Sofonisba Anguissola was a real person who lived during the time of Michelangelo and in fact studied under him for a short time. She was a gifted artist who deserves much better than this author gives her. The prime mover in Sofonisba's life was art yet here, the author reduces her to a love-sick YA character, stupid with anguished love for Tibiero Calcagni, a fictional sculptor she purportedly knew from Michelangelo's studio.
There is an incident with Tiberio, and the book doesn't make clear what happened. Some reviewers believe they had sex, but I am not convinced that they did. Whatever happened, Sofonisba is upset by it and feels shamed, but instead of moving on, she agonizes over this for half the freaking book (which is as far as I could stand to read)! It’s tedious. Tiberio is Michelangelo's boy toy (I'm guessing - I don't know for sure) and you were merely a diversion, Sofi. Move on!
She is put into the service of the French wife of the Spanish king as an art tutor. He is in his thirties and she is barely into her teens. That story could have been interesting, but we’re supposed to be getting Sofinisba's story which is also an interesting one. The author seems to have forgotten this and rather than talk about Sofonisba and her art, she depicts the artist as merely an observer, relating the story of the Spanish triangle between Don Juan, the king, and his wife. It’s boring. Most love triangles are, especially in YA literature.
The book blurb is misleading, as usual. It says, "...after a scandal involving one of Michelangelo's students, she flees Rome and fears she has doomed herself and her family," but this greatly exaggerates what happened. The blurb also tells us that "Sofi yearns only to paint," but this is an outright lie since she's rarely shown painting or even thinking about painting. The way the story is told here, the only real yearning Sofi experiences is over Tiberio.
Set in the mid 1500's, the story is superficially about this remarkable and talented painter struggling to make herself known for her art in a very masculine world where women were tightly constrained everywhere. The story could have been equally remarkable, but this author destroyed it. We got no sense of frustration or struggle from Sofonisba and precious little of her art as she's reduced to being a documentarian of the life at the Spanish court.
That life is tediously repetitive. The foppish young men at court are laughable. The main character in the book could have been anyone, including the chamber maid, and the story would have been largely the same. Don't look here for art; there's precious little of it, neither in the narrow sense of Sofinisba's life ambition, nor in the larger sense of the word. Artless is more accurate.
We're told that women are not allowed to paint nudes but there is a nude (Minerva Dressing) painted by artist Lavinia Fontana in 1613. Fontana was influenced by Anguissola, so whether things changed in the fifty years between this novel's setting, and Fontana's painting or the author just got it wrong, I don’t know. Fontana does seem to be the first female artist to paint female nudes, so maybe she was a cutting edge girl, in which case, a well-written story about her would be worth reading, and certainly better than this one! I cannot recommend this novel.