Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Caroline Murphy's "Murder of a Medici Princess"

Caroline P. Murphy is a cultural historian and biographer. Her books include Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna and The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Murder of a Medici Princess, and reported the following:
Murder of a Medici Princess is the story of the extravagant and full life, and horrific death, of the 16th century Florentine noble Isabella de' Medici. If this book was what one might think of as a biography in the traditional sense, one might concede the failure of the page 99 test, for the book's protagonist does not make an appearance here. But I was drawn to biography as a historical medium by its inherent flexibility, as the life of a subject allows for investigations into the surrounding fabric. In this case, much of page 99 concerns itself with the issue of malaria in Renaissance Italy. The word malaria is itself Italian - mal aria - and "bad air" was then believed to be the cause of the disease, carried on the "vapors" emanating from swampy land, rather than the mosquitoes breeding in such terrain. It was a disease from which the elite were not immune, as the Medici family would find out to their cost, and Isabella in particular. Page 98 recounts the almost excessive anxiety of the 19-year-old Medici cardinal, Giovanni, about a newly announced pregnancy of his 20-year-old sister Isabella, who was married, but who saw her husband infrequently. By contrast, the love between Isabella and Giovanni was "infinite" as another of their brothers, seemingly jealous, remarked. In the last lines of page 99, on Sunday, November 15 of 1562, Giovanni goes out hunting in Tuscany's wooded coastline, a haven for mosquitoes. He returns feverish, yet "happy and full of good will." But by Tuesday, as the very last words on this page record, "Giovanni's fever had grown." What happens next will dramatically alter the course of his sister Isabella's life, ultimately contributing to the motives for the murder of this Medici princess.
Learn more about Murder of a Medici Princess at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue