The most beautiful woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

Simonetta is known in Genoa as a true beauty, and a lover of art and poetry. When the Florentine banker Marco Vespucci asks for her hand in marriage, she accepts the offer longing to see the beautiful city with its magnificent Duomo. She leaves Genoa to build a new life in Florence, where she’s is invited by the Medici family to their dinners and feasts thanks to her husband’s connections. Lorenzo de Medici is a patron of many artists and writers. When Simonetta meets Sandro Botticelli, who asks her to pose for him, a girl’s dream comes true.

Another book about Florence and the Renaissance, as a preparation for my citytrip :). I already knew the story of Simonetta, Botticelli and the Medici’s as it’s also covered in the TV series ‘Medici’. Still, for me, this was the ideal introduction to Palombo as a writer.

Simonetta is well portrayed. The only thing that bothered me at times was the immense focus on her beauty. But beauty is the aim during the Renaissance and the subject makes for fine discussions with Lorenzo and Botticelli, so it suits the story. Palombo just fell a bit too in repetition on that subject.

Botticelli is and remains my favourite painter and it was nice to read about him and some of his works better in this book. The love for art splashed off the pages. We don’t know much about the real Simonetta, except that she was famous for her beauty, a supposed lover of Giuliano De Medici and Botticelli’s muse. Sandro is even buried in the Vespucci family church not far from Simonetta’s grave. As not so much is known about Simonetta’s true feelings and thoughts, Palombo could build her own story.

Is this really such a wonderfully well-written book with an original story? No, but ‘The most beautiful woman in Florence‘ is an atmospheric novel that takes you to the streets of Florence at the foot of the mighty duomo. And that was exactly what I was hoping for beforehand. For me, the book might have been longer because I wasn’t ready to leave Florence just yet. And I will pick up some of Palombo’s other books.

What’s your favourite novel about a painter?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In the company of the courtesan by Sarah Dunant

Bucino is an ugly dwarf living and working together with Fiametta, Rome’s most beautiful courtesan. When the papal city is attacked the pair flees to Venice where they need to build their reputation anew. They receive help from La Draga, a blind healer whom Bucino distrusts immediately and Arentino, a satirical poet looking for a patron.

Sarah Dunant is one of my favorite authors because she brings renaissance Italy vividly to life. In ‘In the company of the courtisan‘ she takes us to the sack of Rome in 1527. The cruel fate that the Spanish, with the help of German protestants, inflict upon the city’s inhabitants is reported by Bucino, a dwarf who tries to protect his misstress Fiametta. As a courtesan she is subject to ugly humiliations during the night. Then the story switches to Venice, a city rich by trade with the Ottomans and Jews. A city of promise where the pair tries to rebuild their life.

I have never been to Venice, but this story makes we want to jump on the plane immediately. You experience the small dark streets and smelly water alleys through Bucino’s eyes and his special rational view on the world. I liked Bucino from the beginning, as he can be both invisible and attracting attention by his looks.

This may not be Dunant’s best book. The plot is a bit slow and not so much happens. But it’s an atmospheric novel with interesting characters. The book is full of outcasts. A dwarf and a courtesan, a converted Jew, a Turk and a blind widow to name just a few. Towards the end, you want to know if Bucino and Fiametta will make it together or not.

And for the art lovers, you get a behind-the-scenes look of the painter Titian creating his ‘Venus of Urbino’. I loved these parts!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What’s your favorite Sarah Dunant novel? I believe mine is ‘sacred hearts‘.