Art History, Who was/is

Who was Simonetta Vespucci?

Simonetta Vespucci or la bella Simonetta, as she was called, was an Italian noblewoman born in Genoa. She was known as the greatest beauty of her time in Northern Italy and she was the muse and the model during the Renaissance. Being portrayed by many famous painters such as Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo and other Florentine artists.

Portrait of a young woman also known as Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as a Nymph by Botticelli 1480s

If we would compare Simonetta Vespucci’s fame to someone closer to our own time, trying to understand the real meaning of what she was then, we probably must think on someone like a super model of the 1990s or Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s.

In 1469, Florence was in its golden age, the Medici’s family ruled the city, of course not openly. Their power and banking were used to surround the family with the finest artists, poets, philosophers and intellectuals of the time. These men are the responsible for creating the cannon of beauty of their time, deciding the rules of the perfect beauty in a woman. And when Simonetta Vespucci arrived in Florence, they agreed that she was the incarnation of these rules.

Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci by Piero di Cosimo, c.1490

One of these artists was Sandro Botticelli, and according to some art historians he fell in love with Simonetta who posed for him very often. She was his muse and model who appears in many of his masterpieces. Even though she was married, the legend says that several noblemen were in love with her, even Giuliano Medici (the younger brother of Lorenzo Medici, who ruled the family), they lavished her with gifts, poets and musicians wrote and composed about her, for her. All of them competed for her time.

It is said that in 1475, during a jousting tournament held at the Piazza Santa Croce, Giuliano Medici entered the list bearing a banner on which was a picture of Simonetta as Pallas Athene. The banner was painted by Botticelli and beneath it was the inscription “La Sans Pareille” that means “the unparalleled one” in French. It is believed that was then when she became known as the most beautiful woman in the city.

Detail of The Birth of Venus by Botticelli

Unfortunately, Simonetta died very young, she’s only 22, but in her short life she inspired many artists with her beauty.

Curiosties:

  • She was the cousin-in-law of Amerigo Vespucci, the famous explorer and navigator, as she was the wife of Marco Vespucci of Florence.
Portrait of a young woman (probably a posthumous portrait of Simonetta Vespucci, c.1475-80

References:

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