Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola by Melissa Muldoon (Book Review)

This is the fourth book I read by Melissa Muldoon, and once again she succeeded in transporting me to another time in history. 

Book Details:

Book Title: The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola by Melissa Muldoon
Category: Adult Fiction, 345 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction
Publisher: Matta Press
Release date: December 2020
Content Rating: PG-13 + M includes mature themes (suicide, adultery, sexual relations, murder)

Book Description:

Set in the sixteenth-century, The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola tells the story of a woman’s passion for painting and adventure. In a world where women painters had little to no acknowledgment, she was singled out by Michelangelo and Vasari who recognized and praised her talent. Gaining the Milanese elite’s acclaim, she went on to become court painter to Spanish King Philip II and taught his queen to paint. 

One can’t live such an extraordinary life without having stories to tell, and tell them Sofonisba does to Sir Anthony Van Dyke, who comes to visit her toward the end of her life. During their meeting, she agrees to reveal her secrets but first challenges the younger painter to find the one lie hidden in her tale. In a saga filled with intrigue, jealousy, buried treasure, unrequited love, espionage, and murder, Sofonisba’s story is played out against the backdrop of Italy, Spain, and Sicily. Throughout her life, she encounters talented artists, authoritative dukes, mad princes, religious kings, spying queens, vivacious viscounts, and dashing sea captains—even a Barbary pirate. But of all the people who fell in love with Sofonisba, only one captured her heart. 

The painter may have many secrets but the truth of her life is crystal clear from the beginning. Always a strong, passionate woman with a dream, she was an intelligent artist who knew her self-worth and in the end, as Michelangelo had done for her, Sofonisba passed her brush to a new generation.

My Review:
Reviewed by Laura Fabiani

This is the fourth book I read by Melissa Muldoon, and once again she succeeded in transporting me to another time in history. Her books just keep getting better and better! This time, under Muldoon's deft penmanship, 16th century Italy and Spain came to life as she brings forth from obscurity yet another strong female historical figure. If there is one thing I can be certain of when I pick up one of Muldoon's books is that I will learn more about the world of Renaissance art.

This time Muldoon writes a fictionalized tale (based on known life events) of Sofonisba Anguissola, the first female painter to achieve fame and respect in the 16th century. Her father recognized her talent, encouraged it, and let her study under the tutelage of several painting masters. She became known for her portraits and went on to become the court painter to Spanish King Philip II. This allowed her to forge a friendship with Elizabeth his queen whom she taught to paint too.

Muldoon succeeds in taking these facts from Sofonisba's life and weaving a good story filled with art, court intrigue, love, murder, and adventure. I enjoyed reading this story very much and was motivated to do more research on this feminist historical figure who put her painting career above marriage and children. She was intelligent, talented, ambitious, and an inspiration to other artists. The author brings her to life beautifully with a story that flows well and gets better as it unfolds, especially in the last third of the book. I couldn't wait to see how it would all end.

If you love stories with strong female characters based on real historical figures, The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola is sure to please. This medieval tale set in Renaissance Italy and Inquisition Spain kept me turning the pages until the satisfying end.

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Meet the Author:

Melissa Muldoon is the author of four novels set in Italy: Dreaming Sophia, Waking Isabella, Eternally Artemisia, and The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola. All four books tell the stories of women and their journeys of self-discovery to find love, uncover hidden truths, and follow their destinies to shape a better future for themselves. Melissa is also the author of the Studentessa Matta website, where she promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog written in Italian and English ( Studentessa Matta means the “crazy linguist” and has grown to include a podcast, Tutti Matti per l’Italiano and the Studentessa Matta, YouTube channel, Facebook page and Instagram feed. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Programs, which she co-leads with Italian schools in Italy to learn Italian in Italy. Through her website, she also offers the opportunities to live and study in Italy through Homestay programs. Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history, and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence. She is an artist, designer, and illustrated the cover art for all four of her books. Melissa is the managing director of Matta Press

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  1. Thank you for your lovely review of Sofonisba! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the novel!

    1. You sure know how to bring woman artists of the past to life! Thanks for stopping by.


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