Thursday, March 19, 2015


It began in the Middle Ages, when a severe drought blighted the peninsula. No rain fell for days—weeks, months—on end. People died of famine, countless numbers, families were torn asunder. What could they do?

Joseph by Guido Reni
They prayed. Italians from all ranks of society prayed. They prayed to God for rain; they prayed to St. Joseph to intercede with God on their behalf. In return, they vowed that, if God blessed them with rain, they would honor God and St. Joseph with a special feast.

It was only a matter of days, when—by miracle?—the skies opened, the rains came and fed the earth. The earth flourished and crops were planted. More rain came. The crops blossomed and thrived. The people were fed. With the harvest, the people made a magnificent feast. The moment became known as the Tavola di San Giuseppe, the Table of St. Joseph.

The miracle was never forgotten. In the many centuries since, people continue to pray to St. Joseph for ‘favors.’ Such favors can not be for personal gain or benefit. They need to be for another…the cure of ill loved, the return of a loved one from war. On this day, St. Joseph’s day being March 19, those whose favor has been granted, use this day—in Italy celebrated by festivals and feasts in every corner of the country and many parts of the world—to give thanks.

Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, was a benevolent, generous man. Matthew’s gospel describes Joseph as ‘a just man.’ In Biblical times, the greatest compliment one man could bestow on another was to call him or her a tsaddik, a person of justice and virtue. Joseph was just such a man. He is known as the foster father of Jesus. Though there are differing theories of Joseph’s genealogy, it is most often supposed that he came from Nazareth and later made his way to Bethlehem for an unspecified time, two years being the best guess. There he obeys the direction of an angel to marry Mary.


After the birth of Jesus, the angel comes once more, telling Joseph of the peril the child is in, to take him to Galilee. His love and care of the baby Jesus could not have been more tender, more 'fatherly.'  In Galilee they settled. And there Joseph died on July 20, in the AD 18, at the age of 28. As Jesus had reached the age of 18, there is no doubt Joseph had been witness to the growing prophet that was ‘his son.’

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Leo X
The fifth surviving child of Lorenzo de’ Medici and Clarice Orsini was to bring the family notoriety and power of a sort they had not yet experienced. Unfortunately, much of his fame was, in fact, infamy.

example of Tonsure
As the second son, born December 11, 1475, Giovanni’s life would follow a familiar path for such a family position, in such an era. His life was marked for the church at a young age, whether he conceded or not. At eight-years-old, Giovanni received his tonsure—a ceremony that would, physically and spiritually, mark his change of status. Tonsure is the practice of cutting or shaving of the hair from the scalp, leaving a circle of hair from temple to temple. One can only speculate on the impact of such physical alteration at such a young age.

During the next few years, he received his education at the court of his father, an education that could, decidedly, be argued as one of the best to have in all of Italy, if not all of Europe itself. One of several tutors was Pico della Mirandola, a Humanist and a Platonist philosopher, Pico was widely known for his use of the Kabbala in support of Christian theology, a very unpopular theses.

University of Pisa
At the age of thirteen—with the help of his father and his father’s connection to a distant cousin, Pope Innocent VIII—Giovanni became the cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria in Dominica. From 1489 to 1491, he went on to study theology and canon law at the University of Pisa. When he became a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1492, he planned to make his move to Rome. The death of his father in the same year, brought him back to Florence, to the home of his brother Piero.

Though Giovanni had a small respite in Rome, for the conclave that elevated Rodrigo Borgia to Pope Alexander VI, he suffered the same exile,
Rodrigo Borgia
brought about by his brother’s mishandling of family matters (see previous Medici post) that befell other members of his family. But unlike his family, he would remain in constant motion, traveling throughout most of northern Europe for more than six years. In 1500, he made his way to Rome, and stayed, taking part in two more conclaves, those elected Pope Pius III in September of 1503, and Pope Julius II in October of the same year.

It was to be a momentous year, as it brought, as well, the death of his brother, Piero. While his younger brother Giuliano held the first place in the republic of Florence, it was Cardinal Giovanni who ruled from his place in Rome, doing so for the next eight years. Named papal legate—a personal aid to the pope himself—in 1511, Giovanni’s ecclesiastical star was on the rise. With the death of Julius II in 1513, the cardinal conclave, longing for a peaceful successor to Julius’ war prone reign—elected Cardinal de’ Medici pope on March 11. Giovanni took his name of Leo X.

More refined and sophisticated than his predecessor, Leo was, at first, considered the personification of the Renaissance ideals. Once again, Rome became the cultural center of Europe. The construction of St. Peter’s Basilica begun by Julius was accelerated, the Vatican Library holdings were expanding, arts flourished. Spending money, both the church’s and his own, came easy to Leo, far too easy.

