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!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


It began with his grandfather, the great Cosimo. It began with Cosimo’s love of spending money to enrich the city he loved so much. In his own words, he reveals such expenditures arose from a profound sense of civic duty, “All those things have given me the greatest satisfaction and contentment because they are not only for the honor of God but are likewise for my own remembrance.” (Taylor. F.H. (1948) The Taste of Angels; a History of Art Collecting from Rameses to Napoleon, pp 65-66). It was a duty passed to and expanded by his grandson.

The list of artists and philosophers under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici reads like a Who’s Who of the Italian Renaissance. Below are the most prominent as well as examples of their works.

In the realm of intellectualism, he expanded the library begun by his grandfather (a library now known as the Medici or Laurentian Library) by importing from the East great amounts of classical works. He financially supported a workshop to copy all books in his possession and to spread their content across all of Europe.

The Platonic Academy, led by Marsilio Ficino (under the patronage of Lorenzo), was a modern form of Plato’s Academy. Other members, and those who called Lorenzo patron, included Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano as well as Marsilio Ficino. The informal group supported the development of humanism and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity.

Piero and Antonio del Pollaiolo, were two brothers of extraordinary artistic talent; they came under the wing of Il Magnifico at a fairly early age. It was by Lorenzo’s connections that they were able to establish their own studiolos. Both went on to produce magnificent works, works that furthered the evolution of art intrinsic to the Renaissance.

Battle of Nude Men (1465-1475, engraving)
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Justice (1470,
tempura on panel)
Piero del Pollaiolo
Antonio (1429-1498) was a goldsmith, engraver, painter, and sculptor. Like his brother, his work reveals classical influences as well as those rooted in the essence of human anatomy. Antonio’s work exhibits a far darker side than his brother’s, a strong brutality, especially in his metal-work and sculpture, where he achieved his greatest success.

There is to be found a greater sense of piety and serenity in Piero del Pollaiolo’s (1443-1496) work than in his brother’s. His works tend much more to the religious as well as female portraiture. Portrait of a Woman, Portrait of a Girl, Coronation of the Virgin as well as the Seven Virtues exhibit his softer nature.

The Last Supper
(1480; fresco)
Considered a member of the third generation in the many waves of the Florentine Renaissance, Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) was not only a master painter but one of the most prolific, creating a massive body of work in frescoes, altar pieces, and portraits. The trend of incorporating contemporary portraits within religious narratives was perfected under his brush. His studio contributed not only some of the greatest works of the age, but one of the greatest artists of the era as well.

Not only an artist under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known to the world as Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was also one of the powerful man’s closest and dearest friends. His body of work includes some of the greatest of the age, with The Birth of Venus and Primavera most widely known. By his hand we see the magnificent merging of the Gothic realism with the study of the antique.
Venus and Mars
(1485 tempura and oil on poplar)

Winged Boy with Dolphin
(1470 bronze)
Verrocchio (which in Italian means ‘true eye’), born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni (1435-1488), was one of the greatest maestri of the Renaissance. His artistic supremacy encompassed sculpture, painting, and goldsmith work. A place in his studio was a sought after and much envied place, a place where other great artists would come into the bright light of the Renaissance. One of the brightest being none other than Leonardo da Vinci.

Lorenzo called Leonardo friend as well as artist. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was educated by his father (though born out of wedlock) and brought to Verrocchio’s studio by the same man. But to call Leonardo merely an artist is a statement of great injustice. He was more, so very much more…a polymath,
La Scapigliata
(1508 Oil on canvas; unfinished)
a personal favorite; she cried with me;
da Vinci
painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, cartographer, writer, botanist, and geologist. His genius and monumental curiosity gave rise, quite rightly, to the term Renaissance Man.

Much time could be spent debating who was the greatest artist to come under the wing of the great Lorenzo…Leonardo or Michelangelo. The time would be better spent simply reveling in the magnificent works of both men.

Madonna and Child
(1501-1504, marble)
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), like Leonardo, was a man of many talents. Poet, engineer, architect, painter, and sculptor, his creations still beautify the world. Though most known for his work on the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo considered himself, first and foremost, a sculptor. Lorenzo’s support of this talented man went beyond most others, giving Michelangelo a place in his home during the most trying times of a very traumatic life. In the words of biographer Paolo Giovi, Michelangelo was both ‘bizzarro e fantastico.’ Michelanglo’s body of work is among the most prolific and the most profound.

