Bronzino, Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo with her son Giovanni
The marriage of Eleonora of Toledo and Cosimo I de’ Medici is perhaps one of the great love stories of the Renaissance. The second daughter of the viceroy from Spain, Cosimo first laid eyes on Eleonora during a trip to Naples. After Cosimo became duke, he asked Eleonora’s father for her hand in marriage. Her father tried to convince Cosimo to take her older sister for a much larger dowry, but Cosimo, remembering Eleonora’s beauty, insisted on the younger daughter. The two were married in 1539, and it is reputed that Cosimo remained faithful to her throughout his marriage, even though it would have been easy for him to take a mistress. Eleonora was Cosimo’s constant companion, and even acted as his regent when he was ill. Because of her role as “first lady,” she is often regarded as the first modern woman.