He was not very disposed to institute the major reforms the church needed in the face of the growing Protestant Reformation. It would prove to be his undoing. Instead of looking over his shoulder to the looming presence of Martin Luther, Leo X was far too busy cementing positions of power for his relatives, naming his younger brother Giuliano and his nephew Lorenzo to be Roman patricians. His cousin, Giulio, son of his slain uncle, Leo X appointed to the influential archbishopric of Florence.

Giovanni/Leo X, as a person, was a complex individual, while steeped in the need for power that seemed inherent in the Medici’s, Giovanni was, at heart, a calm man. Marino Giorgi, the Venetian ambassador, described him thus, ‘The pope is a good-natured and extremely free-hearted man, who avoids every difficult situation and above all wants peace; he would not undertake a war himself unless forced into it by his advisors; he loves learning; of canon law and literature he possesses remarkable knowledge; he is, moreover, a very excellent musician.’ In addition to music, Leo loved all forms of art and literature. He also loved men.

Marcantonio Flaminio
Though biographers debate Leo’s homosexual, there seems to be more evidence for it than against it. Francesco Guicciardini, Leo’s governor, wrote, “At the beginning of his pontificate most people deemed him very chaste; however, he was afterwards discovered to be exceedingly devoted—and every day with less and less shame—to that kind of pleasure that for honour’s sake may not be named." Further, Paolo Giovio, a bishop and historian, claimed that "the pope did not escape the accusation of infamy, for the love he showed several of his chamberlains smacked of scandal in its playful liberality." There are several suggestions the Count Ludovico Rangone and Galeotto Malatesta were among Leo’s lovers. But it seems to be a young Venetian nobleman, Marcantonio Flaminio, whom Leo preferred, arranging for Marcantonio the best education offered at the time.

Cardinal Wolsey
Politics and foreign affairs took up much time of his first years as pope. He joined his forces with those of Venice and and Louis XII of France in the league of Mechlin to regain duchy of Milan. They failed. When the new king of France, Francois I took the throne, he was obsessed with recovering Milan. Leo formed a new league with the emperor and king of Spain, and, to cement English support, appointed one Thomas Wolsey as Cardinal. Francis entered Italy in August of 1515 and by September had won the decisive Battle of Marignano. Leo turned from the league he himself had formed, signing a treaty with Francis, earning him the derision of many as two-faced and not to be trusted.

And yet, they would align themselves with Leo once more. Obtaining 150,000 ducats from Henry VIII, Leo entered the Imperial league of Spain and England against France. From February to September of 1517 war ensued, this one ending in success, and Leo’s cousin was Lorenzo confirmed as the new duke of Urbino.

But this war only widened the divisiveness between the pope and the cardinals. Surviving a plot colluded by several members of the College of Cardinals, Leo used the opportunity to imprison his enemies—whether involved or not—and executing one. He also used the moment to radically change the composition of the college.

Martin Luther
As Luther and the reformation gained control in Germany and Scandinavia, complicating his political situation, Leo’s dithering carried over to other areas. With the death of Emperor Maximillian, Leo vacillated between candidates, revealing his indecisiveness, his weakness. He joined in alliance with the new emperor, Charles of Spain, and once more went to war for the control of Milan, and now Genoa, against French control.  At last Leo was to know victory; the capture of Milan came in November of 1521. But the taste of victory would not last long. Suffering from bronchopneumonia, Pope Leo X died on December 1, 1521.

Perhaps it is none other than Alexandre Dumas, he of Three Musketeers authorship, who summed up Leo’s reign best: "Under his pontificate, Latin Christianity assumed a pagan, Greco-Roman character, which, passing from art into manners, gives to this epoch a strange complexion. Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices, vices in good taste, such as those indulged in by Alcibiades and sung by Catullus."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mein zweites Buch verfügbar 17. März
in deutscher Übersetzung

Die Tochter des Glasbläsers
Venedig, 1606. Wenn Sophia Kunstwerke aus flüssigem Glas formt, vergisst sie alles um sich herum: den kranken Vater, die drohende Zwangsheirat – und die tödliche Gefahr, in der sie schwebt. Keiner darf erfahren, dass die schöne junge Frau das allein Männern vorbehaltene Geheimnis der Glasherstellung kennt. Doch mit jedem Auftrag, den sie heimlich erledigt, steigt das Risiko, entdeckt zu werden. In ihrer Not vertraut sie sich dem charmanten Adeligen Teodoro an. Seine heißen Küsse haben ihr Herz erobert, aber Sophia weiß nicht, ob er ihr Retter sein wird – oder ihr Verräter …
"Eine der besten Romane geschrieben von Venedig ich je gelesen habe."
-Historische Roman schreiben

