Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



The Italy of Popes and Princes



Between the 15th and the 18th centuries, Italy was contested by the rulers of France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. It disintegrated into interdependent political structures that quarreled with each other and maneuvered between the great powers. The popes and the northern Italian princes were united by ruthless power and family politics in their battle against municipal freedoms and fashioned their courts into shining centers of the arts and literature.


see also:






CLASSICAL MUSIC-The Middle Ages and the Renaissance, The Baroque Era

see also text


text VASARI "Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects"

text ARIOSTO "Orlando Enraged" canto 1-4

text TASSO TORQUATO   "Jerusalem Delivered"



The Papacy during the Counter-Reformation

A moral renewal of the papacy occurred under the influence of the Counter-Reformation, but it also brought about a curbing of intellectual and scientific freedoms, and the papacy ignored the Enlightenment for a long time.


After the reform plans of popes such as Hadrian VI, Pius III, and Marcellus II failed because their pontificates were too short, Paul IV in 1555 and Pius V in 1566 were able to establish an uncompromising papacy of the Counter-Reformation. The moral renewal under these popes, however, was accompanied by the Inquisition's reign of terror. Among the Italian clergy active at this time was the later canonized Carlo Borromeo, who as cardinal-archbishop of Milan after 1560 worked toward comprehensive Church reform.

Popes who held fast to the concept of the Counter-Reformation included Gregory XIII, who introduced the modern Gregorian calendar in 1582, and Sixtus V, who rid the Papal States of its bands of robbers and developed papal centralism through a complete reorganization of Church administration that remained in force into the 20th century. In the 17th century under Paul V and  Urban VIII.

Rome once again became a world center of art and culture, but it was also under them that the dispute with 11 GALILEO GALILEI about the Copernican conception of the world took place.

11 Galileo defends himself before the inquisition court,
painting, 17th century

see also:

BIOGRAPHIES of Writers and Philosophers


8 Gregory XV founded the Congregation for Propagating the Faith (Propaganda Fide) in 1622, which was responsible in the following centuries for coordinating the spread of Catholic missionary work all over the world. Innocent XI stood out among the successors of  9 Urban VIII, bringing about a grand coalition of European powers against the Ottomans' 1683 siege of Vienna.

The papacy closed its mind to the enlightening currents of the 18th century through censorship and the banning of books.

The liberal and enlightened 10 Benedict XIV, who was described by Montesquieu as the pope of the scholars, demanded internal ecclesiastical enlightenment, but his successors rescinded his reforms—provoking the opposition of enlightened absolutism, which had by that time established itself in the Catholic countries. Austria, Spain, and Portugal forced the reactionary Clement XIV to dissolve the powerful order of the Jesuits in 1773.

His successor, Pius VI, was a victim of these developments; in 1782 he traveled to Vienna in a fruitless attempt to persuade Emperor Joseph II to tone down measures against the Church.

In 1797 Pius lost the papal enclave at Avignon in southern France, and in 1798 he was captured by French troops who had occupied Italy on Napoleon's orders and was deported, along with a major part of the Church's treasures, to France.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
9 Tomb of Pope Urban VIII
Tomb of Pope Alexander VII in San Pietro di Vaticano
Tomb of Pope Leo XI


10 Tomb of Pope Benedict XIV, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican by Ricardo André Frantz
8 Tomb of Pope Gregory XV and his nephew Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, Sant'Ignazio, Rome by Pierre Le Gros the Younger

see also:
Baroque and Rococo 



Niccolo Machiavelli

A diplomat and member of the government of the republic of Florence, Niccolo Machiavelli—in his work, ll Principe (The Prince), in 1513—developed the principle of pragmatic politics as a fundamental law for modern European states: "The end justifies the means."

Niccolo Machiavelli, painting, 16th century

see also text


"The Prince"





Cesare Borgia

"On the evening of the 31st of October 1501, [Alexander's son] Cesare Borgia hosted in his rooms in the Vatican a party with 50 honorable prostitutes, referred to as courtesans, who after the meal danced with the servants and others present, first in their clothes and then naked.

After the meal the candelabras with the burning candles were stood on the floor and chestnuts spread around them, which the naked prostitutes collected on their hands and knees and crawling between the candelabras, watched by the Pope, Cesare, and his sister
Lucrezia [Borgia]."

by Johannes Burcardus,
Alexander VI's master of ceremonies

Portrait of Cesare Borgia, by Altobello Melone.



The Borgias



Pope Alexander VI

Pope Alexander VI. (Rodrigo Borgia)
Detail from a Fresco of the Resurrection, painted in 1492 - 1495 by Pinturicchio

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pope Alexander VI (1 January 1431 – 18 August 1503), born Roderic Llançol, later Roderic de Borja i Borja (Italian: Rodrigo Borgia) was Pope from 1492 to 1503. He is the most controversial of the secular popes of the Renaissance, and his surname (Italianized as Borgia) became a byword for the debased standards of the papacy of that era. He was famously a syphilitic.

Birth and family
Roderic Llançol was born at Xàtiva, Valencia, Spain. His parents were Jofré Llançol y Escrivà (died bef. 24 March, 1437) and his wife and relative Isabel de Borja (y Llançol?) (died 19 October, 1468). His family name is written Llançol in Valencian and Lanzol in Spanish. Roderic assumed his mother's family name of Borja on the elevation of his maternal uncle Alonso de Borja, to the papacy as Calixtus III in 1455.

Roderic de Borja studied law at Bologna and after his uncle's election as pope, was created successively bishop, cardinal and vice-chancellor of the church, nepotistic appointments characteristic of the age. He served in the Roman Curia under five popes (Calixtus III, Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII) and acquired much administrative experience, influence and wealth, though not great power.

On the death of Pope Innocent VIII (1484–1492), the three likely candidates for the Papacy were cardinals Borja, Ascanio Sforza and Giuliano della Rovere. While there was never substantive proof of simony, the rumour was that Borja, by his great wealth, succeeded in buying the largest number of votes, including that of Sforza, whom, popular rumour had it, he bribed with four mule-loads of silver. According to some historians, however, Borja had no need of such an unsubtle exchange - the benefices and offices granted Sforza for his support would be worth considerably more than four mule-loads of silver. John Burchard, the conclave's master of ceremonies and a leading figure of the papal household under several popes, recorded in his diary that the 1492 conclave was a particularly expensive campaign. Della Rovere was bankrolled to the cost of 200,000 gold ducats by the King of France, with another 100,000 supplied by the Republic of Genoa.[3] Borgia was elected on 11 August 1492, assuming the name of Alexander VI. Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, later to become Pope Leo X, sharply criticized the election and warned of dire things to come:

“ Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all.[4] ”

Nepotism and opposition
At first, Alexander's reign was marked by a strict administration of justice and an orderly method of government, in contrast to the mismanagement of the previous pontificate, as well as by great outward splendour. But it was not long before his passion for endowing his relatives at the church's and his neighbours' expense became manifest. Alexander VI had four children by his mistress (Vannozza dei Cattani), three sons and a daughter: Giovanni, Cesare, Goffredo (or Gioffre or, in Catalan, Jofré) and Lucrezia. Cesare, while a youth of seventeen and a student at Pisa, was made Archbishop of Valencia (hence the nickname of Valentino), and Giovanni received the dukedom of Gandia, the Borgias' ancestral home in Spain. For the Duke of Gandia and for Giuffrè/Goffredo the Pope proposed to carve fiefs out of the papal states and the Kingdom of Naples. Among the fiefs destined for the duke of Gandia were Cerveteri and Anguillara, lately acquired by Virginio Orsini, head of that powerful house. This policy brought Ferdinand I, King of Naples, into conflict with Alexander, who was also opposed by Cardinal della Rovere, whose candidature for the papacy had been backed by Ferdinand. Della Rovere fortified himself in his bishopric of Ostia at the Tiber's mouth as Alexander formed a league against Naples (25 April 1493) and prepared for war.

