Leonardo's Swans

Leonardo's Swans

A Novel

Book - 2006
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Leonardo's Swans is the story of the powerful Este sisters, Beatrice, Duchess of Milan, and Isabella, Marchesa of Mantua, as they compete for the affections of Italy's most influential prince, the Duke of Milan, and for the larger prize, to be immortalized in oil by his court painter and engineer, Leonardo da Vinci.
Publisher: New York :, Doubleday,, [2006]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2006
ISBN: 9780385517065
Branch Call Number: FIC ESSE
Characteristics: 344 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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May 13, 2019

Alcona Harrisville

Dec 19, 2016

Was very disappointed. Lots of heavy panting , this is pretty much a Bodice ripper. Pedestrian dialogue and more heavy panting thrown in. Could not finish it.

Sep 25, 2015

Being interested in Italian history I picked up this book and was happily surprised and entertained by the storyline. It has a perfect balance of romance, betrayal, and politics. I looked up all of the portraits mentioned in this book and it gave me more of an insiders look on the characters. I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would and recommend it to anyone who wishes to jump into a brief history on two sisters and their journey of life in late 1400 Italy.

FindingJane Dec 14, 2014

This epic tale of the lives of two very different sisters and the various personalities that make up their lives is one of sweeping grandeur and painful intimate moments. Religion, politics, artistry, warfare, romance and domestic travails all take their place as the two sisters attempt to negotiate the tricky waters in which they swim. In an era in which women fell or rose by the behaviors of their husbands, Isabella and Beatrice d’Este prove to have both tender hearts and steely backbones.

Working from letters and old documents, Ms. Essex has limned their remarkable strengths and weaknesses in exquisite detail. She also manages to weave in the various politicos and religious clergy who held such mighty sway in that bygone era. She elegantly captures the glory, beauty and grandiosity of houses so fabulously wealthy that jewels for a new gown were carried from their vaults in buckets.

Rising like a mythical Titan above it all is the elusive, contradictory and majestic Leonardo da Vinci, known as Magistro by all of his wealthy patrons. He too manages to captivate the reader with his odd interests in the interiors of human beings, the posterior of animals and his attention to mathematics and science. Baffling and infuriating his patrons with his procrastinations, he is yet given such leeway that he lives in the lap of luxury for decades while putting off painting or sculpting one commissioned work after another.

The author provides no traditional happy ending; both Isabel and Beatrice were unhappy with their husbands. But she posits that both knew the importance of handling men and each managed to do so in her unique way. Ms. Essex also manages to bring out the pagan and sacred in her book, most tellingly by naming each chapter with a tarot card. Who ultimately is responsible for our fates: Chance or God? Wisely, she leaves that for the reader to decide.

Nov 25, 2013

We read this book to one another while traveling in Northern Italy to Ferrara and Montova. My husband and I really liked the story especially since we had an opportunity to see paintings of Isabella and a bust of Beatrice her sister. Learned a lot about powerful families in Italy and how daughters are married off to make good alliances. And the story included Leonardo Da Vinci. It is worth the read. Goes well with the book on the Borgia family by Dunnett.

Aug 10, 2010

Excellent read, had no idea these were true historical characters. Enjoyed the storyline which incorporated Leonard Da Vinci. Would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about true historical characters that are developed into somewhat fictional stories.


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Sep 24, 2015

eichlerdbrent thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


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