The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola // Book Spotlight

Hi Friends,
I was onced against asked by @BreakevenBooks to participate in the blog tour. This time for ‘The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola’ by Melissa Muldoon. I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but this book has me very intrigued.

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About The Book

Set in the sixteenth century, The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola tells the story of a woman’s passion for painting and adventure. In a world where women painters had little to no acknowledgment, she was singled out by Michelangelo and Vasari who recognized and praised her talent. Gaining the Milanese elite’s acclaim, she went on to become court painter to Spanish King Philip II and taught his queen to paint. One can’t live such an extraordinary life without having stories to tell, and tell them Sofonisba does to Sir Anthony Van Dyke, who comes to visit her toward the end of her life. During their meeting, she agrees to reveal her secrets but first challenges the younger painter to find the one lie hidden in her tale. In a saga filled with intrigue, jealousy, buried treasure, unrequited love, espionage, and murder, Sofonisba’s story is played out against the backdrop of Italy, Spain, and Sicily. Throughout her life, she encountered talented artists, authoritative dukes, mad princes, religious kings, spying queens, vivacious viscounts, and dashing sea captains—even a Barbary pirate. But of all the people who fell in love with Sofonisba, only one captured her heart. Sofonisba had many secrets, but only she knows the whole truth.

Book Excerpt 

​End of Chapter 2 (Sir Anthony visits Sofonisba toward the end of her long life)

​Anthony stroked his trim beard and regarded her thoughtfully. “You are a most intriguing woman.”
​With a brow raised, she said, “You’d be surprised by the things I know and the places I’ve been.” ​
​“So, the painter has a secret past?” said Van Dyke. “I’d like to know your stories and…” He paused and glanced up when Cecilia re-entered the room.
​Sofonisba watched as the young man warmly regarded the slim young girl and noted Cecilia too was aware of his admiration by the way she self-consciously set the silver tray and teapot on the small table between them. When Anthony reached out a hand to steady one of the cups and accidentally grazed her fingers, the maid giggled, forgetting her station.
​Sofonisba coughed ever so slightly, and Cecilia turned toward her with a bemused expression. Then, coming to her senses as if she realized she was not comporting herself respectably, she hastily curtsied and left the room. ​
​Pouring out the tea, Sofonisba said, “I see you are indeed a rake, sir. And here I thought your attentions were all for me.”
​He raised an eyebrow as he reached for a small biscuit with sugar coating. “Don’t try to change the subject.”
​“Yes, where were we…”
​“I asked if you’d share with me your stories.”
​“Ah, well… I’m sure any tale I had to tell would bore you to tears,” she replied.
​He gestured to the portraits on the far wall. “The many faces of the woman that decorate this room beg to differ. Each portrait has a hidden story that begs to be revealed.”
​“And how would you know?”
​“Need I remind you? I am a painter too. Like you, I am an excellent judge of character—and the eyes never conceal what a person is really feeling or thinking. See that girl in the blue gown?” he asked, indicating the portrait that had captured her attention earlier.
​She looked at him, interested to hear what he had to say.​
​“That young woman possesses such grace and extreme confidence—those are things a man can easily fall in love with. I believe that woman has something to reveal to me. After all, with a paintbrush and a rare talent, she traveled the world, painting for kings and queens…” He observed her keenly. “Signora, you have had a remarkable career. You dared to be different, and I want to know how you managed to accomplish all you did.”
​“Fair enough,” she finally admitted. “Yes, I defied them that I did. I was never one for conventions. I never believed I needed a husband to keep me and be my master. I always thought I’d live a solitary life, never to be bothered by love.”
​“But love found you…”
​“Yes, it did. Several times,” she admitted, gazing over his shoulder at the portrait of the young woman in blue.
​“Tell me about the one you’ve never forgotten.”
​She studied the man before her, then said with a gleam in her eye, “He was a handsome lad, with a head of thick black curls. The kind of man that steals a girl’s heart the moment she lays eyes on him.” She assessed him again, taking in his elegant coat and deerskin breeches. “Kind of like yourself, tesoro, though not in such a dandified manner!”
​Her retort caught him by surprise, and when his shoulders started to shake, he nearly spilled tea on his jacket.
​“Still,” Sofonisba continued, “despite his striking good looks, he was a man of courage, one who dared to dream, took chances, and risked everything to win my heart… then broke it in two.” She was quiet for a moment and then sighed. “You don’t forget the first man you ever loved—especially if you lose him…”
​“There, I knew it! You do have intriguing tales to tell me.”
​“Oh, I admit I have many,” Sofonisba said with a soft laugh. “So… it is my life you wish to hear about, is it? You want to learn the secrets of Sofonisba?”
​“I’m all ears, signora. Please don’t hold back.” He filled his cup and then, looking over the brim, said, “I want to know everything from the beginning. I’m sure it will be quite diverting.”
​“From the beginning… Ehi, you do realize how old I am? That would take more than an hour!”
​“We have all afternoon… Goodness knows, I’ve only just arrived in Italy and have no urgent appointments. Besides, there is no place I’d rather be than in your company.”
​“There you go again with your flattery, sir.” She looked at him askance. “Are you really sure you want to hear the ramblings of an old woman?”
​“Just tell me the titillating parts…”
​Sofonisba eyed him with amusement. “Messer… I am a lady!” Modestly she looked at her hands resting demurely in her lap, but when she glanced up and saw him watching her with a raised eyebrow, she let out a snort. “Well… all right, since you’ve traveled all this way, Anthony, I’ll entertain you with a story.”
​She paused and leaned forward. “But to keep me amused as well, it will be far more enjoyable to play a little game with you…”​
​When he looked at her curiously, Sofonisba said with a chuckle, “Beware, Anthony! I caution you to pay close attention to what I am about to reveal because woven into my words of truth will be one small fabrication.”
​She settled back into her chair, took a sip of tea, then added, “It is up to you, dear signore, to determine fact from fiction. See if you can discover the single lie in all I am about to tell you.”

About The Author

Melissa Muldoon is the author of four novels set in Italy: Dreaming Sophia, Waking Isabella, Eternally Artemisia, and The Secret Life of Sofonisba Anguissola. All four books tell the stories of women and their journeys of self-discovery to find love, uncover hidden truths, and follow their destinies to shape a better future for themselves. She is the managing director of Matta Press. She teaches Italian and curates, the dual-language website in Italian and English that promotes the Italian language and culture. Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history, and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, and a master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She studied painting and art history in Florence and ran her own graphic design firm for many years. Melissa illustrated her novels’ cover art and translated her second novel into Italian — Il risveglio di Isabella. Melissa also curates the Art of Loving Italy website and Pinterest site, where you will find companion pictures and visual references for all her novels. Visit for more information about Melissa’s books and for tips to learn and practice Italian at home and in Italy with Melissa.

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Until The Next Chapter,

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