Botticelli's painting of a woman believed to be Simonetta Vespucci

On this day in history: Simonetta Vespucci was born

History of Italy News

Simonetta Vespucci is thought to have been born on this day in 1453, as Simonetta Cattaneo to a Genoese family. She became the embodiment of female perfection and a muse for renowned artists in Florence during the mid-15th century.

Arriving in Florence in 1469 after marrying Marco Vespucci, Simonetta quickly captured the attention of Florentine society. Known as La Bella Simonetta, she not only mesmerised painters but also garnered the admiration of young noblemen with her exceptional beauty.

Legend has it that a group of artists, pondering the concept of perfect female beauty, were astonished to find their idealised woman embodied in Simonetta. The Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, were reportedly smitten with her. And Sandro Botticelli immortalised her in several portraits, including the iconic The Birth of Venus. The ethereal female figure standing on a shell in Botticelli’s masterpiece closely resembles her.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Venus is believed to be have been modelled, or inspired, by Simonetta Vespucci
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Botticelli’s muse

Botticelli’s romantic attachment to Simonetta is a well-woven tale. It is supported by the notion that, having outlived her, he chose to be buried at the Church of Ognissanti, where she rested. Another of Botticelli’s works, Primavera, features a Venus with the same hair colour and facial features as Simonetta.

Piero di Cosimo's Portrait of a Woman
Portrait of a Woman, Piero di Cosimo

Other artists, including Piero di Cosimo, found inspiration in her allure, as evident in the 1490 Portrait of a Woman. In addition to The Birth of Venus and Primavera, Simonetta is believed to have been the inspiration for various female figures in Botticelli’s Three Graces.

Death at a young age

Despite the romanticised impact she had, Simonetta’s life was tragically short. Born into a noble Genoese family, some believe she hailed from Porto Venere, a coastal town near La Spezia, contributing to the legend of Venus’s birthplace.

She married Marco Vespucci, enhancing her family’s social standing. However, both Lorenzo and Giuliano fell for her charms, hosting a lavish wedding ceremony at their Villa di Careggi.

Tragically, Simonetta succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 22, leaving behind a legacy of beauty immortalised in art. During her funeral, her coffin was reportedly opened, allowing onlookers a final glimpse of her beauty.

Whether born in Genoa or Porto Venere, Simonetta Vespucci’s captivating presence and brief but impactful life left an indelible mark on the artistic and social landscape of Renaissance Florence. Her fame and face continue to be used in contemporary settings. The Italy Tourist Board’s poster girl, has the head of Botticelli’s Venus.

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