Book Talk: Cullen changes book on finding portrait

Wed Jun 2, 2010 12:32pm EDT
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By Chelsea Emery

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Author Lynn Cullen began writing her latest novel about a despised Spanish king but her discovery of a mysterious portrait changed everything.

Cullen was early in her research about Felipe II of Spain (1527-1598) when she stumbled across a painting of a woman in a fur wrap. The portrait, painted by a barely known female artist, was the inspiration for her new book "The Creation of Eve."

The story plumbs the life of Italian-born Sofonisba Anguissola, who gave up her coveted apprenticeship with Michelangelo after a romantic tryst with another artist threatened to ruin her family. Fleeing possible censure, she accepted a position teaching painting to Spain's teenage queen, Elisabeth.

Cullen, who is known for her children's books based on historical European figures such as Marie Antoinette, spoke with Reuters about how research can dramatically alter the course of a book and her fascination with the fickleness of human character.

The book is Cullen's first adult fiction.

Q: Why did you choose Sofonisba Anguissola as your subject?

A: "The book started out three years earlier being a mystery about whether Felipe was a good guy a bad guy ... That fell apart once I did research. He turned out to be a nice guy. He had just been vilified throughout history, starting with the Dutch and the English who were his enemies.

"Pretty early into the research, I saw a picture of the lady in the fur wrap ... I read that she'd painted this painting and she was a lady-in-waiting to the queen. You have to be completely open and let things surprise you and follow that."   Continued...

<p>The cover of "The Creation of Eve" by Lynn Cullen is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Handout</p>