Monday, December 29, 2008

Art and Love in Renaissance Italy

I just discovered this exhibition running at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 16: "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy." Here is the description of the exhibit, taken from the Met website:

This exhibition explores the various exceptional objects created to celebrate love and marriage in the Italian Renaissance. The approximately 150 objects, which date from about 1400 to the mid-16th century, range from exquisite examples of maiolica and jewelry given as gifts to the couple, to marriage portraits and paintings that extol sensual love and fecundity, such as the Metropolitan’s Venus and Cupid by the great Venetian artist Lorenzo Lotto. The exhibition also includes some of the rarest and most significant pieces of Renaissance glassware, cassone panels, birth trays, and drawings and prints of amorous subjects.

There is a link to view photographs of various objects displayed, as well as links to the Met's excellent essays on Renaissance art topics. What a wonderful exhibit! Anyone had the good fortune to attend?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Wordy Christmas

Back in May I posted about my trusty Roget's thesaurus, which I relied on all throughout high school, college, and graduate school and which is never far from reach as I write my novels. The pages are dog-eared and the labels on the thumb-index tabs have fallen off; the contents finally separated from the cover (in one bound chunk, thank goodness). I've tried using newer thesauruses, even on-line ones, but I absolutely HATE the alphabetically-ordered versions. I much prefer Roget's original scheme, where words are organized by category. It's so much easier to browse and find exactly what I'm looking for when I can follow trails of related words. I swore I'd never abandon that maroon-covered book, no matter how tattered it became.

Well, my family had other plans.

When my husband asked my daughter what she thought I might like for Christmas, she suggested a new thesaurus. Knowing my tastes in the matter, my husband searched high and low to find one organized by category. None of the brick-and-mortar stores carried it; he had to order it on-line. He warned me not to open the box that would be arriving.

When I found the box from Barnes and Noble on the doorstep a few days before Christmas, I figured it was the thick cookbook I had mentioned a few weeks earlier--the box was the perfect size. I was kind of bummed, thinking I had guessed my present. I was all ready to feign surprise as I opened the wrapped book on Christmas morning...and found I didn't have to pretend! I was, in fact, quite pleased. The 2009 edition of the thesaurus contains many new words added over the last twenty years. The type is easier on my eyes and I don't have to worry about pages detaching from the spine as I turn them! Husband found the perfect present for his geeky wife.

The new thesaurus sits beside me on the desk now when I write. I've retired the old one, but refuse to discard it. Saying goodbye to that old friend--comrade, buddy, companion--would be too painful. A memento of the first half of my writing life, it can rest in peace on my bookshelf, proud of its long service and satisfied with a job well done.

Now, if only my husband could find me book of plot twists... 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Greetings

The Adoration of the Shepherds (1546)
by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74)

May peace and joy be yours
this season!

Thanks for reading Writing the Renaissance.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Give Yourself a Gift

"The Gift of the Magi," a short story by O. Henry, captures the spirit of Christmas giving in a way no other story does. I first read this story in eighth grade and it has remained with me ever since. If you've never read this short but profound piece, give yourself an early Christmas gift and go read it here. If you have read it, it only gets better on further telling. It's amazing how the author can create such a deep sense of character in such a limited space.

Merry Christmas, a few days early!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Page 56 Meme

Cindy Pon tagged me for the "Page 56 Book Meme." I'm supposed to pick up the nearest book, turn to page 56 and post the fifth sentence and a few after that. I have Vanora Bennett's Portrait of an Unknown Woman (Harper trade paperback edition) at hand. Page 56 falls at the end of a chapter; since there is no fifth sentence, here is the concluding paragraph:

It was only late at night, when I was lying in bed (unable to sleep with excitement, my heart bursting at the memory of all that had happened that day and with all the plans I was making for my future with John), that I heard Elizabeth retching behind the closed door of her room, and the scrape of a chamber pot, and William's nasal whispering. I couldn't hear his words, but his tone was the mix of reassuring and nervous you'd expect from any father-to-be. It began to dawn on me what the reason for her sudden discomfort might have been.