Through his generosity, intellectual curiosity, as well as his joy and admiration of artistic works, Lorenzo de’ Medici may be called, without question, one of the greatest forces behind the magnificence that was the Renaissance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Like most powerful men of his time, Lorenzo de' Medici’s love life followed the typical path: he married the woman who would bring not only wealth but power, yet his heart and his passion belonged, in truth, to another. In the case of Il Magnifico, his women were anything but typical.

The Orsini family possessed all the characteristics of prime in-law candidates, not only wealthy, they were members of the nobility of the papal court. Clarice, born c. 1453, was the daughter of the Lord of Monterotondo and Bracciano, Jacopo (Giacomo) Orsini and his wife and cousin, Maddalena Orsini.

Lucrezia Tornabuoni de Medici
Lucrezia Tornabuoni, wife to the sickly Piero de' Medici, was a formidable matriarch of great fortitude and influence. With the assistance of her brother, Giovanni Tornabuoni, the director of the Medici bank in Rome, Lurcrezia made a special visit—some have suggested she did so under the guise of a simple family visit—to Rome and used the occasion to further inspect the girl that had gone to the top of her list of possible spouses for her son Lorenzo, a young man with great promise and potential. His future mate could be no less. Lucrezia’s ‘inspection’ borders on intrusive by the standards of modern sensibilities, but were, in fact quite normal for the time.

The first letter sent back to her husband in Florence, bound there by his gout, Lucrezia wrote of Clarice:
Clarice Orsini
’She is fairly tall, and fair, and has a nice manner, though she is not as sweet as our girls. She is very modest and will soon learn our customs. Her face is round, but it does not displease me. We could not see her bosom as it is the custom here to wear it completely covered up, but it seems promising.’ She further reported of Clarice’s red hair and narrow hips.

As Lucrezia became more and more inclined toward the Orsini girl, Lorenzo made his own visit to Rome, where the two met in person. His approval confirmed the coupling and though marriage was agreed upon, negotiations of the marriage contract was a protracted affair spanning almost the full length of a year, long after the Medici had returned to Florence. Among other details, a dowry of 6,000 florins was agreed upon.

Lorenzo de' Medici married Clarice Orsini by proxy on 7 February 1469, much to the displeasure of the Florentines. Not only was Clarice a very religious and introverted woman—antithetical to the Humanist movement obsessing most Florentines of the time, especially Lorenzo himself—they felt Lorenzo’s choice of a woman of Rome was a condemnation of Florence’s own young women of noble standing. If the Medici were to take this major step—for the first time marrying into a class above their own—should it not be to one of their own?

To pacify the fiorentinos, Lorenzo arranged a grand festival to celebrate the betrothal and to share the good fortune of the family with the people. As his father was too ill to plan the event, Lorenzo took charge. A young, virile man, Lorenzo’s idea of a grand festival was a joust, an opulent affair, one to mirror the coming ostentation of Lorenzo’s unofficial ‘reign’ over Florence. In March of 1469, the Piazza Santa Croce was paved with sand and surrounded with seating stands for a large audience. Eighteen knights in full regalia paraded past the Queen of the Tournament, but none so magnificent as Lorenzo himself. And though he had been unseated by one of his opponents, Lorenzo took first prize. The people of Florence were appeased and Lorenzo was happy, even though the affair cost 2,000 more florins than the dowry he would receive.

While Lorenzo partied, Clarice set herself to becoming a Florentine…learning the ways of her new land, the customs, the dances. On the 4th of June, 1469, Clarice, resplendent in garb more appropriate to Florence styling, rode into the city on horseback, accompanied by Lorenzo’s brother, Giuliano, as well as a retinue of fifty knights. The streets teemed with the people of the city, people of every rank and title, on every street, in every piazza. Windows and doorways were festooned with olive branches, a sign of joy, as the people welcomed Clarice to their fair city.

