We love historical fiction and the line where fiction meets reality. That’s exactly where The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli by Alyssa Palombo takes us! Take a look below at this intriguing novel and it will land out your TBR just like it landed on ours!
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.
I heard my mother’s voice drift down the hall as she drew nearer. Not too loud—a lady never shouted, after all—but the urgency in her tone was more than enough to convey the importance of this day, this moment.
I met the gaze of my maid, Chiara, in the Venetian glass mirror. She smiled encouragingly from where she stood behind me, sliding the final pins into my hair. “Nearly finished, Madonna Simonetta,” she said. “And if he wants you that badly, he will wait.”
I smiled back, but my own smile was less sure.
My mother, however, had a different idea. “Make haste,” she said as she appeared in the room. “Chiara, we want to show off that magnificent hair, not pin it up as though she is some common matron.”
“Si, Donna Cattaneo,” Chiara responded. Dutifully, she stepped back from the dressing table and my mother motioned for me to rise from my seat.
“Che bella, figlia mia!” my mother exclaimed as she took me in, dressed in my finest: a brand-new gown of cream silk, trimmed in fine Burano lace, with roses embroidered along the collar and hem. A strand of pearls encircled my neck, and the top strands of my gold hair were artfully pinned back, allowing the majority of it to spill down my back to my waist. “As always,” she said.
I smiled the same uncertain smile I had given Chiara, but my mother did not notice. “He is already quite taken with you, and when he sees you tonight, he shall be positively smitten.”
I had only met Signor Marco Vespucci once, and at Mass, no less. He was a Florentine, sent to study in Genoa by his father.
He was known to my father, somehow, and approached us in the church of San Torpete that day with, it seemed, the intention of being introduced to me. He had bowed and kissed my hand and paid the same extravagant and foolish compliments to my beauty that all men did, so I had scarcely paid him any mind. He was handsome enough, but then many men were handsome.
Apparently, though, he had not forgotten our encounter as easily as I had. He had written to my father shortly thereafter, asking if he might pay court to me.
“But, Mother,” I began, thinking that this might be my only opportunity to air the doubts that had been fogging my head, but uncertain how to do so.
“But nothing, mia dolce,” my mother said. “Your father and I have discussed it, and Signor Vespucci is a wonderful match for you—why, he is an intimate of the Medici, in Florence! Do you not wish to help la famiglia nostra as best you can?”
“Of course,” I said. What else could I say?
“Of course,” she echoed. “Then let us go downstairs and meet your suitor. There is no need to fear; you need not say anything at all, if you do not wish to. Your beauty is enough and more.”
It was all I could do not to roll my eyes—another thing ladies did not do. As if I would not speak to the man who wished to marry me. And what a foolish notion, that he did not need to hear me speak—did men wish for wives who were mutes, then?
Possibly, I thought, a wry smile touching my lips as I contemplated all the times my mother would chatter on and on, not noticing the somewhat pained expression on my father’s face.
Well, if he married me, Signor Vespucci would not be getting a mute for a wife, that was certain, and I would make sure he knew that right off.
I followed my mother down the stairs, Chiara trailing discreetly behind in case I should need anything. Our palazzo was of a decent size, though perhaps not as large as some of the palazzi owned by other members of the Genoese nobility. It was situated far enough inland that one could not quite see the sea from the upper balconies, but I could always smell it: the scent of the sea pervaded the air, the breeze, the very stones, all throughout Genoa. It was the smell of home.
From The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli by Alyssa Palombo. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Griffin, and imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
Copyright © 2017 by Alyssa Palombo