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Signora da Vinci
by Robin Maxwell

Published: 2009-01-06
Paperback : 448 pages
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5 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 3 members
I have to admit I worried about leaving England and Ireland behind after writing six Elizabethan and Tudor novels, but I'm happy to report a soft landing in Renaissance Italy. Well, perhaps “soft” doesn't properly describe the brilliant, bloody cauldron of fifteenth century Florence… or my ...
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Introduction

I have to admit I worried about leaving England and Ireland behind after writing six Elizabethan and Tudor novels, but I'm happy to report a soft landing in Renaissance Italy. Well, perhaps “soft” doesn't properly describe the brilliant, bloody cauldron of fifteenth century Florence… or my protagonists - the most extraordinarily creative man in history, Leonardo da Vinci, and the one who created him, his mother, Caterina. Signora da Vinci tells the story of a young alchemist's daughter whose unfortunate love affair brings her the greatest love of her life - her genius son - as well as an escape from the restrictions of her gender, and entry into a seductive garden of philosophy, art, learning and danger. From the dusty streets of Vinci and the glories of Lorenzo “The Magnificent's” Florence, to the conspiratorial halls of Rome and Milan, the book celebrates one woman's unquenchable ardor for knowledge, and a secret world that historical fiction readers rarely see. For more information about this book, as well as my other titles, visit me online at http://robinmaxwell.com To win one of FIVE SIGNED COPIES of Signora da Vinci, email me at mailto:robin@robinmaxwell.com “Maxwell is one of the most popular - and one of the best - historical novelists currently mining the rich vein of Tudor history.” - Booklist “The powerfully lascivious intersections of sexual and international politics, combined with Maxwell's electrifying prose, make for enthralling historical fiction.” - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Chapter 7

I had refused to shed tears that day when my boy of thirteen, fresh-faced and gangly-limbed, had climbed on the back of Piero's horse and disappeared from my sight. I believed that my other separations from Leonardo would prepare me for this one. I had initiated it. It was clearly in my son's best interests. He would be surrounded by a community of artists and be taught by one of Italy's greatest masters. It would put an end to his lowly status as the village bastard, and provide a chance for him to grow into manhood and rise to a well-deserved glory. We had both promised, of course, to write to each other. These were all indisputable blessings. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1) Caterina's life seems, from the beginning of the story to the last page, to be based on deceit. Did this bother you at all? Do you think she should have regretted it more, or do you think the ends justified the means?

2) Did you find it believable that Caterina fooled as many people as she did with
her disguise?

3) What did you feel were Caterina's strengths? Her weaknesses? How did you feel about her relationship with Lorenzo? Her father? Leonardo?


4) Did you ever feel that Caterina was an overbearing mother, or became too involved in her son's life?


5) What surprised you the most about Caterina's character as you went through this journey with her?


6) As portrayed in this novel, was Leonardo da Vinci a sympathetic character? If you had lived at the end of the 15th century in Italy, would you have like to have known him?


7) Did knowing that the heroes and heroine of Signora Da Vinci believed in pagan and Hermetic principles rather than Christianity make you like them any less? Any more? Have you explored any religions outside the Judeo/Christian/Muslim tradition?

8) Did the practice of Alchemy by the members of the Platonic Academy strike you as a plausible pastime? Do you feel, after reading this book, you have a better understanding of medieval alchemy?


7) What aspects of Leonardo's life and career were most interesting to you - his art, inventions, dissections and anatomical drawings, his philosophies and notebooks?
If you had had a chance, what questions would you have asked the maestro?

8) All the Medici men suffered from severe gout and many of them died of its
complications. Does this surprise you? When you think about the middle ages,
what other diseases do you associate with the times?

9) Does reading this book make you want to further explore any aspects of the
Italian Renaissance, the characters or plotlines Robin Maxwell has written about?

10) Some historians see the Dominican Friar, Savonarola, as a church reformer and
martyr. Do you feel that the citizens of Florence deserved his extreme “reigning
in” of their luxurious lifestyle, his “bonfires of the vanities?” Do you think he
deserved burning at the stake?


11) Before reading Signora Da Vinci, did you believe the Shroud of Turin was
authentic, or a hoax? After reading this book, have your feelings shifted? Is a
camera obscura photograph of a corpse's body and Leonardo's face a reasonable
explanation in your mind?

11) The author portrays Roderigo Borgia quite sympathetically. From what you know, or have read about the Borgia family in general, was his positive
characterization plausible? Did you find it hard to believe that even a pope might have Hermetic and pagan leanings?

