Review: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

Saturday, April 22, 2017
Title: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence
Author: Alyssa Palombo
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: expected April 25 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. 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 place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a fantastic historical fiction rendition of the rich life of one of Florence's most celebrated women, the educated and vibrant young woman who inspired one of the Renaissance's most renowned artists. Simonetta Cattaneo (later Vespucci) left her mark not only on art and history, but also on the men and women in her life, from the powerful to the poor. Though she is remembered for her early and tragic death as much as for her influence as an artistic muse, in Alyssa Palombo's second novel Simonetta comes vibrantly to life.

Alyssa Palombo's novel retells the daily life and loves of Simonetta through her years in Florence, inventing and substantiating where history is unclear or when necessary to connect the various dots. The careful approach the author took to interpreting the known parts of Simonetta's history with her own inventions to facilitate the plot in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is both smart and helps create an authentic representation. Her version of Simonetta is a believable product of her times and still understandable and relateable; confined by strictures of society and marriage, Simonetta never ceases demanding respect and her due. With the small amount of choice left to her before and after her wedding, Palombo's slow building of the star-crossed relationship between Boticelli and Simonetta feels like a small window of freedom, rather than a sin.

Though Simonetta is a well-drawn, three-dimensional and the main character, she shares the stage in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. The city of Florence itself looms large over the story and the characters. Its history and politics, its atmosphere  - all of that is omnipresent and unique and almost tangible. Palombo describes her Italian city-state with detail and a talent for visual imagery; a city on the rise with the ideas of rebirth and art and faith is easy to envision under her pen. The powerful Medici family, ever-associated with Florence and its art, are also key players in many of the dramatic moments of Simonetta's personal life. Both Lorenzo and Giuliano are historically linked to her, as is their associate Sandro Botticelli. The romance between Sandro and Simonetta is emotionally rich and devastating. 

This novel was so good it made me immediately go buy the author's debut about Vivaldi, The Violinist of Venice. With her keen eye for detail, fantastic historical characters, obvious knowledge and research about the time and place and people concerned, Alyssa Palombo is able to faithfully recreate and invigorate the life of a fascinating woman. The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is evocative and entertaining in equal parts; sure to please fans of other Italian-centric historical fiction writers like Sarah Dunant and Marina Fiorato.


  1. I've had both of her books on my TBR because of their covers and subject matter, but you make this sound so magical and like everything I adore about historical fiction! I was obsessed with Renaissance Italy for so long, art history in particular, and still am in some ways. And I LOVE Florence! You write the most eloquent reviews, so glad to know this is a Jessie book which means I'll probably love it too :)

    1. I am guilty of the same -- which is why I was so excited to get approved on NG, lol.
      And thank you Morgan!! That made my day, lol. And yes, I do think is a Morgan book, too. :) <3


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