By Mary Jane Beaufrand

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The Italian Renaissance was a cultural explosion of art, architecture and learning, but it had a darker side. Two powerful families, the tyrannical Medici and their biggest rivals, the Pazzi, are tangled in a bloody struggle for ultimate power. Caught in the whirlwind is Flora, the last daughter of the Pazzi.

As her beautiful older sister is being painted by the famed artist Botticelli, Flora is dreading her fate. Destined for life in a convent, Flora is determined to take matters into her own hands, even as her world crumbles around her. When Flora decides to run away, she has no idea that the decision will save her life. As her family falls to their murderous enemy, Flora must find a new life and a new identity.

Inspired by actual events, Primavera is a dazzling coming of age story set during a time of beauty and wealth, ambition, rivalry and brutality. Historical art references to Boticelli and his famous painting, La Primavera, give this book an appeal similar to Girl with a Pearl Earring.


Chapter One

It was early 1478 when my family's fortunes ebbed, like the waters of the Arno. Those who still speak of the April Rebellion say how sudden it was, how no one had any idea things were so bad in our city of flowers. But I say there were clues. Those who didn't see them were men like Il Magnifico, who only listened to good news, never noticing shadows gathering around them until it was almost too late.

Me? I saw the shadows, or at least I thought I did. But what did I really see? Just bits and pieces, pretty words whispered through half-open doors by men in dark cloaks.

There was only one person who tried, really tried, to open my eyes to what was going on around me. You think this a game? he had said, pointing from a rooftop. Look. Listen. People pass by your window every day whose lives are nothing but toil without respite. You live but two blocks from the Bargello prison yet you don't hear the screams of men who have forgotten everything pretty.

I did look. But I didn't see. And for that I am no better than the rest of my clan. Worse, in fact. For what did I do to the boy who tried to open my eyes, the one who I now know I loved better than all others? He is dead. All that remains of him is rotted black flesh over bone. And I am the one who killed him.

The year was 1478. My name was Lorenza Pazzi, but everyone called me Flora. I had eleven brothers and sisters. I was the last daughter in my father's house.

Now, there are days when I feel I am just the last.

"Are you sure, Flora? We have twenty-two diamonds and not twenty-three?" my brother Andrea asked. We were in the courtyard of my father's palazzo on a warm spring afternoon — the first of the season. I was on my knees, scraping the soil around rose bushes that the tender roots might breathe better.

Andrea sat by the gurgling fountain with a ledger open on his lap. We had spent the morning inventorying the items in my father's bank — pearls and silks from the Orient; golden table services from princes with good taste but not good sense; ancient marble statues of gods long forgotten.

"Yes, Andrea, I'm sure," I said, running my fingers through loamy earth. Around me was a sea of moss, lush and soft as fur — a perfect antidote to being locked inside an airless chamber and counting gems and musty tapestries.

He shook his head and closed the ledger. "All right," he said. "If you say twenty-two, twenty-two it is. There can only be one conclusion: Francesco is stealing from us."

"What?" Francesco was my father's best worker, someone who had risen from a position as manager of the family's silk business in Genova. He was an honest soul who savored numbers as others might delicate dishes flavored with rosemary. I knew he wouldn't even think about shorting us one small diamond. One small diamond with a flaw at that.

I knew because the stone was hidden up my sleeve. I was the thief, although I didn't tell Andrea.

"It must be Francesco. There's no one else."

I tried to stay calm. "What will you do?" I asked.

"We'll have to let him go." He shrugged.

"Per favore, Andrea. Let him stay. Francesco is a good man. There must be another explanation."

My brother closed the ledger and got to his feet. I couldn't help noticing that he looked a bit shabby. His tunic was velvet but the colors had faded; his stockings had been darned and darned again until his legs looked as though they were woven in place by giant spiders.

Andrea was a logical man. Until last winter he'd been studying at the University of Pisa, where his specialty was dead languages and dropping things from the leaning tower to see how fast they'd fall. But then Papa summoned him back to help run the family businesses. He probably liked Andrea's plainness of dress and manner as much as I did. With Andrea, I rarely found myself thinking what he really meant, as I did with the rest of my family and our courtiers.

"Bene," he sighed. "I won't put his name forward to Papa. But Flora: this can't continue. With the new Medici taxes, we need every florin we have."