Ferdinand allied himself with Florence, Milan, and Venice. He also appealed to Spain for help; but Spain was anxious to be on good terms with the papacy in order to obtain the title to the newly discovered continent of America. Alexander, in the bull Inter Caetera, 4 May 1493, divided the title between Spain and Portugal along a demarcation line. (This and other related bulls are known collectively as the Bulls of Donation.)

Alexander V arranged great marriages for his children. Lucrezia had been promised to the Venetian Don Gasparo da Procida, but on her father's elevation to the papacy the engagement was cancelled and in 1493 she married Giovanni Sforza, lord of Pesaro, the ceremony being celebrated at the Vatican Palace with unparalleled magnificence.

In spite of the splendours of the Pontifical court, the condition of Rome became every day more deplorable. The city swarmed with Spanish adventurers, assassins, prostitutes and informers; murder and robbery were committed with impunity, and the Pope himself cast aside all show of decorum, living a purely secular life; indulging in the chase, and arranging dancing, and stage plays. The wild orgies that Alexander was reported to have sponsored within the papal palaces are now generally considered by the catholic church to have been exaggerated. One of his close companions was Cem, the brother of the Sultan Bayazid II (1481–1512), detained as a hostage. The general outlook in Italy was of the gloomiest and the country was on the eve of foreign invasion.

French involvement
Alexander VI made many alliances to secure his position. He sought help from Charles VIII of France, who was allied to Ludovico il Moro Sforza, the de facto ruler of Milan who needed French support to legitimise his regime (1483–1498). As King Ferdinand I of Naples was threatening to come to the aid of the rightful duke Gian Galeazzo — the husband of his granddaughter Isabella — Alexander VI encouraged the French king in his scheme for the conquest of Naples.

But Alexander VI, always ready to seize opportunities to aggrandize his family, then adopted a double policy. Through the intervention of the Spanish ambassador he made peace with Naples in July 1493 and cemented the peace by a marriage between his son Giuffre and Doña Sancha, another granddaughter of Ferdinand I. In order to dominate the Sacred College of Cardinals more completely, Alexander, in a move that created much scandal, created twelve new cardinals, among them his own son Cesare, then only eighteen years old, and Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III), the brother of one of the Pope's mistresses, the beautiful Giulia Farnese.

On 25 January 1494 Ferdinand I died and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II (1494–1495). Charles VIII of France now advanced formal claims on the kingdom, and Alexander VI authorized him to pass through Rome ostensibly on a crusade against the Turks, without mentioning Naples. But when the French invasion became a reality he was alarmed, recognized Alfonso II as King, and concluded an alliance with him in exchange for various fiefs for his sons (July 1494). A military response to the French threat was set in motion: a Neapolitan army was to advance through the Romagna and attack Milan, while the fleet was to seize Genoa; but both expeditions were badly conducted and failed, and on 8 September Charles VIII crossed the Alps and joined Lodovico il Moro at Milan. The papal states were in turmoil, and the powerful Colonna faction seized Ostia in the name of France. Charles VIII rapidly advanced southward, and after a short stay in Florence, set out for Rome (November 1494).

Alexander VI appealed to Ascanio Sforza for help, and even to the Sultan. He tried to collect troops and put Rome in a state of defence, but his position was precarious. When the Orsini offered to admit the French to their castles, Alexander had no choice but to come to terms with Charles, who on 31 December entered Rome with his troops, the cardinals of the French faction, and Giuliano della Rovere. Alexander now feared that the king might depose him for simony and summon a council, but he won over the bishop of Saint-Malo, who had much influence over the king, with a cardinal's hat. Alexander VI agreed to send Cesare, as legate, to Naples with the French army, to deliver Cem to Charles VIII and to give him Civitavecchia (16 January 1495). On 28 January Charles VIII departed for Naples with Cem and Cesare, but the latter slipped away to Spoleto. Neapolitan resistance collapsed; Alfonso II fled and abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand II, who also had to escape, abandoned by all, and the kingdom was conquered with surprising ease.

The French in retreat
A reaction against Charles VIII soon set in, for all the powers were alarmed at his success, and on 31 March 1495 a so-called Holy League was formed between the pope, the emperor, Venice, Lodovico il Moro and Ferdinand of Spain, ostensibly against the Turks, but in reality to expel the French from Italy. Charles VIII had himself crowned King of Naples on 12 May but a few days later began his retreat northward. He encountered the allies at Fornovo and after a drawn battle cut his way through them and was back in France by November. Ferdinand II was reinstated at Naples soon afterwards, with Spanish help. The expedition, if it produced no material results, demonstrated the foolishness of the so called 'politics of equilibrium' (the Medicean doctrine of preventing one of the Italian principates from overwhelming the rest and uniting them under its hegemony), since it rendered the country unable to defend itself against the powerful nation states, France and Spain, that had forged themselves during the previous century. Alexander VI, following the general tendency of all the princes of the day to crush the great feudatories and establish a centralized despotism, now took advantage of the defeat of the French to break the power of the Orsini and begin building himself an effective power base in the papal states.

Castel Sant'Angelo is where Pope Alexander VI secluded himself after the death of the Duke of Gandia.Virginio Orsini, who had been captured by the Spaniards, died a prisoner at Naples, and the Pope confiscated his property; but the rest of the clan still held out, defeating the papal troops sent against them under Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino and Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, at Soriano (January 1497). Peace was made through Venetian mediation, the Orsini paying 50,000 ducats in exchange for their confiscated lands, while the Duke of Urbino, whom they had captured, was left by the Pope to pay his own ransom. The Orsini remained very powerful, and Alexander VI could count on none but his 3,000 Spaniards. His only success had been the capture of Ostia and the submission of the Francophile cardinals Colonna and Savelli.

Then occurred the first of those ugly domestic tragedies for which the house of Borgia remains notorious. On 14 June the Duke of Gandia, lately created Duke of Benevento, disappeared: the next day his corpse was found in the Tiber.

Alexander, overwhelmed with grief, shut himself up in Castel Sant'Angelo and then declared that the reform of the church would be the sole object of his life henceforth – a resolution he did not keep. Every effort was made to discover the assassin, and suspicion fell on various highly placed people. When the rumour spread that Cesare, the Pope's second son, had done the deed, the inquiries ceased. No conclusive evidence ever came to light about the murder, although Cesare remained the most widely suspected.

Confiscations and Savonarola
Violent and vengeful, Cesare now became the most powerful man in Rome, and even his father quailed before him. Because Alexander needed funds to carry out his various schemes, he began a series of confiscations, of which one of the victims was his own secretary. The process was a simple one: any cardinal, nobleman or official who was known to be rich would be accused of some offence; imprisonment and perhaps murder followed at once, and then the confiscation of his property. The least opposition to the Borgia was punished with death.

Because of his invectives against papal corruption, Girolamo Savonarola was viewed with hostility by Pope Alexander VI. He was eventually arrested and executed on 23 May 1498.Even in that corrupt age the debased state of the curia was a major scandal. Opponents such as the demagogic monk Girolamo Savonarola, who appealed for a general council to confront the papal abuses, launched invectives against papal corruption. Alexander VI, unable to get the excommunicated Savonarola into his own hands, browbeat the Florentine government into condemning the reformer to death (23 May 1498). The houses of Colonna and Orsini, after much fighting between themselves, allied against the Pope, who found himself unable to maintain order in his own dominions.

