Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Flames of Florence by Donna Russo Morin







GUEST POST

FLORENCE: THE BIRTH PLACE OF THE RENAISSANCE; THE LAND OF MY ANCESTRY

            All around them, a new evolution in art was taking place, one that would come to be known as the period of the greatest artistic rebirth, the cultural bridge from the Dark Ages to the Modern era. You could smell innovation and enlightenment in the air. Da Vinci’s Disciples didn’t care that as women they were prohibited from taking part. They would take part; they were determined to make their mark, no matter the consequences. So it is to Florence we go.

            First I must tell of my own connection, one I didn’t know existed until after I wrote my fourth book, THE KING’S AGENT. Yes, in that glorious small speck of time between completing one book and starting another, I sent out a query to an organization that researches surnames. It took them a while to complete the appropriate investigation, during which time I developed the basic idea for the DA VINCI’S DISCIPLES trilogy also set in Florence, telling HERstory on the birth of the female Renaissance artist. It would seem as if my fascination for the ancient city was firmly entrenched in my psyche. The information, when it came from the research institute, wonderfully illustrated with my family crest on parchment looking paper, declared that the origin of my family was, most probably… Florence. My ancestors have been calling, and I am answering that call as best I can.
            Julius Caesar named the city ‘Florentina’ (meaning ‘flourishing’) when founded in 59 BC as a military retirement haven.  How portentous the name would come to be. Yet there is evidence of occupation dating back to prehistoric times. Caesar developed the city, true, with the assistance of the great Roman general and statesman Lucius Cornelius Sulla, from a military state of mind, one that is still in evidence even today. Situated on a major artery leading to Rome, the Via Cassia (still known by that name in the heart of Rome, as the A1 for hundreds of miles leading throughout the country) it was rich with fertile farmland. The combination proved successful and it soon grew from a small Roman settlement to a lively commercial epicenter.
            Enclosed in a wall approximately 1800 meters long, the city is rectangular in shape, and developed, as did most cities initially Roman, with straight roads and right angles. The main roads led to four towered gates and the Arno—a major river flowing in from the west coast—at first lay outside its gates. Located at the apex of main roads and a large river, found Florence growing rapidly, commercial activity and trade thrived, as did the city.
            Christianity made its way to Florence in the second century and by the next, churches began to spring up like the shoots of spring flowers. Today there are close to forty churches and it is these religious houses that are partially responsible for the birth of the Renaissance.
            Like so many other locations in Italy, Florence was prey to the pillaging of the Barbarian invasions of the Dark Ages. And though the city built more interior city walls, they too fell to the Lombards, the dark period of the city’s history.
            But from out of the darkness, came the light.
            By the 8th century, a feudal system was established in Florence, in truth throughout Tuscany, and the city became a county of the Holy Roman Empire, changes that were both a blessing and curse. More city walls were constructed, more gates for protection and grandiosity, and over the next few centuries Florence continued to prosper and its population to grow exponential; a flurry of activity leading to one of human evolution’s greatest eras, the Renaissance.
            Any great accomplishment or movement or change in the direction of human kind, does not come about because of one circumstance or the efforts of one human, but from a conglomeration of magnificent events…the perfect storm. Such was the Renaissance and its birth in a city named Florence.




            Its inception can be found, in part, in the politics of the city. A strife-ridden communal system gave way to an oligarchy, a system that would rule the city on and off for hundreds of years. The greatest of all the oligarchies belong to the Medici family, major players in the trilogy. Yes, these were men who had undeniable, dare I say obnoxious, certainty in their superiority, but they were also gifted with open curious minds whose craving for knowledge and truth and beauty brought new and enlightening concepts to within the city walls. Harking back to the teachings of the Greeks and the Romans, they revived the value of the human being and, within this eagerness for knowledge and enlightenment, Humanism was born. Man came to consider himself God’s greatest creation and combined with a craving for rational thought and an affirmation of the natural environment in which he existed. A distinctive characteristic of Humanism was the glory of art, of man’s ability to manipulate media into whatever form they chose.

            The rise of Humanism, the profusion of churches—churches which needed pious artwork to compete with the glory of its architecture—combined with the unflattering urge of humans to outdo each other, brought together all the necessary ingredients for an artistic explosion: fertile temperament, a surplus of venues, and the need for the leading citizens to become the leading citizen, producing a plethora of patrons vying for the best artists of all sorts. It was a collision that had never happened before, one that some hope will happen once again (one that I personally believe took place in the 1960s).
            But it was not only painters and sculptors that Florence and its rebirth produced, though there were those a plenty, to name a few: Giotto di Bondone, Masaccio, Domenic Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci. And those are just the upper echelon of painters. Architecture reigned supreme as well under the skillful hands of Brunelleschi (the architect of Santa Spirito cathedral; the opening setting of THE FLAMES OF FLORENCE and the church which hides their main studio), Leone Alberti, Palladio, and Bramante. And their glory was all written about with equal talent by the writers of the age: Petrarch, Boccaccio, Luigi Pulci, and Poliziano. In fact, so many of Italy’s greatest writers and poets were connected to Florence, its dialect came to be known as the official Italian language, beginning with the appearance of Dante’s Il Divina Commedia. The power of Florence was felt in almost every facet of Renaissance life. The currency of the city, the gold Florin, came to be the most valued, not only in Italian but to all the corners of Europe, from Hungary to Britain to Bruges, and everywhere in between, and helped to develop industry across the continent.