Basilica of San Lorenzo
In the grand Basilica of San Lorenzo, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and funded by Lorenzo’s grandfather Cosimo, the wedding ceremony took place. The reception (a word far too small for what followed) took place in the garden and courtyard of the Medici palazzo, lasted three days, and included no less than five banquets; 4,000 capons were consumed, as were 300 barrels of wine, and 17 tons of sweatmeats and sugared almonds. Copper goblets filled with wine surrounded Donatello’s David as along the streets allegorical floats, decorated with drapery and flowers, were paraded through the city. A battle was staged in the piazza in front of the palazzo and a play was performed in the garden.

And yet, for all this opulence and festivity, all this celebration, this was a marriage doomed for the start. Was it Lorenzo’s virility against Clarice’s piety? Such would seem the most reasonable answer, but it was not the truth. The truth was that Lorenzo was in love, had been since before he laid eyes on Clarice…to Lucrezia Donati.

While notions abound and debate as to whether their relationship was one of courtly love or true marital infidelity, Lorenzo’s devotion was not only intense, but lifelong, as evidenced by the many poems and verses written to her and about her.
Lucrezia Donati

The most prevalent theory of their meeting comes at the wedding of one of Lorenzo’s brigata, a close dear friend. There, it is said, Lucrezia wove a garland of flowers for Lorenzo and asked that he wear them in a joust, out of love for her, though by this time, she had been married to Niccolo Ardinghelli for three years. Not only did he wear it, the banner he carried held her image, one crafted by Verrocchio. Lucrezia was a great beauty, and a muse to many of the greatest artists of the age, including Sandro Botticelli. Letters abound, especially those written by his friends while Lorenzo was in Milan, telling him of Lucrezia’s activities in his absence. One such letter urged Lorenzo’s return, so that, in the absence of her husband as well, ‘sweet terrain (would remain) unplowed.’

The truth has died with them, all that remains are these letters and Lorenzo’s own words…words of a deep and abiding love.

What should the smitten godling do, now that 
He can no longer catch the comely nymph?
The more she is denied to him, the more
Desire inflames and stings his smitten heart.
The nymph’s already close to where my Arno
Receives Ombron, whose waves he joins with his;
Seeing the Arno cheers Ombrone so,
His ruined hopes begin to rise.

I’ve learned just how to please the one I loved,
And how to win her love, this woman who,
The more she’s loved, the more she is displeased.
Oh icy Boreas, freeze my current, turn
My coursing waters into solid ice,
That, petrified, I can attend the nymph.
And may the sun with shining golden shafts
Nevermore melt my hardened, crystal waves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


As a writer of fiction, I enjoy writing my blog posts, factual--but hopefully still entertaining--articles about the topics covered in my books, the historically accurate subjects that ignite the stories. In light of this, I could not let my 100th post go by without honoring it with a special edition.

As a writer of historical fiction which endeavors, first and foremost, to shed light on the lives of women, it seems only proper to dedicate this post to those very women. Though some of the women listed are still living, they are or have been enormously important, influential, notable, or all me! To me...this is vital to keep in mind while perusing my list, my celebration. But please join in...let me know who you think might be on YOUR list!

Barbara DiMauro Russo--b1933; my mother; a vibrant woman about to turn 81 and still living life enthusiastically. She has seen me through the very worst of times without hesitation (and they have been some of life's worst events). I'd be lost without her.

Jennie 'Vincenza' DeRobbio Russo--1908-1995; my paternal grandmother; could cook exquisitely and command unquestionably.

Gertrude Petrini DiMauro Lambert--1911-2011; my maternal grandmother; raised two children by herself through the Great Depression and raised outstanding adults; spoke her mind without equivocation or apology.

Abigail Adams--1744-1818; former First Lady of the United States; her educated opinions
did much to guide her husband during his tenure.

Agatha Christie--1890-1976; award-winning, prolific author of mysteries that kept me
reading long into the night, a true and gifted story-teller.

Amelia Earhart--1897-1937; first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; a
gutsy women to be greatly esteemed.

Ann Boleyn--1501-1536; second wife to Henry VIII; I see her as a victim to her
circumstances, doing her best in a bad situation.

Anne Frank--1929-1945; her courage, her life, and her book have never left my consciousness.

Audrey Hepburn--1929-1993; talented, beautiful, philanthropic and elegance personified.

Barbara Streisand--b1942; that astonishing voice, her demand for excellence, both profound.

