Tracy Chevalier's masterpiece is about a masterpiece: the eponymous Girl With A Pearl Earring. If you haven't read it, it's about a servant girl who captures the imagination of Johannes Vermeer and inspires him to create what is probably his most famous work. This book is well-praised for among other things, the sensual immersion in the life of 17th century Holland. The movie was the breakout role for Scarlett Johansson. Sound interesting? Already read it? Here are some more books like it.
Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex is a fictional chronicle of the lives and fortunes of the very real d'Este sisters, models for one of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings. Isabella and Beatrice scheme for what they want, whether each other's wealth and station or to model for the great polymath. Still full of historical detail, this plays across a broader historical canvas than Chevalier's work.
Sarah Dunant writes The Birth of Venus with few historical personages in attendance, but it's still a compelling read. Alessandra is the artistic and educated daughter of a wealthy Florentine family whose patriarch has brought an intriguing visitor, an artist from the north, to paint her family's chapel. Their love blossoms despite Alessandra's beard of a marriage and the rule of the fanatical monk Savonarola (a character who was all too real). Happily ever after gets a twist in this lush telling.
Also set in Florence, though a bit earlier, is Alyssa Palombo's The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Not much is known for certain about Simonetta Vespucci, but she is immortalized in some of Botticelli's most famous works, including The Birth of Venus. Palombo therefore has a delightful time imagining a beauty who would rather be known for her considerable brains and her relationships with the high and mighty as well as the lowly painter. Definitely a nice break from all those stories of women who would rather be pretty than smart.
I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogirdis is another look at da Vinci, this time through the eyes of the model for the most famous painting in the world. Once again, Lisa di Antonio Gherardini is in the Florence of Savonarola and the ruling Medici family, and gets swept up in the drama. That she survives is a wonder, but the secrets she learns are even more so in this romantic story.
Know more stories of artists and their muses? Tell us about it in the comments.