The Marriage Portrait: A novel

The acclaimed author of Hamnet—a New York Times bestseller and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award—now turns her perceptive eye to the ruling families of Renaissance Italy, for whom marriage meant political power, while a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to perpetuate a dynasty.

Inspired by a daughter of the House of Medici—Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici d’Este, who wed Alfonso II at the age of thirteen and died just three years later—The Marriage Portrait captures an opulent yet dangerous world. In the novel, Lucrezia is a gifted artist who is not afraid to speak her mind. But when her older sister dies on the eve of marrying the ruler of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio, her father ensures that Lucrezia will become the bride instead. Forced to join an unfamiliar, often unwelcoming court after the pageantry of a high-stakes wedding, Lucrezia soon begins to fear her seemingly charming new husband. Why do his formidable sisters seem to tremble before him? And what will become of her if she does not produce an heir?

Full of the tender beauty with which O’Farrell illuminated the Shakespearean canvas in Hamnet, this is an extraordinary portrait of resilience in the face of confinement and devastating consequences. The questions that follow are designed to enrich your book club’s discussion of The Marriage Portrait. We hope this guide will enhance your experience of an endlessly fascinating chapter in Renaissance history.

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352 pages

Average rating: 7.28




Community Reviews

Clare Hayward
Apr 29, 2024
9/10 stars
I loved this story. If you like historical fiction you ll enjoy this and the writing is beautiful.
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Jan 13, 2024
8/10 stars
Good historical fiction. Great ending.
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Dec 27, 2023
8/10 stars
Chilling portrayal of the life of a nobleman’s daughter in medieval Italy. The protagonist is Lucrezia, an unwanted 5th child, who is tormented by her siblings and is married too a Duke at age 15. Unfamiliar with the intrigues of court and the demands of marriage, we empathize with her tormented life. The story is fictional, but based on recorded events. It was fascinating to see the lifestyles and horrifying to see the way women were treated as chattel.
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Aug 28, 2023
9/10 stars
Content warning for violence, abuse, interpersonal violence, murder, manipulation, and related topics. The setting of this novel was completely immersive. O'Farrell paints such a convincing picture of Renaissance Italy, from the attire to the expectations on Lucrezia from a very young age. The ending was incredible, I wondered if it would happen that way and I thought the use of future tense in that final chapter was wonderful. I wish Lucrezia had thought more about Emilia, but I think that's a comment on the time period/class relationship that interrupted the other contexts of their relationship. I whole-heartedly recommend this to anyone who enjoys hefty historical fiction books.
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Aug 08, 2023
6/10 stars
Beautiful writing! But unfortunately not enough happened for me to highly recommend this book.
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