Clarice Orsini and Lorenzo de Medici

In the spring of 1467 Lorenzo de Medici’s mother, Lucrezia Tournabuoni, went to Rome. Using the pretext of an incognito visit to her brother, managers of the Rome branch of the Medici bank, she was actually there to sort out a bride for her son. Her choice fell on the daughter of Jacopo Monterotondo and her trip to Rome was, for all intents and purposes, so she could inspect the girl and make sure she was a suitable match for Lorenzo.

Lucrezia Tournabuoni (the elderly lady on the right) by Domenico Ghirlandaio from a fresco in the Capella Tournabuoni, Florence.
The report that Lucrezia sent back to her husband Piero is rather telling towards attitudes towards marriage at those times:
“She is fairly tall, and fair, and has a nice manner, though she is not as sweet as our girls. She is very modest and will soon learn our customs…Her face is round, but it does not displease me…We could not see her bosom as it is the custom here to wear it completely covered up, but it seems promising.”
Following a meeting between Lucrezia and Clarice’s family it was noted that she actually had “fine quality breasts
The marriage was agreed upon and negotiations dragged on for over a year. The Florentine people weren’t very happy about the match, and many believed that the Medici thought the local nobility weren’t quite good enough for them. But the Orsini family were an old, very noble family. For the first time ever, the Medici were marrying into a class above their own – the Orsini were an old, powerful family in Rome with connections to the Papacy. It was certainly a step up for the Medici. To try and calm the populace, Lorenzo’s father tried to arrange a festival to celebrate his sons betrothal but by this point Piero (nicknamed “The Gouty”) was far too ill to do anything much and so Lorenzo took charge of organising the festivities. In the end, what he organised was an absolutely spectacular affair and would set the scene for his later ostentation when he took over the reigns of power in Florence.
In March 1469, the Piazza Santa Croce was covered with sand and the square itself was surrounded with seating stands for people to watch. In essence, what Lorenzo had organised was a massive joust – a fanfare announced the 18 knights who paraded past the Queen of the Tournament. They were all dressed magnificently but none more so than Lorenzo who stole the show – he took first prize, despite the fact he had already been unseated by one of his opponents. The people of Florence went away from the celebration happy, a fact which Lorenzo learned from in organising later celebrations. The cost of the whole thing ended up costing 8000 florins however, which was 2000 florins more than Clarice’s dowry!
Lorenzo de Medici by Agnolo Bronzino
Four months later Clarice arrived in Florence for her wedding, having spent months learning new dances so she would fit in in Florence. And on Sunday 4th June she made her way to the church in Florence dressed in a white and gold gown and she rode on Lorenzo’s white horse. Following the religious ceremony, three days of feasting followed and by the end of the celebrations over 300 barrels of wine had been consumed! After the ceremony, Clarice took formal possession of her new home on the Via Larga. As she entered her new home, she was greeted by her new servants and ladies in waiting who by all accounts, weren’t too thrilled about having a foreigner take charge of the household.
After she took formal possession of her new household, she rode to the Palazzo degli Alessandri – a palace that was supposed to symbolise the home of her father.
The following day, she would have moved into the house on the Via Larga properly. And it soon became evident that Lorenzo and Clarice were a complete mismatch. Despite not being the most attractive man in the world, there was something about him that made women go weak at the knees – he spent much of his time writing love sonnets to Lucrezia Donati, and would keep sending love sonnets to other Florentine beauties. He was also said to be quite difficult to live with at times. Clarice herself was quite a frumpy woman and nowhere near akin to the famous Florentine beauties, nor was she hugely intelligent. She was also convinced of her superiority to everyone else due to her family name and she spent much of her time with a somewhat disapproving attitude towards her husband, which for the most part she tried to conceal with various levels of success. Despite this, the couple went on to have ten children, three dying in childbirth, and they ended up becoming rather good friends even if they did not fall in love with each other. Their letters to each other confirm that they were at the very least, fond of each other, and they did their best to put on an outwards show of a normal marriage, albeit a marriage of politics.
Of their ten children, Lorenzo and Clarice would go on to produce the famous Piero de Medici (the Unfortunate) who was chased from Florence by Savonarola, and the future Pope Leo X.
Further Reading

1 thought on “Clarice Orsini and Lorenzo de Medici

  1. Odd how historians have condemned Lorenzo as unattractive. Possibly because most of them were men. As a weak kneed woman I find him far more attractive than his brother Giuliano, thought the handsomest man in Florence. Giulian o was beautiful, but my knees, along with the rest of me, have never recovered from my first sight of the bust of Lorenzo by Orsino Benintendi( based on the one by Verrocchio, and said to have originally been done from life). Still in love, many decades later.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s