Tag Archives: Florence

An Ode to Florence: The Church of the Ognissanti

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

 

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The Church of the Ognissanti – or Church of All Saints – sits facing the river Arno in Florence, right across from the riverbank. The Franciscan church was originally built in the 13th century but has since been remodeled. It was the parish church of the Vespucci family, the family into which Simonetta Cattaneo married.

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In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Simonetta mentions attending Mass in this church with her husband and his family; they lived not far. Also in the neighborhood was Sandro Botticelli’s workshop.

Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci and Sandro Botticelli are both buried in this church. Botticelli asked to be buried at Simonetta’s feet when he died, and his wish was granted. This was the detail that truly inspired me to write The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

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The above shows the area where Simonetta Vespucci is interred.

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Just a few feet away is the grave of Sandro Botticelli, pictured above. People regularly leave flowers, letters, and notes on his grave. It was a very moving experience for me to visit the burial sites of my two main characters. I asked for their blessing, and can only hope that my novel did them justice.

This concludes my An Ode to Florence series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along and that you’ve learned some things you didn’t know before! I highly recommend visiting Florence in person if you are able at any point in your life.


An Ode to Florence: Piazza Santa Croce

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

Piazza Santa Croce is named after the Basilica di Santa Croce, which towers over the square at one end, as seen above. The Franciscan church is perhaps best known as the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, among others. Today the square is also home to shops, stalls selling souvenirs and leather goods, and restaurants and cafes.

In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, the square is the site of a joust arranged by the Medici family in which Giuliano de’ Medici (to no one’s surprise) wins the day. At the joust, Giuliano carries a banner depicting Simonetta Vespucci as Athena, painted by Botticelli. He asked for her favor and named her the “Queen of Beauty” at the tournament. This event, which appears in chapters 30 and 31 of the novel, actually took place and is a matter of historical record. The historical record does not tell us, however, how Simonetta reacted to being so honored, so you’ll have to read the novel (if you haven’t already) to see how I imagined her reaction 🙂

When you visit the square today (or just look at these pictures) you’ll have to imagine it with banners and pennants festooning the buildings, stands erected on either side, and the lists in the middle. The joust that day was apparently quite the spectacle!


An Ode to Florence: The Ponte Vecchio

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

The Ponte Vecchio (literally “Old Bridge” in English) doesn’t figure too much into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence (Simonetta sees it and mentions it in passing once or twice), but as it’s one of the most famous landmarks of Florence, I had to include it in my blog series!

The Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River, and is lined with shops on both sides. Starting in the 13th century, the shops on the bridge were of all sorts: butchers, fishmongers, tanners, etc. Many years later, however, it was decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have shops on the bridge, to both show off the wealth and fine goods of the city and also eliminate the foul odors and waste that the butchers and tanners and such generated from such a well-traveled walkway. To this day, the shops on the bridge consist of fine jewelry stores and it is always a fairly crowded tourist attraction.

Running above all the shops is the Vasari Corridor. Built in 1565, this “secret” passage that connects the Pitti Palace – home of the Medici grand dukes – with the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. This way the Medici could get to their offices without having to walk among the common people.

The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated from the city in August of 1944. The rest of the city’s bridges were blown up and later rebuilt in their original spots after the war.

The Ponte Vecchio at night, viewed from one of the nearby bridges, makes an excellent sight as you’re enjoying a post-dinner gelato 🙂


Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story and Song: Visual Art Edition. Each post will feature a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and a piece of artwork that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

In This Moment – “Dirty Pretty”

This song, as you’ll hear if you listen to it, is dark and heavy and gritty. The lyrics talk about a woman being objectified, and how she wants to rise above that. This song was a no-brainer on the playlist for Simonetta’s story. As those of you who have read The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence will know, at times Simonetta is flattered by the attention she gets because of her looks and enjoys it, and at other she finds it ridiculous and even threatening. I felt this was a realistic way for her to interact with her beauty and that kind of attention. This song goes with chapter 32, in which Marco tries to trade on his wife’s beauty in a way that she is not at all okay with, and she lets him know. She feels angry and ashamed and dirty, even though she herself didn’t do anything wrong, and upset at how people see her. So she stands up for herself. I always imagined her walking away from Marco at the end of her argument with some of the lyrics from this song in her head: “I won’t close my eyes/Like you want me to/I am wild and free/I am untameable/And more than you’ll ever see/More than just your dirty pretty”.

 

Adoration of the Magi – Botticelli

In the novel, Botticelli at one point mentions that he is working on this painting, a commission for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and in fact that is just where it was really painted for. In chapter 34, Simonetta goes to the church to see it, and recognizes some familiar figures. In what was a common practice at the time, Botticelli included his patrons in the painting: the man in the red cloak kneeling in the center is Piero de’ Medici, father of Lorenzo and Giuliano; the man in darker red at the far left edge is Giuliano de’ Medici, and the man in black to the right of Piero is Lorenzo de’ Medici. The Medici were particular fans of the Adoration of the Magi motif – the private chapel in their palazzo has a fresco of the same theme, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli – because they were the only rich men in the Bible who made it into heaven. A fitting choice for a family of fabulously wealthy and at times ruthless bankers.

