Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Most Beautiful Woman of Florence and the Renaissance

Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci
In the 15th century, the height of the Renaissance, Simonetta Cattaneo was said to be the most beautiful woman in all of Florence. The daughter of a Genoese nobleman, at the age of 15 she married Marco Vespucci, a relative of the famous explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. For Marco, it was love at first sight. For Simonetta, it was considered an excellent match as Marco's family had strong connections to the great Medici family. The wedding took place in Florence where she became extremely popular, especially by Lorenzo and Giuliano di Medici who hosted the lavish wedding. Her beauty was mesmerizing and she soon caught the attention of Sandro Botticelli. She became known as the Queen of Beauty.
Giuliano de Medici
Poor Simonetta, however, did not live a long life. She caught tuberculosis and died at the age of 22. Thousands mourned her loss. Rumor had it that Botticelli loved her, and even asked to be buried at her feet in the Church of the Ognissanti in Florence.
Church of the Ognissanti
Her life has been re-imagined in the novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, by Alyssa Palombo.

"In the tradition of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Palombo has married fine art with romantic historical fiction in this lush and sensual interpretation of Medici Florence, artist Sandro Botticelli, and the muse that inspired them all." - Booklist
A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.
Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence vividly captures the dangerous allure of the artist and muse bond with candor and unforgettable passion.

My Opinion

Was there really a love between Simonetta and Sandro Botticelli? No one will ever know for certain. Although this is only deemed a rumor, author Alyssa Palombo explores this possibility. The prose is lovely, filled with wonderful descriptions of Florence with its location, fashions, and famous personages. The author truly did a fabulous job of weaving a fascinating tale, especially once the conflict kicked into high gear. Simonetta is truly a likable character, aware of her great beauty, but never vain, never one to flaunt it or use it to her advantage. Sandro Botticelli was portrayed as simply enchanting, honorable, respectful. But my highest praise is for the author who chose a lesser known woman in history and recreated her vibrant life. It was a real pleasure to read about someone other than the same over-used female figures such as the Tudor wives. Highly recommended!
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