Title: The Night Portrait: A Novel of World War II and da Vinci's Italy
Author: Laura Morelli
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: September 8, 2020
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "Milan, 1492: When a
16-year old beauty becomes the mistress of the Duke of Milan, she must
fight for her place in the palace—and against those who want her out.
Soon, she finds herself sitting before Leonardo da Vinci, who wants to
ensure his own place in the ducal palace by painting his most ambitious
portrait to date.
Munich, World War II: After a modest conservator unwittingly places a priceless Italian Renaissance portrait into the hands of a high-ranking Nazi leader, she risks her life to recover it, working with an American soldier, part of the famed Monuments Men team, to get it back.
Two women, separated by 500 years, are swept up in the tide of history as one painting stands at the center of their quests for their own destinies."
My Two Cents:
"The Night Portrait" is a dual-narrative historical fiction of two women set in both the time of Renaissance Italy and in 1940s Europe during the height of World War II's messy ending. The narrative has a lot of twists and turns and kept me on my toes with the connection between Cecilia and Edith over 500 years. This book was a treat!
In Renaissance Italy, Cecilia is a beautiful girl trying to change her fate from that of a nobleman's mistress to that of a titled noblewoman. She is such a fascinating character. At 16, she is wise beyond her years and understands how the game of climbing the social ladder must be played. I loved following her as she figures out ways to ensure that she continues moving ever forward with her plans. She fully recognizes just how little control she has over her fate as a young woman but is doing everything she can think to ensure she achieves her goal, including getting her portrait done by Michaelangelo who may have the recipe to keep her in mind and in view for centuries to come.
In the 1940s, Edith is an art conservator called into service to "rescue" paintings in Poland and send them back to the Motherland of Nazi Germany. Edith knows how to survive but she also knows that what she is being asked to do isn't right and that she needs to find her way to fight the injustice of helping to steal paintings while still being able to survive. She is super brave in the face of the risk of what will happen to her if her plans are discovered! She finds herself working with the infamous Monuments Men in a race against time to protect as many paintings as she can, including a strange one of a young woman holding a very odd pet.
This book had so much going for it. Not only were the main characters good but the secondary characters were wonderful as well! I loved the taste of Michaelangelo that we get: a man who dreams of creating war machines but just hasn't gained ground. Dominic dreams of going home to the United States but realizes how much there is at stake in the last days of World War II.
I really enjoyed all of the historical detail as well! You get a good taste of both the Renaissance Italy and the World War II era Europe. I loved how the world building was so well woven into the narrative that you can very much picture what the characters are going through without the narrative ever feeling like a major information dump.
This book is a treat for my fellow historical fiction lovers who want a fully engaging read about some amazing art and memorable characters!