Die Murano Glasmacher in Venedig gefeiert und verehrt. Aber jetzt drei tot sind, um zu versuchen, die Stadt, die sowohl ihre Arbeit geschätzt und hielt sie gefangen verlassen getötet. Denn in diesem, dem 17. Jahrhundert, das Geheimnis ihres Handwerks sind, per Gesetz, nie verlassen venezianischen Küste. Doch es gibt jemanden, der das Geheimnis hält, während trotzt Tradition. Sie ist Sophia Fiolario, und sie ist auch ein Glasmacher. Ihr Verbrechen ist, eine Frau zu ...

Sophia ist sich bewusst, dass ihre Familie würde durch Skandal zerkleinert, wenn die Wahrheit über ihre Kenntnisse und Fähigkeiten mit Glas aufgedeckt werden. Aber es hat nie eine Bedrohung ... bis jetzt. Ein wohlhabender Adliger mit starken Verbindungen zu den Mächtigen Doge hat ihre Hand gebeten, und ihre Weigerung könnte gefährlich aufmerksam zu machen. Doch mit zu akzeptieren und aufhören, ihre Kunst würde sie zerstören. Wenn es eine Flucht, Sophia beabsichtigt, es zu finden.

Jetzt, zwischen dem Erstellen kostbaren Glasteile für einen Professor Galileo Galilei erstaunlichen Erfindungen und die Teilnahme an rauschende Feste auf den Dogenpalast, Sophia ist über den Weg sehr einflussreiche Leute - darunter einer, der ihr Leben für immer verändern könnte. Aber jedes Geheimnis hat ihren Preis. Und Sophia muss entscheiden, wie viel sie bereit sind zu zahlen, um sich selbst, ihre Familie und das Geheimnis des Glases zu schützen.

5 Sternen! Hervorragende Wahl für 2010 Absolutely superb. Russo Morin hat einen spektakulären Job. DAS GEHEIMNIS DER GLAS ist eine phänomenale historische Fiktion Geschichte über eine oft stören Zeitraum.
--book Illuminations
5 Sternen! Eine schöne Geschichte von meisterhafter Erzähler Donna Russo Morin; DAS GEHEIMNIS DER GLAS sollte nicht verpasst werden.
--single Titel
4 Sterne! Geschichte lebendig. Wie brillante Glas, wirbelt ihre Geschichte zusammen Farben der politischen und religiösen Intrigen, Mord und Romantik. Der Leser wird in das Leben ihrer faszinierenden Charaktere verstrickt werden. -
-RT Bewertungen
Die neueste inspirierenden historischen von Morin feiert die ewigen Charme von Venedig, Murano-Glas und Galileo, mit der Geschichte einer mutigen Frau, 17. Jahrhundert Glasmacher. Morin zaubert eine ungewöhnliche optimistische Schicksal ... was für eine ausgesprochen dulce Ende. "
-Publishers Weekly

Das Geheimnis der Glas ist ... gefüllt mit Figuren, die einfach zu gern sind und einem Grundstück, die Drehungen und durch die Geschichte zu einem zufriedenstellenden Abschluss macht. Wonderful 5-Sterne-historische Fiktion.
--Armchair Bewertungen
4.5 Sternen! Mit eleganten Prosa und verführerischen Stil, Donna Russo Morin bringt aus dem 17. Jahrhundert in Venedig herrlich zum Leben. "
4 Sterne! Sehr empfehlenswert!
-Historically Obsessed

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


He was the eldest son of Lorenzo de’ Medici, called Il Magnifico; he was the grandchild of his namesake, Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici, known as Piero the Gouty. And like that namesake, his reign as de facto ruler of Florence was not as esteemed as is father’s or his great-grandfather’s, Cosimo, Pater Patriae (father of the fatherland). This Piero’s life would be haunted be a series of truly unfortunate events.

Born in 1472, Piero received an encompassing and Humanist education, one of the best possible for the time. As a child, he played at the feet of such luminaries as Sandro Botticelli, Marsilio Ficino, Poliziano, Domenic Ghirlandaio, Verrocchio, and Leonardo da Vinci. When his father died in 1492, Piero was old enough to take his place at the head of the society and the ruling of Florence, the leaders of Florence gave him the power without question. He was old enough, but clearly not wise enough.
Piero was born with beauty, an attractive combination of the steely eyes of his father and the bone structure of his mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni. Whether it was the consequence of being the son of one of the most powerful men in all of Italy’s history—with the wealth to match—or just his natural bearing, Piero was arrogant, undisciplined, and, unfortunately, when it came time to rule…feeble.

