Portrait of an Italian princess who bucked tradition, embraced the arts and constantly defied her husband’s wishes.
Isabella de’ Medici (1542–1576) was the daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, Duke of Florence. Murphy (Art History/Univ. of California, Riverside; The Pope’s Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere, 2005, etc.) vividly chronicles Isabella’s provocative, brief life (she was murdered at age 34), liberally drawing on quotes from letters sent by a variety of key figures. Cosimo treated his sons and daughters as equals, giving Isabella a freedom distinctly at odds with the period’s conventions. It was decided when she was nine that she should marry 12-year-old Paolo Giordano Orsini, whose family had long-standing ties to Florence’s illustrious past. By the time the two were old enough to wed, Paolo was a misogynist who frequented prostitutes and enjoyed hurting women. Murphy pulls a horrifying extract from a letter Isabella wrote in 1565 indicating that Paolo had beaten her—a major faux pas, since he was heavily in debt to Cosimo. Speculation in their circle ran riot about Isabella’s relationship with her father, which many believed to be sexual, although the author firmly points out that there is no evidence for this claim. Isabella remained childless until late in life, which was unusual in her era. This afforded her the freedom to throw flirtatious parties while her husband was away in the military, and she had an affair—detailed at length by Murphy—with Paolo’s cousin, Troilo Orsini. Paolo murdered Isabella and hired an assassin to kill Troilo in 1576, 12 years after Cosimo’s death. The author wraps up her account by describing how this caused further woes for the Medici family.
This enjoyable page-turner would make a fantastic biopic.