In these circumstances, Alexander, feeling more than ever that he could only rely on his own kin, turned his thoughts to further family aggrandizement. He had annulled Lucrezia's marriage to Giovanni Sforza — who had responded to the suggestion that he was impotent with the counter-claim that Alexander and Cesare indulged in incestuous relations with Lucrezia — in 1497, and, unable to arrange a union between Cesare and the daughter of King Frederick IV of Naples (who had succeeded Ferdinand II the previous year), he induced Frederick by threats to agree to a marriage between the Duke of Bisceglie, a natural son of Alfonso II, and Lucrezia. Cesare, after resigning his cardinalate, was sent on a mission to France at the end of the year, bearing a bull of divorce for the new French king Louis XII, in exchange for which he obtained the duchy of Valentinois (a duchy chosen because it was consistent with his already known nickname of Valentino), a promise of material assistance in his schemes to subjugate the feudal princelings of papal Romagna, and a marriage to a princess of Navarre.

Alexander VI hoped that Louis XII's help would be more profitable to his house than that of Charles VIII had been. In spite of the remonstrances of Spain and of the Sforza, he allied himself with France in January 1499 and was joined by Venice. By the autumn Louis XII was in Italy expelling Lodovico Sforza from Milan. With French success seemingly assured, the Pope determined to deal drastically with the Romagna, which although nominally under papal rule was divided into a number of practically independent lordships on which Venice, Milan, and Florence cast hungry eyes. Cesare, empowered by the support of the French, proceeded to attack the turbulent cities one by one in his capacity as nominated gonfaloniere (standard bearer) of the church. But the expulsion of the French from Milan and the return of Lodovico Sforza interrupted his conquests, and he returned to Rome early in 1500.

Cesare in the North
Alleged portrait of Cesare Borgia, by Altobello Melone. Bergamo, Accademia Carrara. Cesare was the son and cardinal-nephew of Alexander VI, became the first person to resign the cardinalate on August 17, 1498.This year was a jubilee year, and crowds of pilgrims flocked to the city from all parts of the world bringing money for the purchase of indulgences, so that Alexander VI was able to furnish Cesare with funds for his enterprise. In the north the pendulum swung back once more in favour of the French, who reoccupied Milan in April, causing the downfall of the Sforza, much to Alexander VI's satisfaction.

In July the Duke of Bisceglie, whose existence was no longer advantageous, was murdered on Cesare's orders, leaving Lucrezia free to contract another marriage. The Pope, ever in need of money, now created twelve new cardinals, from whom he received 120,000 ducats, and fresh conquests for Cesare were considered. A crusade was talked of, but the real object was central Italy; and so in the autumn, Cesare, backed by France and Venice, set forth with 10,000 men to complete his interrupted business in the Romagna.

The local despots of Romagna were duly dispossessed, and an administration was set up, which, if tyrannical and cruel, was at least orderly and strong, and which aroused the admiration of Machiavelli. On his return to Rome in June 1501 Cesare was created Duke of Romagna. Louis XII, having succeeded in the north, determined to conquer southern Italy as well. He concluded a treaty with Spain for the division of the Neapolitan kingdom, which was ratified by the Pope on 25 June, Frederick being formally deposed. While the French army proceeded to invade Naples, Alexander VI took the opportunity, with the help of the Orsini, to reduce the Colonna to obedience. In his absence on campaign he left Lucrezia as regent, providing the remarkable spectacle of a pope's natural daughter in charge of the Holy See. Shortly afterwards he induced Alfonso d'Este, son of the Duke of Ferrara, to marry Lucrezia, thus establishing her as wife of the heir to one of the most important duchies in Italy (January 1502). At about this time a Borgia of doubtful parentage was born — Giovanni, described in some papal documents as Alexander VI's son and in others as Cesare's.

As France and Spain were quarrelling over the division of Naples and the Campagna barons were quiet, Cesare set out once more in search of conquests. In June 1502 he seized Camerino and Urbino, the news of whose capture delighted the Pope; but his attempt to draw Florence into an alliance failed. In July, Louis XII of France again invaded Italy and was at once bombarded with complaints from the Borgias' enemies. Alexander VI's diplomacy, however, turned the tide, and Cesare, in exchange for promising to assist the French in the south, was given a free hand in central Italy.

Last years
A danger now arose in the shape of a conspiracy on the part of the deposed despots, the Orsini, and of some of Cesare's own condottieri. At first the papal troops were defeated and things looked black for the house of Borgia. But a promise of French help quickly forced the confederates to come to terms. Cesare, by an act of treachery, then seized the ringleaders at Senigallia and put Oliverotto da Fermo and Vitellozzo Vitelli to death (31 December 1502). As soon as Alexander VI heard the news he lured Cardinal Orsini to the Vatican and cast him into a dungeon, where he died. His goods were confiscated, his aged mother turned into the street and many other members of the clan in Rome were arrested, while Giuffre Borgia led an expedition into the Campagna and seized their castles. Thus the two great houses of Orsini and Colonna, who had long fought for predominance in Rome and often flouted the Pope's authority, were subjugated and the Borgias' power increased. Cesare then returned to Rome, where his father asked him to assist Giuffre in reducing the last Orsini strongholds; this for some reason he was unwilling to do, much to Alexander VI's annoyance; but he eventually marched out, captured Ceri and made peace with Giulio Orsini, who surrendered Bracciano.

Three more high personages fell victim to the Borgias' greed this year: Cardinal Michiel, who was poisoned in April 1503, J. da Santa Croce, who had helped to seize Cardinal Orsini, and Troches or Troccio, Alexander's chamberlain and secretary; all these murders brought immense sums to the Pope. About Cardinal Ferrari's death, there is more doubt; he probably died of fever, but Alexander VI immediately confiscated his goods anyway. The war between France and Spain for the possession of Naples dragged on, and Alexander VI was forever intriguing, ready to ally himself with whichever power promised the most advantageous terms at any moment. He offered to help Louis XII on condition that Sicily be given to Cesare, and then offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.

Although there is no doubt that Alexander VI liked to eliminate any cardinal and immediately confiscate their property, there is no sufficient evidence on the methods used in these murders. It has been suggested that the family used their favorite poison Cantarella, an arsenic variation, which was offered to their poor victim in a form of drink with an innovative nickname, the 'liquor of succession'. Since raw forms of arsenic, known at that time, were not immediately fatal, Alexander VI must have had a method invented for the preparation of this substance, but no confirmation of this has survived. The famous cup of Borgia, a golden cup with a hidden area storing the poison so it could be mixed with the wine, is often mentioned as the family's favorite murdering method, and it has been the base for many legendary and science fiction stories, including Agatha Christie's short story The Apples of Hesperides published in the 1947 collection The Labours of Hercules.

Pope Pius III succeeded Alexander VI upon his deathBurchard recorded the events that surrounded the death of the Pope. Cesare was preparing for another expedition in August 1503 when, after he and Alexander had dined with Cardinal Adriano da Corneto on August 6, they were taken ill with fever. Cesare had eventually recovered, but Alexander VI was too old to have any chance. According to Burchard, Alexander VI's stomach became swollen and turned to liquid, while his face became wine-coloured and his skin began to peel off. Finally his stomach and bowels bled profusely. After more than a week of intestinal bleeding and convulsive fevers, and after accepting last rites and making a confession, the despairing Alexander VI expired on 18 August 1503 at the age of 72. He is said to have uttered the last words "Wait a minute" before expiring.

His death was followed by scenes of wild disorder, and Cesare, too ill to attend to the business himself, sent Don Michelotto, his chief bravo, to seize the Pope's treasures before the death was publicly announced. When the body was exhibited to the people the next day it was in a shocking state of decomposition. Writing in his Liber Notarum, Burchard elaborates: "The face was very dark, the colour of a dirty rag or a mulberry, and was covered all over with bruise-coloured marks. The nose was swollen; the tongue had bent over in the mouth, completely double, and was pushing out the lips which were, themselves, swollen. The mouth was open and so ghastly that people who saw it said they had never seen anything like it before." It has been suggested that, having taken into account the unusual level of decomposition, Alexander VI was accidentally poisoned to death by his son with Cantarella (which was prepared to eliminate Cardinal Adriano), although some commentaries (including the Encyclopædia Britannica) doubt these stories and attribute Alexander's death to malaria, at that time prevalent in Rome, or to another such pestilence. The ambassador of Ferrara wrote to Duke Ercole that it was no wonder the pope and the duke were sick because nearly everyone in Rome was ill as a consequence of bad air ("per la mala condictione de aere").

