Most of the medieval historicals I read are set in England or France, so I was excited to get my hands on this review copy of Carol M. Cram’s wonderful novel set in Italy in the 1300s: The Towers of Tuscany.
Disclaimer: I received this ebook for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.
Sofia Carelli is the talented daughter of a painter, Maestro Antonio Barducci. Having had no son, he passed on his skills to his daughter–not exactly the wisest move, since it is apparently forbidden for a woman to engage in a commercial artistic endeavor. Had she hidden away in her father’s home, she might have continued to work for him in secret, but she was a beautiful and willful young lady, who fell in love with a handsome, charming young man.
Sofia gets her way. (Sofia always gets her way.) She and Giorgio Carelli were married, against her father’s better judgement. It didn’t take long for Sofia to regret her choice. Giorgio drinks and gambles. And if he knew she snuck away to the tower in their home to paint, he would punish her severely.
The marriage is a disaster, but things get worse when her father dies during a fracas at a wedding feast. (Medieval Italy=dangerous family rivalries.) Giorgio is partly to blame for the fracas. Before dying, Sofia’s father commands her to take a panel she has painted and go to Siena to seek out a friend of his, who will take her in and help her continue her work.
It’s no mean feat to run away from your husband. And it’s no more permissible in Siena for a woman to work as a painter than it is in San Gimignano (Sofia’s hometown.) But Sofia is willing to undertake any hardship, accept any risk, in order to paint.
This is a vividly written story of a headstrong woman determined to follow her muse. She refuses to be bound by the conventions of her time. She’s also a passionate woman with an eye for a handsome face. So in spite of the fact that she tells herself she won’t make the same mistake twice. . .
The storyline is compelling and the details of each of the settings and particularly of the work of painting made this a particularly enjoyable read. I could have some sympathy for Sofia; she was trapped in a time and place where it was impossible to reconcile what she wanted to do with the options available to her. However, although I understood what she was up against and admired her talent, I couldn’t like Sofia. Her arrogance I could accept. Her high opinion of her art was deserved since she was not the only one praising it. But her blithe disregard for anyone else’s feelings, the excuses she made for the hurt she caused, and her willingness to put others in danger so that she could paint made me sympathize more with her friends and family. And yet. . .aren’t great artists always self-centered like that? Still, it isn’t necessary to like Sofia to love this book. There are characters enough to admire in The Towers of Tuscany.