For me, the Italian Renaissance was not simply an explosion of the art and architecture that most people think of when they hear the words. What my research uncovered was a “Shadow Renaissance” steeped in Platonic and Hermetic philosophy and Egyptian magic. Almost every ruler, writer, scientist or thinker in those years, at least toyed with alchemy and the occult. Despite the church’s prohibitions, most of these great men (and a few women) took these views very seriously indeed. Few admitted to being outright atheists like Leonardo da Vinci, but attempting to meld Christian scripture with the pagan mysteries was extremely common, especially in educated and highly cultured circles…even in Rome.
Leonardo da Vinci is an iconic figure the world over. Much is known and written about his art, science, and inventions. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code signaled that esoteric and perhaps anti-Christian symbols might be hiding in plain sight in the maestro’s most famous works. But what is known about Leonardo the pagan? The heretic? The atheist? I tried to illuminate the answers to these questions in Signora da Vinci — how he and like-minded men and women survived and thrived in a climate of religious intolerance in which such philosophies could see a man burned at the stake.
Was Leonardo, in fact, a member of the clandestine “Platonic Academy of Florence?” Despite its importance, one finds little if anything written about the academy and its impact on the early Italian Renaissance — as though it was merely a men’s social club and not an overarching philosophy that informed the lives of its members, making them especially vulnerable to charges of heresy. Authors – both fiction and non-fiction – tend to ignore the implications of such towering figures as Lorenzo “The Magnificent” de’ Medici Sandro Botticelli, and the philosophers Marcilio Ficino and Pico Mirandola, adhering to such heretical beliefs.
My research of the period also uncovered an intriguing mystery surrounding the Turin Shroud. Was it really Jesus’s winding cloth…or an elaborate fifteenth century hoax perpetrated by Leonardo and a band of outrageous conspirators? In SIgnora da Vinci, I’ve based my sub-plot on the research of journalists/authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince and their two fascinating books, Turin Shroud and The Templar Revelation. They made a good case that the image on this “holy relic” was not Jesus at all, but the first photograph ever taken, using the technology of the camera obscura…of Leonardo da Vinci himself.
What I most wanted to get across in my novel was that there is much, much more than the eye can see in the Italian Reniassance as long as you are willing to keep an open mind about the period.