And finally – as Simonetta recognizes in the novel when she goes to see the painting – the figure in yellow at the far right edge of the painting, looking back at the viewer, is a self-portrait of Sandro Botticelli himself. Artists often painted self-portraits into scenes like this, and in Renaissance art you can always tell which one is the artist because he will be looking directly out of the painting and at the viewer.

This painting hangs today in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and I saw it in person when I visited doing research for the novel. Of course, I made sure to say hi to Botticelli 🙂


An Ode to Florence: The Medici Palace

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

Properly known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi (after the family that built it and the family that owned it later and added to it, respectively) this is the palace where Simonetta attends parties and dinners given by the Medici family throughout the novel. It is where she first meets Lorenzo, Clarice, and of course, Sandro Botticelli, and is also where her marriage takes place.

The first Renaissance building in Florence, construction on the palace began in 1444 by Cosimo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent’s grandfather) and was completed in 1460. It’s located just down the street from the Duomo on the Via Cavour, though at the time the street was called the Via Larga. The intention of the building was likely to convey power, wealth, and strength, and no doubt the facade communicates that message very well.

 

Above is the courtyard, where Donatello’s statue of David originally stood. It is one of the first things Simonetta sees in the novel upon entering, and it is her first glimpse of the beautiful artwork that the Medici family surround themselves with. Lorenzo’s office also originally stood off to the right of this courtyard.

This is the garden of the palace, just past the courtyard. This is where Donatello’s statue of Judith originally stood, which Simonetta also views in the novel. And this garden is the setting for the first dinner Simonetta attends at the palace, and where she meets the rest of the novel’s major players.

This room (which was undergoing some renovations while I was there) is from Lorenzo’s time (some of the rooms that are open to the public were added later). This is the room where I pictured the unveiling of Simonetta’s portrait taking place.

Above are some images of the (tiny) palace chapel, where Simonetta’s wedding service to Marco Vespucci takes place in the book. It’s a very small space on the second floor of the palace, but the frescoes are amazing.

I was initially a bit disappointed when I visited that many of the rooms from Lorenzo’s time weren’t open to the public (parts of the building are in use as a municipal building) but I was able to take what I saw and make it work for the novel. It’s a very cool building, and if you are ever in Florence I would encourage you not to miss it!


An Ode to Florence: Santa Maria del Fiore, aka the Duomo

Similar to my An Ode to Venice series, in my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

 

Easily Florence’s most well-known and recognizable landmark is its cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers) or, as it is more commonly known, the Duomo. Despite what you may think, Duomo does not mean “dome” in Italian, but rather “cathedral”.

Construction began on the Duomo in 1296, and by 1380 the building was mostly complete, save for its massive and distinctive dome – for years there was simply a giant hole in the ceiling. Then, in 1420, architect Filippo Brunelleschi came along and was able to design and begin construction on the dome. It was completed in 1436. Even after its completion, many Florentines believed that something so massive simply could not stand and were constantly expecting the dome to collapse.

 

In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Simonetta attends Mass in the Duomo and marvels at the great and terrifying fresco on the inside of the dome, a depiction of the end of days:

 

As she grows accustomed to her life in Florence, she also learns to navigate in the city by the great dome: something that visitors today, myself included, still do, as the dome is visible from almost anywhere in the city.

Today, not only can you go into the Duomo itself, but you can also climb the stairs to the top of the dome. At 400+ stairs (no elevator) and some pretty tight stairways, it’s not for everyone, but you get a wonderful up-close look at that fresco on the way up, and once you get to the top the view of Florence is unparalleled.


Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story and Song: Visual Art Edition. Each post will feature a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and a piece of artwork that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

 

Serenity – “The Perfect Woman”

This song, from Serenity’s concept album Codex Atlanticus about Leonardo da Vinci, nevertheless fits in PERFECTLY with the Simonetta and Sandro’s story. It’s about an artist who is consumed with the painting that he is working on, and about the woman who is the muse helping him bring the work to life. It could have been written for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, honestly. It exactly captures the relationship and atmosphere between Simonetta and Sandro as she poses for his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

 

Return of Judith to Bethulia and The Discovery of the Body of Holofernes – Sandro Botticelli

  

The two paintings above are a set painted by Botticelli around the time The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence begins and were at one point in the possession of the Medici family. In the novel, I have Lorenzo de’ Medici displaying them with the Donatello statue of Judith that I mentioned in my previous Story and Song post. They are the first example of Botticelli’s work that Simonetta encounters, and she is fascinated by them, before she meets the artist himself. Judith, for those unfamiliar with the story, was a Jewish widow who sneaked into the tent of enemy general Holofernes the night before he was to attack her town and seduced him. Then, while he slept, she cut off his head (and took it with her), thus saving her people. It’s a powerful story about a woman who takes power into her own hands, and so the equally powerful and striking depictions of her that Simonetta sees are both awe-inspiring and simply inspiring to her.

These two (small) panels are both in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence today.