Barbara Walters--b1929; ground-breaking in so many different ways, upon her shoulders so many stand.

Betsy Ross--1752-1836; did she or didn't she, no one truly knows, but a she is a legend as a
woman of the Revolution nonetheless.

Betty Friedan--1921-2006; if you haven't read The Feminine Mystique, whether woman or man…
read it.

Betty White--b1922; who doesn't love this women who proves age IS just a number.

Billie Holiday--1915-1959; hers was the voice of inspiration in so many ways.

Billie Jean King--b1943; I will NEVER forget the day she beat Bobby Riggs…I saw all my beliefs
taking form.

Bonnie Parker--1910-1934; strange choice some might say, but there are lessons to be
learned from her about what NOT to do for the love of a man.

Calamity Jane--1852-1903; one of the first female explorers, daring to go where few other women

Catherine the Great--1729-1796; ruled Russia for 34 years and did so scandalously.

Charlotte Bronte--1816-1855; talent and devotion so demanding to be heard she gave up her name
to do it.

Chelsea Handler--b1975; first woman to break into late night tv; what you see is what you
get…a powerful women refusing to apologize for it.

Cher--b1946; voice, fashion, beauty, guts and a major influence on my childhood.

Clara Barton--1821-1912; founder of the American Red Cross; a true nurturing soul.

Cleopatra--69BC-30BC; perhaps first woman feminist; knew her power and how to use it.

Coco Chanel--1883-1971; breaking boundaries with timeless sophistication and taste;
revolutionized women's fashion.

Diana, Princess of Wales--1961-1997; so much respect for what she endured and what she accomplished.

Eleanor Roosevelt--1884-1962; unfettered wisdom.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton--1815-1902; daring to be a female activitist.

Emily Bronte--1818-1848; like her sister, talent and a love of craft, in a word…Heathcliff.

Emily Dickinson--1830-1886; a reclusive poet with the depth of soul and emotion.

Erma Bombeck--1927-1996; spot-on humorisst about the state of motherhood; her wit
really helped through the hard times.

Estee Lauder--1908-2004; an unstoppable businesswoman who founded a beauty empire.

Florence Nightingale--1820-1910; war nurse, founder of modern nursing; such dedication
is so impressive.

Georgia O’Keefe--1887-1986; inspiration that magnificent art can triumph over personal challenges.

Gloria Steinheim--b1934; helped mold the minds of so many women, women who now
always demand equality and justice.

Golda Meir--1898-1978; a political powerhouse when women as such were an anomaly.

Goldie Hawn--b1945; simply adorable as well as talented; loved watching her on Laugh In
while growing up.

Harriet Tubman--b1822-1913; at great personal risk led hundreds of slaves to freedom
along the Underground Railroad.

Helen Keller--1880-1968; from blind and deaf mute to author and political activist; simply amazing.

Helen Mirren--b1945; astoundingly talented actress that is showing just how beautiful aging can be.

Hypatia--350AD-415AD; Greek philosopher who furthered the teachings of Aristotle, vital teachings.

Indira Ghandi--1917-1984; first female Prime Minister of India; ground-breaker.

Isadora Duncan--1877-1927; American born dancer; amazing talent taken tragically too soon.

J. K. Rowling--b1965; came from nothing but never gave up; I'll treasure her stories always.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis--1929-1994; her elegance and grace never wavered. 

Jane Austen--1775-1817; for Mr. Darcy alone, PLUS six astounding works. 

Janice Joplin--1943-1970; definitively unique; a talent gone too soon.

Joan Didion--b1934; her works are devoted to the exploration of the disintegration of
American morals and cultural chaos. 

Joan of Arc--1412-1431; her passion, her belief, her determination take my breath away.

Josephine Baker--1906-1975; another in my list of ground-breaking women…the 'Bronze Venus.'

Joyce Brothers--1927-2013; yes, people, we can talk and enjoy sex!

Judy Garland--1922-1969; tortured torch singer; her 'Dorothy' will live forever in my heart.

Lady Godiva--980-1067; well…that took guts.

Lizzie Borden--1860-1927; guilty or not, her tale transfixes.

Louisa May Alcott--1832-1888; where would we be without her 'Little Women?'