            It has been such an honor not only to write about the artists and innovators of the Renaissance, to write about the women that surely existed who longed to be part of this unforgettable evolution, but to write about the birthplace of family.



ABOUT THE BOOK






Historical Thriller
Date Published: May 8, 2018
Publisher: Diversion
Books

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"A glittering Renaissance gem of a novel. Donna Russo
Morin, a master of her craft, has penned an intricate story full of lush
historical detail with a plot that will leave you breathless." —Tasha
Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of Death in St. Petersburg


In her final standalone novel featuring Da Vinci's Disciples,

Donna Russo Morin delivers a thrilling story of the secret female artists of
Florence, under the tutelage of Leonardo Da Vinci, and their heroic,
potentially deadly efforts to save great works of art from the infamous Bonfire
of the Vanities.


"Illicit plots, mysterious paintings, and Leonardo da

Vinci all have their part to play in this delicious, heart-pounding work."
—Kate Quinn, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Alice
Network


Lorenzo de Medici is dead, and his son Piero has brought war

and famine upon the city of Florence. Yet, the glory that is Renaissance
artistry grows more magnificent, as does the work of the women known as Da
Vinci's Disciples. Now they face their most dangerous challenge, one shrouded
in the cloak of a monk.


From the ashes of war, Friar Girolamo Savonarola rises. Some

call him a savior and a prophet, a man willing to overthrow tyrannical rulers
and corrupt clergy, the Borgia Pope among them. Fra Girolamo is determined to
remold Florence from an avaricious, secular culture to a paragon of Christian
virtues.


Many call Savonarola a delusional heretic, incapable of

anything but self-serving fanaticism. When he sets out to destroy all secular
art forms, Da Vinci's Disciples call him an enemy … but not all of them.


"Like a glorious Italian fresco-richly textured and

vividly portrayed … Highly recommended for lovers of history, art, and
courageous women." —Anna Lee Huber, bestselling author of the Lady Darby
Mysteries


"Donna Russo Morin renders one of the most tumultuous

periods in Florence's history in bright colors and with vivid descriptions.
This tale of a group of determined women standing up for what they believe in …
will absolutely resonate with modern readers." —Alyssa Palombo, author of
The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence



EXCERPT

Chapter One
“The world is never still;
It moves forward whether we wish it to or not.”

Their faces had changed. Time had marched across some, leaving its tracks. New faces had sprouted like the first crocuses of spring. Yet whatever form they took, they stood by each other as life spun its web
around them.
They stood in the sun now, free of the shadows, with its warmth fluttering down upon their shoulders. She had been one of the first, one of the founders, a tender, delicate bloom of wisdom. She had been with them at the other funeral, that of the man whose life had made the transformation in theirs possible. The man who had changed all of Florence, planting seeds of it, reveling in their blossoms, and sharing their glory with the world. He had known the importance of art, had tended to it the way it needed to flourish, as they had flourished.
Together, they had survived as Florence had survived: barely. The Medicis, doomed since the death of Lorenzo “Il Magnifico” de’ Medici, had been ousted. War had weakened Florence’s trunk as well as her branches. And strangeness had descended upon them in the form of a tonsured, cloaked figure, a shadow whose length grew ever longer, all encompassing.

Hope born on audacity and raised on bravery had changed them. As they watched their dearest friend lowered into the ground where her ashes would live forever, they knew they too would remain eternal; they would be, now and forever…Da Vinci’s Disciples.


About the Author

Donna Russo Morin’s passion for the written word began when
she was a child, took on a feminist edge as she grew through the sixties, and
blossomed into a distinctive style of action-filled historical fiction at a
defining moment in her life. As a second-generation American of full Italian
descent, Donna combined her historical research with her genealogical studies,
finding that her birth name (Russo) and her family roots are traceable to ninth
century Florence…the very city in which the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy is
set.

Donna Russo (Morin) is the internationally published author
of six multi-award-winning historical novels including PORTRAIT OF A
CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci’s Disciples Book One (a finalist in Foreword Reviews BEST
BOOK OF THE YEAR), and THE COMPETITION: Da Vinci’s Disciples Book Two (EDITOR’S
CHOICE, Historical Novel Society Review). The final book in her Da Vinci’s
Disciples trilogy, THE FLAMES OF FLORENCE, releases May 8, 2018. Also this
summer, my novel, inspired by our own home state, GILDED SUMMERS: A Novel of
Newport’s Gilded Age will also release this summer. Her other titles include
The King’s Agent, recipient of a starred review in Publishers Weekly, The
Courtier’s Secret, The Secret of the Glass, and To Serve a King.

A 25-year professional editor/story consultant, her work
spans more than 40 manuscripts.  She
holds a BA in Communications and an A.A. in English Literature.  Donna teaches writing courses at her state’s
most prestigious adult learning center, online for Writer’s Digest University,
and has presented at national and academic conferences for over ten years.  In addition to her writing, Donna has worked
as a model and an actor with appearances in Showtime’s Brotherhood and Martin
Scorsese’s The Departed. Currently under contract to a consortium of
international producers, Donna has added screenwriting to her professional
acumen.

Her sons—Devon, an opera singer; and Dylan, a chef—are still,
and always will be, her greatest works.



Contact Links

Twitter: @DonnaRussoMorin
Instagram @donnarm.telleroftales



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