Title: The Creation of Eve
Author: Lynn Cullen
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC for TLC Book Tours
First line: In the time it takes to pluck a hen, I have ruined myself.
Thus begins the story of Sofonisba Anguissola, female painter of the Renaissance and student of Maestro Michelangelo. When Sofi gives in to a moment of passion with fellow painter Tiberio, a moment which is walked in upon by the Maestro himself, she fears she is ruined – not only her career as an artist, but her reputation as well. Before the ramifications of her moment of weakness can be revealed, though, Sofi’s father informs her that she will be leaving Italy for Spain, where she will be a lady-in-waiting and painting instructor to Elizabeth, the new Queen of Spain.
Elizabeth, fourteen, has just married the much older Felipe, King of Spain. She is a pawn in her mother, Catherine de Medici’s, plan to broker a treaty between France and Spain. As Sofi attends the young queen, she becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the court and a love triangle between Elizabeth, Felipe, and Felipe’s illegitimate brother, Don Juan.
Cullen has written an engrossing historical novel, one full of lush descriptions of palace life, and one that explores the restrictions placed on women of the time. Sofonisba was an extremely talented artist, but one that was limited to portraiture because women were forbidden to study human anatomy or paint nude figures. She was thus prevented from doing the epic religious paintings of the period, the kind that could move her beyond painter and make her a “maestra.”
It is evident that Cullen did amazing amounts of research – not just into the history, but the customs of the court, the fashions of the time, and what it feels like to be an artist. Sofi is an authentically drawn character, and I could feel her frustration at the strictures put on her by society and her place as a lady-in-waiting. Even her portraits done at court were often attributed to the court painter – who was male, of course. As lady-in-waiting, she was uniquely placed to observe the marriage between Felipe and Elizabeth – the pressure on Elizabeth to please the King in bed, and to provide an heir to ensure the treaty with France. The book is written as Sofi’s journal, and reading it was like being a fly on the wall, an eavesdropper in the corner of the Queen’s bedchamber, carriage, gardens.
The first 100 pages moved just a tad slowly, but I still highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves historical fiction. Those pages are necessary to understanding Sofi and her position as a woman, and once I read farther on, I was completely hooked. I sat on the couch Saturday afternoon and devoured the final 100 pages, unable to put the book down until I knew how things turned out for Sofi, Elizabeth, Don Juan, and Felipe. I also enjoyed reading the author’s note at the end, which explained the history of the characters, and the direction Cullen took them in for the purpose of her book.
(An ARC of The Creation of Eve was provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it for this blog tour. The above link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)