After he left to go upstairs to Papa's study, I crossed myself and thanked God that, even though He had plunked me in the middle of this greedy family, He sent me at least one good relative. Two, counting Nonna. As for the rest? My eldest sisters were all married before I turned fourteen — mostly to other merchants who were willing to swap money for our pedigree. They seemed lovely and docile enough until you got to know them. They reminded me of species from myth who would sing to unsuspecting sailors only to dash their brains against sharp rocks.

And my brothers? Conniving toads, to a man. Even Antonio and Lionardo, who had taken orders and were now in charge of bishoprics in San Gimignano and Perugia, had eyes that narrowed with greed. I watched them all parade through the courtyard and up the stairs to my father's study, their eyes darting about, staying too close to my father's fortune and their inheritance.

But I had little to do with them. When I was fourteen they were gone from the house. The only four of us left were Renato, my eldest brother; Domenica, my older sister and the beauty of the family; and Andrea.

And where did I fit in with this clan? I was not beautiful, like Domenica; I was not practiced in flattery, like Renato; nor was I learned, like my brother Andrea. While the others had their sprezzatura, their effortless mastery, I had none. I was just Flora. I lived to help other things grow.

After Andrea left, I stayed in my garden cultivating thorny shoots. A youth from my father's guard came in the front entrance carrying a letter. He wore the tunic with the family crest — the Pazzi dolphin — but he wore it ill. Underneath it he looked thin as a bundle of twigs.

"Excuse me, signorina," he said, bowing deeply. I glanced around for Domenica. His manners were so courtly; he must have been looking for her. But there was no one else. This boy must be new. The rest of the guards didn't bother being formal. They usually said: "Hey, Flora, give this letter to your father." Or, more often, and with a glint in their eye: "Give this letter to your sister."

This twiggy boy looked ill indeed. His cheekbones were sunken and the skin around his eyes was black-blue. Flies buzzed around the velvet mazzochio on his head, which also fit so loosely it looked to be unraveling. His belly was distended, as though he had been very hungry and then eaten a large feast. Since I listened to my nonna when she talked about vapors and humors, I knew what was wrong with him. He had been eating the cook's rancid, mealy black bread.

"You can puke if you want to," I said, pointing to a potted orange tree.

He raised his head and looked into my eyes for the first time, as if trying to decide if I were joking. Then he dropped a letter, ran the length of the courtyard, and vomited into a delicate white container.

Poverino. He heaved even when there was nothing left to bring up.

I picked up the letter he'd dropped. I read my papa's name, Jacopo Pazzi, in elaborately gilded script. I turned it over to examine the seal. Neatly embedded blood-red wax was the mark of Il Papa himself, Sixtus IV. The pope had written to my father.

"That's for Signor Jacopo," the boy said. "It's not womanly to open it."

"It's all right. I'm not womanly. I'm going to the convent."

"Oh," he said, looking relieved. "They told me that one of the daughters was in the courtyard so I assumed . . ."

"That I was the pretty one?"

He nodded silently.

I liked this boy. He was honest even when he was sick.

"What do you know about Marco Polo?" I asked.

He looked thrown off balance by my question, as was I. Why did that even come out of my mouth? All he did was puke in the orange tree and I handed him the content of my dreams.

The youth stared at me overlong, taking my measure. "Not much," he said finally. "Only that when he first returned from his travels no one believed him. They say he stood on the altar at San Marco in Venice, slit open his robes, and a king's ransom in jewels fell out."

This youth didn't know it yet, but he said exactly the right thing. Because here is what I hid from Andrea along with the flawed diamond up my sleeve. Mamma said I was too plain to marry so she gave my dowry to Our Lady of Fiesole. I didn't want to go. I couldn't stand the thought of spending the rest of my life indoors, growing wrinkled and blind from sewing someone's undergarments in dim light. It was only by the grace of God and the intervention of my beloved nonna that I wasn't there already. But Nonna was old and could not live forever, no matter how much I willed it. One day she would leave me. I was determined that when that day came, it would finally be my turn. I would take my stolen gems and use them to buy my way to Venice, where I would book passage on a ship to the Holy Lands, battle infidels, and rescue the bones of some saint. From there I would ride on a camel through the mountains and have tea with a Chinese lord with a moustache so long it dragged in the ground. When I came back, I would stand at the altar during high mass at our duomo. I would slit open my robes as Marco Polo did, and say: See, Papa? Is this enough? Do you love me now?

He would embrace me in front of the whole city. He would tell me he loved me and that he always knew my true worth. I would never have to tend anything again.

