The Marriage Portrait

by Maggie O'Farrell

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Venison Baked in Wine–Everything Changes Summary

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Last Updated on November 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 721

Venison Baked in Wine

In the present day, at the hunting lodge, Lucrezia and Alfonso continue their meal. Perhaps tomorrow, Alfonso muses to his young wife, the two will go for a ride along the river bank. Lucrezia, awed, wonders how he can talk like this when he so clearly intends to kill her at his earliest convenience. 

As her emotions vacillate from fear to fury to mirth to disbelief, she recalls the difference in her upbringing from that of her brothers. Boys, she notes, were taught to fight and defend and survive at all costs, whereas girls were taught to be gentle. Alfonso, surely, would have received a boy’s education in brutality.

Thinking of Sofia, who had a plan for every contingency, Lucrezia’s resolve strengthens. Her last plan—to evade this marriage in the first place by appealing to her father—had not been fruitful. This time, she will have to do better.

Alfonso encourages her to eat, telling her that her recent illness has left her too thin. Lucrezia, anxious and fearful of her husband, has lost her appetite.

She starts to tell him about the tiger but soon decides to keep her secrets for herself. She doesn’t tell him that the tiger was eventually eaten by the lions and that she was struck with a mysterious illness upon learning the news. Nor does she tell him that she nearly died from this ordeal—or that she was finally given drawing lessons in an attempt to lure her back to health.

Seven Galleys Laden with Gold

As a child, Lucrezia had been fixated on the origin story of her parents’ relationship. They had seen each other just once before marriage, and Cosimo had fallen in love with Eleonora in an instant and had been devoted to her from that moment forward. 

It would eventually transpire that Lucrezia would see her husband just once before marriage, too: at just ten, young Lucrezia had encountered her sister Maria and Maria’s fiance, Alfonso, out for a walk along one of the palazzo’s battlements. Though Maria barely registered her sister, Alfonso had endeared himself to Lucrezia by noticing her pet mouse. As the couple passed, Alfonso had contorted his face into a strikingly perfect mouse impression.

The End of the Meal

In the present, at the hunting lodge, Alfonso tells Lucrezia that she looks cold. He urges her to sit by the fire, beckoning her tenderly onto his lap and cradling her small body for warmth. She begins to wonder if she has misinterpreted his intentions and has let her imagination get away from her.

Probing at his decision to leave on this excursion without her companions, she asks when her maidservants will arrive. Without making eye contact, he speculates that it will probably be a day or two.

As the two ascend to their chambers for the evening, Lucrezia attempts to mentally map the staircases and corridors in case she needs to flee.

Everything Changes

As Lucrezia’s four older siblings come of age, their planned futures begin to emerge: Maria will marry the future Duke of Ferrara, Isabella will marry a prominent Roman nobleman, Francesco will take over Cosimo’s title as Grand Duke of Florence, and Giovanni will enter the church as a cardinal. As these benchmarks of adulthood loom, each of them is given their own room in the palazzo and the nursery slowly empties. Lucrezia, unprepared for this, finds herself lonelier than she expected.

As Maria’s wedding approaches, the palazzo bustles with preparations and excitement for the union. Her dress, a monument to opulence, is spun from pure gold. But when a storm descends on Florence, the usually robust Maria becomes ill. Before long, she dies. The family is left in shock.

A month after her burial, a letter of condolence arrives from the Duke of Ferrara. The letter expresses their family’s devastation at Maria’s death but also the suggestion that Alfonso might marry Lucrezia instead.

Lucrezia, overhearing this while eavesdropping outside Cosimo’s chambers one evening, runs back to the nursery and frantically tells Sofia what she has heard. Though they can’t stop it, Sofia tells her, they can delay the marriage for a little while—they just need to pretend that Lucrezia has not yet begun menstruating.

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