Another wonderful historical novel by Maggie O’Farrell.
We are in 16th century Italy, still a patchwork of Dukedoms and city states, where Lucrezia de’ Medici, the third daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora of Toledo, La Fecundissima, has been married to Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.
As the bride in this dynastic marriage, Lucrezia replaces her elder sister, Maria, following Maria’s death. Lucrezia is 13 at the time of the wedding in 1558. Three years later she is dead.
It’s wonderful and fascinating how a novelist can take such a slight array of facts and create something so rich and absorbing, and yet still so intensely personal.
Whilst it is written in a very different style from Hamnet (no tears were shed in the reading of this novel), the elaborate prose suits (Maggie O’Farrell’s) Lucrezia’s inner voice – she observes the world with an artist’s eye and experiences life and emotion in extremes, as many teenagers do – and the richness of Italian Renaissance art.
I know nothing about Robert Browning’s famous poem My Last Duchess. The Marriage Portrait does not exist; but this portrait by Alessandro Allori does:
- The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell review – a dark Renaissance fable by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (The Guardian, 26 Aug 2022)
- A Plucked Quince by Clare Bucknell (LRB Vol. 44 No. 19 · 6 October 2022)
Author page: The Marriage Portrait – Maggie O’Farrell