How art and poetry inspired Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel

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Lucrezia de’ Medici was only 13 when she was forced to marry Alfonso II d’Estej, the Duke of Ferrara; barely 15 years old when she joined the court of her new husband. At 16, she was dead. Only his official portraits survive him.

Several years later, Robert Browning wrote a poem based on one of these paintings, which loosely fictionalizes Lucrezia’s short marriage and the possibility that she was murdered by her husband. Maggie O’Farrell goes one step further and imagines the girl’s entire life, including the short time she spent as a wife in 16th century Italy.

In O’Farrell’s new novel, “The Marriage Portrait”, Lucrezia knows her only job is to produce an heir for the Duke. But when no heir comes forward and the Duke grows increasingly dissatisfied, she fears he will kill her to make way for someone more fertile. Could she be right? Or is his bored mind just connecting dots that don’t exist?

“The Marriage Portrait” skillfully tells Lucrezia’s story through her own lens and perspective. This Friday on Big Books and Bold Ideas, MPR News host Kerri Miller will talk with O’Farrell about what inspired her to write the novel, why even her villains are complex, and how she intends to give voice back to women silenced by history. .

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