The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

Written by Alyssa Palombo
Review by Vicki Kondelik

Simonetta Cattaneo, a young noblewoman in 15th-century Genoa, is happy to marry the Florentine Marco Vespucci and be introduced to her husband’s circle of friends, including Florence’s unofficial ruler, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and the philosophers, poets, and artists who surround him. Her golden-haired beauty immediately attracts the attention of Lorenzo’s handsome brother, Giuliano. But Simonetta prefers to be admired for her intellect, not her beauty, and she is drawn to one man in particular: the painter Sandro Botticelli, who asks her to pose for him. As he paints her portrait, the two discover they share a love of poetry and ancient philosophy. Eventually they realize they are intensely attracted to each other. But Simonetta will not betray her husband, even though he cheats on her and offers her to Giuliano as his mistress, to advance his political career. The love between Simonetta and Botticelli will eventually lead to the creation of his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo follows up her outstanding debut, The Violinist of Venice, with this stunning novel which is a reflection on beauty and how it can be a curse, as Simonetta fends off unwanted admirers. Palombo also writes compellingly of the relationship between artist and muse, as Simonetta and Botticelli struggle against their attraction to each other. Botticelli’s paintings come brilliantly to life, and Palombo makes the reader want to travel to Florence to see them. She draws you into the world of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Florence, a city that comes alive for the reader. Having recently been to Florence, I can especially appreciate her descriptions of its famous buildings such as the Duomo and Santa Croce. Simonetta, the beauty who would rather be admired for her mind, is an engaging heroine, and Palombo portrays Botticelli very sympathetically as well.