Tag Archives: Italy

The Inspiration Behind The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

Perhaps the question that authors get asked the most is, “How did you come up with the idea for this book?” Inspiration comes in all kinds of ways – for instance, the idea for The Violinist of Venice came to me in a dream, out of the blue. With The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, though, the process was rather different and more gradual.

I can’t remember for certain, but I believe it was when I went to Italy the first time – when I was researching The Violinist of Venice – that I first heard of Simonetta Vespucci, as I also went to Florence on that same trip as well. All I had, initially, were scraps of information (and as I would find when researching the novel, there wasn’t much more than scraps to be had): that she was supposed to be the woman in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, and that she had also supposedly been the mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici. I filed this away as a potential novel idea – something about her relationship with both Botticelli and Giuliano. When I got back from Italy, I found the idea had stuck with me, and so I poked around online and in the library to try to find out more about her.

One of the first things I found in my preliminary Google searching was that Botticelli had been so in love with Simonetta that he had asked to be buried at her feet when he died – AND HE ACTUALLY WAS. This COMPLETELY changed the novel idea that I thought I had. I no longer really cared about exploring whatever relationship Simonetta may have had with Giuliano (and the historical record is not certain on that score) and was instead interested in exploring the possible relationship that may have existed between her and Botticelli. Did not the fact that he was buried at her feet suggest more than a simple-artist muse relationship?

I certainly thought so, and still do think so, though we will never know the truth of their relationship for sure. What I did know was that this would make a stellar story, and was the perfect premise for a historical novel that I wanted to write. Yet with all that said, at this time I was working on my final revision for The Violinist of Venice before I was ready to start querying, and so I was in no position to start a new novel just yet. Even after Violinist was being queried and was later on submission with publishing houses I didn’t start writing my Renaissance Florence story, though I was playing around with some other ideas. For whatever reason, it just didn’t feel like the time was right. I also knew that I would want to go back to Florence to do some further research for it, so the timing would need to be right for that too, both personally and financially.

What I did do almost immediately, though, was write the last two lines of the book. I typed them out in a note on my phone, which I still have. They’re maybe my favorite lines in the book, and they have not changed through all the rounds of revisions since. I would share them here with you, but that would give away the ending 🙂 So you’ll just have to read the book when it comes out to see them!

Then Violinist sold, and not only that, but I was offered a two-book deal with St. Martin’s, which I obviously accepted. As I talked about at the time in my post on second-book syndrome, this sent me into a bit of a panic. What to write next? What could I write next that my publisher would love as much as Violinist? And hey, what about the fact that I had been (partially) paid for a book I hadn’t written yet?

At first, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my second book. None of the ideas I’d been playing around with while Violinist were on submission were really grabbing me; they just didn’t feel developed enough yet to be my next published book. So I dug out my idea about Simonetta and Sandro and thought, hmmm, maybe this is the time for this idea. I wrote some initial pages that seemed to go well and shared them with my agent, who liked what I had done. I had a phone call with my editor, where I described a basic outline of the idea, and she gave her blessing.

There was lots of struggle in writing The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, which you can read about here and here and also here. But I pushed through it, and as a result have a book that I’m perhaps even more proud of. As I mentioned above, researching the book was rather frustrating at times because we have only the barest facts about Simonetta’s life, and even a few of those are in dispute or uncertain. Yet this also gave me a lot of freedom as a fiction writer: I took those few facts and built a framework on which I could speculate and write scenes of my own invention. And I did get to go back to Florence for research, and saw a lot of the locations where the story takes place, and also the artwork that figures into it (I actually added even MORE artwork into it after visiting Florence again).

Aside from all the second-book syndrome stuff, in hindsight, what I now realize is that when I initially started drafting The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, I had a good story, but I wasn’t hearing Simonetta’s voice yet. I realized the exact moment when her voice finally broke through, when I finally began to hear it and felt like I really knew her as a character, and then it became much easier.


The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – cover reveal!

I am so excited and thrilled to be able to reveal the cover for my second historical novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, out 4/25/17 from St. Martin’s Griffin. Like with The Violinist of Venice, I was having a hard time visualizing what the cover for this book might look like, and once again the creative team at St. Martin’s absolutely went above and beyond and gave me a cover that is just perfect and is everything that I didn’t know I wanted.

Without further ado, here it is!

