Historical Guests

Portofino, a World apart
February 2009

Maria de’ Medici in Portofino.

Maria de’ Medici, daughter of the defunct grand duke of Tuscany Francesco I De Medici, was 27 years old when for reasons of state her uncle Ferdinando conceded her in matrimony to the 47 years old Enrico IV of Borbone, king ara of Navarra (from 1572) and of France (from 1579). Pope Clement VIII had annulled the first marriage of the king with Margherita di Valois (who could not have children) because she confessed to having contracted the marriage under duress. Married to the king of France through the power of attorney of M. eur de Bellegarde, ambassador of to Florence, by cardinal Pietro Aldobrandino, nephew of the Pope, Maria set sail on October 13, from Livorno in a superb galley escorted by six others belonging to the grand duke, five from the Pontiff, and two others from the Knights of Malta.

The ships found weak and unfavorable winds and had to first direct themselves towards the island of Gorgona and then towards the eastern Ligurian coast. They arrived at Portofino 8 days after their departure the 22nd of October but an unusually strong northwest wind coming off the mountain prevented them from continuing the voyage on to the port of Genoa. It was thus necessary to stop atPortofinoUp to this point history. Now I will leave some space for fantasy, supported however by immaginative tradition. The bay, protected by the point, was tranquil as a lake and the queen, accompanied by her court was delighted with the stop that the weather had concede to her. The inhabitants of Portofinowere likewise delighted because it enabled them to meet a queen and her escort. Maria, having disembarked in the village, had herself carried on a sedan chair to the castle and was immediately enchanted with the luxurious vegetation of the mountain point overlooking the sea.

Here she wanted to be left alone to follow the path that lead to the point and, from this path she was struck by the magnificence of the alternating of light and shade on that October day. The rays of the sun that battled a grey cloud, now prevailing, now succumbing, and thus rendering the sea either silver or a leaden grey and the branches of the bushes shining or dark. After arriving at the edge of the mountain, to the east she could see in the distance the mountains that blocked a view of Tuscany, and to the west she could imagine the distant lands of her kingdom, France. She found herself, full of youth and life, alone, and without the husband she had yet to meet. She wanted tofeelfree, and liberated from the heavy clothing she was compelled to wear even on her walk. She thus decidedto take off some clothing and relax and enjoy herself un- der the warm sun which at that hour was present. Her escort had been waiting for her on the terrace of the castle and they saw her return after a short while accompanied by a man, a hunter from Portofino about thirty years old with a shotgun slung over his shoulders.

He had offered to accompany her to protect her from the numerous wild boars which permeated the mountain. An attack fromone of these snorting swine, besides being frightening, could very well be dangerous for the poor queen who was tranquil in her ignorance. The stop at Portofino was much longer than expected because the northwest wind continued to block the departure for Marseille. The hunter, who was a noble and refined Genoese whom I shall not name, was able to get well acquainted with the queen showing her the various natural beauty of the area: the abbey of Cervara, where Petrarca, the poet who had covered love with a transparent veil, “nude in Greece and nude in Rome” had been a guest.

And behind Niasca he also showed her the old chapel of Saint Anthony the abbot. Maria was an intel- ligent woman, of good Florentine stock, a descendant of Lorenzo. She could not help but love art and the art of love. At this pointwe must cut short our narration. Conflicting literary testaments and nonexistent archival materials compel it. However, even if the inferences of some historians who refuse to question the non absolute devotion of Maria towards the king whom she still had not met were true, she, who had to have been aware of the mischief of the virile Enrico IVwithGabrielle d’Estrèè, Henriette de Vernueil, and Charlotte de Montmorency, would not have felt very guilty for any little “adventure” she might have had.

Maria de’ Medici

, a world apart.