Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, was the ‘it’ girl of the Renaissance era.
Book cover image: The Most Beautiful Woman In Florence by Alyssa Palombo via Pan Macmillan.
Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, was the ‘it’ girl of the Renaissance era, who captured hearts and minds all over Florence and was renowned for being Boticelli’s muse and the greatest beauty of her age.
Through the eyes of ‘La Bella Simonetta’, we witness Florentine society over a seven-year period within the 15th century, when the infamous Medici family essentially ran the city.
The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a charmingly smooth read that allows a reader, most of whom will be female, to escape the doldrums of everyday life and adorn themselves in the silk petticoats and gowns of old.
This is the text version of historical TV dramas like The Tudors, Downton Abbey or The Young Victoria – it’s spicy, sexy, full of class wars, intrigue, bed hopping and overt displays of manliness (usually in the form of duals or jousting), intended to win a lady’s favour.
If you have ever had the sheer pleasure of visiting Firenzes Santa Maria Novella, the Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti or the Palazzo Medici Riccardi or in fact almost any church or monument in Italy, undoubtedly you would have experienced the visceral desire and hunger to find out the story behind the fresco in front of you.
The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence brings some of these alive and readers witness first hand (all be it in embellished and somewhat fictional historical fiction mode) the sagas, romance and dramas behind the masterpieces.
A daughter of Genoese nobility, Simonetta weds dashing young Florentine Banker, Marco Vespucci, who introduces her to the 'paradise of poets and painters' that she had always longed for.
A lady whose 'mind is as beautiful as her face' Simonetta flourished when introduced to Florentine society and the powers that be, soon catching the eye of up and coming young painter Sandro Boticelli.
The book is billed as ‘A Story of Boticelli’, yet art lovers and enthusiasts who pick up this volume expecting it to be more like Irving Stones depiction of Michelangelo, The Agony and The Ecstasy, looking for more intricate details of the painters habits, commissions and details of his life and work, would be sorely disappointed as those minutiae are heartbreakingly overlooked. All we are privy to is Simonetta’s viewpoint, so although we have beautiful depictions of how their time was spent together, the story is very much that of Simonetta, rather than Botticelli.
This was a time when a ladies only objective was to please her husband, endure the animalistic act said husband put upon one, don gowns that befit ones station and seemingly have ones maid servant style ones hair in as many loose and fancy braids as possible (I defy any woman reading this to get more than halfway without plaiting her hair in front of a mirror) – yet Sandro Boticelli allows Simonetta to question her world and her place in it:
'This was my chance to be seen. To be a woman of note and learning, to speak and perhaps be heard in this enlightened city. To be somebody, if only I had the courage'.
That we know Boticelli requested to be buried at Simonetta Vespucci’s feet, in the Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti, where he remains to this day, makes this an even more beguiling love story, whose only fault is that it is too short as there is surely an audience for a more detailed account of these bed hopping, sword wielding, art loving Florentines.
If you loved titled such as The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Other Boleyn Girl, this has your name all over it.
If Italy is on the cards this summer, take this book with you, as you will look at frescoes, statues and all the magic that will surround you with a new hunger for a deeper understanding of the stories behind the paintings. And of course, don’t forget to visit Venus at the Uffizzi.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN FLORENCE
A Story of Botticelli
St. Martin's Griffin
St. Martin's Press
Macmillan. Pan Macmillan Australia.