Lucille Ball--1911-1989; you can be beautiful and funny; adored her.

Madeleine Albright--b1937-first women to become the United States Secretary of State.

Mary, mother of Jesus Christ--18BC-41AD; I cannot imagine her pain.

Madonna--b1958; born one month after me, she had me dancing and singing; she wrought
changes for better or worse.

Margaret Atwood--b1939; phenomenal writer, environmental activist…my kind of woman.

Margaret Chase Smith--1897-1995; first US women to served as a US Representative and US Senator.

Margaret Mitchell--1900-1949; for an amazing story, for Rhett Butler, for helping this writer find her 'voice.'

Margaret Sanger--1879-1966; one of the first American birth control activists.

Margaret Thatcher--1925-2013; first female Prime Minister of the UK; may not have agreed
with her politics…admire her fortitude.

Marie Antoinette--1755-1793; as Queen to Louis XVI in this volatile period, she didn't stand a chance.

Marie Curie--1867-1924; the world needs more scientists of this caliber with a feminine sensibility.

Marilyn Monroe--1926-1962; a real woman, a beauty, a tortured soul.

Martha Washington--1731-1802; the first First Lady of the United States.

Mary Cassatt--1844-1926; a woman impressionist among the men and holding her own.

Mary Magdalene--dates unknown; never a prostitute, I love to think that Jesus was so

Mary Shelley--1797-1851; how wonderful to think that such a 'monster' was created by a woman.

Mary Todd Lincoln--1818-1882; so much to have lived through.

Mary Wollstonecraft--1759-1797; author and 18th century advocate of women's rights.

Maya Angelou--1928-2014; author, poet, dancer, actress, singer…truth teller most of all.

Melinda Gates--b1964; a philanthropist of an astounding scale; all that money and she's still so very

Meryl Streep--b1949; one of the greatest American actresses…period.

Michelle Obama--b1964; smart, dedicated, sophisticated….a real woman.

Mother Theresa--1910-1997; her contributions were not only her actions but what she inspired others to do.

Mrs. Alfonso-my sixth grade teacher. She, more than anyone, allowed me to see that I was a writer.

Nellie Bly--1864-1922; ground-breaking reporter famous for record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days.

Oprah Winfrey--b1954; rising above traumas most could not
begin to handle to become one of the most powerful

Pearl S. Buck--1892-1973; author, Pulitzer AND Nobel Prize winner.

Pocahontas--1595-1617; it often takes a woman to bring two worlds together.

Queen Elizabeth I--1533-1603; a life like little others, a powerful woman in a man's world…
and kicked ass.

Queen Elizabeth II--b1926; Queen at 16, she's had some missteps along the way but there is strength to be admire here.

Queen Isabella I--1451-1504; struggled to gain her throne and then did remarkable things once upon it.

Queen Victoria--1819-1901; Queen of UK during a great age; a wife and mother who
showed just how much we women can do.

Rosa Parks--1913-2005; Called 'The First Lady of Civil Rights' her courage on that day is
almost beyond comprehension.

Sacagawea--b1788-d unconfirmed; helped forge this land I call home.

Sally Ride--1951-2012; truly going where no WOMAN had gone before.

Sandra Day O’Connor--b1930; first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.

Simone de Beauvoir--1908-1986; author, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist.

Sofonisiba Anguissola--1532-1625; one of the first women 'accepted' as an artist, paving
the way for women artists.

Sojourner Truth--b unknown-1883; abolitionist and women's right activist.

Sophia Loren--b1934; Italy's most famous and honored actress;
she showed me that big lips and a Roman nose can be beautiful.

Susan B. Anthony--1820-1906; absolutely essential women in the women's suffrage movement.

Susan Sarandon--b1946; admire her talent and her commitment.

Unsinkable Molly Brown--1867-1932; philanthropist and activist who survived the sinking of the Titantic.

Victoria Woodhull--1838-1927; American leader in the women's suffrage movement; first
female candidate for US President.

Virgina Woolf--1882-1941; foremost modernists of 20th century; in her work all women
can find a piece of themselves.

Yoko Ono--b1933; artist and activist and wife to my first love, John Lennon.

And to all my devoted readers--women and men--thank inspire me to work better, write better, every day.