The Vanishing Point, by Louise Hawes;
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston,
How would you like if the only thing you loved to do was something that was reserved for males, and you had a close-to-zero chance of ever being allowed to pursue the life you wanted? If you are anything like me, it would seem unfair and extremely aggravating. It might make me go slightly crazy, especially if it was something that any girl can do as well as any boy.
This is the scenario for Lavinia Fontana, Vini for short. In The Vanishing Point, Vini is a teenage girl from Bologna, Italy, during the mid-sixteenth century. She is the daughter of the semi-famous Renaissance artist and teacher, Prospero Fontana. Though Vini’s father is a learned and experienced artist and art is everywhere in their home, she is not allowed to paint. Actually, her father never even considered the idea. He says that painting is always a male’s profession; something that females could never do. Secretly, Vini hates hearing him say this because painting and drawing are her main loves and talents.
Behind her parents’ back, Vini has been sneaking paper, pencil, and paint from her father’s studio with the help of Paolo, one of her father’s apprentices. Paolo pretends the paintings are his and shows them to Vini’s father to get feedback. He then shares the criticism with Vini, so she can learn more. While Vini is doing her painting in secret, she also has to deal with her mother’s illness and her parents’ fighting. There are several things going on at once, so while reading, you never get bored.
I really felt like I was living there alongside Vini through her battles with her painting (hiding it, then getting discovered and having to tell the truth about her love for it), her father (who constantly complains for a son instead of a “worthless daughter” like Vini), and her secret romance with an apprentice.
I can relate to some of the things Vini was going through during this time, and that is one of the reasons I liked the book so much. Since Vini’s father constantly complains about not having a son, Vini feels very useless and unwanted. I’m sure everyone has felt like that at some time or another. I know there are days when I feel like I can’t do anything right, or that nobody wants me, and so on. Imagine having your father saying outright that he considered you worthless and a burden to him. I was moved by Vini’s determination and willingness to do what she wanted. It gave me an inspiration to never give up until I have achieved what I aim for. This is a life lesson everyone hears many, many times, but it is rare to find someone who is as dedicated as Vini. She had every hurdle in her way, but she persisted and figured out a way to paint against all the odds, even when she was ill and faced the chance that she could never paint again.
Even though this book is fictional, it is based on real people and events. Lavinia Fontana was a real artist, who went on to experience more fame than any female artist before her. Her paintings still hang in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Historical fiction is my favorite genre because I can learn so much. It seems like I am killing two birds with one stone because I am enjoying myself and learning, too.
The Vanishing Point is a wonderful book. Anybody who reads it will be drawn in and unable to stop reading about Vini’s life. I think it deserves five stars.