For two years, Piero ruled under a world swaddled in calm and peace; the efforts of his father to bring equilibrium between the Italian states seemed to be withstanding the test of time. But it was a time quickly running out. 

With a powerful army at his side, King Charles VII of France crossed the Alps in 1494, determined to take control, by virtue of heredity rights, of the Kingdom of Naples. In truth, it was a vengeful Ludovico Sforza, the ex-regent of Milan, who persuaded, as the devil would, King Charles to make such a maneuver. Fearful of the new king of Naples, Alfonso, Ludovico ‘allowed’ King Charles passage through Milan. However, in order for Charles to reach his ultimate destination of Naples, he was required to pass through Tuscany. 

With King Charles breathing heavily down his neck, Piero, pitifully lacking in political sense, was dealing with another challenger in his own city. Girolamo Savonarola. The enthralling and persuasive Savonarola called for reforms, away from the decadent lifestyle of the wealthy Florentines, denouncing the replete clerical corruption of the age, and degrading the despotic rule that had held sway over Florence for many generations. The only way of life Piero had ever known was being threatened, ever more so as the younger branch of the Medici family began their own intrigues against him.

Piero’s subsequent actions, unfortunately, proved foolhardy and ineffective. At first, he attempted to stay neutral; Charles wouldn’t have it. Piero then gave up the old alliance with France in favor of one with Naples. But as Charles charged downward from the Alps, Piero knew he had acted imprudently, especially when the Florentine elite—more and more under the influence of Savonarola—failed to support his decision. Thinking to imitate his father, who had hastened to Naples to avoid war, Piero rushed to meet the invader and his mighty forces. 

His capitulation was humiliatingly quick and meek. Piero surrendered the major Tuscan fortresses to Charles, agreeing to whatever the King of France wanted. His futile and fruitless actions roused an uproar in Florence, leaving the Medici only once choice…to flee.

Leaving the magnificent family palazzo to the looters of his own populace, Piero and his family fled to Venice, aided by Philippe de Commines. But it was a temporary haven. They led the restless lives of exiles, never again to see Florence. One must surely give him some respect, for he did try for reinstatement, upon three occasions, in 1496, ’97, and ’98. Unfortunately, they were all unsuccessful. 

In 1503, he made one last attempt. Still with a personal alliance with France, he traveled to southern Italy with the French forces of Louis XII who entered battle with Spain over control of Naples. Unfortunately, the battle turned against the French—against Piero—and in his attempt to escape, he was drowned in the Garigliano River. He was buried in the cloister of Monte Cassino, located between Naples and Rome. 

Having ruled Florence for over a half a century, it wasn’t long before the Medici family, with the help of the Holy League, once more regained control. Unfortunately, Piero would never know the success and astounding notoriety so many of his kinsmen enjoyed.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


From the generation of Lorenzo de' Medici (Il Magnifico), eight in all, there will be born thirty-eight children. Of those, there will arise two popes, a feeble despot, dukes, and powerful political and financial players. But what of the others…what must it have been liked to be a regular de Medici? Is there such a thing? Here is a look at them all.

Maria Salviati with her only
son, Giulia de' Medici
Pontormo c 1527, oil on panel
In the previous post, Caterina Sforza Joins the Medici Family, her son with Giovanni de’ Medici produced the famous condottiero, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere. His star burned brightly but flickered for only a short time. Dalle Bande Nere committed his first murder at the age of twelve. His violent, volatile behavior caused him to be banished from Florence on two occasions. At 18, he officially became a condottiero, serving under two popes. In 1526, the War of the League of Cognac began. During the battle on the night of November 25, Giovanni was hit by a shot from a falconet, a ball that shattered his right leg above the knee. At first he was brought to San Nicolo Po, but there they could find no doctor to treat his wound. He was then taken to the palace of the Marquis of Castel Goffredo in Mantua where the surgeon Abramo amputated his leg. Though his spirit showed the strength and determination of recovery, it was all for naught. On November 30, 1526, he died, either from septicemia or gangrene. He lived no longer than 28 years. His wife, Maria Salviati, became a widow at the age of 27. Maria never remarried, instead she donned the garb of a novice and lived a quiet life caring for her only child and then her grandchildren.

The marriage of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici and Semiramide Appiano produced five children. Of most of them, very little is known, giving possible evidence of normal, unremarkable lives. Only their youngest child, Pierfrancesco II de’ Medici (aka Pierfrancesco the Younger) distinguished himself, but, in the relativity of the Medici, it was in a meager manner. He took little part in the politics of the city of Florence, save for a one time service as ambassador in the Papal States in 1522.

