Portrait of a Woman: Created by Bartolomeo
Veneto, this has long been considered to be
a painting of Lucrezia Borgia.
There is no force quite so potent as a woman with infamy and corruption infused indelibly into her blood.
Born in 1480 to the wickedly debased Renaissance Pope Alexander VI and his mistress, Vanozza de Catanei, perhaps it was no surprise that Lucrezia Borgia would go on to become the very definition of a duplicitous, seductive and ultimately lethal femme fatale. Irresistible to men and deft with her womanly wiles to bring about their downfall, Lucrezia stopped at nothing to exact her father’s will; executing political bribes throughout Rome and the Vatican City by any means, as well as more extreme solutions.
Pope Alexander VI, from the
Corridoio Vasariano, Florence.
Any prince or official identified by her father as threatening the family’s status was dealt with with discreet efficiency, her methods included stabbing, garrotting and her favourite and most infamous practice – the agonising death induced by subtle poisons. It was rumoured that during her father’s frequent and lavish parties, hosted by herself, she would conceal her deadly toxins inside a special ring, or within the hollow knop of a golden goblet, to cunningly secrete into her hapless victim’s cup.
Accompanied by her equally ruthless brother, Cesare, they formed a most unholy trinity that threatened to bring down the Catholic church from within.
Before she had even reached her teenage years, Lucrezia’s father had arranged and broken off many important and politically influential marriages for her – including one to Giovanni Sforza, who acted as a spy against the Borgias and fuelled accusations that haunted the family for years to come – not least rumours of paternal and fraternal incest between the Pope and his children that ran rampant; a scandal that was hardly quieted when Lucrezia and her brother appeared side by side upon a balcony as Cesare cruelly shot unarmed criminals with his crossbow for amusement.
Illegitimate children and unhappy betrothals seemed par for the course as Lucrezia grew older, and Cesare’s jealousy of her partners was heated at best, and extremely violent at worst; her second husband, Alfonso of Aragon, was strangled to death by mutual agreement after Pope Alexander could no longer find a bureaucratic use for their union.
Cesare Borgia by Altobello Melone
, Accademia Carrara.
Despite eventually being married a third time to Alfonso d’Este and indulging in the respectable life of a Renaissance duchess, Lucrezia’s appetite remained unsated, her boredom unfulfilled, and she began an extra-marital affair with both her brother-in-law and the poet Pietro Bembo.
In 1519, at the age of 39 and after experiencing complications with giving birth to her eighth child, Lucrezia Borgia, herself, succumbed to death – though she had already long outlived the contaminated, blood-stained legacy that her father laid down before his own horrific end, being accidentally poisoned by his own son. In a letter to Pope Leo X written only the night before her demise, Lucrezia articulated her desire for death; her readiness and the peace she had found with herself.
No doubt she is still most notoriously remembered as a heartless, depraved woman bent on gratification and driven by her father’s wishes, and most certainly a truly murderous Machiavellian mistress.
The Vatican; the centre of Pope Alexander's