Showing posts with label Ludovico Sforza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ludovico Sforza. Show all posts

3 January 2024

Beatrice d’Este – Duchess of Milan

The brief life of a politically astute noblewoman from Ferrara

Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the
19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice d’Este, who became Duchess of Bari and Milan after her marriage to Ludovico Sforza and was an important player in Italian politics during the late 15th century, died on this day in 1497 in Milan.

The Duchess was said to have shown great courage during the Milanese resistance against the French in what was later judged to be the first of the Italian Wars. At the time of the French advance on Milan, with her husband ill, Beatrice made the right decisions on his behalf and helped prevent the Duke of Orleans from conquering her adopted city.

Sadly, she died when she was just 21, after giving birth to a stillborn baby.

Beatrice was born in the Castello Estense in Ferrara in 1475, but spent her early years growing up in her mother’s home city of Naples. When she was 15, her family sent her to marry the 38-year-old Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed Il Moro - The Moor - because of his dark complexion, who was acting as regent of Milan on behalf of his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

Ludovico and Beatrice’s wedding celebrations were directed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan for 17 years, designing elaborate festivals for the Sforza family as well as painting and sculpting.

Ludovico became Duke of Milan after Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, seemingly of natural causes. However, it was rumoured at the time he had been poisoned by his uncle.

Ludovico Sforza, to whom Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Ludovico Sforza, to whom
Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Beatrice found herself at the centre of court life in Milan, where she was much admired for her beauty, charm, and diplomatic skills.

As well as associating with Da Vinci and the architect, Donato Bramante, she spent time with poets such as Baldassare Castiglione and Niccolò da Correggio. Her husband seemed to have been genuinely fond of her, despite having a string of mistresses, and once described her as ‘happy by nature and very pleasing.’

Beatrice was trusted to represent her husband as an ambassador to Venice and she also attended a peace conference, along with many powerful political figures of the day, including Charles VIII, King of France.

She gave birth to two sons, Massimiliano, who was born in 1493, and Francesco, who was born in 1495. They each, in turn, went on to become the Duke of Milan.

Beatrice was on course to make Milan one of the greatest Renaissance capitals of Europe when her life ended abruptly.

Pregnant for the third time, she seemed to be in good health when she was seen out in her carriage on January 2, 1497.

Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her
tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
She waved to the crowds on her way to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where Da Vinci was in the process of painting his famous masterpiece, The Last Supper, known in Italian as Il Cenacolo, on the wall of the refectory.

After saying her prayers in the church, Beatrice returned to the Castello Sforzesco, where she was said to have taken part in dancing during the evening. Afterwards, she started to suffer stomach pains and she gave birth to a stillborn son. She never recovered from the birth and died half an hour after midnight, on January 3.

Later that day, her heartbroken husband wrote about the sad news to his brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, who was married to Beatrice’s sister, Isabella. He asked for no visits of condolence, saying he wanted to be left alone to grieve. He remained locked in his apartment for two weeks and when he reappeared, he had shaved his head and was dressed in black, wearing an old, torn cloak.

The beautiful Beatrice has been immortalised in sculptures and paintings and has gone down in history as ‘a virago who showed the courage of a man’, during a time when Milan was at war.  

The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years
old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, built by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, in 1450. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke in 1494, he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several of the rooms. The castle was built on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco Sforza was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.  The Cairo metro station is opposite the main entrance to Castello Sforzesco, which is about a 20 minute walk from Milan’s Duomo.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he painted on the wall of the refectory
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he
painted on the wall of the refectory
Travel tip:

Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church and Dominican convent in Milan, is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper - Il Cenacolo, which is on the wall of the refectory where the monks used to eat their meals. Entrance to the refectory is now limited to 25 people at a time for a maximum stay of 15 minutes and it is necessary to book a visit in advance.  In addition to Il Cenacolo, the church also has a chapel decorated with the frescoes Stories of Life and The Passion of Christ, by Gaudenzio Ferrari and other works by Ferrari, Titian and Bramantino. Titian’s painting, The Coronation of Thorns, once hung in the same chapel as the Ferrari frescoes but is now in the Louvre, in Paris.

Also on this day:

106BC: The birth of Roman politician and philosopher Cicero

1698: The birth of opera librettist Pietro Metastasio

1785: The death of composer Baldassare Galuppi

1877: The birth of textile entrepreneur and publisher Giovanni Treccani

1920: The birth of singer-songwriter Renato Carosone

1929: The birth of film director Sergio Leone

1952: The birth of politician Gianfranco Fini


4 November 2023

Alfonso II - King of Naples

Ruler forced to abdicate after one year

Alfonso II became King on the  death of his father in 1494
Alfonso II became King on the 
death of his father in 1494
Alfonso II, who became King of Naples in 1494 but was forced to abdicate after just one year, was born on this day in 1448 in Naples.

