The Smile

What is the most famous smile in the world?  Only one comes to mind–the Mona Lisa.  I think it’s reasonably fair to assume that most people know what this painting looks like, but no one really knows the story behind it.  Leonardo da Vinci never put a date or name on this painting, so much of what we know about the piece is pure speculation.  In Donna Jo Napoli’s The Smile, speculation goes a step further.  Napoli takes what she knows about the history of Florence, Italy, and interweaves these events into an entirely plausible story about the girl who was the inspiration/model for one of the most renowned paintings the world has ever seen.

Elisabetta is a young girl of noble birth growing up in Florence, Italy.  She knows that she will one day be betrothed to one of the nobles in the city.  Her greatest hope is to marry a young man she truly loves.  One day, a friend of her father’s, local artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, introduces Elisabetta to young Giuliano de Medici, a son of the most powerful family in Florence, and she feels that she has at last found the love of her life.  Giuliano calls her Monna Lisa and professes his love for her.  Fate, though, can be cruel, and a series of events take place that seem to conspire to keep these two young people apart.  The Medici family is soon reviled in Florence and is exiled.

Elisabetta does not know how to cope in this new and terrifying world.  War threatens constantly.  She rarely hears from Giuliano, and she does not where to turn.  Is their love doomed before it even has a chance to begin?  How can she keep her smile, the thing Giuliano first loved about her, when the life she knew seems to be crumbling before her eyes?  Read Donna Jo Napoli’s The Smile to find out what could have happened to the girl behind the world’s most famous smile.

I truly enjoyed this book, especially since I was able to see the da Vinci exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta just last week.  As I was reading, I was able to say to myself, “I’ve seen those pieces,” when the characters were talking about da Vinci’s sketches of horses or other figures.  Although I’ve never actually seen the Mona Lisa, I would love to someday.   I would also like to visit Florence to really experience the city in which most of this book’s events take place.

I think The Smile would be an excellent book for any reader interested in art and the possible stories behind the masterpieces.

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