Marina Fiorato Talks About "The Botticelli Secret"
Marina Fiorato is the author of several novels including The Glassblower of Murano and Daughter of Siena. In this guest blog she talks about her book, The Botticelli Secret. Marina’s latest novel, The Venetian Contract, is published today.
I first learned that it was possible to read a painting during a history lesson at school. We were studying the church's use of art as propaganda in reference to Andrea Firenze's fresco The Triumph of the Church. It's a glorious piece, complete with a Christ in Judgement and an exact rendering of the Duomo in Florence. But what caught my teenage attention was a pack of dogs at the bottom of the painting. 'Sweet dogs,' I said to my teacher. 'Not just that,' she said, 'look closer.' I did. There were a number of black and white dogs fighting with fewer brown ones. The black and white ones always seemed to be winning – they were on top of the brown ones, biting them or rolling them in the dirt. 'Domini canes,' said my teacher. 'Hounds of God. They represent the Dominican monks, who had black and white habits, suppressing the Franciscan monks, who wore brown. The two orders often contested on points of theology.'
That did it. From that day forward, I began to look for hidden meanings in every painting I saw, and when, a year later, I first stood in front of La Primavera in the Uffizi in Florence, I was fascinated by the detail before me. I became one in a long line of people who have set eyes on that great panel and muttered to themselves: 'It must all mean something. What are all those flowers, those jewels? What do the trees mean? Why is Venus raising her hand? Why are flowers dropping from Chloris's mouth? Why does Mercury stir the clouds? And most intriguingly, why does Flora smile like that?'
For the next twenty years, I started to look, not just see, and began, in part, to understand. The language of painting is rife with symbolism, and, with the dawn of our new millennium, such symbolism famously became of abiding interest to the book-reading public. It seemed the whole world read one book, a book about finding the meaning in one particular painting. The painting was The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. And the book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
But my own interest remained with La Primavera, Botticelli's greatest masterpiece, created for that golden, damaged, ruling family, the Medici. I decided that for my third novel I would invite Flora down from her frame, make her the central character of my story, and at last investigate all the theories, from the botanical to the astronomical, the pagan to the numerological, that surround the painting. Most intriguing to me was the theory of Professor Enrico Guidoni who added a political dimension with his startling notion of empire building. It was the inspiration for this book.
All of these theories, or none of them, could be true. There can be no conclusions. The Botticelli Secret is a speculation, an answer to that question I asked myself twenty years ago: why does Flora smile like that?