Burchard described how the Pope's mouth foamed like a kettle over a fire and how the body began to swell so much that it became as wide as it was long. The Venetian ambassador reported that Alexander VI's body was "the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body that was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity". Finally the body began to release sulphurous gasses from every orifice. Burchard records that he had to jump on the body to jam it into the undersized coffin and covered it with an old carpet, the only surviving furnishing in the room.

Such was Alexander VI's unpopularity that the priests of St. Peter's Basilica refused to accept the body for burial until forced to do so by papal staff. Only four prelates attended the Requiem Mass. Alexander's successor on the Throne of St. Peter, Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini, who assumed the name of Pope Pius III (1503), forbade the saying of a Mass for the repose of Alexander VI's soul, saying, "It is blasphemous to pray for the damned". After a short stay, the body was removed from the crypts of St. Peter's and installed in a less well-known church, the Spanish national church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.

Alexander gave away the temporal estates of the papacy to his children as though they belonged to him. The secularization of the church was carried to a pitch never before dreamed of, and it was clear to all Italy that he regarded the papacy as an instrument of worldly schemes with no thought of its religious aspect. During his pontificate the church was brought to its lowest level of degradation. The condition of his subjects was deplorable, and if Cesare's rule in Romagna was an improvement on that of the local tyrants, the people of Rome have seldom been more oppressed than under the Borgia.

Alexander VI has become almost a mythical character, and countless legends and traditions are attached to his name. Alexander was not the only figure responsible for the general unrest in Italy or for the foreign invasions, but he was ever ready to profit by them. Even if the stories of his murders (including the rumor that his first murder was at the age of 12), poisonings and immoralities are not all true, there is no doubt that his greed for money and his essentially vicious nature led him to commit a great number of crimes. For many of his misdeeds his son Cesare was as guilty as his father as well.[citation needed]

The one pleasing aspect of his life is his patronage of the arts, and in his days a new architectural era was initiated in Rome with the coming of Bramante. Raphael, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio all worked for him, and a curious contrast, characteristic of the age, is afforded by the fact that a family so steeped in vice and crime could take pleasure in the most exquisite works of art.

Alexander VI, allegedly a marrano according to papal rival Giuliano della Rovere, distinguished himself by his relatively benign treatment of Jews. After the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain, some 9,000 famished Iberian Jews arrived at the borders of the Papal States. Alexander welcomed them into Rome, declaring that they were "permitted to lead their life, free from interference from Christians, to continue in their own rites, to gain wealth, and to enjoy many other privileges." He similarly allowed the immigration of Jews expelled from Portugal in 1497 and from Provence in 1498.

It has been noted that the crimes of Alexander VI are similar in nature to those of other Renaissance princes, with the one exception being his position in the Church. As De Maistre said in his work Du Pape, "The latter are forgiven nothing, because everything is expected from them, wherefore the vices lightly passed over in a Louis XIV become most offensive and scandalous in an Alexander VI."[citation needed]

Mistresses and family
Of Alexander's many mistresses the one for whom his passion lasted longest was a certain Vannozza (Giovanna) dei Cattani, born in 1442, and wife of three successive husbands. The connection began in 1470, and she bore him four children whom he openly acknowledged as his own: Giovanni, afterwards duke of Gandia (born 1474), Cesare (born 1476), Lucrezia (born 1480), and Goffredo or Giuffre (born 1481 or 1482). His other children – Girolamo, Isabella and Pier Luigi – were of uncertain parentage. Before his elevation to the papacy Cardinal Borgia's passion for Vannozza somewhat diminished, and she subsequently led a very retired life. Her place in his affections was filled by the beautiful Giulia Farnese (Giulia Bella), wife of an Orsini, but his love for his children by Vannozza remained as strong as ever and proved, indeed, the determining factor of his whole career. He lavished vast sums on them and loaded them with every honour. The atmosphere of Alexander's household is typified by the fact that his daughter Lucrezia lived with his mistress Giulia, who bore him a daughter, Laura, in 1492.

Queen Luísa de GusmãoHe is the ancestor of virtually all Royal Houses of Europe, mainly the Southern and Western ones, for being the ancestor of Doña Luisa de Guzmán, wife of King John IV of Portugal.




Vannozza dei Cattanei

Vanozza de’ Cattanei

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vannozza dei Cattanei.Vannozza dei Cattanei (Giovanna de Candia, contessa dei Cattanei) (13 July 1442 – 24 November 1518) was one of the many mistresses of the Pope Alexander VI (in violation of the celibacy vows the Pope takes), and among them, the one whose relationship lasted the longest. Her parents were Jacopo (Giacommo de Candia, conte dei Cattanei) and Mencia Pinctoris.

Born in 1442 to Mantuan parents, she moved to Rome where she ran several inns (Osterie), at first in Borgo, then in Campo de' Fiori. Before becoming Alexander's mistress, she had an alleged relationship with Cardinal Giulio della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II.

The connection with Alexander VI began in 1470, and she bore him four children whom he openly acknowledged as his own:

Giovanni, afterwards duke of Gandia (born 1474);
Cesare (born 1475);
Lucrezia (born 1480);
Gioffre (born 1481 or 1482)
Before his elevation to the papacy, Alexander VI's passion for Vannozza somewhat diminished, and she subsequently led a very retired life.

Her place in his affections was filled by the beautiful Giulia Farnese, wife of an Orsini, but Alexander VI's love for his children by Vannozza remained as strong as ever and proved, indeed, the determining factor of his whole career. He lavished vast sums on them and lauded them with every honour.

She had four husbands. First she married Domenico d'Arignano. Her second husband was Antonio de Brescia. In 1480 she married Giorgio della Croce. She had a son named Ottaviano with him. When she bacame a widow she finally married Carlo Canale.




Giulia Farnese

Lady with unicorn (Giulia Farnese), by Raphael  

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Presumed portrait by RaphaelGiulia Farnese (1474 - 23 March 1524) was one of the mistresses of the Pope Alexander VI. She was known as Giulia la bella, in Italian meaning "Julia the Beautiful". Lorenzo Pucci described her as "most lovely to behold". Cesare Borgia, the son of Alexander VI, described her as having "dark colouring, black eyes, round face and particular ardour".

Giulia Farnese was born at Canino, Latium, Italy, to Pier Luigi Farnese, Signore di Montalto (1435-1487), and wife Giovanna Caetani. One earlier member of this dynasty had been Pope Boniface VIII (1294–1303). She had four siblings. The first brother Alessandro was a notary but was embarked on an ecclesiastical career. Her second brother Bartolomeo Farnese, became Lord of Montalto in his place, married Iolanda Monaldeschi and had issue. The fourth child Angelo was a lord, married Lella Orsini and had female issue. The fifth was a sister, Girolama.

