Excerpt of Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex
(Page 4 of 5)
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In addition to her intellectual accomplishments, Isabella has tumbling
blond curls, large, wide-set black eyes, and a slender body. Beatrice
shows signs of stoutness, with thick thighs and ankles, though only her
sister, her servants, and her husband--should the man to whom she is
engaged actually honor their betrothal--will ever know this. She has a
round face, a small, uninteresting nose, and dark hair that lacks
luster, so much so that she must wear it in a long pigtail down her
back. She prefers the outdoors to all pursuits. She is the kind of
person Isabella would not find terribly interesting if she were not her
Isabella consistently outperforms Beatrice in all pursuits but this, the
equestrian. Now, and in the presence of her betrothed, Isabella fears
Beatrice is trying to make her pay for her crimes of superiority.
Suddenly Francesco stops, pulling in the animal, whipping him about so
that he is facing Isabella. She realizes that he is looking for her, has
stopped this competition with her sister because she has entered
his mind, even in the midst of the wild ride.
Beatrice, who has bolted ahead, stops too. No longer enjoying the ride
without the competitive aspect, she trots back to him. Isabella hears
Francesco say, "I wanted you to show me the city's newest improvements,
not race me to your death."
"You just don't want to lose to a woman," Beatrice retorts, flushed
scarlet from her escapade, adjusting the velvet cap that she wears at a
"Do you fail to remember that I was not losing?" he answers.
"Settle down," Isabella says in Beatrice's direction, hoping that she
does not sound too much like the admonishing older sister, the sour one
who does not want to be a part of their game. "We are supposed to be
showing him the city!"
"Be a good girl, or I'm going to take Drago back home with me,"
Francesco says to Beatrice in a tone that conspires with Isabella's
parental attitude toward her sister.
Beatrice clutches the reins close to her chest. "He wouldn't go. He
would run away with me first!"
"Don't be too sure, little princess," he replies, sounding like a
Thank God he considers her a child and Isabella a woman! Satisfied that
she can recapture Francesco's attention with her more mature demeanor,
Isabella leads them over the bridge and back inside the city walls.
"Now, Beatrice, do listen to what I am telling Francesco so that when
your betrothed comes to visit Ferrara, you might show him these same
Beatrice groans. The subject is a sore one.
Mistress once more of the little expedition, Isabella explains how the
city of Ferrara has changed in recent years; how her father, the duke,
had gotten it into his mind to rebuild the city along the enlightened
architectural guidelines set by Leon Battista Alberti, the Genoan. She
explains (to demonstrate her knowledge of not only architecture, city
planning, and mathematics but political subtleties as well) how Ercole
had sent to his ally, Lorenzo the Magnificent in Florence, for the ten
manuscripts of Alberti's De Re Aedificatoria, to set about
modernizing his city and its buildings according to that great
theorist's vision. Streets were widened into broad avenues. New
structures were created with careful attention to classical values of
proportion and harmony. Aesthetics were linked with and equal to the
mathematical proportions of things.
Excerpted from Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex, pages 5-12. Copyright © 2006 by Karen
Essex. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the