The Creation of Eve
, an historical fiction novel written by Lynn Cullen, takes you on a journey to the Spanish court and the world of painting during the Renaissance. Imagine being a young girl who loves to paint. Now imagine living in a time when it is not appropriate for girls to be painters. Sofonisba lives in Renaissance Italy during the 1500s. Painting, considered to be a man’s craft during this time, is something she loves to do. Her father, rather than being upset about this, is so impressed with his daughter’s abilities that he sends one of her paintings to Michelangelo. The famous painter sees Sofonisba’s talent and asks her to become one of his apprentices.
Young Sofonisba does well under Michelangelo’s teachings. One day she gives in to her romantic desires towards a young man who is also studying under Michelangelo. The two are caught frolicking sexually by the maestro himself. Sofonisba is disgraced in her own eyes and flees for home, even though this young man tells her that Michelangelo will not be angry; the master has many secrets of his own.
King Philip II of Spain has heard of Sofonisba’s talents with painting and sends for her to come and teach his new young wife how to paint. The king believes that this will amuse his wife. Once at court, the story tends to focus as much on the king’s young wife as it does on Sofonisba. The young queen is attracted to her new husband, but doesn’t feel that he is attracted to her. She asks Sofonisba’s advice on this and on many other matters. Sofonisba stays by this young queen’s side during her pregnancies, during her many illnesses and during her confusion as she finds herself attracted to both her husband and her brother-in-law.
Some unusual, seemingly cruel customs that were a part of everyday life in 16th century Spain give insight to the beliefs of those who lived during that time. For example, it was believed that the devil had a claim on black cats. In order to remove this claim, the tails of black kittens would be broken.
Medical knowledge in the 1500s appears just as strange as their customs were to those of us in these modern times. Toothaches were believed to be caused by worms, and if one held a candle close enough to the offending tooth, the smoke would cause the worm to fall out. If that didn’t work, one could touch a dead man’s tooth. Bloodletting was a common remedy for fevers.
During her never dull life at the Spanish court, Sofonisba learns about new drugs and plants – tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, and coca - that have been brought over from the Americas. She even gets to try coca and feel its effects herself. Political and religious dramas are being played out in the background, as the stability of Spain's catholic empire is threatened by the teachings of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
It is while in the Spanish court that Sofonisba first hears the rumors about her former teacher. She does not want to believe these whispers. Could this be one of the secrets that Michelangelo kept? His magnificent Sistine chapel paintings are in danger of being erased because of supposed immorality in the frescoes. Even worse, he is accused of homosexuality and writing love poetry to the young man with whom she was involved. If he is found guilty by the Catholic church of sodomy, the penalty is death.
Both the king’s half-brother and the king’s son harbor a secret desire for their new young queen. This love triangle in the royal court of Spain is an intense backdrop to the story of Sofonisba Anguissola and her passion for painting. The satisfying conclusion of the story leaves one wanting to know more about this woman who painted before women artists were taken seriously.
If you search the internet or books on artists, you will find the paintings done by Sofonisba Anguissola. Despite not being allowed to sign her paintings while a member of King Philip II’s court, she was one of the first women to gain international reputation as a painter. There is also more information on this amazing woman at the end of the book in the author’s note.
If you have the slightest interest in history or in painting, this is a book you would really like. My copy was sent to me free of charge by the management of BellaOnline. If you would like your own copy of The Creation of Eve
, there is a link to Amazon.com below where you can buy one.