Next, I'm supposed to post from page 56 of my manuscript. I don't have The Measure of Silence on this computer, so I'm going to post from my work in progress. And since I don't have 56 pages yet, here's the opening paragraph of Chapter 2:

Anne d’Heilly de Pisseleu, Madame d’Etampes, perched on the bottom step of the sunken pool. Her flushed skin, still hot to the touch from the steambath she had quit moments before, welcomed the cool caress of the tepid water that closed beneath her chin. Her toes curled in delight as the water buoyed her buttocks and legs off the floor; tipping back her head, she released her arms and floated on the surface of the violet-strewn water. Brightened by weekly applications of honey oil, her hair spread like a sun-spun caul, entangling blossoms and bugs alike in its strands. Except for her youngest attendant Cécile, who strummed the lute with deft fingers in the furthest corner of the room, Anne was alone. Gloriously alone.

Thanks for the chance to play, Cindy! Here are the five people I'm tagging:

Enjoy all the snippets. I hope everyone finds some new books to read!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mystery Solved

One of my readers was kind enough to identify the cover portrait for me. The painting, Portrait of a Young Girl Holding a Book, was painted in 1545 by the Florentine painter Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Il Bronzino (1503-72). Nicknamed in all likelihood for his dark complexion, Bronzino was the pupil and adopted son of the painter Pontormo. For most of his career Bronzino worked as court painter for Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. He decorated the private chapel of the duke's wife, Eleanor of Toledo, and painted a highly detailed portrait of her and her son in 1550 (below). Bronzino is known for his vivid use of color and analytical detachment from his subjects, as well as the enamel-like finish he gave his works. He painted many religious and allegorical themes (a fine example is An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, below) but is best known for his portraiture. He helped found the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts in 1563. Also a poet, Bronzino wrote and circulated more than 300 poems over the course of his career.

To view more paintings by Bronzino, as well as some by Rosso Fiorentino, one of the characters in my current novel, visit The Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino Room at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The young woman in the portrait remains unidentified but is probably connected to the Medici court. Many thanks to reader Ody for help in placing the painting!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Virtual Cover

I was goofing around the other day and made myself a cover for The Measure of SIlence. I'd been looking for a sixteenth-century portrait of a woman holding a book and was thrilled to find this one (although I didn't note the artist or title, and now I can't remember where I found it!). Anyway, I proceeded to cut off most of her head--otherwise no one would realize the book is a historical novel. *wink* I don't have an art program on my laptop, so just imagine my name and the title in the blue area in the upper left. Voilà. They say if you want to succeed at something, visualize yourself doing the thing successfully. We'll see how it works!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Literary Stocking Stuffers

There has been much internet talk about buying books as Christmas gifts in order to bolster the publishing industry. Lucy Pick has started a meme describing ten books she's enjoyed this year in order to give people ideas of books they might like to read themselves or buy for another. Here's my contribution to the effort:

Lawrence Hill, Someone Knows My Name: A beautifully written fictional account of the life of an African woman during the colonial era: her abduction by slave traders as a child, her harrowing journey to South Carolina and its indigo plantations, her escape to New York and relocation to Canada, and her eventual return to Africa and work with British abolitionists. I learned many new things about British involvement in both the slave trade and the abolition movement. The colonial timeframe is a nice change from the standard Civil War setting.

Vanora Bennett, Portrait of an Unknown Woman: Although I haven't finished this one yet, I'm finding it an engaging account of the interaction between the painter Hans Holbein and the family of Sir Thomas More, with an intriguing twist on the story of the Princes in the Tower. The depiction of sixteenth century life and thought is quite detailed and accurate.

Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Française: The interrelated stories of a vast cast of characters caught up in the German Occupation of France. Beautifully executed characters detailed from a wryly ironic perspective; the author explores human weakness and the heroic self-sacrifice in ways that makes both extremes sympathetic. 

Alice McDermott, After This: A lyrical account of the inner lives of the members of an Irish Catholic American family during the Vietnam War era. McDermott captures the dynamics of the large Irish Catholic family so perfectly as she charts the course of the various Keane siblings during a turbulent era.

R. J. Knecht, Renaissance Patron and Warrior: The Reign of Francis I:  A thorough account of the life and times of François I, who ruled for thirty-three years as the Renaissance blossomed in France. The author shies from a strictly chronological approach and organizes the material thematically within loose boundary dates. Well chosen photographs and artwork support the text, which introduces many major figures the sixteenth-century Europe. If you've always wondered when or why something happened in Renaissance France, this is the book to start with.

The other books I've loved this year I've already blogged about: Catherine Delors's Mistress of the Revolution, C.W. Gortner's The Last Queen, Michelle Moran's Nefertiti.  If I can remember others (why do I always go blank when someone asks me for book suggestions?) I'll add them to the list. 

Happy book browsing. I hope you find lots to like this season at your neighborhood bookstore!