The Malice of Fortune: Michael Ennis

★★

It’s 1502. Women are being murdered in the Romagna, and their deaths may hold the secret to a mystery that has plagued Pope Alexander VI: the brutal murder of his beloved son Juan, Duke of Gandia. Eager for revenge, he sends an agent north to find out more. The former courtesan Damiata arrives in the town of Imola, the headquarters of the Pope’s second son Cesare, with a powerful motivation to succeed: her infant son is being kept as a hostage at the Borgia court. Yet she isn’t the only one seeking the truth about these murders. Two others are also trying to identify the killer: one is the put-upon Florentine envoy, Niccolò Machiavelli; the other is Cesare’s engineer-general, the Tuscan polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

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Pilgrim: Timothy Findley

★★★★

This was a re-read: a cautious venture back to a book which I was given for Christmas when I was sixteen and devoured on that same day, and about which I am completely unable to be objective. For that reason this post is going to be even more subjective than usual. Pilgrim was an inspired gift on the part of my parents, who had managed to find the one novel which encompassed all my interests at that time. The protagonist is an art historian, educated at Magdalen, who happens to be the world authority on Leonardo da Vinci. It so happened that, at the age of sixteen, these were my three greatest desires in the world (I achieved the first two, and learned better than to wish for the third).

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Gioconda: Lucille Turner

★★★

This was another purchase from Amazon’s Kindle sale. Initially I hesitated over buying it because Leonardo da Vinci is a subject particularly close to my heart. As a teenager, I read a lot about him (I still have at least sixteen books on my shelves) and I have yet to find any novel which gets him entirely right. Yet I keep looking, in the hope that one day I’ll stumble upon a book which does for him what The Agony and the Ecstasy did for Michelangelo. Sadly, this is not that book; although it certainly has its strengths.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist

Leonardo: Study of a skull

(The Queen’s Gallery, London, until 7 October 2012)

We’ve been well and truly spoiled for Leonardo this year and it’s only six months in.  There has been the blockbuster exhibition at the National Gallery, the exhibition in Turin at the same time, the Louvre’s show based around The Virgin and Child with St Anne, the touring exhibition of Leonardo’s drawings around Britain in celebration of Prince Charles’s 60th birthday, and now this show of his anatomical drawings at the Queen’s Gallery.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

Leonardo: Madonna and Child with St Anne

Yesterday morning, at 8:30am, a full hour and a half before the gallery opened, I joined the queue which was already snaking around the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing.  The hype in the press about this exhibition has been cranked up to fever-pitch and all advance tickets have now been sold.  The only way to get in to see it is to queue on a morning in the hope of getting one of 500 tickets released every day.  The anticipation and excitement in the queue were electric, and it was wonderful to be there with people who had gone to such great extremes to get tickets.  One woman had come down from Nottingham and had got up at 3:30am in order to get to London on time to queue.

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