Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Remote Viewing

A few weeks ago, I posted about the exhibit "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy" at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Blogging friend and travel writer Angela Nickerson had the opportunity to view the exhibit and wrote up her impressions. Visit her blog Just Go! to learn more. Thanks, Angela!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thank You, Kind Readers

Writing the Renaissance has recently been awarded two awards by the blogging community. Catherine Delors of Versailles and More named me a "Great Buddy" and asked that I pass the distinction on to some of my favorite bloggers. So, I in turn grant the "Great Buddy" award to:

Cindy Pon,
Lucy Pick, 
Sheramy Bundrick, 
Sarah Johnson, 
Michelle MoranHistory Buff

Likewise, Anita Davison and her cohorts at Hoydens and Firebrands awarded me the "Premios Dardo Award," which "acknowledges the values that every Blogger displays in their effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values with each message they write." According to the creator of the award, it is "a way to show appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web." I am very grateful for the honor and pass it along to the following blogs:

Sandra Gulland, 
Elena Maria Vidal, 
Elizabeth Keri Mahon, 
Angela Nickerson, 
Lucinda Byatt,

I'd add Catherine Delors to this list, but I see she's already earned the award from another blogger! 

All the recipients are asked to grant the awards to their own favorite blogs.

I am very grateful to Catherine and the Hoydens/Firebrands for their kindness and very happy that they enjoy reading Writing the Renaissance

Merci mille fois!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mirror, Mirror

I was doing some research today on mirrors and I came across a wonderful miniature of Marguerite de Navarre in her chemise gazing at herself in a hand-held mirror. It is taken from a prayer book owned by her brother François I. The picture makes reference to the book of religious poetry Marguerite published in 1531, Miroir de l'âme pécheresse (Mirror of the Sinful Soul). Queen Elizabeth I of England translated and published Marguerite's Miroir as A Godly Meditation of the Soul in 1548. The delightful miniature captures the joyousness of spirit Marguerite shared with her brother, despite her preoccupation with weighty religious questions.

As for mirrors, it was in Venice during the sixteenth century that the process of coating flat plates of glass with thin coatings of reflective metal, usually a mixture of tin and mercury, was developed and closely guarded. The process was extremely time consuming and dangerous for the craftsmen; hence, mirrors were very expensive items. They were housed in frames carved of ivory, wood, or precious metal that were works of art in themselves. Here, for example, is a photograph of a sixteenth century carved walnut mirror frame.

I'll leave you with a painting that is purported to be of Diane de Poitiers, Henri II's mistress, regarding herself in a mirror. The painting dates from about 1590, so if it is of Diane, she's looking pretty good for being all of 109 years old! A jeweled mirror perched on a sculpted base stands to her right.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

And the Winners Are...

Amanda from Australia and Marie! Congratulations--your copies of SIGNORA DA VINCI will be on their way as soon as you e-mail me your mailing addresses (see sidebar). Thanks to all who entered the contest, and to Robin Maxwell and her publicity team for supplying the books. I hope everyone who entered will find a way to get hold of the novel. Check back here in a few weeks for my review of SIGNORA DA VINCI and an interview with Robin Maxwell. 

A tally of the comments shows the Last Supper to be readers' favorite Da Vinci work, followed closely by the Mona Lisa. Other favorites include the Benois Madonna, the Lady with the Ermine, the Virgin of the Rocks, the Adoration, the Annunciation, the Belle Ferronnière, the Virgin with the Spindle, and Da Vinci's scientific drawings. I'd have to choose the Virgin and Child with St. Anne myself--the faces are so beautiful! It will be interesting to see which works Robin Maxwell mentions in SIGNORA DA VINCI.

In a happy coincidence, I'm awarding these books on my blogoversary. One year ago today I began posting here at Writing the Renaissance. A great thank you to all my loyal readers who visit often and share their thoughts on the day's topic. It's been great fun getting to know you and sharing my love for the Renaissance. And I hope new visitors who came for the contest liked what they saw and will stick around. 

Here's to the new year--may it be filled with joy, wonderful books, and dreams realized for all! 

Friday, January 16, 2009

Last Chance!

Last call to enter the SIGNORA DA VINCI giveaway contest! Leave a comment here or at the original post telling me which Da Vinci work is your favorite. Contest closes tonight at 11 p.m. EST. I'll draw two winners' names and post them in the morning. Good luck, and thanks to all for participating. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Book Giveaway: SIGNORA DA VINCI by Robin Maxwell

Exciting news! I am holding the first-ever book giveaway here on Writing the Renaissance.

