Originally published: 30 August 2022
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Published by: Tinder Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 448 pages
Reading dates: 6-15 December 2022
Winter, 1561. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her.
Lucrezia is sixteen years old, and has led a sheltered life locked away inside Florence’s grandest palazzo. Here, in this remote villa, she is entirely at the mercy of her increasingly erratic husband.
What is Lucrezia to do with this sudden knowledge? What chance does she have against Alfonso, ruler of a province, and a trained soldier? How can she ensure her survival.
The Marriage Portrait is the story of Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici who is born into nobility in Florence. Her mother believes that she was distracted when Lucrezia was conceived and because of this Lucrezia is a difficult baby, who refuses to sleep or feed. As a young child she doesn’t play with dolls or play with her siblings, instead she prefers her own company. But she is bright and a talented artist.
At just 13 when her older sister dies Maria, Lucrezia is betrothed to the man Maria was supposed to marry, Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara. Some quick thinking on behalf of her maid, prevents Lucrezia from being married straight away but she marries him at the age of just 15 and leaves Florence to begin her married life as a Duchess.
By 1561 when she is just 16, she believes that her husband intends to kill her. This is revealed in the first paragraph of the book and then the story goes back to her conception and childhood, and then her marriage and life with her husband and we learn why she believes he intends her harm.
I’m a huge Maggie O’Farrell fan and as far as I’m concerned she can do no wrong so I always knew I was going to love The Marriage Portrait. As she did in Hamnet, she has taken another real life historical figure Lucrezia de’ Medici, inspired by her portrait and imagined what might of happened to her.
There are so many things I loved about this book. I enjoyed reading about the young Lucrezia learning her father has acquired a tiger for his collection of animals and how Lucrezia is able to touch the tiger without being hurt. I also enjoyed learning about the tradition of the marriage portrait and how the process happened.
Poor Lucrezia is completely out of her depth in her marriage – she is lonely and doesn’t understand the correct way things should be done. The scene when she has sex with her husband for the first time is uncomfortable to read – she is unprepared for what will happen. I had to keep reminding myself how young she is!
I was lucky enough to read The Marriage Portrait with a lovely group of friends on Instagram and we had lots to discuss and the overall consensus was that we all loved it. Rich in language and detail, it is a beautifully written novel that I couldn’t wait to return to. Definitely a late contender to my books of 2022, I’m so glad I squeezed it in at the end of the year.
About the author:
Maggie O’Farrell was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and grew up in Wales and Scotland.
She has worked as a journalist, both in Hong Kong and as the deputy literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. She has also taught creative writing.
O’Farrell is married to fellow novelist William Sutcliffe, whom she met at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. They now live together in Edinburgh, with their three children.