“I, Mona Lisa” and the Famous Figure Dilemma

If You Like…

  • Historical fiction
  • Italian Renaissance
  • My man, Leonardo da Vinci
  • Richly built world

Then You’ll Like…

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis

studiousToday I wanted to talk about famous folks in literature. Not famous folks like the famous authors, but rather famous names that are dropped during the story or famous figures who have some sort of impact on the tale or the backstory. I don’t often find a story that depicts the significance of a famous person for a story to my satisfaction, but for once I found that satisfaction in I, Mona Lisa.

My most favorite historical figure of all time is Leonardo da Vinci. I will admit that I have not read many other books where he was a physical characters in the book. In fact, most of time he’s just referenced, but in I, Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci is not only a character, he’s also vital to the plot of the story. Of course, this should have been expected with a title like that.

Kalogridis’ novel is set in the Italian Renaissance; Florence, Italy to be more exact. Our main heroine is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini, and she is coming of age to be wed. Her father elicits the help of Lorenzo de Medici “the Magnificent” to find a good man for Lisa to marry, and so she is invited to the great Medici home for a party. At the party, Lisa is introduced to a particularly famous artist: our Leonardo da Vinci.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Lisa clearly does not marry Leonardo, but he is intrigued by her spunk and asks to paint her. Turns out he has a much closer connection to her family and to certain events in her past than she realized.

What I most enjoyed about Kalogridis’ depiction of Leonardo was by not giving him such reverence. It seems these days that if anybody wants to bring a historical figure to life in their fiction or film, they need to be gentle with them; don’t be too off-character, lest you anger the fans. One other depiction of Leonardo that I enjoyed was in the film “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore, but even then he was not too central to the story and was often for comedic relief.

This depiction of Leonardo da Vinci is as close to human as I could see. Sometimes we forget that historical or famous figures were not perfect human beings full of knowledge and enlightenment, but they made mistakes too. Leonardo is elegantly portrayed with the right amount of reputation among the characters as an artist, while also revealing his more vulnerable side in a realistic manner. He gets drawn into conspiracy, slander, and espionage within the plot, and is especially vital to the climax and the great reveal at the end.

It was this book that inspired me to write my own story about Leonardo da Vinci back in my freshman year of college. That story has been put aside for now, but it influenced me to do more research into the man, rather than the famous figure, and I still hunger for more books that portray him as a human being than something to be worshipped. I believe there is something to be learned from the way Kalogridis handled this beloved artist and thinker, and I hope to find more works down the road that give the same respect and gumption to other historical/famous figures.

Aside of Leonardo da Vinci, I, Mona Lisa is very well-written, well-researched, and is richly decorated with characters and enough suspense to keep you turning the pages. I highly recommend it and also advise you to look into more of Kalogridis’ novels. Historical fiction is her forte and boy, does it show beautifully.

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Will Make You Feel: Like taking a second look at those Italian frescoes

Music to Listen to While Reading: A lyre

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

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