France, 1939At the dawn of World War II, Anne Guichard, a young archivist employed at the Louvre, arrives home to find her brother missing. While she works to discover his whereabouts, refugees begin flooding into Paris and German artillery fire rattles the city. Once they reach the city, the Nazis will stop at nothing to get their hands on the Louvre's art collection. Anne is quickly sent to the Castle of Chambord, where the Louvre's most precious artworks - including the Mona Lisa - are being transferred to ensure their safety. With the Germans hard on their heels, Anne frantically moves the Mona Lisa and other treasures again and again in an elaborate game of hide and seek. As the threat to the masterpieces and her life grows closer, Anne also begins to lean the truth about her brother and the role he plays in this dangerous game.Florence, 1479House servant Bellina Sardi's future seems fixed when she accompanies her newly married mistress, Lisa Gherardini, to her home across the Arno. Lisa's husband, a prosperous silk merchant, is aligned with the powerful Medici, his home filled with luxuries and treasures. But soon, Bellina finds herself bewitched by a charismatic one who has urged Florentines to rise up against the Medici and to empty their homes of the riches and jewels her new employer prizes. When Master Leonardo da Vinci is commissioned to paint a portrait of Lisa, Bellina finds herself tasked with hiding an impossible secret.
To say that I loved this story is an understatement. The richness of Florence and Milan set a striking contrast to the French countryside where the Louvre employees lived a spartan existence under Nazi rule. In my mind you cannot find a more beautiful setting than Florence. I love the art, cathedrals, fabrics and food. The pleasures that the ruling class were lucky to have engaged in will always seduce my imagination. If only to be rich in Florence during the Middle Ages.
One of the secondary characters, Lucie, is based on a real woman who, as a Louvre employee, documented the movement of the artworks from Paris to the countryside. Through her efforts we know what happened during this time period. Our protagonist Anne worked under Lucie at the Louvre but they were equals during the run from the Nazis. The author drew upon Lucie's documentation to write this part of the story. While I can't get enough of the Italian Renaissance period I believe that Anne's story is the most compelling.
The author gives us an interesting viewpoint into how Da Vinci felt about his Mona Lisa. We see him as he begins the portrait and decades later before his death. Morelli shows him initially believing that a portrait will never bring him accolades. However, he never truly believes that the painting is finished and works on it periodically while he looks for other commissions that will bring him fame. He too is captivated by the smile that he remembers the real Lisa had and endeavors to recreate it in this portrait.
The Stolen Lady is a must read for historical fiction fans. 5 out of 5 stars.