I won The Painter's Apprentice by Laura Morelli on Goodreads as a result of an error. The publisher accidentally offered too many copies for their print giveaway. So the author generously agreed to give away free digital copies via Book Funnel. That's the format in which I acquired my review copy, and this is my honest review.
Venice is a unique city that has an aura of magic. I enjoy visiting Venice through the pages of a book. Several years ago I reviewed a rather unusual mystery with a memorable perspective on 16th century Venice called The Aquatic Labyrinth by Alastair Fontana here. The last book I reviewed on this blog was the Laurie R. King mystery, Island of the Mad which brought me to Fascist Venice in the 1920's. You can find out more about King's novel here. Morelli's book took me to an earlier dark era in Venice's past when the city was afflicted by plague.
I primarily wanted to read this book because I have a special interest in woman protagonists who are artists. Since Laura Morelli is an art historian, I thought she would have insights to share about the world of artists in Renaissance Venice which would provide context for the story of her fictional protagonist, Maria Bartolini.
Maria played a role in the creation of works of art that I normally don't even think about. She was a gilder. Gilding is a decorative aspect of art. Frames were often gilded with gold leaf, but gold leaf was also added to portraits and other types of paintings to display the wealth of the subjects or a luxurious environment. There were also fancy gilded boxes that were made as gifts. Maria used molds to shape the gold in a variety of designs. It was unusual for a woman to become a gilder. Maria was trained by her father who was himself a gilder. Her father's reputation and Maria's skill gained her the respect of painters and wealthy clients.
Maria fell in love with Cristiano who is called a Moor. In practice, 16th century Venetians didn't really distinguish between Africans and Arabs. Both were subject to prejudice. See Laura Morelli's brief article on the subject here. Maria showed courage in standing by this relationship despite all obstacles. She also showed a great deal of fortitude in enduring losses due to the plague.
Another female character that I would have liked to know better was Cristiano's mother, Zenobia. Given my association of that name with the Syrian Warrior Queen, I wonder if she came from Syria where the name Zenobia was popular. One of Laura Morelli's questions for book clubs was which character's viewpoint I would choose for this novel other than Maria's. My choice is definitely Zenobia. I would like to find out more about her history and how she brought up her son to rise above Venetian prejudice.
The Painter's Apprentice contains a great deal of drama and tragedy, but it ends on a heartwarming note that leaves readers with a feeling of optimism for the future. Although I wondered if all of Maria's choices were wise, I ended up respecting Maria for her determination.