The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli by Alyssa Palombo
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on April 25th, 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Adult
Format: paperback arc
Source: Requested by publisher
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli introduces us to Simonetta Vespucci, a woman who may have inspired Botticelli's most famous work of art, the Birth of Venus. When
Simonetta Cattaneo is the beautiful daughter of a noble man, allowed to learn the basics of reading and writing. Though she is not allowed to further her education, she yearns for more. So when handsome Marco Vespucci comes with the promise of a grand life in Florence, overflowing with art, poetry, and literature, Simonetta accepts his offer. She marries Marco Vespucci and is brought to Florence where she finds herself in the centre of one of the most influential social circles of their time, run by the Medici brothers. Soon all of Florence is enraptured by the idea of her - her beauty, fashion, charm, intelligence, and more. She soon finds herself catching the eye of up-and-coming artist Sandra Botticelli. Moved by Simonetta's inner and outer beauty, Botticelli becomes fascinated and begins to paint her over and over, making her the inspiration and centre of his most famous works. Facing men vieing for her attention, jealousy and envy from others, problems with her marriage, and bouts of ill health, Simonetta seizes the chance to sit for Botticelli again. As relationship between artist and muse becomes blurred and forbidden passion takes over, they will soon face fate and the tragedy that will unfold.
Not only do I love Florence, and am a historical fiction fan, but I also have a great appreciation for the Renaissance period (art, structures/buildings, clothing, etc.). The author, Alyssa Palombo, does a good job in establishing the historical and physical setting. Florence felt real and alive, as if I were there walking the streets alongside Simonetta. Palombo found a way to breath life into Renaissance Florence in this book and make it feel alive with the art, politics, religion, marriage, structures, themes, and more. The exploration of the Renaissance time period was done in such an entertaining way that I couldn't help but find myself captivated by the characters and the time period.
I also really liked the way the author took real characters and expanded their stories in this book. Even though I knew a majority of these characters (from History courses), I still felt like I learned much more about them in this book. And even though I have never heard of Simonetta Vespucci before reading this book, I can definitely say that I am fascinated by her and want to know more about her.
Though the story is character-driven, it deals with much more deeper themes of that time - the exploration of what it means to be a wife and the most beautiful in Renaissance Florence. Even though we don't know if Simonetta was the inspiration behind the Birth of Venus or if Botticelli did really use her as a model for his other portraits, this novel was still beautifully breathtaking and made me fall for Renaissance Florence and feel for the characters in it. I can not state whether or not she was the inspiration, but I can say that I found Alyssa Palombo's depiction of the relationship between both artist and muse to be highly plausible, especially after reading the author's note.
Overall, this was a great book to read. It was such a gripping, engaging, and emotional story. If you are a fan of historical fiction, have a love for art history, are interested in the Renaissance period, or just looking for a quick and engaging book to read, then I recommend you check this book out.
About The Author:
ALYSSA PALOMBO is also the author of The Violinist of Venice. She has published short fiction pieces in Black Lantern Magazine and The Great Lakes Review. She is a recent graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively. A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. The Violinist of Venice is her first novel. She lives in Buffalo, New York.