“The Creation of Eve is a novel based on the true but little-known story of Sofonisba Anguissola, the first renowned female artist of the Renaissance. After a scandal in Michelangelo’s workship, Sofi flees Italy and joins the Spanish court of King Felipe II to be a lady-in-waiting to his young bride. There she becomes embroiled in a love triangle involving the Queen, the King, and the King’s illegitimate half-brother, Don Juan. The Creation of Eve combines art, romance, and history from the Golden Age in Spain in a story that asks the question: Can you ever truly know another person’s heart?”
I have long been enamored with Italy, as you know, and with art, as you may not. If you’ve ever stood before the statue of David (which used to be outside in the courtyard when I first saw him in 1969, and is now firmly placed inside an enclosure so you can’t get very near him at all) you will stand in awe at the wonder of Il Divinio’s work.
I loved how this novel started with Sofonisba learning in Michaelangelo Buonarroti’s studio. Studying with the master, she falls in love with Tiberio Calcagni for whom she waits the rest of the novel. Why does he return her letters with a certain aloofness? Is it true what is said about him and Michelangelo?
In order to escape possible shame to her father, should the knowledge of her liaison with Tiberio become public, she accepts the invitation to become a lady-in-waiting to the fifteen year old Queen of Spain. The new Queen’s mother is Catherine de’ Medici of France, and it is critical to her mother that the alliance between France and Spain remain intact; made all the more certain should the Queen of Spain bear her husband’s son.
More than about painting, which is what I’d been expecting, I found this novel to be about history. It tells the roles between royalty and countries, between royalty and their servants, between parents and children for whom royalty bears more importance in their power than in their relationships.
I was intrigued by the possibility of the King poisoning those who do not please him with moonflowers, or the King’s intent to obtain whatever it is that pleases him regardless of consequence to who may love him. I was intrigued by the relationship in the royal family, between the King and his sister, Dona Juana; his mistress; his brother, Don Juan; and his stepson, Don Carlos. I was intrigued to find whom it is the Queen truly loves. And, I was intrigued to view it all through the eyes of the painter, Sofi. She lets us watch each scene unfolding, revealing only the information which is critical at the time, keeping us anxious for the outcome until the end.
It is a surprise that His Majesty did not come to My Lady’s chamber last night?
Now a page has come, announcing that the Queen has sent for me. I must hide my notebook and join her in this place where the thorny canes of discord spread in the tranquil shade of civility.” (p. 129)
One of the paintings mentioned in this book is The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch:
The Queen asks her husband if she could take a painting to her mother, even though
“the French Queen’s true reason for coming to the border was to meet with our King to remind him of his allegiance with France, and as for seeing her daughter-here Francesca spits before continuing-well, that was just an afterthought.
“What painting do you think she would like?” the King asked.
“How about one of those El Boscos?” Dona Juana suggested sweetly. “I think she would like The Garden of Earthly Delights.”
The King glanced at her unamused. For him to offer the French Queen Mother any of his paintings at all was generous. Truth be told, his relationship with Queen Catherine is on poor footing that grows ever poorer. (p. 297)
Also, there were several mentions of the famous Spanish Pearl.
“Known once as the Phillip II pearl, La Peregina, (not to be confused with La Pellegrina) was once the most celebrated pearl of its time. Weighing a large 203.8 grains, La Peregrina was celebrated not only for its great size, but also its perfect pear shape, and bright white coloration.
La Peregrina was found off the coast of Panama in the 16th century, and was promptly delivered to King Phillip II of Spain who presented the gem to his new bride, Queen Mary of Spain. The gem later belonged to Queen Margaret as well as Joseph Bonaparte, before the British Marquis of Abercorn acquired it.
In 1969, La Peregrina was purchased by actor Richard Burton for a mere $37,000, as a gift for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth Taylor, a pearl lover and a catalyst of Tahitian pearl popularity, owns La Peregrina to this day. (from Pearl-Guide)
What a novel this is, deeply rooted in culture, history, and intrigue. I feel as if I’ve touched the very hands of the Royals who once lived it themselves.