The book is Robin Maxwell's seventh novel, SIGNORA DA VINCI, just published by New American Library. The back cover promises an enticing read:

I was fifteen years old in 1452 when I bore a bastard child in the tiny village of Vinci. His name was Leonardo, and he was destined to change the world forever.

I suffered much cruelty as an unmarried mother, and had no recourse when they took my boy away from me. I had no rights, no prospects, no future. Everyone believed I was ruined. But no one knew the secrets of my own childhood, nor could they ever have imagined the dangerous and heretical scheme I would devise to protect and watch over my remarkable son as he grew into manhood. Some might call me a liar, since all I describe would be impossible for a woman of my station. But that is where my design unfolds, and I am finally ready to reveal it.

They call me Caterina. And this is my story.

C.W. Gortner and Michelle Moran, both of whom have been interviewed on this blog, provided blurbs for the book. C.W. calls it "an exquisite gem of a novel," while Michelle claims it is "without a doubt the best historical fiction [she has] read all year."

Once I've had a chance to read the book myself, I will post a review and an interview with Ms. Maxwell. You can visit Robin Maxwell's website for more details about SIGNORA DA VINCI and the author's other novels, many of which deal with Tudor subjects.

In the meantime, I have two copies of SIGNORA DA VINCI to give away. To enter your name in the drawing, please leave a comment to this message by 11 pm EST this Friday night telling me what your favorite Da Vinci work is. Click here to see some of his more famous paintings. I will draw two names and post the results by noon on Saturday, January 17. If I draw your name, I will ask you to contact me by email with your snail mail address. Good luck!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Answers to Châteaux Quiz

I'm posting the answers to the Châteaux quiz as a comment to this post, so as not to spoil the quiz for those who haven't taken it yet.

[Pause while you check your answers. Good luck!]

How did you do?

Have you ever visited any châteaux in France? There are hundreds to choose from. I myself have visited Chenonceau and the Louvre off this list. I've also been to Chantilly, Fontainebleau, St.-Germain, Blois, Ecouen, Chambord, and Versailles. Someday I'd love to spend the night in one of the many châteaux that have become hotels. For now, I dream and look at photos of châteaux on the internet--and write novels set in them!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Quiz: Do You Know Your French Châteaux?

Admit it: you've dreamt of living in one, of dancing in the ballroom, dining in the great hall, strolling about the grounds. The chateaux of France evoke all the romance and elegance of the sixteenth century. Can you identify the châteaux on the basis of historical clues? Take this quiz to find out.

1. This château spans the Cher River and was the home of Henri II's mistress Diane de Poitiers.

a. Chambord  
b. Chenonceau  
c. Amboise

2. Leonardo Da Vinci died in a house on the grounds of this château.
a. Amboise  
b. Saint-Germain-en-Laye  
c. Blois

3. Completely destroyed in 1790, this château was built by François I in the Bois de Boulogne after his return from captivity in Spain in 1527. It was nicknamed the "Chateau de Faïence" because all of the exterior walls were covered with majolica and high relief.

a. La Muette  
b. Challau 
c. Madrid

4. This château was the seat of Henry II, Angevin King and King of England, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine; it was here that Joan of Arc persuaded Charles VII to declare himself king and raise an army to liberate France; in 1562, Henri IV turned it into a state prison.

a. Azay-le-Rideau  
b. Châteaudun  
c. Chinon

5. In the mid-1200's, this château became the home of the royal treasury; at the end of the sixteenth century, Henri IV added a huge addition that was over a quarter of a mile long and a hundred feet wide; now a glass pyramid sits in its central courtyard.

a. the Louvre 
b. Blois 
c. Vincennes

6. Catherine de Medici purchased this castle after the death of her husband Henri II and forced his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, to exchange Chenonceau for it; Benjamin Franklin was a guest there during the 1760's; it was the home of the writer Madame de Stael in the early nineteenth century.

a. Chaumont  
b. Loches  
c. Plessis-lez-Tours

7. This château was built by William the Conqueror in 1080; in 1182, Henry II and his sons Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland held a Christmas celebration there and received more than one thousand knights.

a. Domfront  
b. Biron  
c. Caen

8. This château was the seat of the Counts of Anjou; its chapel housed a splinter of the True Cross; it later became a military academy where the Duke of Wellington, who helped defeat Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, trained.

a. Indres  
b. Angers 
c. Beaugency

9. This château was built on such a steep promontory that it was said that its founder had the help of the water fairy Mélusine; it was the seat of a family that distinguished itself in the First Crusade and held the crowns of two Crusader kingdoms; it is featured in the miniatures of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berri.

a. Lusignan  
b. Angoulême  
c. Montignac

10. This lavish chateau was built by Louis XIV's finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, who, after hosting an extravagant fete for the king there, was arrested and charged with causing France's financial disorders.

a. Vaux-le-Vicomte 
b. Langeais  
c. Ussé

Check back tomorrow night for the correct answers!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Elephants, Lions and Leopards

We took the kids to the zoo over Christmas break, and as I watched the poor elephant shiver in the fitful January sunshine, I got to thinking how amazing--but certainly not unheard of--it must have been to see such exotic beasts in the sixteenth century. 

