From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9–Based on a real 16th-century Italian painter, this book offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Renaissance artist. Vini, 14, the only child of painter Prospero Fontana, is desperate to have her father recognize her talent. Knowing that he will take no notice of her abilities because she is not the son he longs for, she persuades his least-talented apprentice, Paolo, to pass her work off as his own. Eager to impress Vini, whom he clearly loves, clumsy Paolo agrees to her scheme. When Prospero learns the truth, he accepts his daughter into his studio. Despite the ridicule of her fellow apprentices, who scoff at the notion of a woman being a serious artist, Vini's talent flourishes under his tutelage. At this point, the novel deteriorates from solid historical fiction into a rapid series of improbable events that gives it the feeling of a soap opera. Vini loses her sight after suddenly being stricken with measles, then recovers it just as suddenly as the result of either a scorpion's sting or Paolo's kiss. Her mother gives birth to yet another dead boy and insists that the puppet Vini substitutes for the corpse is a living child. Finally, the teen forces Prospero to be tolerant of his wife's mental state by threatening to give up painting. Although she describes the lack of information about Lavinia Fontana's adolescent years in an afterword, Hawes's overly dramatic speculation detracts from the novel's strength as historical fiction.–Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
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Gr. 8-10. Vini's imperious father, a sixteenth-century Bolognese portraitist, teaches his students the importance of seeing: "Paint first with your eyes." But he can't see what's right in front of him--his 14-year-old daughter Vini's hunger to paint alongside his male apprentices. Earning a place in her father's workshop is just the first of many challenges Vini faces. The other painters regard her as an aberration; measles threatens her eyesight; and her mother's surprise pregnancy causes deep anxiety about Vini's place in her family. In imagining the adolescence of Renaissance artist Lavinia Fontana, a historical figure whose biography is outlined in an endnote, Hawes deftly blends history and invention, introducing a romance that flowers alongside Vini's talent, and giving her a role in resolving a poignant family conflict. At times Hawes projects perhaps too much sophistication into Vini's perceptions (in painting the objects in a still life, she is "a partner to each, a loving consciousness that holds, cherishes"), and the story line relies overmuch on contrivance. Nonetheless, fans of historical fiction will lose themselves in Hawes' sumptuously evoked Renaissance Italy, and aspiring artists will respond to Vini's amazement at "how full of drawings the world is." Hand readers in the latter category the adjacent Read-alikes column for a diverse palette of novels that explore art and the artistic process. Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved