The year is 1502, and Italy is ablaze with the artistic radiance, the sexual corruption, the political intrigue, and the religious fanaticism of the Renaissance. The depraved Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, conducts orgies in the Vatican while Leonardo da Vinci paints masterpieces for noble patrons. Genius has never been more highly prized, passion has never been more dangerous. Against this incandescent backdrop, George Herman unfolds a brilliant debut novel about art, politics, disguise, betrayal, and the creation of the theatrical form known as commedia dell’arte.
A vagabond of improbable erudition and outrageous appearance sneaks into Italy from the north and invents a new identity and name for himself - Harlequin. In Aosta, he falls into the company of an aging, resourceful whore named Colombina who promises to feed and transport him if he’ll teach her to read and to dance. As this unlikely pair flees south through Italy, they unwittingly gather a motley crew: Scapino, a juggling cut-purse, and his lecherous bastard son Pantalone; Giacomo, Leonardo’s inept artistic assistant, who assumes a new identity as the Dottore; Isabella, an aristocratic bluestocking traveling incognito; the blustering Capitano, wanted for desertion; a spirited tart on the run; and a handsome student in search of adventure.
Pooling their wits, their talents, and their scanty resources, this band of fugitives, misfits, and thieves don fantastic disguises and, transforming their guild wagon into a stage set, mount bawdy, slapstick entertainments in the city piazzas. The new form of people’s theatre - commedia dell’arte - sweeps the country with its hilarious mockery of the corrupt nobles and clergy, allowing the actors to slip through the hands of the Borgia spies, who are pursuing them for a variety of mysterious reasons.
Mingling real and invented characters, the famous and the infamous, “Carnival of Saints” vividly captures an era as noted for its cruelties and corruption as for its fine arts - a time when men would kill, and not necessarily just paint, for their patrons. Rich in plot and character, meticulous in its re-creation of the past, “Carnival of saints” stands alone for its pungent humor, its inventive flair, and its ribald originality. This is a wildly entertaining comic masterpiece.