Summary and book reviews of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

A Story of Botticelli

by Alyssa Palombo

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo
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  • Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

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.

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.

1
Genoa, 1469

"Simonetta!"

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What do you feel was Simonetta's strongest motivation for marrying Marco? Do you think she truly loved him, or did she only convince herself that she did? Could she realistically have refused to marry him?
  2. Simonetta is sometimes frustrated by the effect that her beauty has on those around her, and at other times she uses it to her advantage. Did both of these reactions feel reasonable and realistic to you? How might you have felt in her situation?
  3. Simonetta is widely proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, and men wait outside her house, leave her gifts, and recognize her in the street. Do you see any similarities between the Florentines' reaction to Simonetta and our own celebrity culture today?
  4. What do you ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although I felt as if I were on a tour of Florence at times, the city comes across as the metropolis of today and not the Renaissance. Despite the author's exceptional ability to describe what her heroine would have been seeing and experiencing, I somehow never got the sense of time. Readers should be advised that the book can safely be shelved in the "Romance" section of their local bookstore. Regardless, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence will likely be very satisfying for most historical fiction fans, particularly those interested in Renaissance Italy and novels that revolve around great works of art.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Strikingly feminist…a compelling narrative that is difficult to putdown.

Booklist

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.

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