A Quick Review of The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola by Melissa Muldoon

Otherwise know as the creator behind the popular Studentessa Matta website, writer Melissa Muldoon has recently launched her latest project: a historical fiction novel based on the life of a renowned Renaissance — and female — painter many of us have never heard of.

Artistically crafted by an author passionate about Italian art and history, Melissa’s thoroughly researched book takes readers back to the 16th Century Renaissance. I was especially intrigued by the book’s subtitle – The most famous woman you’ve never heard of – and, after reading this highly entertaining work of historical fiction, I am grateful for the opportunity to have gotten to know Sofonisba through Melissa’s creative telling of this talented painter’s story. A female success story from an era and world dominated by men, Sofonisba’s is a name – albeit unusual – that we should know.

Sofonisba’s Self Portrait circa 1560 | Wikimedia Commons

 This is one of my favorite ways to experience history: actual people and events presented through a fictionalized lens. Through Melissa’s extensive research and fluid storytelling, readers get to know not only Sofonisba Anguissola, but also experience one of history’s most captivating time periods.  Melissa takes us through the many different phases of Sofonisba’s life, from her family home in Cremona, to Rome where she studied under Michelangelo as an emerging artist, to the Spanish court in Madrid where she served as the royal painter and lady-in-waiting to the queen, and later on to Sicily and Genoa. Throughout are beautifully depicted details of 16th Century life and a cast of characters each with unique traits and quirks, some romantic, some encouraging, some more sinister, which filled Sofonisba’s life. For those who may halt at her intimidating-looking name, Melissa provides early in the book its explanation and meaning.    

After reading this novel and getting caught up in the events of Sofonisba’s life, I especially appreciated the “Historical Notes” section at the end, where Melissa devotes a few pages to discern between the historical details and those creatively imagined. Melissa confirms that, although some “dates have been altered to fit the fictional timeline, most events pertaining to Sofonisba happened.” It felt like an extra reward to have completed a truly enjoyable piece of writing while learning about the life of an amazing Renaissance woman.

Keep up with Melissa, her books and her passion for all things Italy at Studentessa Matta.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sounds amazing! I love art and history-will have to read this! Ciao, Cristina

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