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There are so many things I love about this cover. The first is the pink color scheme. My notes in my notebook for this novel were all color-coded pink, so it’s very fitting that that’s the color scheme here. I also love how the woman looks just like the real Simonetta Vespucci (whom you can see if you take a look at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus). The angle of her face/head also reminds me of another Botticelli portrait of her, one that she poses for in the novel. Finally, I love the panoramic image of Florence at the bottom – it’s a beautiful city, and this picture really captures that, as well as capturing its dominant feature, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo) with Filippo Brunelleschi’s amazing, enormous dome. This same vista can be seen by climbing up to the Piazzale Michelangelo in the hills overlooking the city, which I did when I was in Florence researching this novel. So to have that image on the cover is really wonderful.

I hope you all love this cover as much as I do! Please let me know what you think. And I just can’t wait for this book to be out in the world for you all to read it.

Below is the synopsis of the novel.

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo will never want for marriage proposals in 15th century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Florentine Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome, well-educated, and shares her longtime love of reading. 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 new home, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a dangerously passionate artist and muse relationship, which will lead to her ultimately being immortalized in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a story of love and tragedy, of passion and humor, and ultimately, of what happens when love finds us when we least expect it.


The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – release date and synopsis!

I have some exciting news today about my forthcoming second book with St. Martin’s Press, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. The novel will be released in the U.S. on April 25, 2017!

Also, below check out the synopsis to learn some more about the book!

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo will never want for marriage proposals in 15th century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Florentine Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome, well-educated, and shares her longtime love of reading. 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 new home, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a dangerously passionate artist and muse relationship, which will lead to her ultimately being immortalized in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a story of love and tragedy, of passion and humor, and ultimately, of what happens when love finds us when we least expect it.

I am SO EXCITED for this book to make its way into the world for everyone to read. I hope you will all enjoy it when you do get the chance to read it!

I have seen the cover for this book as well, and hope to be able to reveal it soon – it is absolutely GORGEOUS and just perfect for the book, and I’m sure you all will love it as much as I do!

Stay tuned for more fun book 2 things coming soon!


An Ode to Venice: Santa Maria della Salute

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my fourth An Ode to Venice post, I’ll be talking about one of Venice’s many landmarks, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

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I mentioned the Salute in my post about the Grand Canal and the Accademia Bridge – it is the massive, domed church that sits at the entrance to the Grand Canal. For as large and imposing as its Baroque exterior is, though, inside it is surprisingly small and simple.

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The church’s name translates to St. Mary of Health, and was built in thanksgiving for the majority of Venice’s population being spared from a bout of plague in the 1630s. It was designed by the architect Baldassare Longhena, and was completed in 1687.

In The Violinist of Venice, Adriana comes here to pray and clear her head after something upsetting happens (I won’t give anything more away than that). It is a place of solace for her, as before her mother died she would bring Adriana to the basilica to pray. She is accompanied by Giuseppe, her servant and friend, and they have a conversation and brief argument.

This same scene originally took place in Piazza San Marco, where Adriana and Giuseppe take a turn about the square, and but I had to change the location upon learning about Venice’s tides and acqua alta, and realizing that at that time of the day in December (which is when that scene takes place) Piazza San Marco would be completely flooded. So I moved the scene into Santa Maria della Salute, which I had visited while in Venice and thought was so beautiful that I had to work it into the book somewhere. It was also fitting that Adriana would want to pray and reflect at that point in the story, so it was the perfect location.

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An Ode to Venice: Piazza San Marco

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my third An Ode to Venice post – which I know has been a long time coming! – I’ll be talking about what is arguably the center of Venice, Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square.

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One of Venice’s most recognizable and famous landmarks, Piazza San Marco was called at one time “the most elegant drawing room in Europe”. In many ways the center of public life in Venice, this largest public square in the city was where people congregated to meet one another, to do business, and for civic and religious holidays, among other things. The picture above was taken from the balcony of the Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the square, along with its campanile or bell tower.

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Just to the right of the Basilica one can see a corner of the massive Doge’s Palace, the home of Venice’s elected duke as well as the seat of Venice’s government: the palace, which faces the lagoon, also houses the chambers where meetings of the Grand Council, the Senate, and the mysterious Council of Ten took place in Venice’s heyday as an oligarchic republic.

During the seasonal flooding – caused by tides – that Venetians call acqua alta (literally “high water”), the square can be under several feet of water – including the floor of the Basilica and other nearby buildings. The acqua alta typically occurs most often in the winter, though it can happen at other times of the year as well based on the weather. The first time I went to Venice (in mid-May), there had been a big thunderstorm with heavy rain the day before, and the square had flooded. By the time I got there, there were still some big puddles, but nothing extreme.