Copy of destroyed fresco of Pinturicchio "pope
Alexander VI before Madonna (his favorite
Giulia Farnese)" decribed by Vasari.
Made by Pietro Facettio

Marriage and relationships with Alexander VI
At the age of 15, on May 21, 1489, she married in Rome Orsino Orsini. He was the stepson of the ambitious Adriana de Mila, who was third cousin to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, Vice-Chancellor of the Church (and later Pope Alexander VI). Orsini was described as being squint eyed and was devoid of any meaningful self confidence. According to Maria Bellonci, it is uncertain when Alexander fell passionately in love with Giulia and decided to make her his mistress. What is known is that Adriana de Mila, Borgia's cousin, eventually gave her approval in order to win a higher status for her son with the Vatican. By November 1493 Giulia was living with Adriana de Mila and the Cardinal’s daughter Lucrezia Borgia in a recently built palace next to the Vatican from where the Pope could easily make his clandestine visits. The affair was widely known among the gossips of the time, and Giulia was referred to as "the Pope's whore" or as "the bride of Christ". Giulia and Lucrezia became close friends.

Through her intimacy with the Pope she was able to get her brother Alessandro created Cardinal. This earned him the title of "Cardinal of the skirts" from Pasquino.

Giulia had a daughter whom she named Laura. It is not clear whether Laura’s father was Orsino or Alexander. Maria Bellonci believes that there is evidence that she did have a physical relationship with her husband. Whatever the case may be, Giulia claimed that Laura was indeed the Pope’s daughter, but this may have been to raise the status of the child for future marriage considerations. In 1494 she angered the Pope by setting off to Capodimonte to be at the deathbed of her brother Angelo. She remained away from Rome, even after her brother’s death, at the insistence of her husband. He eventually capitulated to papal pressure however, and she soon set off on the journey back to her lover. This was the same time as the French invasion of Italy under Charles VIII. Giulia was captured by the French captain Yves d’Allegre, who demanded from the Pope, and received, a ransom of 3,000 scudi for her safe conduct to Rome.

She remained the Pope’s mistress until 1499 or 1500. At this time she seems to have fallen out of his favour due to her age. Bellonci believes that the break between the two was probably made amicably with the help of Adriana de Mila. Her husband also died around this time. She then moved to Carbognano, which is not too far from Rome. This town had been given to Orsino by Alexander VI. Alexander himself died three years later.

The Lady and the Unicorn
(Giulia Farnese), by Luca Longhi

Later life
Giulia returned to Rome for the wedding of her daughter Laura in 1505. Laura was wedded to Niccolò della Rovere, who was the son of the sister of then Pope Julius II. For Giulia, her time of love was not over. After a series of lovers, whose names have not been recorded, in the first years of her widowhood, she married Giovanni Capece of Bozzuto. He was a member of the lower ranking Neapolitan nobility. In 1506 Giulia became the governor of Carbognano. Giulia took up residence in the citadel of the castle, on the gate of which, years later, her name was inscribed. The chronicle of the castle states that Giulia was an able administrator who governed in a firm and energetic manner. Giulia stayed in Carbognano until 1522. Then she left the place and returned to Rome.

She died there, in the house of her brother, Cardinal Alessandro. She was 50 years old. The cause of her death is unknown. Ten years later her brother ascended the papal throne as Pope Paul III. Laura and Niccolò had three sons, who inherited the possessions of the Orsini family.

Virgin and Unicorn (Giulia Farnese), Fresco, by Domenichino





Girolamo Savonarola

Girolamo Savonarola, by Fra Bartolomeo, c. 1498

Italian preacher

born Sept. 21, 1452, Ferrara, Duchy of Ferrara
died May 23, 1498, Florence

Italian Christian preacher, reformer, and martyr, renowned for his clash with tyrannical rulers and a corrupt clergy. After the overthrow of the Medici in 1494, Savonarola was the sole leader of Florence, setting up a democratic republic. His chief enemies were the Duke of Milan and Pope Alexander VI, who issued numerous restraints against him, all of which were ignored.

Early years.
Girolamo Savonarola was born at Ferrara, the son of Niccolò Savonarola and of Elena Bonaccorsi. He was educated by his paternal grandfather, Michele, a celebrated doctor and a man of rigid moral and religious principles. From this elderly scholar, whose own education was of the 14th century, Savonarola may have received certain medieval influences. In his early poetry and other adolescent writings the main characteristics of the future reformer are seen. Even at that early date, as he wrote in a letter to his father, he could not suffer “the blind wickedness of the peoples of Italy.” He found unbearable the humanistic paganism that corrupted manners, art, poetry, and religion itself. He saw as the cause of this spreading corruption a clergy vicious even in the highest levels of the church hierarchy.

On April 24, 1475, he left his father’s house and his medical studies, on which he had embarked after taking a degree in the liberal arts, to enter the Dominican order at Bologna. Returning to Ferrara four years later, he taught Scripture in the Convento degli Angeli. The study of Scripture, together with the works of Thomas Aquinas, had always been his great passion.

Career in Florence.
In 1482 Savonarola was sent to Florence to take up the post of lecturer in the convent of San Marco, where he gained a great reputation for his learning and asceticism. As a preacher he was unsuccessful until a sudden revelation inspired him to begin his prophetic sermons. At San Gimignano in Lent 1485 and 1486, he put forward his famous propositions: the church needed reforming; it would be scourged and then renewed.

The following year (1487) he left Florence to become master of studies in the school of general studies at Bologna. After the year of his appointment was over, he was sent to preach in various cities until Lorenzo de’ Medici used his influence to have Savonarola sent back to Florence, thus opening the doors there to the bitterest enemy of Medici rule. Having returned to the city of his destiny (1490), Savonarola preached boldly against the tyrannical abuses of the government. Too late Lorenzo tried to dam the dangerous eloquence with threats and flattery, but his own life was drawing to a close, while popular enthusiasm for Savonarola’s preaching constantly increased. Soon afterward Savonarola gave his blessing to the dying Lorenzo. The legend that he refused Lorenzo absolution is disproved by documentary evidence.

Medici rule did not long survive Lorenzo and was overthrown by the invasion of Charles VIII (1494). Two years before, Savonarola had predicted his coming and his easy victory. These authenticated prophecies and the part he had played in negotiations with the King and in moderating the hatred of the factions after the change of government enormously increased his authority. Once the Medici had been driven out, Florence had no other master than Savonarola’s terrible voice. He introduced a democratic government, the best the city ever had. He has been accused, but unjustly, of interfering in politics. He was not ambitious or an intriguer. He wanted to found his city of God in Florence, the heart of Italy, as a well-organized Christian republic that might initiate the reform of Italy and of the church. This was the object of all his actions. The results he obtained were amazing: the splendid but corrupt Renaissance capital, thus miraculously transformed, seemed to a contemporary to be a foretaste of paradise.

Political intrigues.
Savonarola’s triumph was too great and too sudden not to give rise to jealousy and suspicion. A Florentine party called the Arrabbiati was formed in opposition to him. These internal enemies formed an alliance with powerful foreign forces, foremost of which were the Duke of Milan and the Pope, who had joined in the Holy League against the King of France and saw in Savonarola the main obstacle to Florence’s joining them. It was then, after a firm rejection of the League by Florence, that the Pope sent to Savonarola the brief of July 21, 1495, in which he praised the miraculous fruits of Savonarola’s work and called him to Rome to pronounce his prophecies from his own lips. As that pope was the corrupt Alexander VI, the trap was too obvious. Savonarola asked to be allowed to put off his journey, offering illness as his excuse.

The Pope appeared to be satisfied, but on September 8, under pressure from his political friends and Savonarola’s enemies, he sent him a second brief in which praises turned into vituperation. He ordered him to go to Bologna under pain of excommunication. Savonarola replied to this strange document with respectful firmness, pointing out no fewer than 18 mistakes in it. The brief was replaced by another of October 16, in which he was forbidden to preach. As the Pope himself frankly confessed, it was the Holy League that insisted. After a few months, as Lent 1496 drew near, Alexander VI, while refusing the Florentine ambassadors a formal revocation of the ban, conceded this verbally. Thus Savonarola was able to give his sermons on Amos, among his finest and most forceful, in which he attacked the Roman Court with renewed vigour. He also appeared to refer to the Pope’s scandalous private life, and the latter took offense at this. A college of theologians found nothing to criticize in what the friar had said, so that after Lent he was able to begin, without further remonstrances from Rome, the sermons on Ruth and Micah.