Though often Fioretta Gorini, as well as her sister Antonia, are called the slain Giuliano’s ‘widow,’ there is no evidence whatsoever that he ever married. There are much stronger indications that Fioretta was his long-time mistress. Together they gave birth to a son, Giulio, a son who will achieve a great and lofty position (and who will receive a post in this series dedicated to him in the near future).

While it is true that Il Magnifico, the famous of all the Lorenzos de’ Medici, had a long time mistress, as well as multiple other dalliances, it did not seem to inhibit his conjugal relations with his wife, Clarice Orsini. Together they conceived ten (yes, 10) children. Their first born, a girl, Lucrezia Maria Romola de’ Medici, made a politically powerful marriage, a union which would produce ten more children, some of whom went on to become the most influential of all the Medicis.
Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule from the Sassetti Chapel frescoes.
Among the spectators are Lorenzo's sons, from right Giulian with their tutor
Poliziano, then Piero and Giovani
Domenic Ghirlandaio 1483-1485
Less than a year later, Clarice gave birth to twins who perished shortly after their death.

Next in line comes, Piero, a man who will became infamous, who will bring the Medici family to one of the lowest points in their long history (look for an upcoming post devoted to Piero).

Following less than a year after Piero, Maria Maddalena Romola de’ Medici was born. Given the same humanist education, as were all of Lorenzo’s children, she would marry the son of a pope. Maddalena lived most of her life in Rome and was buried, by order of her cousin Pope Leo X, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Contessina Beatrice de’ Medici was born in 1474; she died in the same year.

Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici was the next of Lorenzo and Clarice’s children. He would follow in his cousin Giulio’s footsteps, becoming Pope Leo X (he too, will receive a devoted upcoming post).

Although the next child, a girl named Luisa but often called Luigia, was betrothed to Giovanni de’ Medici Il Popolano, her cousin, her life lasted only eleven years.

As if to honor the first child to bear the name, even for so short a time, Lorenzo and Clarice named their next child, another girl born in 1478, Contessina Antonia Romola who would marry Piero Ridolfi. One of their children would distinguish himself in the years to come.
Giuliano's State in the
Medici Chapel;

However, Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici, their last child born in 1479, would come to distinguish himself perhaps more than any of the others. The future Duke of Nemours will be featured in a forthcoming post.

The next couple in Il Magnifico’s generation is his older sister, Lucrezia, more widely known as Nannina. Nannina married Bernardo Rucellai, an oligarch, banker, ambassador, and a man of letters. They married in 1466, when Nannina was only 13 years old. The couple had four sons, three of whom—Cosimo, Pietro, and Palla--are unremarkable and little is known of their lives. Their youngest son, Giovanni di Bernard Ruccellai, would become remarkable as a man of letters as well as a purveyor of justice in the city of Florence; his life and works will be featured in an upcoming post.

Lorenzo’s younger sister, Bianca was to be a heartbreak to her brother. Married to Guglielmo de’ Pazzi in 1458, at the age of 14, their union at first was a political move to strengthen the tenuous relations between these two powerful Florentine families. But, with the trauma of the Pazzi Conspiracy, an horrendous plot which will be featured prominently in the first book, Portrait of a Conspiracy, in my upcoming series, Da Vinci’s Disciples, which resulted in the murder of their brother, Giuliano, Lorenzo was forced to banish Guglielmo from Florence, and with him went Bianca. Their exile lasted fifteen years, but it did not seem to affect their love-life. The couple would have a total of sixteen (yes, 16) children, two of whom died at birth: Antonio in 1460 and Piero in 1468. Their first surviving child was a girl named Giovanna known only for her marriage to Tommasso Monaldi. Like her elder sister, their next child, a girl, the records of Contessina show only her marriage to Giuliano Salviati in 1476.

Their fourth child, third to survive birth, was a boy, whom they also named Antonio. This Antonio would go on to have a long and productive life as an ambassador and a politician who would hold the office of Gonfaloniere di Giustizia in 1521.

Bianca and Guglielmo’s fifth child was a girl, and as history would have it, she is noted only for her marriage to Bartolomeo Buondelmonti.

Such historical anonymity can not be said for the sixth child born of this couple. Cosimo de’ Pazzi, born in 1466, would have a note-worthy ecclesiastical career. He began as an abbot in the Archdiocese of Florence in 1475. Cosimo would go on to hold the positions of Bishop of Oloron (1492-1497), Bishop of Arezzo (1497-1508) and Archbishop of Florence (1508-1513).

