Simonetta Vespucci – The Florentine Beauty.


Portrait of a woman, said to be Simonetta Vespucci, by Piero de Cosimo.

Simonetta Vespucci is a name commonly associated with both the Medici family of Florence and the artist Sandro Botticelli. For years, people have believed that Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” is actually a painting of Florence’s most beautiful woman – she was said to have stunned Botticelli with her beauty which is why the same face pops up over and over again in his paintings. These days many art historians say that this is actually because Botticelli’s workers (is that the word for them?) actually painted them based on the portrait of the ideal woman – whether or not that’s the case, I quite like the idea that the artist was so taken with her beauty that he wanted to get her in as many of his paintings as possible.


Birth of Venus detail. Photo by me.


Could this be Simonetta Vespucci? Detail of Boticelli. Photo by me

But who was Simonetta Vespucci, and what was it about her that seemed to have the people of Florence either wanting to BE her or to BE WITH her?

Simonetta was born in the mid 1450’s to Gaspare Cattaneo and Cattochia Spinola although her exact place of birth is unknown. Some say she was born in Genoa whilst others say that she was born in Portovenere, where Venus herself appeared from the waves – this may be due to the belief that she was indeed the model for Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. But wherever she was born, at the age of around sixteen she was married to Marco Vespucci and the two moved to Florence.

It wouldn’t be long until the young woman caught the eye of the Florentine populace – she particularly caught the eye of both Giuliano de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent’s ill fated younger brother) as well as many local artists including Botticelli. In the January of 1475, Giuliano held a joust in the Piazza Santa Croce which he dedicated to her. For his banner he carried a painting of the beautiful young woman painted by none other than Sandro Botticelli himself. When Giuliano won the tournament, Simonetta was crowned Queen of the Joust. It is said that Simonetta became Giuliano’s mistress, although given the fact that Marco Vespucci was close to the Medici family it seems somewhat unlikely that the two had a sexual relationship.

Just one year later, however, tragedy struck during the Spring of 1476. Simonetta Vespucci was struck down with a life threatening illness. Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was in Pisa at the time, insisted on receiving daily updates about the state of her health and sent his own personal physicians to her when he found out her health was on the decline. But his efforts came to little and the great Florentine beauty passed away on April 26th. It is said that the entire city was struck down in grief at her passing. Following her death, Simonetta’s father in law sent Giuliano some of the gowns that she had worn – a sign of just how much the young Medici felt about her, perhaps?

It was a sad end for a young woman cut down in the prime of her youth and beauty. Her open coffin was paraded through the streets of Florence for the populace to be able to see her beauty for one last time. She was buried in the Church of Ognissanti, the parish Church of the Vespucci and perhaps somewhat tellingly, Sandro Botticelli requested to be buried there upon his death.

Further reading

Miles J Unger – Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici

Claudio Angelini – The Mystery of Simonetta

Christopher Hibbert – Florence: The Biography of a City

Christopher Hibbert – The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici

Paul Strathern – The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance


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The History of the Borgias is now LIVE


The History of the Borgias is now LIVE over on

Interested? For just $20 you can get LIFETIME access to this nine unit course on Italy’s most infamous family. Head on over to and check it out! I had loads of fun doing this and hope you guys enjoy learning about a period of history that is so incredibly fascinating.

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Coming Soon: An Online Course on the Borgia Family.


I’m very pleased to announce that I will be leading a course on “The history of the Borgias” over on and it will be starting very soon!

Keep an eye out for more information over on medievalcourses, their facebook page and of course right here on the blog!

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The One Million Step Challenge


Today’s post isn’t history related at all, but please indulge me for a moment.