"What is your name?" I asked the youth in front of me.

He looked at me kindly, and the shadow of a smile crossed his face. "Emilio," he said.

"Well, Emilio, I'm Flora. I'll show you to my father's study, then you will come with me to the kitchen where we will get you some real food. None of that black bread they give you in the billet. I've seen what the cook puts into those loaves. Rat droppings and powdered snot."

I pointed my finger down my throat and made gagging noises.

If I thought Emilio's half smile was interesting, his full smile warmed me like the sun. I even liked his two crooked front teeth.

"What shall I do about the orange tree, eh?" he asked.

"Leave it," I said. "She'll get over it."

I didn't know why I said she. It was my garden after all. But for some reason when I thought of puke in the delicate white vase I thought of Domenica.

Chapter Two

Our palazzo had rooms for everything — cooking, sleeping, bathing, reading, plucking, praying. Each space seemed stuffed more than decorated. There was no corner without a bust; no wall without a painting or tapestry. Mamma said that the Medici were smart enough to patronize artists so we must do the same or we would look coarse. We did everything the Medici did.

I led Emilio up the marble stairs to the piano nobile — the floor where all the activity in the house took place. The stairs brought us directly into the great hall where my family and their minions ate their evening meal around a large U-shaped table. I rarely was invited to sit with them. Mamma said I was too plain for good company and that I honored my family best by serving the meals and then dining in the kitchen where I would be more "comfortable."

I called Mamma a wench sometimes when she wasn't listening.

Today, Emilio walked two paces behind me through the Madonna gallery to Papa's library. The poverino was swaying so hard I feared he would fall over, and his eyes seemed to spiral in their sockets as he looked from side to side. All those enthroned virgins crammed into that long, narrow space. Don't get me wrong — the paintings and busts were all lovely, but there were too many of them. They made me dizzy; I could only imagine how Emilio felt.

At the end of the Madonna gallery the library door was ajar, so we stood at the threshold and had a good view of half the room. I stood back and motioned to Emilio to stand behind me. I was good at peering through half-open doors.

My father was within and pacing, his soft leather shoes padding quietly on Carrera marble.

My mother, who was closeted with him, made a lot of noise. I glimpsed the elaborate black and tan brocade of her gown as she swished from place to place. The timbre of her voice was high and reedy and pierced my skull.

I turned to Emilio and put a finger to my lips. We weren't spying, exactly . . . well yes, we were. But we were doing it through an open door. God would forgive us.

"But think what an alliance would mean, Jacopo," my mother said.

"We already have one, Maddelena. My brother married a Medici."

"That is different," Mamma continued. "Guglielmo married a Medici daughter. You know as well as I that daughters mean nothing."

I cringed. Mamma told me this daily with looks and sharp words, but I'd never heard her lump all the daughters of the world together. After all, Domenica was a daughter too.

Mamma continued: "The power lies with the sons. Lorenzo would have been a better match. Still, Giuliano would be a fine son-in-law. And, God forbid, should something happen to Lorenzo, your daughter would be First Lady of Florence."

Giuliano was Lorenzo de Medici's younger brother. Lorenzo was already married to a Roman girl and they had two sons. Giuliano would not inherit the bulk of the family fortune, but he was still rich and powerful enough to please my mother.

My father pounded his fist on the desk. "Medici, Medici, Medici. I am tired of hearing about those wool merchants. Who do they think they are, anyway? My ancestors were out defending the Holy Land when those upstarts were still guarding sheep."

That was a common rant of my father's. What right do they have to be richer than we are? They do not wear crowns. They have never even been knighted, like we have. They are mere peasants.

Mere peasants with enough business sense to finance a pope. Mere peasants who rule our city as if they were kings. For all their humble beginnings they must have done something right.

"I'm not saying we have to like them, Jacopo," Mamma said. "But think of the power we would wield. More votes would go your way in the Signoria. They would be forced to accept us as equals."

The Signoria was the council of leading citizens of Florence. They decided on civic issues (taxes, levies, maintenance of common paths) based on a ballot of stones — red stones for yes, black stones for no. They voted in the open in front of all the other important men. There was once a time when measures my father proposed all met with red stones.

Now, too often, his proposals met with black.

I heard my father sigh; then watched his silhouette drop in his chair. He seemed heavy with fatigue. On top of the black votes and the sleepless nights, he was weighed down by my mother. She weighed us all down. "All right then, Maddelena," he said. "What do you propose?"

