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Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex
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Leonardo's Swans

by Karen Essex

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6031624,321 (3.28)26
  1. 00
    The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis (loveyoumadly)
  2. 01
    The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant (elleeldritch)
    elleeldritch: If you want fiction surrounding art, artists, and 15th century Italy, pick this up instead. More detail surrounding the time period and characters. It leaves you with an emotion, feeling something, unlike Leonardo's Swans (which was, "Okay, next book!")… (more)
  3. 01
    Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (mthelibrarian)
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» See also 26 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
A very "okay" historical novel. (You'd think a Tulane graduate would do better.) ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
Reading this recent historical fiction novel was a very strange experience – it's based on the same historical facts as another book, ‘Duchess of Milan' by Michael Ennis – which I love. So reading this book was almost like re-reading ‘Duchess'... but feeling that everything, has, somehow, changed... Although, I believe, factually accurate, Essex's book is much less flattering to her characters, I believe. Both focus on the two sisters, Beatrice and Isabella d'Este, who were prominent players in the Renaissance courts of Italy's late 15th century (and were patrons to Leonardo Da Vinci and many other artists of the day.) But while Ennis portrays these women as the well-educated, powerful, and savvy politicians that they likely were (without sacrificing a strong element of personal drama), Essex has the women be much more motivated by personal jealousy and vanity – their connivings are shown as more petty games than far-sighted political moves. They are constantly worrying about who is more beautiful than whom, who their husbands are sleeping with, and even Isabella's main goal of being painted by Da Vinci is equal parts vanity and desire to ‘get one over' on her sister. Isabella came across as shallow and irritating – which, I'm fairly sure, historically, she was not.
The other annoying thing about this book is that Essex obviously did some of the research for this book by looking at existing portraits and carvings of her characters, an she spends a great deal of time in the book describing in great detail her personal interpretations of these artworks. OK, so she got me to do a Google image search for some of the works she described, so I guess she succeeded in getting me to want to look at them. But it got to the point where at times I felt like I was reading a museum didactic, not a novel.
Overall, this wasn't bad – but I would definitely recommend ‘Duchess of Milan' over this book any day!
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Read during Summer 2007

Not very good. I must get back to my own books and leave Bookcrossing for the short term, I'm getting really annoyed to not enjoy what I read. This was not a total clunker, well, maybe. Essex just seemed in way over her head. She was trying to make some grand statements about the works of Leonardo da Vinci via the d'Este sisters, Isabella and Beatrica, but it just didn't work. There was high flown prose about art tossed in with crude sex and debauchery scenes. Isabella was supposed to be the smart one but was mostly pretensious and Beatrica was more wild than spirited. Not a satisfying read, esp. after Beatrica dies suddenly and the whole thing just grinds to a halt but has to drag out for page after page after page. Also, I don't care if smug little Isabella thinks she is the model for the Mona Lisa, a point Essex has clearly been working up to for about 339 pages.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Set in the court of the Duke of Milan during the stay of Leonardo da Vinci, the first half is more fun with sexual and political intrigues and insight into some of Leonardo's more famous works; the last half focuses on the fall of the city to the French. Fun way to encounter facts from a period of history I have always found fascinating.
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
I felt like I was reading Danielle Steele with a dash of history/art history thrown in. It made for a good discussion of daVinci and Renaissance art at my book group meeting, but the writing was lacking. I think I adore half of the picks from my book groups, and I really don't enjoy the other half. ( )
  rkreish | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
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In the year 1506; in French-occupied Milan

Isabella spreads her arms like angels' wings over her sister's cold marble form, running her fingers down the exquisitely carved folds of her burial gown and tracing the delicate veins in her arms.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The story of rival sisters born into enormous privilege and of the ferment of Italy at the close of the fifteenth century. Isabella, a stunning black-eyed blonde, worldly and ambitious beyond her years, has never had reason to envy her less attractive and accomplished sister, Beatrice. Until, by a quirk of fate, the future Duke of Milan is betrothed not to Isabella but to naive and childish Beatrice. Although he is more than twice her age, has a mistress and an illegitimate son hidden away, and is reputedly trying to ascend to the current duke's throne by killing him off, Ludovico Sforza would allow Isabella to fulfill her destiny: to reign over one of the most powerful realms in the world and sit for the genius Leonardo. But, with no choice in the matter, Isabella is married off to Francesco Gonzaga, the Marquis of Mantua. Early on in the marriage, Isabella thinks she can be happy by providing the marquis with heirs to his domain. But after producing nothing but daughters and discovering Francesco's true nature, she devotes all her energies to being immortalized by the enigmatic Leonardo. In one of the novel's great ironies, Beatirce has access to the master but hardly cares whether he paints her or not. Her greatest wishes are to win Ludovico's love and achieve fame through her sons. Although principally the story of the Este sisters, Leonardo's Swans is also an exceptionally vivid re-creation of the life of da Vinci, including the thrilling moments when Leonardo conceived The Last Supper and the Mona List. (ARC)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0767923065, Paperback)

Isabelle d’Este, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, born into privilege and the political and artistic turbulence of Renaissance Italy, is a stunning black-eyed blond and an art lover and collector. Worldly and ambitious, she has never envied her less attractive sister, the spirited but naïve Beatrice, until, by a quirk of fate, Beatrice is betrothed to the future Duke of Milan. Although he is more than twice their age, openly lives with his mistress, and is reputedly trying to eliminate the current duke by nefarious means, Ludovico Sforza is Isabella’s match in intellect and passion for all things of beauty. Only he would allow her to fulfill her destiny: to reign over one of the world’s most powerful and enlightened realms and be immortalized in oil by the genius Leonardo da Vinci. Isabella vows that she will not rest until she wins her true fate, and the two sisters compete for supremacy in the illustrious courts of Europe.

A haunting novel of rivalry, love, and betrayal that transports you back to Renaissance Italy, Leonardo’s Swans will have you dashing to the works of the great master—not for clues to a mystery but to contemplate the secrets of the human heart.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:54 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Isabella d'Este, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, born into privilege and the political and artistic turbulence of Renaissance Italy, is a stunning black-eyed blonde and a precocious lover and collector of art. Worldly and ambitious, she has never envied her less attractive sister, the spirited but naive Beatrice, until, by a quirk of fate, Beatrice is betrothed to the future Duke of Milan. Although he is more than twice their age, openly lives with his mistress, and is reputedly trying to eliminate the current duke by nefarious means, Ludovico Sforza is Isabella's match in intellect and passion for all things of beauty. Only he would allow her to fulfill her destiny: to reign over one of the world's most powerful and enlightened realms and be immortalized in oil by the genius Leonardo da Vinci." "Though Isabella weds the Marquis of Mantua, a man she has loved since childhood, Beatrice's fortunes rise effortlessly through her marriage to Ludovico. The two sisters compete for supremacy in the illustrious courts of Europe, and Isabella vows that she will not rest until she wrestles back her true fate and plays temptress to the sensuous Ludovico and muse to the great Leonardo. But when Ludovico's grand plan to control Europe begins to crumble, immortality through art becomes a luxury, and the two sisters must choose between familial loyalty and survival in the treacherous political climate." "Leonardo's Swans is an evocation of the artist during his years in the glittering court of Milan, re-creating the thrilling moments when he conceived The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. It portrays a genius ahead of his time who can rarely escape the demands of his noble patrons long enough to express his own artistic vision."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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