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Vespucci, Simonetta (d. 1476)

Vespucci, Simonetta (d. 1476)

Italian beauty who was the inspiration for Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Name variations: Simonetta de' Vespucci; Simonetta de Vespucci; Simonetta Cattaneo. Born Simonetta Cattaneo in Genoa, Italy, in 1453; died on April 26, 1476, in Florence; daughter of Gasparo Cattaneo; married Marco Vespucci, in 1469; no children.

Famous in her own time as "la Bella Simonetta," Simonetta Vespucci was long thought to have been the model for Sandro Botticelli's famous painting The Birth of Venus. Though this theory is now discredited, it is still thought that she served as his inspiration for Venus. She was born in Genoa in 1453, to a respectable non-aristocratic family. At age 16, she married the Florentine Marco Vespucci. Her husband was a follower of the dominant Medici family party of Florence, allowing Simonetta to move among the Florentine elite. Tall and blonde-haired, Simonetta was considered by many the most beautiful woman in Florence, and numerous court poets and writers, including Poliziano, wrote works in praise of her beauty and charm. Soon Simonetta became the mistress of the powerful Giuliano di Piero de Medici. It was this connection which brought her to the attention of painter Sandro Botticelli, who was at the time working for the Medici. His studio produced a portrait of her in profile, now at the Pitti Gallery in Florence.

Simonetta Vespucci died suddenly of tuberculosis in April 1476, at age 23. Her admirers, from Poliziano to Florence's ruler Lorenzo de Medici, composed Latin elegies and sonnets in her memory. Said Lorenzo: "It seemed impossible that she was loved by so many men without any jealous and praised by so many women without envy." She was buried in the Church of Ognissanti in Florence. Botticelli's The Birth of Venus was completed four years later. Painter Piero di Cosimo also portrayed her, with a snake around her throat to symbolize the consumption that killed her.


Ady, Julia Mary Cartwright. The Life and Art of Sandro Botticelli. London: Duckworth, 1904.

Lightbown, Ronald. Sandro Botticelli. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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