“Compulsive and intuitive” “A fresh and intimate perspective on Da Vinci’s life” “A journey of discovery”
A Novel of Leonardo da Vinci
A solitary child, Leonardo’s only intimate is Lisa Gherardini, the girl who spies on him in his workshop. Spurned by his tutor, he is sent by his despairing father to Florence as an apprentice. But success requires sacrifice and conformity, and Leonardo’s gift is more of a heresy than a vision. Forced to leave Florence, he places himself at the mercy of the power-thirsty Duke of Milan…
From the glittering court of the Medici to the mortuaries of Milan, Gioconda vividly imagines Leonardo’s lonely struggle to convince others of his vision of the world.
“He looks at his aching hands. Runs them over his bony face and rough beard. How long before his body gives up, and when it does, what of it? If he stops now, what will happen – will he live more? What is more, more of what?”
The Inspiration Behind the Book
I started to write GIOCONDA in the wake of a visit to a supermarket. Shopping seems an unlikely font of inspiration, but I somehow fell upon a print of the Mona Lisa in the aisles, and that set me thinking about who she was and what the portrait signified.
Much later, when the first draft of GIOCONDA had been written, I made the pilgrimage to Florence and Anchiano, Leonardo’s birthplace outside Vinci. It’s a pretty, country path that takes you through the valley to his house. Leonardo’s father was the local notary, Ser Piero da Vinci, and the house registered in his name at the time of Leonardo’s birth stands on a hill overlooking the view that Leonardo sketched as a boy before his departure for Florence. Inside the thick stonewalls of Ser Piero’s old home, Leonardo comes to life: his bizarre reverse writing covers all the walls, and his sketches of the surrounding countryside lie in a glass cabinet in one of the rooms.
I booked into the Hotel Mona Lisa in Florence. It was hard not to and the hotel did not disappoint; Lisa was on every wall of the lounge: with or without a moustache, big breasted, small breasted, modern, retro and surreal. I had planned on finding Leonardo’s bottega, where as a young apprentice he first picked up a brush, but an inquiry at the tourist office drew a blank. ‘There were many bottega workshops during the Renaissance,’ they said apologetically, ‘but most are lost to memory.’ It took a visit to the archives and a long, confused conversation with the national library about membership, but by the end of the second day I had a tenuous indication. I traced the old address to the new one, and set off eagerly, driven by emotion. But when I finally found what seemed to be the place, instead of a bottega or museum was an old abandoned storehouse with a cafe on the end of it. The whirr of espresso machines – coffee, not art.