Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 25, 2023

Eleonora di Toledo – an amazing woman

I recently read a book by Maggie O’Farrell called The Marriage Contract. It is fiction, but based on real people. It tells the story of Lucretia, the daughter of Cosimo I de’Medici and Eleonora  di Toledo. The poor girl who was married off to Alfonso II, who was to become Duke of Ferrara, in 1558. She met an untimely death not long after. I suppose Alfonso kept the £50 million dowry paid by her father.

Right now there is an exhibition at the Pitti Palace, the home of Cosimo and Eleanora and their surviving children. The book inspired me to find out more about the family.

I will begin with this painting of Eleonora di Toledo with her son Giovanni by Bronzino in 1545. I think you will agree that she is stunning.


Eleonora was born 11th January 1522 and lived until 17th December 1562. She packed a lot into her 40 years. She married Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence in 1539. The couple had 11 children. Only 5 sons and 3 daughters reached maturity.

She is credited with being the first modern first lady or consort. As well as producing all those children she was a keen businesswoman, she financed many of her husband’s political campaigns and important buildings, including the Palazzo Pitti. She ruled as regent of Florence during her husband’s frequent absences, his military campaigns, his illness and war for the conquest of Siena.

She was the founder of the Boboli Gardens, was a fashion innovator and a passionate patron of the arts, played a fundamental role in the construction of the Medici court and contributed to the transformation of the Tuscan landscape…busy woman.

The couple’s faithful marriage and peaceful domestic life served to strengthen Cosimo’s various reforms. Before the marriage the Medici line had been in danger of extinction. Both parents were involved in their children’s lives, which was unusual at the time. The children were married into ruling families or given important roles to stabilise the strength of Tuscany.

The exhibition is being held in one of the magnificent sections of the Pitti Palace, now the largest museum complex in Florence. Being in these rooms is wonderful, even without the stunning collection of objects related to Eleonora.

This is Cosimo I as a young man and later in life.

Another portrait by Bronzino in 1550, Eleonora with her son Francesco.


The final portrait of Eleonora by Bronzino in 1560.

These are portraits of the children.

Lucretia  and Maria.

The rooms are filled with magnificent art and exquisite objects owned by the family.

Beautiful tapestries.

Incredible glass objects.

Stunning ivory pieces.

This wooden carving was commissioned by King Charles II and was presented to Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1682.

Personal items belonging to Eleonora.

Clothing of the era.

Panels depicting the Boboli Gardens.

Last, but certainly not least, Morgante Riding the Tortoise, dating from 1564 – 1568. The sculpture was destined for the Boboli gardens. I have seen what is probably a copy in the gardens. It features widely on post cards as well.

The Eleonora di Toledo and the invention of the Medici Court exhibition will run until 14th May 2023. If you are lucky enough to be in Florence I suggest a visit. It is an excellent insight into the lives of the Medici.
The crowds in the photo below were probably waiting to go into the Boboli Gardens, the exhibition rooms were not crowded at all.





  1. Thanks for this post Debra what a wonderful insight into life back then – Eleonora looks amazing – going to try & get The Marriage Contract to read – cheers Helen

    • The book is great and should be easy to find.

      • Will definitely look for this book. My last visit to Italy pre-Covid, I visited Ferrara and Mantua after reading “Leonardo’s Swans’
        about Isabella and Beatrice D’Este’s marriages and lives. It’s a great way to read up on history, even though parts ar fictional, the background history is very factual. regards, Isobel

      • I will look for that book. These books help history to be more interesting to read about. I have been to Ferrara and Mantova, both wonderful cities.

  2. I will also get the book on my kindle. I’m currently listening to a fascinating book “The young Romantics-The Shelley’s, Byron and other tangled lives” in which Bagni Di Lucca is mentioned frequently.

    • I will have to look for The Young Romantics. The poets stayed in Bagni di Lucca and were said to frolick in the thermal pools nearby.

  3. You certainly bolster my dream life, Debra! I almost made it back to Europe in 2014 (I was there in the ’70s on a Navy ship), but my wife got cancer and that scotched the trip. I’d still love to go back. I’d probably come home with another 50,000 images to edit. 🙂

    • I have gathered many photos along the way. At least the blog gives me a place for some of them. I hope your wife is well now.

  4. Great post. I also wanted to mention, that it was a pleasure meeting you at Cafe Italia last year in September.

    • Thank you. It is great meeting people on my travels.

  5. Debra What a wonderful & stunning Post. You are so lucky to be able to visit such Exhibitions. Have to agree Eleonora di Toledo was absolutely beautiful & what a life ( although short) she had. Cannot imagine having 11 children though.

    • The exhibition was excellent. What an amazing woman she was. Look for the book.

  6. Eleonora Álvarez de Toledo was a beauty and a highly intelligent woman. When ambassadors of Cosimo Medici we’re trying to find him a suitable wife. Cosimo had asked them to find him a consort who was “Bella, mobile e ricca” and Eleanor fitted the description. The daughter of the powerful Spanish Viceroy would consolidate the reign of young Cosimo, who was ascending to the throne after a few of the Medici heirs were assassinated. The marriage would mean the protection of the Emperor. Actually, the Viceroy wanted Cosimo to marry his eldest daughter, offering a huge dowry. But Cosimo had already seen Eleonora and he was smitten, even if her dowry was not as generous as her sister’s.
    In any case it was a marriage contract made in Heaven and the spouses deeply loved each other.
    The portrait by Bronzino is really exquisite. One of my favorites.

    • I loved the exhibition. I had already read a lot about Eleonora and I really enjoyed seeing how she lived. It was rare at the time for men in Cosimo’s position to be faithful, but it seems they were a good couple.

  7. Another wonderful post. Sadly we’ll miss the exhibition as we arrive in Granaiola at the end of May

    • What a pity, it is an excellent exhibition.

  8. Beautiful photos thank you. We are hoping to settle somewhere there in near future. I was searching for another Canadian blogger who either lives in Sardinia or Sicily. She was working in the hospitality industry, but her name slips my mind. She may not around anymore. But if one comes to mind, I;d appreciate your help. Thanks again. Viva L’Italia

    • It could be Jenifer Aventura. She is Canadian and was living in Sardinia.

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