With explorers returning from New World explorations and diplomatic and trade channels open to the Middle East and beyond, exotic animals found new homes in Europe. In 1514, King Manuel of Spain gave Pope Leo X a white elephant named Hanno; the beloved animal lived for two years at the papal court and died with the pope at his side. François himself gathered quite a menagerie at the chateau d' Amboise and later at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. According to Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier in their fascinating book Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West (2002), François received "a convoy of beasts and birds on behalf of the 'roy' of Tunis in 1532; lions and tigers brought by the Turkish embassy in 1534; a sheep from the Indies, proferred by a Norman lord in 1538; and two seals sent by Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands, in 1539" (page 22). 
Many of the animals traveled with the court on its perambulations about the kingdom, not without much aggravation for their handlers. In August 1537, the troublesome lion had to be left behind at an inn, along with a payment of 67 livres to compensate the innkeeper for the nasty bite on his leg (R. Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron 132).

François, like many nobles of the time, kept a pet monkey that accompanied him to meetings and meals. The monkey sits on the table at the king's elbow in an anonymous miniature showing the king listening to a scholar reading (featured on the cover of Knecht's book). François is also is purported to have had, on occasion, the lion or a snow leopard lie at the foot of his bed. Quite a way to impress the ladies!

Elephants and other exotic animals feature prominently in Dorothy Dunnett's novel Queen's Play, set at Henri II's court. For further anecdotes about exotic animals in Renaissance Europe, read this recent post at The Raucous Royals.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bonne année!

It has long been a tradition in France to give gifts on New Year's Day. The word étrennes (as opposed to the more generic cadeaux) refers specifically to these New Year's gifts, now usually given as signs of appreciation to the doorman, the letter carrier, and others who provide service throughout the year.

In the sixteenth century, Christmas was observed as a religious holiday, so gifts were given at the turn of the new year. So popular was the practice that it took on a poetic form. François I's court poet, Clément Marot (1496-1544), sent short, epigrammatic poems to members of the court at the holiday. Although he wrote étrennes throughout his career, in 1541 Marot published a collection of forty-one of them addressed to the ladies of the court. In each poem, he presents a gift to the lady in question.

For example, to Queen Eléonore (François's second wife and sister of his enemy Charles V) he grants accord between her husband and brother:

Au ciel ma Dame je crye,
Et Dieu prie,
Vous faire veoir au printemps
Frere, & mary si contents
Que tout rye.

Madame, I cry to heaven,
And beg God,
That you may see by springtime
Your brother and husband so happy
That everyone laughs.

To the Dauphine, Catherine de Medici, barren for the first decade or so of her marriage, he grants a child:

A Ma Dame la Daulphine
Rien n'assigne:
Elle a ce, qu'il faut avoir,
Mais je la vouldroys bien veoir
En gesine.

To Madame la Daulphine
I prescribe nothing:
She has what she needs,
But I would really like to see her
On the point of giving birth.

To Marguerite de Navarre, the king's sister, who was one of Marot's staunchest supporters:

A la noble Marguerite,
Fleur d'eslite,
Je luy donne aussi grand heur
Que sa grace, & sa grandeur
Le merite.

To the noble Marguerite,
Flower of the elite,
I give the good fortune
That her grace and greatness

And to Madame d'Etampes, the king's mistress:

Sans prejudice à personne,
Je vous donne
La pomme d'or de beaulté,
Et de ferme loyaulté
La couronne,

Without wronging anyone,
I give to you
The golden apple of beauty
And the crown
Of firm loyalty. (Referring to the apple Paris bestowed on Venus in the myth and to King François's long affection)

In these brief and often mordant poems, Marot provides us a snapshot of the personalities and the concerns of the French court in 1539 --a literary version, if you will, of the Clouet's chalk portraits. One wonders if the courtiers played guessing games with the étrennes as they did with the portraits.

Though I'm no Marot, I'll follow his lead and wish you all a healthy, happy new year filled with good fortune of every kind!

[Marot's verse quoted from Gérard Defaux's edition, Classiques Garnier (1993). Translations mine.]