Tag Archives: Renaissance art

Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 5

Welcome to the fifth and final 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!

 

Epica – “Canvas of Life”

This is the song for a very important scene in chapter 24: when Simonetta goes to pose for The Birth of Venus for the first time. This song – both its sound and its lyrics – go perfectly with her initially posing for Botticelli, embracing the decision she made that she had hesitated about and agonized over before ultimately deciding to do what she wanted, no matter what anyone else might think. I listened to this song A TON while writing the book as a whole, and always while working on this scene both in drafting and in edits and revisions.

 

The Birth of Venus – Botticelli

Here it is, the painting which inspired The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence and around which the novel largely resolves. It is my favorite painting ever; I loved it long before I wrote the book and it was because it’s one of my favorites that I was so inspired to write about the woman behind it. What always astonishes me the most about this painting is how Botticelli managed to capture movement, motion, so perfectly – it’s hard to believe that the painting is standing still, as it were. The story is, of course, that Venus (or Aphrodite to the Greeks) was born fully formed out of the waves of the ocean and carried to shore in a giant shell, so that is what Botticelli is depicting here. As the Renaissance was very much inspired by the revival of Greek ideas, philosophies, and legends, we begin seeing many such themes in the artwork of the period.

As I describe in the novel’s prologue, this painting was known to have been finished around 1484 – well after Simonetta’s death. And, as I mention in the author’s note, we cannot know if Simonetta ever posed for it while she was alive, though I like to think that she did. There’s no record of the original commission of the painting, though it seems likely that it was commissioned by a minor branch of the Medici family and was for a time in the Villa di Castello, one of the Medici country houses. I changed this a bit in the novel, of course – such is the privilege of the fiction writer! Today the famous painting can be found in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence along with many other of Botticelli’s works, including what is perhaps his other most famous painting, the Primavera.

This is the last post in my Story and Song series for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. I hope you’ve enjoyed it! I’ll likely be doing similar posts for future books related to my writing soundtrack/playlists. Thanks for reading!

 

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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 🙂


Story and Song: Visual Edition, Part 3

Welcome to the third 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!

 

Stream of Passion – “Closer”

This lovely song speaks of passion, art, and connection, so it was a natural choice for the playlist of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. For me, this song fit especially perfectly with the scenes in the book when Simonetta is posing for Botticelli’s first portrait of her – the one he paints shortly after her marriage to Marco. It’s a moody and beautiful song, so it seemed to go perfectly with those moments when Simonetta is first aware that her feelings for Sandro, as she calls him, are perhaps more than just friendly, though she doesn’t yet confront them or indeed know how to deal with them.

 

Idealized Portrait of a Lady – Sandro Botticelli

This portrait, widely believed to be of Simonetta Vespucci, was not in fact painted until after her death. However, in the novel I chose to have Botticelli paint the portrait sooner, and have it be the one that Simonetta poses for. I tried to describe it as best I could in the novel. I think it really is a beautiful painting, and I think that Simonetta would have liked it very much had she seen it. So in the novel I had her react in just that way to it, and she is proud that she could contribute to the making of such a piece of artwork.


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.

 


Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 1

Welcome to my new edition of Story and Song! As some of you may recall, I did something similar for The Violinist of Venice, where I put a song from my playlist for the novel next to one of Vivaldi’s pieces that appeared in the book. For The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, I thought I’d do the same thing with one difference: since we have no classical music in this novel, each post will pair a song from the book’s playlist with one of the works of art described in the novel. I hope you enjoy!

 

Anette Olzon – “Shine”

This song fits perfectly with what is perhaps the first “big” scene in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: when Simonetta, having come to Florence to marry Marco Vespucci, goes with him to dinner at the Medici palace in chapter 7. There she meets the rest of the novel’s major players: the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano; Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, and his mother, Lucrezia; and, of course, Sandro Botticelli. This sets the stage for how the relationships between Simonetta and all these characters will progress for the rest of the novel. Before the event, she is quite nervous, knowing that she’s going to meet a lot of important people, both in her soon-to-be-husband’s life and in Florence as a whole. So this song felt perfect because it seems to me to be the little voice in Simonetta’s head telling her “Shine, and lift your head high”.

Judith and Holofernes – Donatello

This statue, of the biblical hero Judith slaying Holofernes, is sculpted in bronze by Donatello. It was commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici for the courtyard of the Medici palace in Florence, and this is where Simonetta encounters it in the novel, when Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo, shows it to her. This scene occurs in the same chapter noted above, chapter 7. It is the first conversation that Simonetta has with Lorenzo about art, something that continues throughout the novel. Simonetta is very struck by the power and beauty of the statue, and it is indeed striking. The above picture is one I took myself of the statue when I saw it in its current location: the museum of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The statue didn’t make an appearance in the first draft of the novel; I was inspired to include it after having been to Florence doing research and seeing it myself.


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.