I think most people have probably heard of famous Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. But what about Sofonisba Anguissola? In The Creation of Eve, Lynn Cullen introduces us to this talented female artist who was prevented from reaching her full potential simply because she was a woman. Sofonisba, who spent many years in the Spanish court, was not allowed to sign her paintings with her own initials and some of her works were even credited to other people.
At the beginning of the book, Sofonisba is studying in Rome with Michelangelo. She leaves Rome following an affair with another student and travels to Spain where she joins the royal court as lady-in-waiting and art instructor to the fourteen-year-old Queen, Elizabeth of Valois. Here she becomes caught up in a scandal involving the Queen and the King’s half brother, Don Juan.
This book was not quite what I had thought it would be. I was expecting it to focus on the story of Sofonisba Anguissola and was looking forward to learning about her training as an artist and the challenges she faced as a woman working in a male-dominated field. As it turned out though, the book was as much about the relationship between King Felipe II and his young French wife, Elizabeth, as it was about Sofonisba. For much of the book Sofonisba is little more than a passive observer, a witness to the events that are unfolding in the Spanish court.
I thought The Creation of Eve was an interesting and entertaining read but it lacked any real emotional impact for me. Looking at other reviews of this book (as I usually do after writing my own) opinion seems to be overwhelmingly positive, so if you like reading historical fiction revolving around intrigue in royal courts there’s a good chance that you’ll love this book. The novel does appear to be very well-researched. Cullen manages to incorporate a large amount of historical detail, but this never gets in the way of the plot. I appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book which tells us which parts of the book are historical fact and which are fiction.
I actually won this book in last year’s Readathon (April 2010) and am glad I’ve finally read and enjoyed it, as I was starting to feel very guilty about not reading it sooner!
Some examples of Sofonisba Anguissola’s paintings can be seen on her Wikipedia page.