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A Renaissance Mystery Decoded

by Marcello Simonetta

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-385-52468-1
Publisher: Doubleday

Italian historian Simonetta revisits the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478.

During Ascension Sunday Mass in the Duomo, the two powerful leaders of the Florentine state, Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, were attacked. Stabbed 19 times, Giuliano died; Lorenzo escaped. Members of the rival Pazzi family were subsequently inculcated and variously disposed of. Simonetta delves further back to explain how the balance of power among the Italian city-states was first upset. Two years before, the Medicis’ close ally, the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Sforza, had been assassinated, leaving his scheming counselor Cicco Simonetta (a distant relative of the author) to block Florence’s future need for defense. With the revelation of the Pazzi conspiracy, Lorenzo was indeed isolated, especially in light of new evidence pointing to the collusion of the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro. An encrypted letter written by Federico was unearthed from a private archive in Urbino and fell into the author’s hands in 2001; he painstakingly decoded it with the help of Cicco’s Rules for Extracting Ciphered Letters Without a Sample. The letter reveals a ruthless Machiavellian intent to seize Florence. However, when the plot failed, and Cicco fell to usurpers of the Milanese state, Lorenzo had to scramble for support by groveling to the kingdom of Naples and patching things up with Rome. Lorenzo would later extract his revenge with his protégé Botticelli’s allusion to the murder and conspiracy in works such as Primavera, as delineated narrowly by the author. Dense and specialized, Simonetta’s study requires significant knowledge of the era and characters involved.

A work so microscopically focused that it fails to convey a larger significance.