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Signora Da Vinci    by Robin Maxwell order for
Signora Da Vinci
by Robin Maxwell
Order:  USA  Can
New American Library, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Very little is known about Caterina, the mother of Leonardo da Vinci. For many years the speculation has been that she was a village girl. Recent theories have it that she was an African slave in the household of a wealthy Florentine. No matter. Author Robin Maxwell has imagined a female raised and educated by her alchemist father, able to disguise herself as a man, to discourse with the most learned scholars in Florence at that time, to become the lover of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and finally to be an integral part of a plan to hoodwink Savonarola.

This is truly a woman worth reading about, and the good news is that author Maxwell has made all these adventures not only plausible but genuine-sounding so that we feel as if we were there! This is a wonderful book about a very interesting time historically, politically, and culturally. The early scientists who had to conduct their investigations in secret for fear of offending the Catholic Church, the artists who needed patronage and therefore sometimes had to modify what they really wanted to do, the politicians who had to make peace some way or another with each other and the pope, and just plain old ordinary citizens trying to make their way through the world are all beautifully depicted here through Cato's eyes.

About Leonardo's personal life there is also very little known. In the novel we are able to watch his growth and learn how truly inventive and creative he was and above all, how daring, which is why his mother felt she had to protect him for so long. His part in improving the Shroud of Turin (at that time the Lirey Shroud) so that Savonarola would be discredited and disabused of his position, though considered conjecture, is well documented by Maxwell.

All in all, this well-researched novel is truly captivating. And I loved that it was written straightforwardly in time, with no splicing back and forth between decades or episodes that is so popular right now. We are able to witness the events as they happen and marvel at how it must have been to live at that time.

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