The Second Mrs. Gianconda

E. L. Konigsburg
Number of pages: 
138 pages
Grade / Age level: 

The Second Mrs. Giaconda is a fascinating book about a young thief who becomes apprenticed to Leonardo da Vinci. This work of historical fiction is set in the latter half of the fifteenth century. The plot revolves around three characters- the famous artist, Leonardo, his apprentice, Salai, and the Duchess Beatrice d'Este. The novel is written from Salai's viewpoint, and we get a good feel for Leonardo's character. We see that Leonardo is shy, and yet brilliant. We see how Leonardo is so unreliable, particularly when he is distracted by his work. Leonardo was commissioned to paint a mural on the refectory wall of a local monastary in Milan. Unfortunately, he took so long with his masterpiece, that the monks began complaining about the loss of their dining hall! Leonardo is fascinated by everything around him. He studies plants, rivers, mountains, rocks and trees. He builds war engines, and studies flying machines. It is interesting to see the rivalry between Michelangelo and Leonardo, and how their lives intersect. The title, The Second Mrs. Gianconda, is a reference to the Mona Lisa, Leonardo's most famous work. The author uses this novel to weave the story behind the painting of the Mona Lisa. The back pages of the novel have black and white reproductions of some of the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci.

We used The Second Mrs. Gianconda as a read-aloud for our entire family. The novel was part of our Renaissance studies. This book was a good beginning to the study of the Renaissance artists. The book was entertaining, and informative. We would recommend it highly as a read-aloud, or for children ages ten and above.

Two references are disturbing in this book. One, the duke of Milan is involved, in two instances, with another woman. No mention of a sexual relationship is made, but it is still a problematic area for Catholic readers. And, secondly, on page 121, there is a reference to Isabella 'breeding dwarfs' for servants at her court. Though some texts contend that Leonardo had a homosexual affair with Salai, this novel makes no mention of that, or of any homosexual tendencies in Leonardo.

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