. In her most remarkable novel yet, Robin Maxwell takes us back to the turbulent times of the Italian Renaissance to give us a beautifully rendered and captivating portrait of Leonardo da Vinci's mother, Caterina. A masterful blend of fact and fiction, Signora da Vinci mesmerizes."
—Michelle Moran, Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen

“The latest offering from novelist Robin Maxwell, Signora da Vinci focuses on the unsung genius who was Leonardo da Vinci’s parent-his mother. Two decades ago, while working on my non-fiction Uppity Women in history series, I pegged Caterina da Vinci as a spirited female and wrote briefly about her, longing to know more. Now, thanks to Maxwell, we get a superbly imagined portrait of a woman living in turbulent times who boldly behaved as few dared. The book does justice to Caterina’s intellectual curiosity as well as her maternal instincts toward the son who was torn from her. She moved in a world that included the glittering Medicis and the villainous Savonarola, all of whom are well- limned in this sparkling epic. Set in the sunshine of 15th century Tuscany, the novel continually delights with intriguing details, from the bottega workshops of the great Italian masters to the minutiae of an alchemist’s laboratory.”
—Vicki Leon, Uppity Women of the Renaissance, Working IX to V --. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: NAL (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451225805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451225801
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robin Maxwell began writing novels about the historical figures she had been obsessing about since graduating from Tufts University with a degree in Occupational Therapy. Her first novel, "The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn," now in its 24th printing, won two YA awards and has been translated into fourteen languages. "The Wild Irish" - an epic tale of Ireland's rebel queen, Grace O'Malley - closed out her Elizabethan Quartet, and is now in development for a television series. "Signora Da Vinci" and "Jane: The Woman Who loved Tarzan" are tales of the remarkable women behind two of the world's most beloved wildmen - Maestro Leonardo and Lord Greystoke. Robin lives with her husband of thirty years, Max Thomas, at High Desert Eden, a wildlife sanctuary in the Mojave Desert.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Amy M. Bruno on January 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
Not much is known about the woman who gave birth to one of the most brilliant men in our history, Leonardo da Vinci. Her name and the events around her famous son's birth is pretty much it. Until now. Robin Maxwell takes us back to 15th century Italy and paints us a beautiful picture of Leonardo's childhood and of his fascinating mother, Caterina.

Young Caterina is raised surrounded by her father's love and the beautiful countryside of Vinci, Italy. At the age of eight Caterina's father, Ernesto, teaches her the ways of apothecary and alchemy - not a safe hobby and punishable by death. A free-spirited girl, she often roams the land without a guardian. One afternoon she meets Piero, the son of a neighboring noble family. They quickly fall in love during their clandestine meetings and Caterina becomes pregnant. Piero's family forbids them to marry and unfortunately for Caterina, Piero shows no backbone and is sent away to Florence and quickly married off. When Caterina gives birth to her son she falls in love instantly and their unbreakable bond is formed. In one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I have ever read, Piero's family swoops in and whisks little Leonardo right out of Caterina's arms. This is a usual fate of fatherless children during this time - the need to preserve the family bloodline is of the utmost importance. I was broken-hearted and grieved along with Caterina.

So powerful is Caterina's maternal love in this just exudes from the page and makes you feel all warm and tingly inside. Everything she does is for her child, even going so far as securing a spot for him for as an apprentice with the famous Florentine artisian, Maestro Verrocchio, far away in Florence.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A reader on January 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Signora da Vinci" is an imaginative creation of a life for a woman about whom we know almost nothing beyond her name, Caterina, and that she was the unwed mother of that universal genius of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

Historians have little to say about Caterina, other than that she was a peasant girl from the countryside beyond the Tuscan village of Vinci; she was likely illiterate; she was seduced by a man from Vinci named Piero and bore him a son who was taken from her and raised in his father's household. A few brief references among Leonardo's writings to a woman named Caterina may or may not refer to the artist's mother. But lack of historical information about Leonardo's mother doesn't prevent the author from giving her an interesting and unusual life.

In Maxwell's book, Caterina is no ignorant peasant. She's a brilliant young woman who has been highly educated in secret by her father, an apothecary, or pharmacist, as well as--again in secret-- an alchemist. In Maxwell's version of Leonardo's early life, his mother is presented as the source of her son's astounding intelligence.

When Leonardo's talent for drawing leads his father to apprentice him to a prominent Florentine artist, Caterina cooks up a daring scheme to follow her son to Florence: she disguises herself as a man and opens an apothecary shop of her own. In this fictional world, she has no trouble concealing her sex. Under the male name Cato, she gains respect and finds she has a lot in common with Lorenzo de' Medici, the ruler of Florence, and the circle of intellectuals around him, all of whom share Caterina's interest in alchemy.

There's something about Lorenzo that makes modern women writers want to jump into bed with him vicariously, through their characters.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Literate Housewife on March 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Much of what is known of Leonardo da Vinci's mother was that she was young and unmarried at the time of the birth. In her latest novel, Robin Maxwell takes this morsel of information and builds a life for this woman full of heartache, intrigue, and triumph. Caterina da Vinci sees life at its lowest and lives life at its highest. In her attempts to remain close to her son, she renounces her femininity so that she can live alone in Florence. Maxwell made Caterina da Vinci and the world of the Italian Renaissance come to life in a Signora da Vinci.

Caterina, the beloved only daughter of a local apothecary, is raised differently from most girls in Vinci, let alone the Western world at that time. Her father is more than an apothecary. He is a man who values knowledge above all and runs a forbidden alchemy lab in his home above his shop. He educates Caterina in all aspects of his life. Caterina's knowledge and belief in the Hermetic arts eventually set her up for her adult life in Florence where she had to disguise herself as a man to remain close to Leonardo. It is there that she runs into Lorenzo Il Magnifico and comes to be part of his inner intellectual circle. Although alchemy is not something that intrinsically interestes me, I found this section and the growing relationship of the male Caterina and Lorenzo the most engrossing parts of this novel. It was like taking a peak inside the Renaissance's "Dead Poet's Society."

Caterina's friends and family, although living in Roman Catholic Italy, are far from Christian. The growing threat of an Inquisition ultimately changes the face of Florence. They are all threatened with discovery and punishment under the theocratic rule of Fra.
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