"Giuliano has seen Domenica Sundays at mass and thought her comely. We must do all in our power to make her even more comely. She will need more dresses and jewelry and a maid of her own."

"More dresses? Why should she need more dresses? She already has three," Papa said.

"Variety, Jacopo. In order for a woman to get a man's attention she must seem to be many women. Do you remember when we were courting? I wore a different dress to each mass then. As I recall, you thought well of me."

"I thought well of your money," he muttered.

Mamma kept talking as though she hadn't heard his barb. "We must have her portrait painted and present it to the Medici. The portrait must show Domenica even more lovely than she is in life."

I saw where this was going. I groaned softly and rolled my eyes. Emilio looked at me, confused.

My father understood. "Please," he begged. "No more Madonnas."

"Why not?" Mamma pleaded. "Our daughter is certainly beautiful enough to rival the Queen of Heaven."

I held my breath. Next to me, Emilio crossed himself. This talk of my mother's was not good. Mortals couldn't talk like this without inviting serious consequences.

I drew breath again, surprised we hadn't been struck by lightning. But now I was even more afraid. My mother wrought something with her words. I hoped we would not all have to pay.

My father seemed to give up. "And you already have someone in mind," he said.

"Lucrezia de Medici prefers to patronize the artist Alessandro Filipepi — the one who calls himself Botticelli. He will do nicely, I think."

Lucrezia's husband, "Piero the Gouty," had died young and she'd lived more than half her life as a widow. Lucrezia didn't seem to mind. Without him, she could boss her children about all she liked. I'm sure most days my own mamma wished Papa would contract a bad case of gout.

In the library, Papa sighed. "I take it this Botticelli is expensive."

"Moderately so, I believe."

"All right then. Do what you need to do. This is not my province."

I knew by my father's words that he was done. I rapped on the door as though we'd just arrived.

My mother opened the door wide. She was even more startling up close than she was in silhouette: her black lustrous hair held in a tight knot by alabaster combs, her elegant gown spanning the width of the hall. But the bump on the middle of her nose — the one that no amount of white powder could hide — conspired to make her look coarse.

She looked first at me and then Emilio. She took in my uncombed hair, my ruddy cheeks, my formless shift. Then she sized Emilio up, the too-big clothes, the rank smell, the flies around the cap.

"Why aren't you outside?" she said to me.

"This youth has a message for Papa," I said. "He didn't know the way."

"Bene," she said. "Don't linger." With that, she covered her nose with a handkerchief and pushed past us.

My mother and I were not allies. If I had been Domenica she would have not only spotted my flaws, she would have corrected them. Come, bambina mia, she would have said. Your hair is unkempt and there's a spot on your skirt. I shall have someone fix you up. Sometimes I longed for this treatment; mostly I was glad she left me alone.

"Flora, what do you want?" my father called.

My father, even indoors, wore a red mazzochio on his head that resembled a giant strawberry. He didn't like anyone to know that underneath he was bald.

"This youth has a letter for you, Papa," I said.

I nudged Emilio forward. His hands shook as he held the letter out to my father. Papa grabbed it from him without looking at his face.

Then my father's eyes went wide when he saw the seal.

"Leave me," he said abruptly.

"We'll be in the kitchen if you need Emilio to send a reply."

He waved us away.

"Kitchen, Papa," I said as we left, and I closed the door behind us. Later, after he was done reading and analyzing the letter, he would remember and send for us.

In the meantime Emilio swayed on his feet. He needed to eat and quickly, so I took him to the kitchen and Nonna.

Chapter Three

Now I come to the part of my story it most grieves me to look upon. I have lost everything — my garden, my family, my way of life. I miss Mamma and Papa not at all. I do miss Andrea, but he wasn't like Nonna. Nobody was.

For the first fourteen years of my life Nonna was everything to me. She was my captain, my nurse, my parent, my cook. She was possibly the ugliest part of the palazzo — stooped and toothless and surly like a pasha — but the way she dispensed care and comfort made her beautiful.

And now once again I am walking down the back stairs to her realm. Once again I smell the rich odors of sage and thick broth and honeyed bread. Once again I feel it is possible to be made whole.

