Top Ten Tuesday: Hist-ART-ical Fiction

March 11, 2014 Art, Historical Fiction, Top Ten Tuesday 40

Howdy Bookworms,

It’s Tuesday and you know what that means! The ladies of The Broke and the Bookish have tempted me with yet another list prompt. Today they’ve asked us to list our top ten books in ANY GENRE WE WANT. I can make up a genre, right? I mean, if I can think of ten books with a similar theme it should count as a genre, shouldn’t it? Historical fiction with  a work of art as a centerpiece is my genre of choice today… I’m going to call it Hist-ART-ical Fiction!


1. Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland:  This book follows a fictional Vermeer painting back through time from the present day to its inception. It’s chock full of interesting historical tidbits throughout the eras. I also learned a surprising amount about flooding in the Netherlands… And windmills. Bonus!

2. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier: The dual narrative is a popular style when it comes to hist-ART-ical fiction, so it’s lucky I love it. A modern American woman moves to France with her husband and uncovers her ancestral history… Along with a very particular shade of blue paint.

3.  I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis: Based on the fictionalized life of the woman who modeled for the world’s most famous painting, I, Mona Lisa takes you deep into Renaissance Italy. You really can’t go wrong with Florence as a backdrop, I tell you. Add DaVinci and throw in Savonarola (the dastardly art hater) and you’ve got yourself a tasty piece of hist-ART-ical fiction!

It's the mother-flipping Mona Lisa, y'all! (Source)

It’s the mother-flipping Mona Lisa, y’all! (Source)

4. I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira: (my review) Mary Cassatt meets up with Degas and Renoir and Monet and Manet in this book and it’s a heck of a good time. I love me some French Impressionists! Funnily enough, I was watching The Simpsons earlier today and Sideshow Bob referred to the Impressionists as “the boy band of the art world.” The art snobbery of a cartoon character can’t destroy my enthusiasm. It’s all so pretty!

5. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant: Ah yes, back to Renaissance Florence! The young daughter of a cloth merchant is enthralled by the painter the family brings in to decorate their chapel. Art and love and Florentine drama ensue… There’s a rather scandalous tattoo involved as well.

6. The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier: Another Chevalier? Don’t mind if I do! This book is based on a very real painting by the Dutch master Vermeer. It’s some kind of amazing, I tell you, even if there’s a rather cringe inducing ear-piercing scene…

7. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes: (my review) More delicious dual narratives! This book is half set during WWI in occupied France and half set in present day England. A (fictional) painting vastly important to two women at the two points in time interweaves the stories. It’s Jojo Moyes, so it rocks pretty hard.

8. Leonardo’s Swans by Karen Essex: Renaissance Italy and the master of them all, DaVinci! This book explores the lives of the models of some of DaVinci’s lesser known pieces. The fame obsessed were as desperate to be immortalized on canvas as reality show contestants are to be immortalized in trashy television. Plenty of scandal to be had!

9. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan: (my review) Man, I love the crap out of reading about the people behind the art. The model for Degas’s super famous ballerina sculpture? The Painted Girls tells Marie’s story as an impoverished ballerina-in-training. It’s as amazing as you think.

Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art

10. In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant: Alright, this isn’t as art-centric as everything else on this list, but it’s set in Renaissance Italy, so the art is THERE, if not center stage. Plus there’s a prostitute and a dwarf- how can you go wrong?

Honorable Mention: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This doesn’t get to count in the official list because A. I haven’t read it yet, and B. it’s really not historical fiction. BUT it’s got a painting in a pivotal role, so it semi-counts.

My dear artsy Bookworms, do you have a favorite hist-ART-ical fiction book?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

40 Responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Hist-ART-ical Fiction”

  1. Megan M.

    The only one I’ve read is Girl With A Pearl Earring, which I agree is fabulous. I have The Girl You Left Behind but haven’t read it yet. Me Before You shredded all my feels and I decided Jojo Moyes and I needed some space. LOL

    • Words For Worms

      Jojo! She is the heart shredder! I did not find The Girl You Left Behind AS emotionally intense as Me Before You, but it’s still very feelsy. Super good, but you know. Let your heart heal a bit! 🙂

  2. Charleen

    Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, although it’s a retelling of Cinderella, actually fits into your new genre quite well!

