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Book one chronicles the childhood of Leonardo and Lisabetta, to the early years when they open their own art studio. The inseparable siblings are born of Caterina, another ‘invisible’ woman erased from the historical record.
A daughter of the notary class, Caterina, is reduced to peasant status after she and her lover, the young lawyer Piero da Vinci, produce their first lovechild out of wedlock, Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo is six years old when Lisabetta is born and the two bond instantly, not knowing they are full brother and sister within a household of their half-siblings.
Leonardo carries his father’s name as he remains the only heir to the da Vinci clan, and another forbidden tryst conceives Lisabetta, Caterina’s and Piero’s second child to be brought up on a subsistence farm to protect Piero’s reputation. Leonardo is kept at a distance and Lisabetta is estranged from her biological father, adopted under the auspices of a contrived peasant marriage. The Buti’s crude cottage is the setting for two childhoods that promise lives of poverty and obscurity.
Leonardo, having the advantage of an acknowledged link to a prestigious family, is sent to Florence to learn a trade, but even with some degree of privilege he is illegitimate, and thus the rules of the notary guild declares him ineligible from becoming a lawyer in the da Vinci’s family business.
Leonardo becomes the star prodigy apprentice of the master, Andrea Verrocchio, and trains his sister on visits to the Buti homestead until the twelve-year-old Lisabetta is ready to be his junior assistant.
In the present century, the restless spirit of Lisabetta remains trapped in her famous portrait. She enlists a single-parent mother, Veronica Lyons, and Jupiter, her autistic six-year-old son, visiting the Louvre, to restore her identity. In exchange, Lisabetta vows to help the boy and his mother find their own place in a society that has rejected them. Through an ingenious plan, the spirit of Lisabetta is able to leave the Louvre with them and return to their home in North America.