Like his uncle and his great grand-uncle, Lorenzo Alessandro, the next child in this Medici-Pazzi line, would become a merchant, a lover of the arts, and a Latin scholar.

Another girl follows, Cosa, whose only known fact is her marriage to Francesco di Luca Capponi. Three more sons, Lorenzo, who became a politician and an ambassador;  Renato, who made his living as a goldsmith merchant, and Lorenzo Alessandro followed Cosa. Lorenzo Alessandro's political career was fast, furious, and famous. He would serve as Prior of Freedom in 1467, as a Guardia e Balia in 1469, an Officer of Monte in 1471, and serve on the Console di Zecca in 1475.

Two more girl children came next; Luigia who married Folco di Edoardo Portinari in 1494 and Maddalena, who married Ormanozzo Deti in 1497.

Alessandro de’ Pazzi, the fourteenth child born to Bianca and Guglielmo, would distinguish himself as an ambassador, a writer and a Hellenist (a follower of the influence of the early Greek culture). His younger sister, Lucrezia, would marry a de Cattani Diacceto who changed his name to Martelli. They married in 1500.

Their youngest child they named Giuliano, an interesting choice considering that Guglielmo's father’s family was responsible for his wife’s brother’s (of the same name) murder. Giuliano would become a great scholar and ecclesiast, becoming a Doctor of Law as well as an abbot of the cannon of Florence.

It would seem for this couple that in exile, all there was to do was to reproduce.

Luigi de' Rossi (right) with
Pope Leo X (center) and
Giulio de Medici left,
the future Pope Clement VII
The next couple in the Il Magnifico generation, his sister Maria and her husband Leonetto, had only one child. As the information on Maria, like most women of the age, is scanty, the coinciding date of her death and her son’s, Luigi’s, birth, 1474, would make it a near certainty that she died either during child birth or not long thereafter. Luigi was educated with his cousin Giovanni di Lorenzo, who would become Pope Leo X. As pope, Leo appointed Luigi cardinal with the title of San Clemente in consistory on July 1, 1517. At Luigi’s passing in 1519, he was buried in Rome in St. Peter’s Basicila. Years later, his tomb was moved to Florence and the Church of Santa Felicita.

Little is known of Piero de’ Medici’s illegitimate son, Giovanni, including whether he married or sired any children.

Of this expansive generation, many of the thirty-eight would go on to further the power of the Medici family, become great in their own right, and expand the reach of the Medici through strategic marriages. Their impact will not be contained to Florence, nor even Italy, but far beyond, to the breadth of Europe itself.
The Medici Chapel-Cappella Medicea-houses many of the tombs of the Medici.
Many of the latter funereal monuments were commissed in 1520 by
Pope Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici) and were largely executed
by Michelangelo

(primary sources: the Medici Archives; History of Florence, Niccolo Machiavelli; The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall, Christopher Hibbert; The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance, Paul Strathem;  The Medici: Story of a European Dynasty, Franco Cesati)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Cadet Branch of
the Medici Family
Two lines of Medicis branched out from the man (Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici) most popularly considered the father of the grand dynasty: the Principle line, that which included Lorenzo Il Magnifico de’ Medici, and the Cadet Branch, also known as Dei Popolani, of the people.

Little is written of this branch for two generations; they were, for the most part, regular people living regular lives, working as part of the Medici Banking Empire and marrying well (a union with a Calvalcanti was a particularly prominent association). But in the same generation as Il Magnifico, the Cadet branch makes a contribution, albeit through a marriage, that would change the prominence of the family as no other union had.

When Giovanni dei Popolani de’ Medici married Caterina Sforza, the Medici family could now call the Duke of Milan brethren. He would not be her first husband and the road to the Florence court was a long, twisting, and, at times, treacherous journey for the famed Caterina.

Caterina Sforza
Caterina was born in 1463 ‘on the wrong side of the bed,’ the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, and his feisty mistress, Lucrezia Landriani (b ca. 1440), the wife of the Duke’s good friend, Gian Piero Landrini. By most accounts, the first three years of Caterina’s life were spent with her mother’s family. When her father, Galeazzo inherited his titled with his father’s passing in 1466, he brought Lucrezia and all of their children to his court. There, surrounded by artists and writers, Caterina, and her other illegitimate siblings, were raised in the rarefied, tyrannical air of the Milanese court. There she received a Humanist education, the same education as her brothers, perhaps an indication of the fiery woman she was to become. Classic literature and Latin were taught officially. Unofficially, Caterina learned much from her paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti, who fostered a pride in her warlike ancestors, audaciousness in the use of arms, and the intricacies of government. It is to her credit that Bona of Savoy, Galeazzo’s second wife, treated all of her husband’s children as her own, showering them all with maternal love and care, eventually adopting them all. With this myriad mix of influences, it is little wonder that Caterina’s personal proclivities including hunting (like her father), alchemy, and dancing.