At that time, as Savonarola’s authority grew, the Pope tried to win him over by offering him a cardinal’s hat. He replied: “A red hat? I want a hat of blood.” Then Alexander VI, pressed by the League and Arrabbiati, mounted a fresh attack. In a brief of Nov. 7, 1496, he incorporated the Congregation of San Marco, of which Savonarola was vicar, with another in which he would have lost all his authority. If he obeyed, his reforms would be lost. If he disobeyed, he would be excommunicated. Savonarola, however, while protesting vigorously, did not disobey, because no one came forward to put the brief into force. He therefore went on unperturbed in Advent 1496 and Lent 1497 with his series of sermons on Ezekiel. During the carnival season that year his authority received a symbolic tribute in the “burning of the vanities,” when personal ornaments, lewd pictures, cards, and gaming tables were burned. Destruction of books and works of art was negligible.

Events in Italy now turned against Savonarola, however, and even in Florence his power was lessened by unfavourable political and economic developments. A government of Arrabbiati forced him to stop preaching and incited sacrilegious riots against him on Ascension Day. The Arrabbiati obtained from the Roman Court, for a financial consideration, the desired bull of excommunication against their enemy. In effect the excommunication, besides being surreptitious, was full of such obvious errors of form and substance as to render it null and void, and the Pope himself had to disown it. The Florentine government, however, sought in vain to obtain its formal withdrawal; wider political issues were involved. Absorbed in study and prayer, Savonarola was silent. Only when Rome proposed an unworthy arrangement, which made withdrawal of the censure dependent on Florence’s entry into the League, did he again go into the pulpit (Lent 1498) to give those sermons on Exodus that marked his own departure from the pulpit and from life. He was soon silenced by the interdict with which the city was threatened. He had no other way out but an appeal to a church council, and he began a move in this direction but then burned the letters to the princes that he had already written, in order not to cause dissension within the church. Once this road was closed the only remaining one led to martyrdom.

Trial and execution.
The imprudence of the most impassioned of his followers, Fra Domenico da Pescia, brought events to a head. Fra Domenico took at his word a Franciscan who had challenged to ordeal by fire anyone who maintained the invalidity of Savonarola’s excommunication. The Signoria and the whole population of the most civilized city in Italy greedily encouraged that barbarous experiment, as it alone seemed to promise a solution of an insuperable problem. Only Savonarola was dissatisfied. The decree, which assigned to the ordeal Fra Domenico himself and a Franciscan, declared the loser whichever might withdraw or even vacillate. In fact the Franciscan failed to appear and so the ordeal did not take place. Savonarola, victorious by the terms of the decree, was blamed for not having achieved a miracle. The following day the rabble led by the Arrabbiati rioted, marched to San Marco, and overcame the defenders. Savonarola was taken like a common criminal together with Fra Domenico and another follower. After examination by a commission of his worst enemies and after savage torture, it was yet necessary to falsify the record of the inquiry if he was to be charged with any crimes. But his fate was settled. The papal commissioners came from Rome “with the verdict in their bosom,” as one of them said. After the ecclesiastical trial, which was even more perfunctory, he was handed over to the secular arm, with his two companions, to be hanged and burned. The account of his last hours is like a page from the lives of the Church Fathers. Before mounting the scaffold he piously received the Pope’s absolution and plenary indulgence.

In fact Savonarola’s quarrel was with the corruption of the clergy of whom Alexander VI was merely the most scandalous example, not with the Roman pontiff, for whom he always professed obedience and respect. He was a reformer, but Catholic and Thomist to the marrow; his faith is borne out in his many works, the greatest of which is the Triumphus crucis, a clear exposition of Christian apologetics. His Compendium revelationum, an account of visions and prophecies that came true, went through many editions in several countries. Of his sermons, some exist in a version taken down verbatim.

After Savonarola’s death a cult was dedicated to him, which had a long history. Saints canonized by the church, such as Philip Neri and Catherine de’ Ricci, venerated him as a saint; an office was said for him, and miracles he had performed were recorded. He was portrayed in paintings and medals with the title of beatus. In the Acta sanctorum he was included among the praetermissi. When the 500th anniversary of his birth came around in 1952, there was again talk of his canonization.

Roberto Ridolfi

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Cesare Borgia, duke de Valentinois

Cesare Borgia

Italian noble
Italian Duca Valentino
born c. 1475, /76, probably Rome [Italy]
died 1507, near Viana, Spain

natural son of Pope Alexander VI. He was a Renaissance captain who, as holder of the offices of duke of the Romagna and captain general of the armies of the church, enhanced the political power of his father’s papacy and tried to establish his own principality in central Italy. His policies led Machiavelli to cite him as an example of the new “Prince.”

Youth and education.
Cesare Borgia was the son of his father’s most famous mistress, Vannozza Catanei. His father, at that time Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, was vice chancellor of the church and had had three earlier children by other mistresses. Cesare was, however, the oldest of the four children born to Vannozza and Rodrigo (the others being Juan, Lucrezia, and Jofré) and was Rodrigo’s second son. As was customary for second sons he was educated for a career in the church and in 1480 was dispensed from the slur of illegitimacy by Pope Sixtus IV so that he might hold ecclesiastical offices.

Although he was born in Italy and spent most of his life there, Cesare’s family and cultural background was almost entirely Spanish. His elder half brother, Pedro Luis, was duke of Gandía, and all of his early benefices were in Spain. At the age of seven Cesare was made an apostolic prothonotary and canon of the cathedral of Valencia.

His early tutors were Paolo Pompilio and Giovanni Vera, both Catalans, and he was recognized as being exceptionally brilliant, as well as being, according to at least one observer, “the handsomest man in Italy.” In 1489 he went to the University of Perugia to study law and then passed on to the University of Pisa, where he studied under the famous jurist Filippo Decio and gained a degree in canon and civil law. In 1491 he became bishop of Pamplona, and in 1492, after the accession of his father to the papal throne, he was made archbishop of Valencia.

Rise to power.
The election of his father as pope in 1492 changed the fortunes of Cesare Borgia. Besides becoming an archbishop, he was also made a cardinal in 1493, with the titular church of Sta. Maria Nova; he was now one of his father’s principal advisers. It was already clear, however, that he did not have a true religious vocation; he was better known at the papal court for his hunting parties, his amorous liaisons, and his magnificent clothes than for the meticulous observance of his ecclesiastical duties.

On the death of Pedro Luis in 1488 the title of duke of Gandía had by-passed him and gone to his younger brother Juan, and it was he who was made commander of the papal army in 1496 for the first of Alexander’s campaigns against his rebellious nobility, the Orsini. Cesare was reputed to have been extremely jealous of his brother, and when Juan was mysteriously murdered in 1497 the rumour gradually spread that Cesare was the culprit. There is, however, no evidence that Cesare murdered his brother (who had many other enemies) beyond the fact that he was certainly capable of murder, as he subsequently proved.

After the death of Juan, Cesare’s martial and political leanings and his father’s need for a trustworthy secular lieutenant coincided, and in 1498 Cesare gave up his cardinalate. Plans were laid for an important dynastic marriage for him, and, after an abortive attempt to win the hand of Carlotta, daughter of the King of Naples, he travelled to France to marry Charlotte d’Albret, sister of the King of Navarre. At the same time he received from Louis XII, the French king, the title of duke of Valentinois, and from this title he derived his nickname—Il Valentino.

