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Portrait of an Unknown Woman

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Passion, painting and politics in sixteenth-century England. The year is 1527. Hans Holbein the Younger is at the beginning of his remarkable career when he travels to England under the patronage of Sir Thomas More. His arrival brings the Renaissance in painting from Europe to Britain. As a guest in the splendid More household in Chelsea, Holbein begins to paint their first family portrait. Little could he know that in a few short years, the family, Tudor society and England itself would have changed beyond recognition. The great household of the courtier and scholar, Sir Thomas More, was famous for its liveliness and learning. More had taken under his patronage distinguished astrologers, artists, politicians and men of religion, as well as wards of court, proteges and many others. Two people visiting the great house find themselves irresistibly drawn to Meg Giggs, one of More's foster daughters. One of them is John Clement - dark, tall, elegant - an erstwhile tutor, now practising to become a medical doctor; a man of compelling presence and mysterious background. The other is Holbein himself - warm, ebullient, radical and foreign - sent by the great Erasmus to paint the More family portraits. Meg will find herself powerfully drawn to these two wildly contrasting men. She will love one, and marry the other. The two Holbein family portraits frame this remarkable story with its background of love, family, and of religious and political turmoil. Vanora Bennett has created an exceptionally rich novel, presenting the atmosphere of this Tudor household as rarely achieved.
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Promotional Information

/ Lead title Passion, painting and politics in sixteenth-century England. / Published to tie-in with a major Holbein exhibition at the Tate Gallery, which will run from September 06 to January 07 / Holbein in England will exhibit Holbein's work from when Thomas More was his patron -- it is the first major exhibition of these paintings for more than 50 years and will generate enormous interest in and coverage of Holbein / From the publishers of Tracy Chevalier, Vanora Bennett will appeal to all fans of quality historical fiction / This is a debut novel from a remarkable new talent in historical fiction / Competition: Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters

About the Author

Vanora Bennett has written two previous non-fiction books. She has been a foreign correspondent and feature writer for various newspapers. She lives in London with her husband and two young sons.


In 1527, portraitist Hans Holbein fled a Europe ravaged by religious ferment and journeyed to Henry VIII's England under commission to Sir Thomas More to paint a family portrait. Journalist Bennett has written a novel as oblique and layered as a Holbein painting, brilliantly depicting this turbulent time in English history through the eyes of More's adopted daughter, Meg Giggs, who becomes physically attracted to Hans despite romantic links to her former tutor, John Clement, who himself becomes a medical doctor and hides a mysterious-even royal-past. John is attracted to Meg, admiring her inquisitive mind and interest in herbal medicine, and knows they can make a successful, quiet life together. Meg must come to terms with the secrets of her adoptive father, her feelings for Hans, her suspicions of her sister, Elizabeth, and her longing for happiness in a world bubbling with the beginnings of religious strife. Award-winning narrator Josephine Bailey brings a rich, husky voice suggestive of smoke and chocolate to the reading of this book, which is further enhanced by her ability with accents such as the heavy German of Hans. She modifies her own voice in dramatizations of many characters, including the slightly shrill, nasal voices of several children and of the somewhat smug voice of Elizabeth. Recommended for libraries with historical fiction collections.-David Faucheux, Louisiana Audio Information & Reading Svc., Lafayette Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Praise for 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman': 'Rich in period detail, full of human passion, 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman' mingles art, politics and family drama to evoke the period when humanism was taking root in England. A fascinating tale, skilfully told and highly recommended.' Iain Pears, author of 'The Portrait'

British journalist Bennett (Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya) makes her fiction debut with a sweeping reinterpretation of Sir Thomas More's family as it coped with the vicissitudes of Henry VIII's reign. Narrated by More's brilliant foster daughter, Meg Giggs, the narrative is framed by two paintings crafted five years apart by husky, ebullient German artist Hans Holbein; commissioned by the family, each was completed at radically different periods in the More clan's turbulent history. As the book opens, family tutor John Clement stimulates both Meg's apothecary interest and engages her in a love affair; she eventually marries him and bears him a son, though aware that Holbein also has romantic potential. As John, whose origins are shrouded in mystery, grows distant, Holbein returns to London to paint the More family again. Meanwhile, the Reformation bleeds across Europe, inciting religious upheaval, and Meg's staunch Catholic father continues to violently defend his faith against Protestant heretics. Duplicity involving Meg's flirtatious sister, Elizabeth, provides the novel's rousing climax. The vernacular doesn't quite hold, and the religious-political speechifying can be heavy-handed. But Bennett constructs lush backdrops and costumes, and has impeccable historical sense. She luminously shades in an ambiguous period with lavish strokes of humanity, unbridled passion and mystery. (Apr.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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