July 25, 1473: the Magnificent’s favorite, Maddalena De’ Medici, is born

Ugly, melancholic, unlucky in love. Maddalena, Lorenzo the Magnificent's favorite daughter, did not enjoy a very happy life. Yet she could find her comfort: she was actually the owner of one of the most precious illuminated manuscripts of her time and, in the last years of her life, she became an extremely powerful woman. To celebrate her birthday, we will try to retrace the troubled story of Maddalena de’ Medici, born 540 years ago on July 25. Before we start, let us take a look at the video created for the exhibition “Magnifici Tre, the jewel-books of Lorenzo de’ Medici, which presents the story of her life and of her famous illuminated manuscript.


Maddalena was the favorite daughter of both Lorenzo the Magnificent and Clarice Orsini. Because of her very fragile health, the young woman developed a closed and gloomy personality, sweetened by a caring nature similar to that of her mother Clarice. When, in 1484, Giovanni Battista Cybo became pope under the name of Innocent VIII, Lorenzo decided to strengthen relations with the State Church, also to ensure an ecclesiastical career for his son Giovanni. After a few years of negotiations, the Pope consented to the Magnificent's requests, obtaining in return that his natural son Franceschetto could marry Maddalena.

Lorenzo knew that this wedding would bring unhappiness to his beloved daughter: Franceschetto had an unpleasant appearance and was twenty-four years older than Maddalena. In addition, he was well-known for his passion for gambling, wine, and women. Despite these paternal fears, the nuptial pact was officially signed in 1487 and the following year Maddalena and Franceschetto got married, allowing Giovanni to become cardinal when he was only fourteen. Also, the wedding became the subject of the following pasquinade, a satirical writing:

To unite lady Medici
to his son Franceschetto,
Innocent donated
the scarlet to a boy.
If it is true that the Holy Spirit
Makes the pope superhuman,
Of this, the Holy Spirit
became the procurer.

On the occasion of her wedding, Lorenzo gave his daughter a precious prayer book, known today as the Medici-Rothschild Book of Hours, taking his name also from its owners. A code whose binding – now lost – had to be particularly refined and that, in the inventory of the Magnificent's assets, is described as “a booklet, for women, small, golden glazed, with a Nuntiata [Annunciation] on the one side and Saint John the Baptist and a glazed Saint Mary Magdalene on the other”.

Despite this well-wishing gift, Maddalena's marriage was always very unhappy, due to Franceschetto’s infidelity and to the fact that he squandered the family heritage in gambling. Having moved permanently to Rome, Maddalena tried to console herself by influencing the pope’s policy, even if this aroused the jealousy of her sisters and led her to be in conflict with Lucrezia in particular. She died in 1519 at the age of 46, a few months after her husband.

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