The French marriage of Cesare ensured for him and his father French assistance in their plans to reestablish control in the Papal States and, if possible, to carve out a permanent Borgia state in Italy for Cesare. In 1499 Cesare, as captain general of the papal army, assisted by a large contingent of French troops, began a systematic occupation of the cities of Romagna and the Marches, which had largely fallen under the control of semi-independent papal vicars.

The campaign of 1499 saw the conquest of Imola and Forlì; that of 1500–01 brought Rimini, Pesaro, and Faenza into Cesare’s hands; finally, in 1502, he captured Urbino, Camerino, and Senigallia. It was in this last campaign that Machiavelli, as one of the Florentine ambassadors attached to Cesare’s camp, was able to observe at first hand the methods of the man who was to figure so largely in his later writings.

The activities of Alexander and Cesare, although they conformed very much to a pattern established by earlier 15th-century popes, aroused immense opposition within the Papal States and from the other Italian states. The propaganda war waged against them was vitriolic and lastingly effective. Cesare was portrayed as a monster of lust and cruelty who had gained an unnatural ascendancy over his father after having supposedly killed his brother, the favourite son, Juan. It seems likely, however, that the two Borgias worked very much in harmony; Alexander was by far the more astute politician, and Cesare the more ruthless man of action. Ambitious and arrogant, he was determined to establish himself as an Italian prince before his father died and left him deprived of the political and financial support of the papacy. Aut Caesar, aut nihil (“Either Caesar or Nothing”) was the motto he adopted to indicate the single-mindedness of his purpose. A number of political assassinations have been attributed to him, but the crime of which he was most clearly the author was the murder in August 1500 of his brother-in-law Alfonso, duke of Bisceglie, the second husband of Lucrezia. It seems likely that this was an act of personal vengeance rather than a politically motivated assassination, but it contributed greatly to the fear and loathing in which Cesare was held.

The best example of Cesare’s methods was his third Romagna campaign (1502–03). He opened with a lightning march on unsuspecting Urbino, which surrendered without a shot being fired. He then turned on Camerino, which was also quickly subdued. At this stage his leading commanders, fearing his power, turned against him in the so-called Magione conspiracy. Cesare, stripped of most of his troops, was forced to fight defensively in the Romagna. With lavish use of papal funds, however, he managed to rebuild his army while at the same time working on the diplomatic front to break up the league of the conspirators. Having succeeded in breaking it up, he arranged a rendezvous for reconciliation with some of the conspirators at Senigallia and, having isolated them from their troops, he then arrested and executed them (December 1502).

Cesare, with a powerful army he could trust, now seemed to be at the zenith of his fortunes. It is probable that he was planning an attack on Tuscany, which would have provided him with the independent state he craved, when his father died on Aug. 18, 1503. He himself was also ill at the time, and this circumstance, together with the subsequent election of a bitter enemy of the Borgias, Giuliano della Rovere, as Pope Julius II, lessened his already slim chances of survival. Julius refused to confirm Cesare as duke of the Romagna or captain general of the church and demanded the restoration of the Romagna cities. Cesare was arrested, won a brief respite by agreeing to surrender his cities, and fled to Naples only to be arrested once more by Gonzalo de Córdoba, the Spanish viceroy, who refused to join him in a league against the Pope. Cesare was then taken to Spain and imprisoned, first in the castle of Chinchilla near Valencia, and then at Medina del Campo, from whence he escaped in 1506. Unable to see any immediate prospect of returning to Italy, he took service with his brother-in-law, the King of Navarre, and was killed in 1507 in a skirmish with Navarrese rebels outside Viana. He was buried in the church of Sta. Maria in Viana.

Cesare Borgia was a man of extraordinary contrasts. Machiavelli found that he could be at times secretive and taciturn, at others loquacious and boastful. He alternated bursts of demonic activity, when he stayed up all night receiving and dispatching messengers, with moments of unaccountable sloth, when he remained in bed refusing to see anyone. He was quick to take offense and rather remote from his immediate entourage and yet very open with his subjects, loving to join in local sports and to cut a dashing figure.

There can be no doubt of the impact that he made in the Italy of his own day, but this impression was largely because of the backing he received from papal money and French arms. He was undoubtedly a master of politico-military manoeuvre, and it was a combination of daring and duplicity that brought him his striking successes and made him feared all over Italy. His abilities as a soldier and an administrator, however, were never really tested. He fought no major battles in his short military career, but this was perhaps a measure of his success as a planner. He had little time for the organization of the government of his Romagna duchy, but there are indications that he had plans for centralized government and bureaucratic efficiency, which to some extent justify the claims made for him as an administrator by Machiavelli. His interests tended to be scientific and literary rather than artistic, but once again time was too short for him to emerge as an important Renaissance patron. Leonardo da Vinci was for a short time his inspector of fortresses but executed no artistic commissions for him.

Machiavelli’s apparent admiration for a man who was so widely feared and abhorred has led many critics to regard his portrayal of Cesare as an idealization. This interpretation, however, is not really the case. Machiavelli was well aware of the failings and limitations of Cesare Borgia, but he saw in him some of the qualities that he considered essential for the man who aspired to be a prince. The aggressiveness, the speed and ruthlessness of planning and execution, the opportunism of Cesare all delighted Machiavelli, who saw far too little of these qualities in the Italy of his day. Machiavelli was not attempting a rounded portrait of Cesare’s character and qualities, which baffled him as much as they did most of his contemporaries.

Michael Edward Mallett

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Lucrezia Borgia

The salacious version painted by Bartolomeo Veneto,
though it's not certain it is actually Lucrezia (in fact it's just about certain that it isn't).

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Lucrezia's family later came to epitomize the ruthless Machiavellian politics and sexual corruption alleged to be characteristic of the Renaissance Papacy. Lucrezia was cast as a femme fatale, a role she has been portrayed as in many artworks, novels, and films.

Supposed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia
assumed to be by Dosso Dossi

One painting, Portrait of a Youth by Dosso Dossi at the National Gallery of Victoria, was identified as a portrait of Lucrezia in November 2008.
This painting may be the only surviving formal portrait of Lucrezia Borgia. However, doubts have been cast on that claim.
Several other paintings, such as Bartolomeo Veneziano's fanciful portrait, have also been said to depict her but none have been accepted by scholars at present. She is described as having heavy blonde hair which fell past her knees, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes which constantly changed colour, a full, high bosom, and a natural grace which made her appear to "walk on air"; these were the physical attributes that were highly appreciated in Italy during that period.

Very little is known of Lucrezia as a historical personage, and her complicity in the political machinations of her brothers and father cannot be determined at this time. Her father and/or brother certainly arranged several marriages for her to important or powerful men in order to advance their own political ambitions. Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza (Lord of Pesaro), Alfonso of Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie), and Alfonso d'Este (Duke of Ferrara). Tradition has it that Alfonso of Aragon was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that Cesare may have had him murdered after his political value waned.


First marriage: Giovanni Sforza

Lucrezia Borgia was born at Subiaco, near Rome. By the time she was thirteen, she had been betrothed twice, but her father called off both engagements.

After Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI, he had Lucrezia marry Giovanni Sforza to establish an alliance with that powerful Milanese family. The wedding was a scandalous event but was not much more extravagant than many other Renaissance celebrations.

Before long, the Borgia family no longer needed the Sforzas, and the presence of Giovanni Sforza in the papal court was superfluous. The Pope needed new, more advantageous political alliances, so he may have covertly ordered the execution of Giovanni. The generally accepted version is that Lucrezia was informed of this by her brother Cesare, and she warned her husband, who fled Rome.

Possibly Pope Alexander never made such an order, and it was a plot on the part of Cesare and Lucrezia to drive her boring husband away. Regardless, Alexander and Cesare were pleased with the chance to arrange another advantageous marriage for Lucrezia. But before that could occur, they needed to get rid of Giovanni Sforza.

