The Miracles of Prato
Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz
Drawn from the world of Renaissance Italy, this historical fiction captures the lives and romance of painter Fra Filippo Lippi and his muse, Lucrezia Buti. This is no ordinary relationship, however, Fra Lippi is a Carmelite monk and Lucrezia is a noviate living in the Convent of Santa Margherita in Prato, Italy, where Fra Filippo serves as chaplain when he can tear himself away from his paints.
Perfectly captured by authors Albanese and Morowitz (an art historian) are the struggles of the times: the domination of the Catholic Church, the sponsorship of artists by rich merchants from Florence and Venice, the inability of women to assert control over their lives--all forces that exact a price from the lives of individuals living in this time. The story is even more poignant because neither Lippi nor Buti had an alternative to taking on their roles in the religious community.
Buti and her sister come to convent upon the death of their father, and it is there that Fra Filippo Lippi first realizes his ideal model for the Madonna, the beautiful Lucrezia. Her role as model is heightened by the importance of Lippi’s commissioned altar piece, a gift to be used by Cosimo de Medici in negotiations between powerful Italian states. This highly irregular practice of modeling by a nun is facilitated by powerful forces within the Church, but everyone has a price to exact, from the head of the Convent on up.
Things begin to go terribly wrong when Fra Lippi’s reputation with women begins to rub off on Lucrezia, and she is ultimately compromised by the Prior General who wrongly assumes she has given herself to the monk. Lippi pledges to protect Lucrezia, but this means disengagement from the Church, which requires a decree from Rome amidst the circumstances of a dying Pope.
Based on true events, this novel is most engaging in helping readers understand what life in Renaissance Italy was like and in detailing the overwhelming control of daily events by the Catholic Church, even for those who did not serve in a religious capacity. Interesting too is the political milieu of the times and the way in which the Church and the merchant class intertwined to join forces to make the most of available power and status. Indeed, it takes a miracle to cement the relationship between Fra Lippi and Lucrezia Buti, but the results are still apparent today in works that hang in museums and churches around the world.
This book was first reviewed for the Amazon Vine program.