The Marriage Portrait

Maggie O'Farrell

Fiction 2022 | 352 pages


A spectacular and delightful book!  Lucrezia de'Medici, at the untenable age of 13, is married off to the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonzo.  The setting is Florence Italy, in the 1550s.  While this sounds as though it might be tepid and boring, it is neither!  This delicious, rich, textured novel, based on historical fact, is a page-turner.  I read it in two days camping (and yes, I also kayaked and hiked.)

The dashing Duke Alfonzo is intimate and caring to Lucrezia one minute, and brutally cruel the next. He has a personality that is either sociopathic, or he has dissociative identity disorder.  Lucrezia, who, in her soul, is independent, creative, and not easily controlled, sits for a court artist during the first year of your marriage, who paints her portrait according to the desires of her husband.  Hence, the marriage portrait.  She attempts to learn the role of a very young Duchess, which is challenging and seriously rubs against her own personality and values. There is vivid description of the servants who serve her, and how they endear themselves to her.

Life in court is described with detail and pizazz, but it is not the center of this novel. The center is Lucrezia and her personality. The 1550’s was not a good time to be a woman – there are not many options open to women.  O’Farrell’s depiction of Lucrezia is deep and detailed.  You gain a great sense of life in Renaissance Florence, and the difficult prescribed roles played by both women and men, as well as Lucrezia herself.

I definitely recommend this book as an engaging read.

July 2023

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