Alexander asked Giovanni's uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, to persuade Giovanni to agree to a divorce. Giovanni refused and accused Lucrezia of paternal and fraternal incest. Since the marriage had supposedly not been consummated, the Pope said that the marriage was invalid, and offered Giovanni Lucrezia's dowry to agree. The Sforza family threatened to withdraw their protection of Giovanni if he refused Alexander's offer. Having no choice, Giovanni Sforza signed confessions of impotence and documents of annulment before witnesses.

Pinturicchio's image of Lucrezia (just maybe) as Santa Catterina d'Alessandria
disputing with the philosophers before Emperor Maximian,
in the Sala dei Santi in the Borgia apartments of the Vatican.

Affair with Perotto

Another possible portrait of LucreziaThere has been speculation that during the prolonged process of the annulment, Lucrezia consummated a relationship with someone, probably Alexander's messenger Perotto. The result was that she was actually pregnant when her marriage was annulled for non consummation, and this is one of the facts her detractors have cited to support their derogatory view of her character. The child, named Giovanni but known to historians as the Roman Infante, was born in secret (1498) before Lucrezia's marriage to Alfonso of Aragon.

Some believe the child was her brother Cesare's, but that Perotto, due to his fondness for Lucrezia, claimed that it was his. During her pregnancy, she stayed away from Rome at a convent, so no one would know, and Perotto would bring her messages from her father in Rome. According to this theory, Lucrezia was worried that if news of her pregnancy reached the citizens of Rome, they would surely know it was Cesare's child. Cesare, at the time, was a Cardinal of the Holy Church; if he had been sharing an illicit sexual relationship with his sister during her marriage to Giovanni, it would have to be concealed from everyone, especially their father (the Pope).

In 1501, two papal bulls were issued concerning the child, Giovanni Borgia. In the first, he was recognized as Cesare's child from an affair before his marriage. The second, contradictory, bull recognized him as the son of Alexander VI. Lucrezia's name is not mentioned in either, and rumours that she was his mother have never been proven. The second bull was kept secret for many years, and Giovanni was assumed to be Cesare's son. This is supported by the fact that in 1502, he became Duke of Camerino, one of Cesare's recent conquests, hence the natural inheritance of the Duke of Romagna's oldest son. However, some time after Alexander's death, Giovanni went to stay with Lucrezia in Ferrara, where he was accepted as her half-brother.

Second marriage: Alfonso of Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie)

At his first meeting with Alfonso, before the marriage took place, Cesare was very impressed by his good looks and nature. This soon changed to jealousy and hatred. It was said that Cesare did not like Alfonso because Lucrezia was very happy with him and had, since her marriage to him, stopped giving Cesare as much attention. Also, Cesare himself had a bout of syphilis and many scars remained on his face, even after recovery. This made him very conscious of his appearance, and so he started wearing masks and dressing in black. His condition is said to have made him hate Alfonso of Aragon all the more, and once when the Prince was visiting them in Rome, Cesare's men had attacked him during the night. To retaliate, Alfonso's men shot arrows at Cesare one day while he strolled in the garden. This infuriated Cesare, and he had his servant(s) strangle Alfonso while in the recovery room. Lucrezia and Alfonso had only one child, Rodrigo, who predeceased his mother in August 1512 at the age of thirteen.

While the reason for Alfonso's murder could have been jealousy, it did have a political background. Just like Lucrezia's first marriage, the second one soon became a useless alliance and a reason for embarrassment for the Pope and his son. Cesare had just allied himself with the King Louis XII of France, who claimed the duchy of Naples, which was in the hands of Alfonso's family at the time. Whatever the reasons for his murder, Lucrezia was genuinely fond of her husband and broken–hearted upon his death.

Picture of Lucrezia Borgia by Nirvaan Ghosh

Third marriage: Alfonso d'Este (Duke of Ferrara)

After the death of her second husband, Lucrezia's father, Pope Alexander VI, wanted to arrange a third marriage. She then married Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. She gave her third husband a number of children and proved to be a respectable and accomplished Renaissance duchess, effectively rising above her questionable past and surviving the fall of the Borgias following her father's death.

Neither partner was faithful: Lucrezia enjoyed a long relationship with her bisexual brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua   as well as a love affair with the poet Pietro Bembo. Francesco's wife was the cultured intellectual Isabella d'Este, the sister of Alfonso, to whom Lucrezia had made overtures of friendship to no avail. The affair between Francesco and Lucrezia was passionate, more sexual than sentimental as can be attested in the fevered love letters the pair wrote one another. The affair ended when Francesco contracted syphilis and had to perforce end sexual relations with Lucrezia.

Lucrezia Borgia died in Ferrara on 24 June 1519 from complications after giving birth to her eighth child. She was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini.

On 15 October 1816, the Romantic poet Lord Byron visited the Ambrosian Library of Milan. He was delighted by the letters between Borgia and Bembo ("The prettiest love letters in the world") and claimed to have managed to steal a lock of her hair ("the prettiest and fairest imaginable.") held on display.


Lucrezia was mother to at least seven or eight children:
Giovanni Borgia, "infans Romanus" ("Child of Rome", c. 1498 - 1548). The child's paternity was acknowledged by Perotto, but Alexander and Cesare have also been identified as the father. It is also possible that this child (identified in later life as Lucrezia's half-brother) was the result of a liaison between Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI, Lucrezia's father) and an unknown mistress, as averred in a Papal Bull, and was not Lucrezia's child.
Rodrigo Borgia of Aragon (November 1, 1499 - August, 1512). Son by Alfonso of Aragon.
Ercole II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara (April 5, 1508 - October 3, 1559).
Ippolito II d'Este (August 25, 1509 - December 1, 1572). Archbishop of Milan and later Cardinal.
Alessandro d'Este (1514 - 1516).
Leonora d'Este (July 3, 1515 - July 15, 1575). A nun.
Francesco d'Este, Marchese di Massalombarda (November 1, 1516 - February 2, 1578).
Isabella Maria d'Este (Born and deceased on June 14, 1519). Complications at birth caused the death of Lucrezia ten days later.
At least one biographer (Mario Bellonci) claims that Lucrezia gave birth to three more children, one by Alfonso of Aragon and two by Alfonso d'Este, who did not survive infancy. She is also thought to have had at least four miscarriages.

Lucrezia is the ancestress of many notable people, including American Civil War general Pierre G.T. Beauregard and actress Brooke Shields. She is a collateral relative of most of the royal families of modern Europe including that of the United Kingdom.





Caterina Sforza

La dama dei gelsomini by Lorenzo di Credi.
Portrait of Caterina Sforza

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì (early 1463 – 28 May, 1509), was the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan and Lucrezia Landriani, the wife of the courtier Gian Piero Landriani, a close friend of the Duke.

Raised in the refined Milanese court, which in the 15th century was admired by all of Europe, Caterina later held the titles of Lady of Imola and Countess of Forlì, by her marriage to Girolamo Riario. She was also the Regent for her first-born son, Octaviano.

The descendant of a dynasty of famous condottieri, Caterina, at an early age, distinguished herself by her bold and impetuous actions that were instigated to safeguard her possessions from possible usurpers, and to uphold the military defense of her states, when they were involved in the myriad political intrigues that were a distinguishing feature of 15th century Italy.

In her private life Caterina was devoted to various activities, among which were "experiments" in alchemy and a love of hunting and dancing.

She was a devoted mother as well as a dedicated teacher to her many children, from whom only the youngest, the famous captain Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, inherited the forceful, militant character of his mother.

Following a heroic resistance on her part, she had to face the vindictive fury of Cesare Borgia, who took Caterina as his prisoner. Upon regaining her liberty following her imprisonment in Rome, she led a quiet life in Florence.

In the final years of her life, she confided to a monk: "If I were to write the story of my life, I would shock the world".




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