The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

Published: 2022 Hachette | Penguin Random House Historical fiction.

This is a reimagining of the life of Lucrezia de’ Medici, daughter of the Grand Duke of Florence. At the age of 13 in 1558, she is promised in marriage to Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara to effect a political alliance, and dies at the age of 16 probably from tuberculosis. In this novel, Lucrezia, whilst sitting for her marriage portrait, realises that her value is only as an heir-producer, and is afraid her husband will kill her.

“To lose your temper is to lose the battle.”

I really enjoyed reading this vivid portrayal of Renaissance Italy. Other reviewers agree: “Lush metaphors and minute description of life in ducal palaces abound” (The Conversation), and Finely written and vividly imagined” (The Guardian) However, in the opinion of The New York Timesthe characters are so one-dimensional and overwrought that the force of neither driver lands. The novelist begins to resemble a conjurer forcing cards. that this historical novel is verging on the steamy and operatic.”


“… it will be a marriage portrait. It is only proper. Further paintings will follow, of course, in time, of you alongside our children.”

“He says again that he will not hurt her, she must not be scared, he will not hurt her, he will not, he promises, the words whispered in his new rasping voice. And then he hurts her anyway. The pain is startling, and curious in its specificity.”

Author: Maggie O’Farrell

Image source: Lucrezia de’ Medici Wikimedia

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