Girolamo Riario
At the tender age of ten, Caterina was betrothed to the Pope’s newphew, Girolamo Riario. Accounts differ concerning her usurping her own cousin in this marriage, with disputes as to whether Caterina’s marriage was consummated then, in 1473, or four years later, in 1477, when she reached the required legal age of fourteen. When the Holy See conferred upon his nephew the Lordship of Imola in 1477, Caterina went to Rome to take official residence with her husband, a man who came to be known as “The Captain of the Vatican Ship of State.” They welcomed their first child a year later (the first of what would become Caterina’s ten children).

Life in Vatican City was tumultuous; power and intrigue festered among the unscrupulous. Though her husband forbade her involvement in the political arena, Caterina soon found her own place. She became noted as one of the most beautiful and gracious among Roman noblewomen. Every door opened for her, hosted lavishly, and praised by all, including the Pope. Her heightened intellect and her multi-faceted education led her to become a powerful intermediary between the Vatican and the other powerful city/states of Italy. In 1480, the Pope, for his own political reasons, assigned the lordship of Forli to Girolamo, and with it, Caterina’s own scope of influence expanded.

Their meteoric rise tumbled in August of 1484 upon the death of the Pope.

Castel Sant'Angelo
All of Rome was thrown into chaos; rebellions, looting, and disorder became the rule of the day. In the seventh month of another pregnancy, Caterina escaped on horseback to the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. Much is debated as to the true power in this couple, many stating Caterina held the reins rather than her weaker husband, many state she herself believed him to be her inferior. With Girolamo away plundering other parts of Italy, Caterina, from her position in the fortress and with the strength of the her soldiers behind her, held the city in her grip, refusing to loosen her hold until her husband returned and a new pope was elected. Though Girolamo bowed to the Sacred College of Cardinals and their desire for him to leave the city in their hands, Caterina was not so acquiescent. She increased her army. Only when her own husband took a counterposition to her, did she relinquish the fortress and follow her husband to Forli.

Life there was a ruse, Girolamo’s rule a shame, and in April of 1488, after many failed attempts, Girolamo was assassinated by a conspiracy led by the Orsis family. The lordship's palace was sacked and Caterina and her children taken as hostages. The conspirators ordered her, by sword-point, to order the garrison of the castle to surrender it. Using her wiles, she agreed, asking for time for the negotiation. Once back in the palace, she followed through on her own plans, gathering all the forces of the city in defense.

"My people, I tell you to punish and kill all enemies. For it I will consider you my good brothers evermore. Do not hesitate to act, and fear nothing, because the deeds will benefit you and your children. If you fail to act you will regret it in a few days."

When the lives of her children were threatened, she responded as only she would, lifting her skirts and grabbing her crotch, she bellowed, ‘Fatelo, se volete: impiccateli pure davanti a me... qui ho quanto basta per farne altri!" ("Do it, if you want to: hang them well in front of me...I have just enough to make more!"). With that act, Caterina became the Lady of Imola and Forli.

Caterina acted as regent for her eldest son Ottaviano. Her first act was to punish those who murdered her husband. No one was spared, not even the wives and children of the conspirators or their property. For eight years she ruled and governed all aspects of her position, taxes, building, fostering relations with neighboring courts. She married and was widowed twice more. Despite rumors that she was to marry Antonio Maria Ordelaffi, her second marriage was for love, love with Giacomo Feo, the castellan who had pledged allegiance to her after the assassination of her first husband. It was a secret marriage, done so to protect her custody of her children. But her passionate and abiding love Giacomo was too great, too well know, and he too fell to an assassins blade. Caterina responded by roasting the assassin alive on a spit and dropping his wife and children down a well. In all thirty-eight died in response to the death of her beloved Giacomo.

Giovanni il Popolano de' Medici
Enter Giovanni de’ Medici. Exiled, along with his brother Lorenzo (yes, another Lorenzo de’ Medici) because of a rift with the leader of the Medici family at the time, Piero, who had succeeded Il Magnifico, Giovanni found refuge in Forli, eventually occupying the apartment adjacent to Caterina’s. Handsome, intelligent, and charming, Giovanni soon won the heart of the passionate Caterina. The union of such two powerful families was a dangerous act; Caterina and Giovanni were wed secretly in September of 1497. Seven months later, in April of 1498, their son, baptized Ludovico, was born, named after his mother’s uncle.