As many of you know, I suffer from Type 1 Diabetes. I can clearly remember the day I was diagnosed – I was at school and we were watching Oliver Twist. All of a sudden I felt seriously unwell, worse than I’d been feeling for the past few weeks (honestly, I’d felt so poorly for weeks) and next thing I know, I’m projectile vomiting all over my classmates. My Nana came to pick me up from school and then she and my Mum took me to the Doctor – he took one look at me, curled up on the bench in the waiting room – and told Mum and Nana to get me to the hospital straight away. His own daughter had Type 1 so he knew what he was seeing. Whilst I was in A&E I remember asking for chicken soup – chicken soup fixes everything when you’re ill – and they put a drip in my arm, telling me it was chicken soup. In fact it was insulin – and that stopped me from losing my life. Because the reality is, if I hadn’t gone to hospital that day then the likelihood is that I wouldn’t be here right now. That was 21 years ago – like nearly every Type 1 diabetic I went through a phase of rebellion. I wanted to be normal, so I stopped testing my sugars and taking my insulin just so I could be like my friends. I know now that those years, mainly my years at uni, were full of stupidity. I wasn’t looking after myself because I wanted to be like everyone else. These days, though, I look after myself. I test my blood sugars and wear an insulin pump. My years of rebellion have led to some complications but I get on with things. Diabetes is a part of me. And I’ve learned over the past 21 years that although it’s with me 24/7, 365 days a year, it doesn’t control me. I control it.

So when I was browsing Facebook the other day, I saw a post by Diabetes UK about the 1 Million Step Challenge and I immediately signed up for it. Diabetes UK is a fantastic charity that gives help and support to those with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes – they also offer help and support to families. I remember back when they were the British Diabetic Association, we held a charity event for them which did really well (until the guy who did the music demanded a really high fee!). This charity gives the help and support that sufferers need – for them, there is no distinction about what type is the worst type of diabetes. Instead they help everyone. Instead they raise money to research treatments for this awful chronic illness.

Between 1st July and 30th September I will be walking ONE MILLION steps to raise money for Diabetes UK. This works out as over 10,000 steps every single day for three whole months – and it’s all for charity. If you can sponsor me for this epic challenge, I’d be so grateful. Please dig deep, every little helps.

If you’d like to sponsor me, you can do so at my JustGiving page.

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Florence Day 4 – Santa Maria Novella & Homeward Bound

It was with a heavy heart that we woke up early on 12 May and got our packing done. We had to be checked out of the apartment by 10am and given as our flight wasn’t until 6.15pm, we had a lot of time so kill. So we decided we would head to Santa Maria Novella for the morning, before catching the train to Pisa airport.

Unfortunately for us, our Firenze Card’s had expired by the time we got to Santa Maria Novella, but given as the entrance fee was only 5 euros we couldn’t really complain – especially not when we walked in and saw the size of the place. Historically, it was the first great basilica to be built in Florence, right above an old dominican Church also named Santa Maria. The ‘Novella’ actually means new.

One of the first things you see upon walking in is Giotto’s beautiful crucifix.


Giotto’s crucifix, Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me.


Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me


Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me


Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me


Jesus in a box, Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me


Beautiful frescoes in Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me.


Gorgeous stained glass windows, Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me

A walk around the complex took us through some utterly stunning cloisters and chapels – even through a chapel of the dead where I found a person with the last name Moris and, for anyone interested in the Assassins Creed series, Auditore da Firenze!


Cloisters, Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me.


Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me.


Information on the Cloister of the Dead. Photo by me


Cloister of the Dead. Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me.


Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me


Cloister of the Dead. Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me


Detail of a grave on the floor of the Chapter House, Santa Maria Novella. Photo by me

The basilica also houses a sweet little museum absolutely stuffed full of artefacts relating to Santa Maria Novella.

Following on from our pleasant few hours wandering around this beautiful Church we headed for some lunch and ended up grabbing a lovely gelato from a gelateria in the piazza. Unfortunately there was a rather pushy man wandering about trying to force his wares upon people – I’ll only say that his sales pitch is terrible and I’d be surprised if he made any money whatsoever!

Then it was time to get on the train and head to the airport before heading home, faced with delays at the airport and the world’s most expensive beer. We had an absolutely amazing time in Florence and it’s somewhere I will most definitely visit again. In fact, I can see us retiring to a lovely little villa in the Tuscan countryside one day.

We can only dream eh?

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