Benedetto, Don Giovanni, Donna Livia

Benedetto Blanis (c.1580-1647) was born and raised in Florence’s Jewish Ghetto, a turbulent enclave in the heart of the Medici capital. Don Giovanni dei Medici (1567-1621) was a scion of the ruling house—the legitimized bastard of Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Livia Vernazza (1590-1655) was the low-born daughter of a Genoese mattress-maker and a barely reformed prostitute.

These three people had nothing in common—or so it might seem. But for at least six years (1615-21), their lives were inextricably linked. Don Giovanni made a distinguished military career, but his chief passions were the theatre and the occult. Benedetto earned a perilous living by second-hand dealing and loan sharking; meanwhile, he hoped to parlay his knowledge of the Hebrew language and Jewish Kabbalah into a privileged position at the Medici Court. Livia craved status and security in her own way, relying on her own peculiar skills—forging an intense relationship with a susceptible older man, Don Giovanni dei Medici.

This is a story of people, but it is also a story of places and events—behind the scenes in the Pitti Palace, in the narrow byways of the Florentine Ghetto and in the prisons of the Inquisition. Truth—especially historical truth—can be stranger than fiction, as demonstrated by thousands of new and startling documents from the Medici Granducal Archive.

- François Bunel the Younger, Troupe of Italian Actors (Musée des Beaux Arts, Beziers).
- Ludovico Cardi “il Cigoli” (attributed), Don Giovanni dei Medici(Luigi Koelliker Collection, Milan).
- Giovanni Grevembroch, Jewish Pedlar  (Museo Civico Correr, Venice).
- Kabbalistic permutations of the name of God (Biblioteca Marucelliana, Florence).