Simonetta Vespucci (1453-1476), “la bella Simonetta”, was the most beautiful woman in Florence, Italy in her day. She was so beautiful that men were still painting her more than 20 years after her death. She is the woman you keep seeing over and over again in Botticelli’s paintings, like the “Birth of Venus”.
Botticelli painted her as the Virgin Mary, Venus and Athena. Piero di Cosimo painted her as Cleopatra and Procris. Poliziano and Lorenzo the Magnificent wrote about her in verse – as did Gabriele d’Annunzio in our own age. Many other poets and painters honoured her as well with their works. You can see her today on some of the money in Europe.
She had brown eyes, white skin and long, flowing dark yellow hair. She had what in those days was considered to be a perfect figure.
In Botticelli’s paintings she looks a bit sad, but also like she is in a dream.
Lorenzo the Magnificent read her look differently: that she was not just beautiful on the outside but had a beautiful soul too: she was serious, never had an unjust feeling, was not proud or stuck on herself and had an excellent mind. She walked and danced with grace, a sign of the inner balance of her soul.
She was the perfect Renaissance woman.
She was born in either Genoa or Portovenere, the place where they say Venus arrived in Italy. At 15 she married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is named. Her husband brought her to Florence, the city ruled by the Medicis. Because her father-in-law was an important man there, the Medicis soon came to know her.
Two Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, fell in love with her. Lorenzo was too busy with affairs of state, but Giuliano pursued her.
At the La Giostra games in 1475 Giuliano rode into battle under a flag with her picture on it and the French words “La Sans Pareille” – the woman without parallel. Botticelli had made the flag. At the games she was named the “Queen of Beauty”.
Some say that Giuliano won her heart that day and they became lovers. Others say that she refused him.
A year later, at the age of 23, she became very sick and was coughing up blood: she had tuberculosis.
There is a strange story that Giuliano tried to keep her alive as a vampire: better that than to see her die. In that story she becomes a vampire and hides in the tower overlooking the main square. When she is cornered she jumps to her death.
In any case she died that spring. At her funeral thousands followed her body to its grave.
It seems that Botticelli had fallen in love with her too: after he first saw her, she was the only woman he ever painted, even after her death. He never married and was laid to rest at her feet.
– Abagond, 2007.