La Bella Simonetta was probably born in Genoa circa 1453. She married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci and moved to Florence at the age of 15-16. She was blond, which was unusual for Tuscany; she was very gentle and serene. Simonetta was immediately proclaimed the greatest beauty of Florence; poets wrote about her, artists painted her portraits, and the Medici brothers were as infatuated with her as many other men. Yet there are no scandalous stories, no lurid descriptions of her relationship with any of the Medicis, so probably she was not anybody’s mistress but rather the good wife of a nobleman. Simonetta died in 1476, when she was 22-23 years old. Some art historians argue that a painter who wasonly 13-14 at the time of the celebrated woman’s death could not have painted her many years later. I believe he could: imagine a teenager seeing her around the town, knowing that she was renowned for her beauty and good nature. She must have left an indelible impression on a young creative soul. Her contemporaries definitely remembered her long after she was gone, and she remained forever young for them, an ideal model. Sandro Botticelli, among others, was so taken with her that it is believed she was the model for his Birth of Venus, Primavera, and that it is her lovely demure face we can see in many of his paintings. He died 34 years later, stating in his will that he wanted to be buried near Simonetta’s last resting place. That will be Chiesa Ognissanti, the Vespucci family parish church near the bank of the Arno River. The church was built in the 13th century, then renovated in the 16-17th centuries, with the elements of barocco introduced into its design. It still remains very modest as compared to several other more ornate constructions. While walking towards it from hotel Paris, we saw many nice antique shops with amazing window displays. Near the church, a bit surprisingly, is a brownish-brick building called “Institut de Francais”. Entrance to the church and the convent court is free, thoughboth close down during the service times. Inside, one can see the magnificent altarpiece, many frescoes by the famous Renaissance painters, and the main attraction: the Vespucci family chapel. It is beautiful, inspiring the feeling of reverence. Many notes to Botticelli and Simonetta are scattered around on the parapet. Visitors just stand there, gazing at the lovely paintings and decorations. In season, a nice quiet Nativity scene is placed in the middle of the church, with the traditional poinsettias all around. Once you go out, turn to your left, go into the court to see the well-preserved Last Supper fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio, a contemporary of Botticelli who had his own workshop, and who worked with Botticelli at the church of Ognissanti. There are several rows of chairs placed in front of the fresco, for visitors to sit down and enjoy. It is amazing that the fresco is in such a fine condition, considering that it is painted on an outside wall, in the open air, though shielded from the elements by a portico. You have to sign the Guest book before you leave.
Definitely a place to visit!








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