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Customer Review

on September 22, 2008
Those familiar with the Italian Renaissance know the events of April 26, 1478 like they know the fingers on their right hand. It is a well-worn story: we learn in college seminar rooms, through books and on banners unfurled on museum facades that the Medici were early modern Italy's beloved bankers, and primary patrons of the arts. We read that in dramatic and violent fashion, the Pazzi family (with support from Pope Sixtus IV) attempted to murder their banking rivals at high mass in Florence's cathedral - killing Giuliano, and injuring Lorenzo, who escaped with the humanist Angelo Poliziano. We discover that the murder plot's imperfect execution inspired the Medici's vicious retaliation, in the form of the total extermination of the Pazzi surname. This story has become so central in histories of the Renaissance that we feel we can re-tell it with absolute certainty.
Prepare to be shocked. Dr. Simonetta, a noted authority on Early Modern Italy, provides crucial archival evidence and exhaustive research that deeply implicates Federico da Montefeltro (the Duke of Urbino) in the Pazzi assassination plot, a discovery that will stir the pot for years to come. As Simonetta's story unfolds, other well-known Renaissance figures become embroiled in the conspiracy to oust the Florentine despot, which the author illustrates in clear prose, and using the interpretative tools appropriate to his guild (he is an historian at Wesleyan University, although the excitement here rivals that of any good detective whodunit).
Throughout, Simonetta demonstrates to be true the maxim that art is never far from politics. The visual culture of this fascinating time - seen here in the paintings of Botticelli and Cosimo Rosselli, among others - was always embedded within the socio-cultural, political and religious beliefs of the individuals who produced and used them. Art was never just beautiful when ecclesiastical and princely patrons were involved.
As with the previous reviewer, I disagree with Mr. Katz's appraisal of this book. I would add that besides those foundational art-historical luminaries whom Katz cites (he neglects to mention their mentor, Aby Warburg), the list of Botticelli scholars in the last century alone is so extensive - their interpretations so diverse - that to include a historiographic overview would merit a fifty-page excursus, or a post-modernist footnote resembling the work of David Foster Wallace. This is not in the spirit of the book.
All told, "The Montefeltro Conspiracy" is a joy to read. Simonetta's book will provide both battle-tested scholars and general Renaissance enthusiasts with equal excitement and satisfaction on every printed page. It comes with my highest recommendation.
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