  3. kristinshafel

    Great list! I have Goldfinch, Girl You Left Behind, and Painted Girls on my shelves to read, and I think I started Girl with the Pearl Earring years ago but never finished it (in college, you know how hard it is to read for pleasure during those years!). I’m behind on my blog posting in general 🙁

    • Words For Worms

      Ah college! I remember those years. I started taking classes just because they included novels as part of the curriculum so I could get my fix :).

  4. Liesel Hill

    Interesting genre choice. I like it! I actually haven’t read any of these but I’ve heard good things about several of them! 😀 Great picks! Happy Tuesday!
    My TTT

    • Words For Worms

      Thanks :). I had a hard time picking a genre, but I’m really glad with how this list turned out. I didn’t realize how many good art-centric books I’d read until I listed them out!

  5. Lindsay

    Have you read “The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro? It’s not historical fiction, but it’s all about artwork and you might enjoy it. I read it last year and thought it was pretty good.

  6. Stephanie

    I thought I had gone all esoteric by listing my favorite historical mysteries but I think you beat me! Have you read The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant? I like it better than In the Company of the Courtesan and it does center around art. But no dwarves. Or prostitutes. There are nuns however.

  7. Kelly Massry

    I have wonderful memories of actually reading The Birth of Venus IN Florence years ago. It was wonderful.
    Hmm.. I have The Swan Thieves to get to for my TBR Challenge. That counts and it’s one I’m looking forward to.

  8. Shannon @ River City Reading

    Such a good list, there are tons on here I need to get to – I seem to really love this little niche. I’m thinking you would love The Goldfinch, even though it’s not historical, all the pieces swirling around the art (and not just the painting!) really play into the story.

    • Words For Worms

      I have a good feeling about The Goldfinch, but I’m totally procrastination thanks to the page count. I don’t even know WHY because it’s not like I don’t chew up the occasional 1000 pager. I make no sense.

  9. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I think I might have recommended this to you before, but I think you would totally dig The Last Nude by Ellis Avery. It imagines the story of the girl who inspired one of Tamara de Lempika’s famous paintings. And it’s set in 1920s Paris!

  10. Elizabeth

    I crazy love Susan Vreeland – everything she writes is just amazing! The Girl in Hyacinth Blue was my first introduction to her, so it’ll always be kind of special. And I haven’t read I, Mona Lisa, but I did read The Borgia Bride and if they’re anything alike (and I imagine they are, except that I’d imagine I, Mona Lisa can’t possibly be as scandalous) I definitely need to read that asap!

    And on a side note, that sculpture by Degas is one of my absolute favourite pieces of art ever. And unsurprisingly Degas is my favourite artist (except his jockey paintings which for the life of me I will never understand. Not for lack of trying, though)

  11. Isi

    I’ve only read The Girl with a Pearl Earring, long time ago, but I remember loving it.
    I would add “The Swan Thieves” to this list, by Elizabeth Kostova (the author of The historian). It’s also about a painting and I liked it a lot.

  12. C.J.

    Great list … hist-ART-ical is hilarious! I haven’t read any of the books you mention, but you make me want to read all of them! I may need to bookmark your post so I can refer to it later.

  13. Ashley F

    You know me, I’m a huge history nerd but reading this list I realized I rarely read art-history-fiction. I read art-history biographies quite a bit. A good one is called Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. Awesome book.

  14. Girl

    I just read The Art Forger, and it was really interesting and fun! The main art was a Degas, “After the Bath”. It was a super interesting look into art, and art forgery, and I think you would really enjoy it!

  15. Catherine

    I’m guessing you already know what I’m going to say! The Anatomy Lesson- a bit queasy making during the autopsy part but beautifully written.

    And thank for reminding me of The Painted Girls- I really want to read that one!

Talk to me, Bookworms!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.