Today the Piazza San Marco is perhaps Venice’s most densely populated tourist site. Just as it was once where native Venetians would congregate, today it is something of “home base” for tourists, as it contains many of the city’s biggest attractions. There are vendors selling souvenirs every few feet, and cafes rings the piazza’s edges, including the famous Caffe Florian, one of the world’s oldest caffes. In its day it was a hangout for the likes of Giacomo Casanova, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. The coffee and food is ridiculously expensive, but it’s worth the experience, in my opinion.

How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: Piazza San Marco is where Adriana and Vivaldi go for Carnevale entertainments in chapter 25, and indeed the square was host to numerous festivities during Venice’s annual Carnevale, when the populace went about in masks for months at a time, parties happened in every house and on every corner, and all sorts of scandalous and debauched behavior occurred. Later in the novel Adriana returns there with her friends for Carnevale again, at a very different time in her life.

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An Ode to Venice: The Rialto Bridge

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my second An Ode to Venice post, I am highlighting one of the landmarks of the city, the Rialto bridge.

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The Rialto Bridge (or Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest of the bridges that span the Grand Canal. Today it is usually mobbed with tourists walking across it, posing for pictures on it, and taking pictures of the view of the Grand Canal from the bridge (and it is a pretty nice view):

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Two rows of shops run up the center of the bridge, mostly souvenir and glass shops.

The Rialto area is one of the oldest sections in Venice, and was the site of the original food market, which necessitated the building of the first bridge on the site, a wooden one built in 1255. As Venice grew as a mercantile power, the Rialto district became the center of commerce and trade in the city as well. The current stone bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte and was completed in 1591.

Like much of Venice’s magnificent – and old – architecture, maintenance and restoration is conducted on the Rialto bridge. On my visit there this past May, half of it was covered in scaffolding as such maintenance took place. It’s a bummer not to be able to fully see such a wonderful structure – and I was especially disappointed for my father, who had never been to Venice before and was seeing it that way for the first time – but of course, whatever has to be done to preserve such wonderful pieces of our history should be done where possible, in my opinion!

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How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: During the time that the novel takes place, the Rialto was the only bridge that crossed the Grand Canal, thus my characters would have been using it a lot. The bridge and the surrounding economic/market district are mentioned a few times throughout the book. And the first time I visited it, as I walked across it I was vividly aware of the fact that Antonio Vivaldi would have walked just where I was walking. It was a very cool feeling.


An Ode to Venice: The Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

This post is the first in a new series I’ll be doing, called An Ode to Venice. In it, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

The subject of my first An Ode to Venice post is none other than my very favorite spot in the entire world: the view of the Grand Canal and lagoon from the Accademia bridge (or Ponte dell’Accademia).

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The first time I walked across the Accademia bridge – one of the four bridges which spans the Grand Canal – I fell in love at first sight. It was the most beautiful view I had ever seen, or have ever seen to this day. The pictures don’t really do it justice; if you’ve never been, someday you have to go and see it for yourself. Like most of the gorgeous views in Venice, I could just stand here and look at it all day. I have a canvas print of a picture of this view – taken by a professional photographer who was in my tour group the first time I went to Italy – that hangs over my writing desk. It’s like having a window into my favorite place on earth, and has definitely provided a lot of inspiration for me!

This view looks towards the mouth of the Grand Canal, where it feeds into the lagoon. Dominating the entrance to the Grand Canal is the church of Santa Maria della Salute – Our Lady of Health – built by the Venetians in thanksgiving for being spared from a bout of the plague in the 1600s. But more about Santa Maria della Salute in another post 🙂

When I went back to Venice earlier this year, this was, of course, my first stop after checking into my hotel. I stood right at the very top of the bridge and, under my breath, sang a part of my very favorite song – Nightwish’s “Shudder Before the Beautiful” – because it so perfectly summed up how I was feeling in that very moment: “We are shuddering before the beautiful/Before the plentiful/We, the voyagers.”

For dinner on my last night in Venice this past spring, I scored a seat at what is probably the best table in the whole city: right at the base of the Accademia bridge, facing my favorite view:

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The view from the other side of the bridge isn’t bad either!

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How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: Well, it doesn’t 🙂 The first Accademia bridge wasn’t built until 1854, over 100 years after the events of The Violinist of Venice. The original structure was steel, and it was demolished and replaced by a wooden bridge in 1933. This second bridge was also eventually razed due to safety concerns, and the current bridge (also wooden) was built in 1985.

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