12) Did Lorenzo il Magnifico Medici seem too-good-to-be-true as a medieval ruler? As a human being? Do you think he should have been written with more foibles, or did you enjoy falling in love with him as Caterina and the author, Robin
Maxwell, did?

13) Superstition, with its omens, heavenly signs, talismans and worshipping of holy
relics, played a huge role in medieval life. What are the modern equivalents of
these beliefs?

Suggested by Members

Ms. Maxwell writes so beautifully about a mother's love for her son...where in her own persona do you think that comes from?
How long did Robin Maxwell take to research and write this book?
How did Ms. Maxwell's descriptions of relationships - familal, romantic, platonic, even adversarial - make you, the reader feel?
by cindimonti55 (see profile) 04/30/09

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

For some time I’d been intrigued by the ridiculously fertile mind and staggering accomplishments of Leonardo Da Vinci. Long before The Da Vinci Code, he was a firmly entrenched icon in human culture and consciousness. But Leonardo’s secretive nature – despite thousands of pages of notebooks, various works of art, invention, science, architecture and philosophy – left us very little understanding about Leonardo the person.

While we do know something about Da Vinci’s father, Piero – his social climbing, business successes and his almost inhuman coldness to his bastard son – we know next to nothing about Da Vinci’s mother. By my own simple logic I deduced that Piero, while an intelligent and resourceful man, never displayed an ounce of creativity – that divine spark that utterly defined Leonardo.

That would, of course, leave his mother as the donor of the “genius genes.” But of the woman who gave birth to one of the world’s most remarkable minds we possess exactly two facts: 1) Her name was Caterina. 2) Leonardo was taken from her the day after his birth to be brought up, as a bastard, in the Vinci home of Piero’s father.

It was my obsession with Caterina, and my imagining of the role she played in her son’s life during the astonishing era of Lorenzo The Magnificent and the Italian Renaissance, that made the writing of this book not only a creative necessity, but a pleasure.

While we do know something about Da Vinci's father, Piero - his social climbing, business successes and his almost inhuman coldness to his bastard son - we know next to nothing about Da Vinci's mother. By my own simple logic I deduced that Piero, while an intelligent and resourceful man, never displayed an ounce of creativity - that divine spark that utterly defined Leonardo.

That would, of course, leave his mother as the donor of the “genius genes.” But of the woman who gave birth to one of the world's most remarkable minds we possess exactly two facts: 1) Her name was Caterina. 2) Leonardo was taken from her the day after his birth to be brought up, as a bastard, in the Vinci home of Piero's father.

It was my obsession with Caterina, and my imagining of the role she played in her son's life during the astonishing era of Lorenzo The Magnificent and the Italian Renaissance, that made the writing of this book not only a creative necessity, but

Book Club Recommendations

Great for a book club.....great for a departure from whatever is your "usual"
by cindimonti55 (see profile) 04/30/09
Take a leap from your usual reading the dive into Signora DaVinci with both feet. Use all your senses as you read it. Robin Maxwell is so descriptive you can actually see, hear, feel, taste, and smell much of old old Italy. This book was such a joy to read....and then to discuss later.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Signora da Vinci"by loucrow (see profile) 05/04/09

This was an interesting historical fiction which went to great lengths to remain historically correct. Since so little is known of the real mother of Leonardo da Vinci, the imaginary life of the main... (read more)

 
  "Tread lightly.....walk heartily"by cindimonti55 (see profile) 04/30/09



Robin Maxwell's rendition of the life of Signora DaVinci is splendid. We have numerous opportunities to read about Leonardo DaVinci's life, but time seems to have forgotten his mother. M

... (read more)

 
  "A well researched book!"by PattyPP (see profile) 04/22/09

Our group had a great time reading this book. We learned a lot, and enjoyed discussing the book with Mrs. Maxwell! It was a real treat to have her answer our questions! Thank you Robin Maxwell!

 
  "This book is a fictional "what-if" about Leonardo's mother."by GigiMc (see profile) 04/22/09

Our bookclub enjoyed this book. I like historical fiction, and there was much of it in this book. The book was interesting and it made me want to read more about this time period and about Leonardo.

 
  "I am still reading the book and enjoy it but reserve a higher rating until finished."by sheena09 (see profile) 03/16/09

Robin has captured the essence of the Italian Rennaisance in a delightfully personal look into the life and times that made the amazing Leonardo da Vinci.

 
  "Very informative"by gooseharp (see profile) 05/01/09

It is a good premise and we checked a lot of the facts in her book and found them to be true and not even stretched much. It kept my attention for such a long book and I was not bored. I f... (read more)

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