The Marriage Portrait

by Maggie O'Farrell

£9.99

Fiction; Art

Paperback

9781472223883

Published by Headline Publishing Group

Published July 2023

Books > Fiction > Staff Picks

‘I thought I had made myself clear,’ Alfonso murmurs, barely opening his lips. ‘I want something that conveys her… how to put this… her majesty, her bloodline. Do you understand? She is no ordinary mortal: treat her thus. Ensure, please, that the portrait reflects that, above anything else. I want everyone who looks upon this to know instantly what she is: regal, refined, untouchable.’

Florence, the 1560s.  Lucrezia, third daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and to devote herself to her own artistic pursuits.  But when her older sister dies on the eve of marriage to Alfonso d’Este, ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father to accept on her behalf.

Having barely left girlhood behind, Lucrezia must now make her way in a troubled court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her husband himself, Alfonso.  Is he the playful sophisticate her appears before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble?

As Lucrezia sits in uncomfortable finery for the painting which is to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear.  In the court’s eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferrarese dynasty.  Until then, for all of her rank and nobility, the new duchess’s future hangs entirely in the balance.

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