The moment I decided to retell the literary masterpiece “Romeo and Juliet” as an historical novel (O, JULIET), I found myself looking for a period and place to set it in, and historical figures with whom I could anchor it in reality. I’d just finished SIGNORA DA VINCI, which was set in late fifteenth century Florence and peopled with the most astonishing array of individuals — men and women who shaped the Renaissance and, thus the modern world. One of those characters was Lucrezia Tornabuoni de’ Medici, beloved daughter-in-law of Cosimo de’ Medici (the Godfather of the Italian Renaissance) and mother to Lorenzo “the Magnificent” de’ Medici (under whose patronage the Renaissance came into full flower).
Lucrezia, who came form one of the oldest and most respected Florentine families, brought a touch of nobility to the already immensely wealthy and powerful Medici banking clan. Not much is known about Lucrezia’s education, thought it must have been a private one (there were no schools for girls) — with various tutors in Greek, Latin, mathematics, religion and philosophy. Judging from the astute, cultured and open-minded woman she became, she must have been a phenomenal student. At a time when women, even wealthy ones, were barely allowed to leave their homes, Lucrezia de’ Medici led a remarkably accomplished life.
As I observed in SIGNORA DA VINCI, there was a “Shadow Renaissance” going on in Florence beneath the glossy surface of art and architecture that one normally associates with the period. And living at the center of that world, as Lorenzo’s helpmate, Lucrezia de’ Medici has, to my mind, a “shadow” aspect as well. Here is a quote from a clergyman in the Church of San Lorenzo, written to her son Lorenzo, weeks after Lucrezia’s death:
“…She advised the most important people as well as the magistrates concerning matters of grave importance. And the most humble people were admitted to her presence and all of them left happy and content. But you know all this better than I, as you did nothing without consulting her, as she did nothing without asking your opinion.”