I cross the threshold of memory and there she is in plain back dress, one long gray braid snaking down her back, moving independently of the rest of her, as if it were always swatting at something. I see the black-dog ring she wore on the middle finger of her right hand, a ring made of gold and onyx that even now I wear around my neck in a chain forged of silver, a reminder that I am a prisoner of regret. Nonna loved me enough to give up everything for me. And even though I loved Nonna, I took her for granted. To me, she was just another part of the house, like the black kettle that simmered on the hearth behind her.

That morning Nonna was hard at work, slapping a loaf into shape. "There you are, you lazy girl," she said when she saw me. "Did you not hear me calling? Come wash your hands. Knead the dough while I finish with the soup."

Behind her were Graziella, the kitchen maid, and two contadine braiding garlic. Graziella chopped the heads off a pile of dead rabbits. Whack! I didn't trust that girl. Whack! Whack! She took too much joy in wielding that cleaver.

Outside the kitchen was a bench full of Nonna's patients. Nonna was an accomplished healer; some even whispered that she was a strega, a witch. Either way she was never at a loss for patients. Most brought something to barter for their health: turnips, ducks, rabbits, pine nuts. A few, a very few, came with their hands empty. Nonna never turned anyone away.

Today it was crowded with people who suffered from overindulgence. Lent was almost upon us and most of the town took their forty days of deprivation seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the days before Lent they drank so much red wine they were more poisoned than stupefied. Nonna sent them away with jugs of water seasoned with chamomile flowers. ("The water's the thing," she often told me. "No witchcraft about it.")

I washed my own hands and set to work. "This is Emilio," I said. "He just puked in the oranges. Can you fix him up?"

Emilio, who was standing next to me, stamped on my foot hard. So I elbowed him in the ribs and nearly sent him flying out the door, he was such a stick (albeit a stick with a foul temper).

"Basta!" Nonna said, pulling Emilio over to the daylight. "That is enough, Flora." She was a head shorter than he, but she got right in his face and screwed her right eye up until it resembled a spyglass. "Open your mouth," she commanded.

When she was done, she turned to Graziella and slapped her hard on the face. "What have I told you about using that old meal for bread, eh? These boys work hard. We do not need to poison them."

"But Signor Jacopo told us we should cut costs. I thought to myself: why waste food? Those ruffians should be grateful for what they get," Graziella said.

Emilio was staring at the tops of her breasts, which looked as though they might spill out of her dress at any moment. Don't pay attention to those, I wanted to say. She's a lazy slattern.

Nonna was still berating her. "If you're smart you'll worry less about Signor Jacopo and more about me. Now go to the pantry and throw out everything with worms in it."

Graziella skulked out of the room. Nonna made Emilio sit on the wooden chair by the hearth and poured him a mug of soup.

"Drink it," she instructed him.

"It's hot, signora . . ."


Emilio gulped it down. I tried not to laugh. It was probably scalding his throat, poverino. Nonna's cures were seldom gentle.

At this point my father bellowed down the stairs. "Boy!"

My new friend wiped his mouth on his sleeve and stood up quickly.

"Tranquillo," I told him. "There's no need to rush."

When his eyes met mine they were hard as diamonds. "Maybe you don't need to rush," he said. "Some of us have to earn our bread."

He slapped his empty bowl on the table and darted up the stairs.

After he disappeared Nonna stood looking after him. "That is a good boy," she said, "but there is more wrong with him than just his stomach. Perhaps a recent tragedy keeps his humors out of balance. Flora? Are you hearing anything I'm saying?"

I wasn't. I had grabbed a wet dish and a towel and made a big show of drying it, all the while inching closer to the stairs, hoping to overhear what Papa told Emilio. I wanted to know what was in the pope's letter.

"Bah! You listen to all the wrong things," Nonna said as she went outside to tend her patients.

Meanwhile, my father and Emilio stood at the top of the stairs. Papa spoke sotto voce, as though he didn't want anyone else to hear. I heard him just fine.


  • "Beaufrand interweaves rich details of Renaissance culture."—Booklist
  • "A welcome stepping stone for fans of Karen Cushman...who are on the road to popular "painting novels" for adults."—School Library Journal
  • "Renaissance Florence comes alive in the pages of this novel...[Primavera] has an air of authenticity with a historically accurate portrayal of this especially engaging, vibrant reading experience."—Library Media Connection

On Sale
Mar 1, 2009
Page Count
272 pages

Mary Jane Beaufrand

About the Author

Mary Jane Beaufrand lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband, two children, and a stubborn basset hound. She has an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College and is the author of Primavera.

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