Analysis and Review of The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen

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The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen is the story of Sofonisba Anguissola–a female Renaissance painter. Alongside her story is that of Elisabeth de Valois and King Philip II of Spain. There is a bit about Michelangelo and his apprentice Tiberio Calcagni. Most of the plot of the story is pure fiction, though the people, places and some of what takes place is fact as far as the historical account of things goes.

The Creation of Eve begins with Sofonisba Anguissola learning her trade from Michelangelo alongside Tiberio Calcagni, with whom she has an affair. Most of the story Lynn Cullen creates surrounding this period in Sofonisba's life is conjecture and fiction. As far as we know, Sofonisba Anguissola's training with Michelangelo was very limited and brief. Furthermore, there is no historical record of her even meeting Tiberio Calcagni, let alone having a love affair with him. The story of their love affair is central to the plot of most of The Creation of Eve and it almost certainly never took place.

Characters in the book also make accusations against Michelangelo, saying that Tiberio was his lover. While Michelangelo may have been homosexual and certainly wrote love poetry to men, Tiberio was not necessarily the recipient of these poems. Tiberio meets his end at the hand of Inquisitors in The Creation of Eve. In reality, the cause of his death is unknown. If he was accused of a crime and died at the hand of Inquisitors, there would likely be a record of it.

Because of all these glaring inaccuracies, The Creation of Eve should not be taken as a historical account. It is well written and intriguing because of these famous characters, but it is almost offensive in the liberties Lynn Cullen takes with the lives of these people. Long dead or not, portraying their lives as utterly shameful (by Renaissance standards) is a little off-putting to me.

In The Creation of Eve, Sofonisba Anguissola leaves Michelangelo because she has had sexual relations with Calcagni. As far as we know, she left because Michelangelo was little more than an acquaintance. Anguissola put a lot of stock in her virginity and most likely did not give it up before she was married. Soon after she completes all of her training, she goes to the Spanish Court to act as lady in waiting and painting instructor to Elisabeth de Valois. This is accurate. In fact, a lot of what happens in the Spanish Court part of The Creation of Eve is accurate. The characters, some of the drama and the disease suffered by Elisabeth are real. However, much intrigue is not.

Lynn Cullen creates an affair between Elisabeth de Valois and King Philip II's "bastard" half brother, Don Juan. This most likely did not take place and certainly did not take place as Lynn Cullen describes it in The Creation of Eve. Don Juan may have loved Elisabeth, but there is no record of it other than an argument that reportedly took place at Elisabeth's funeral. There is also a similarity between one of Elisabeth's daughters and Don Juan. This could be explained by the fact that he was the girl's uncle.

The Creation of Eve is an enjoyable book when taken as fiction. However, those looking for historically accurate portrayals of the people therein should look further than Lynn Cullen's writing.

Shelly Barclay

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