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere
Soon afterward, relations between Florence and Venice became volatile. Positioned directly between, Caterina sent forces, led by her husband Giovanni, to the aid of Florence. But there Giovanni became so ill he was rushed back to Forli, but his decline continued. Caterina brought him to Santa Maria in Bagno, a center widely known for their thermal cures. But it was to no avail. In September of 1498, one year after their marriage, Giovanni succumbed to his illness in the arms of his wife. Bereft by his loss, she renamed their son Giovanni dalle Bande Nere. Bande Nere would eventually become one of the most famed condottiero (mercenary military captain) of all of Italy.

Giovanni’s loss was not the end of Caterina’s struggles. She went on to successfully defend her holdings against the Venetians, earning her the title of La Tigre. Caterina was not so triumphant when she came up against one of the most infamous family’s in Italy, Spaniards by the name of Borgia. Stripped of her holdings, accused of attempting to poison the pope, Caterina remained their prisoner for nearly three years..

Caterina Sforza in later years
Upon her release, she retreated to Florence where her children awaited her. Though she tried once more to regain a modicum of her former power, her attempts were in vain. Caterina lived out the rest of her life serving her children, especially Giovanni, and her grandchildren and donned the veil of a nun. She experimented more in alchemy and corresponded prodigiously with family and friends in Romagna and Milan.

In 1509, Caterina was stricken by a severe case of pneumonia, and though for a while it appeared as though she would recover, she took her last breath in May of the same year.

To those who argue that women of the past had neither the ambition nor the desire to become more than what they were allowed, Caterina Sforza is incontrovertible evidence against the illogical notion. In her own words, she denies them, “If I have to lose, although I am a woman, I want to lose in a manly way.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


The very concept of a ‘new year,’ a ‘new beginning’ can bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in people. It can also find us participating in bizarre activities in hopes of making the next year, the New Year, the best it can be. Here is a short glimpse into some of the amusing and often strange ways people around the world celebrate the ringing in of the new.

No surprise, our journey starts in Italy, where many, many New Year’s traditions abound. In the span of time, this country was, not so very long ago, not a unified nation but a conglomerate of City/States, each with their own distinctive dialects and traditions, individuality that still exists today. Yet some traditions have spread throughout the entirety of the land.

If you’re walking the streets in Italy at the stroke of midnight, beware of falling objects. It is an old Italian custom to throw old things out the window to symbolize readiness to accept the New Year.

Looking for some luck in the coming year? The Italians say wearing red underwear to ring in the New Year does just that. In other countries, it is believed red will bring love, while wearing yellow underwear fosters good luck.

In Romanian, farmers believe that on the cusp of the New Year, horses can talk. They also believe it’s a bad omen if you understand their words. Perhaps this might be cause for worry no matter what day of the year it is.

Stepping forward with your right foot at exactly 12:00 a.m. will literally and figuratively have you start off the new year on the right foot, or so it is believed in Argentina.

At the stroke of midnight, attempt to stuff 12 grapes in your mouth. If successful, Spaniards believe you can expect to achieve good luck in the coming year.

In El Salvador, they crack an egg into a glass bowl at midnight and leave it on the windowsill overnight. Whatever figure it has made in the morning will portend the fortune for the coming year.

Guatemalans grab 12 pennies at 12 a.m. and go outside. Throw the
pennies behind you while you face the opposite end of the street. They believe it will bring the participant money in the coming year.

Smart Russians incorporate alcohol into their festivities. Their tradition consists of writing a wish on a piece of paper, burning it, mixing the ashes in a glass of champagne, and drinking it before 12:01 a.m. Interesting.

Perhaps not as odd as some of the above, in Japan they ring all of their bells 108 times in alignment with the Buddhist belief that this brings cleanness. They also believe smiling as the New Year rings in will bring good luck.

In Switzerland, they celebrate the New Year by dropping ice cream on the floor. Seems like a waste of good ice cream.

Columbians carry their suitcases around with them all day in hopes of having a travel-filled year.

In Denmark they take out the anger of the old year by throwing plates against doors for good luck, while the Irish throw bread against the walls to rid homes of old spirits.

Americans have their own peculiarities. On New Year’s day they open all the doors and windows, letting out the old year and welcoming in the new. It’s also believed that seeing a red cardinal on New Year’s day is an omen for good luck in the coming year.

Whichever odd--or not so odd--way in which you welcome the New Year--wish and hope for a better coming year--believing it, believing it can always be better, is the most important.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!