Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I learned about Marina Fiorato's "The Botticelli Secret" on another blog. It was described as being a combination of a Dan Brown-type mystery and the books of Sarah Dunant. After getting it from the library, however, I almost didn't read it, because the first few pages gave me the impression that it was going to be a lusty bodice ripper, and I don't read bodice rippers.

However, I gave it a chance, and I'm glad I did, for it is not a bodice ripper, and the description that had intrigued me proved to be accurate. The story is based upon Ialian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli's famous painting called "La Primavera". As the book proceeds, clues hidden in the painting will eventually reveal a great political intrigue. It is left to Luciana Vetra, a beautiful Florentine prostitute, and her unlikely companion, novice monk Guido della Torro, to unravel the clues and prevent conspirators from consummating their deadly plan.

Luciana becomes enmeshed in the mystery when she is asked by Botticelli to be the model for Primavera, the main figure in the painting. Angry with Botticelli, she steals a small version of the painting from him. She soon deduces that this is no mere painting, because there are people searching for it - and her - and her friends are being murdering because of it. She decides to seek help from Guido, whom she had met earlier in the day when he tried to turn her from her sinful ways. After a fellow monk is murdered, Luciana and Guido must escape from Florence.

In an author's note at the back of the book, Fiorato writes that "La Primavera" enjoys more interpretations than perhaps any other painting in art history. For her book, she implements an Italian professor's interpretation that the figures represent Italian cities. As they begin to figure out the clues hidden in the faces, dress and postures of the eight figures of the painting, Luciana and Guido learn not only the identity of the cities, but discern that belonging to each city is one of the conspirators, including well-known political figures like the Duke of Milan, Lorenzo di Medici and the Pope himself.

Luciana and Guido find themselves swept away on a perilous journey from one Italian city to another - including Florence, Venice, Milan and Genoa. Thankfully, Fiorato does not plot to have Luciana and Guido be swept away by passion as well. Theirs IS a love story, but it proceeds slowly and reservedly, while along the way Luciana discovers that she is no mere prostitute but royally born, and Guido becomes less and less enamored with the church. "The Botticelli Secret" deserves to take its place alongside Dan Brown's symbol-based mysteries and Dunant's glorious novels of the Italian Renaissance. 

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