Also known as Alfonso II of Aragon, as heir to Ferdinand I he had the title Duke of Calabia from the age of 10. Blessed with a natural flair for leadership and military strategy, he spent much of his life as a condottiero, leading the army of Naples in a number of conflicts.

He contributed to the Renaissance culture of his father’s court, building the splendid palaces of La Duchesca and Poggio Reale, although neither survived to be appreciated today.

Alfonso II also introduced improvements to the urban infrastructure of Naples, building new churches, tree-lined straight roads, and a sophisticated hydraulic system to supply the city’s fountains. 

He became King of Naples with the death of his father in January 1494 but stepped down in favour of his son, Ferdinand II, in January the following year as the powerful army of Charles VIII of France, who had launched an invasion of the Italian peninsula in September, 1494, prepared to take the city.

Alfonso fled to Sicily, seeking refuge in a monastery at Mazara del Vallo on the southwestern coast, about 25km (15 miles) from Marsala in the province of Trapani.  He died there in December 1495 at the age of 47.

The eldest son of Isabella de Clermont, the first wife of King Ferdinand I, Alfonso II inherited the title of King of Jerusalem on his mother’s death. After being given a humanist education from tutors in his father’s court, he became a career soldier.

A drawing depicting the scene of Alfonso's abdication in favour of his son, Ferdinand II
A drawing depicting the scene of Alfonso's
abdication in favour of his son, Ferdinand II
His battlefield skills were praised when in 1467, still only 19 years old, he helped the Florentines against Venice. 

Other notable campaigns included the war waged by the Kingdom of Naples and Pope Sixtus IV against Florence following the attempt by the Pazzi family to assassinate Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1478, the reversal of the Ottoman invasion of Otranto in 1481, and a major intervention against Venice in the War of Ferrara, also known as the Salt War, between 1482 and 1484.

Closer to home, he advised his father to impose severe repressive measures to crush the so-called Conspiracy of the Barons in 1485, which made him many enemies. 

By the time Alfonso ascended to the throne in Naples with the death of his father, the Kingdom’s coffers were exhausted and the chances of repelling the armies of Charles VIII were much reduced.  The French king had been encouraged to attack Naples by Alfonso’s brother-in-law, Ludovico Sforza, who saw a chance to reassert his power in Milan. 

Pope Alexander VI tried to persuade Charles VIII to use his resources against the Turks instead but without success. By early 1495, Charles was approaching Naples, having defeated Florence and the Neapolitan fleet under Alfonso's brother, Frederick, at Porto Venere, at which point Alfonso took flight, handing power to his son, Ferdinand II, who offered no resistance as Charles VIII seized the crown on behalf of his father, Louis XI, who had inherited the Angevin claim to Naples.

A bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, said to be of Ippolita Maria Sforza
A bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum in
London, said to be of Ippolita Maria Sforza
Notorious for a somewhat debauched lifestyle and innumerable lovers, Alfonso II had three legitimate children by his one marriage, to Ippolita Maria Sforza, and two out of wedlock by Trogia Gazzella, a noblewoman.

Of Alfonso’s two major villas in Naples - La Duchesca and Poggio Reale - the latter, a complex said to have been designed by the architect Giuliano da Maiano, was said to be so beautiful that Charles VIII described it as an “earthly paradise”. 

Located in a district now known as Poggioreale, the Poggio Reale complex fell into disrepair after Charles had left, taking many of its treasures back to France. In the 17th century, an attempt was made to restore it under King Philip III of Spain but a resurgence of bubonic plague put paid to that, and part of the grounds became a burial place for lepers. Ultimately, a cemetery was built on top of the ruins.

After his death in Sicily, Alfonso’s remains were buried at the Duomo di Messina, the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta.

The Norman church of San Nicolò Regale in Mazaro del Vallo, built in 1124
The Norman church of San Nicolò Regale in
Mazaro del Vallo, built in 1124
Travel tip:

Mazara del Vallo, where Alfonso II sheltered after fleeing Naples, is a port and resort at the mouth of the Mazara river on the southwest coast of Sicily, 25km (15 miles) from Marsala and just over 130km (80 miles) from the island’s capital, Palermo. Founded by the Phoenicians in the ninth century BC, it has passed under the control of the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Catalans, Savoys, Habsburgs and Bourbons before being conquered by Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860 and joining the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy. Attractions include the remains of a Norman Castle built in 1073 and demolished in 1880, the church of San Nicolò Regale, which is a rare example of Norman architecture, built in 1124, and the simple church of San Vito a Mare, built in 1776 on the site of old Norman remains on the edge of the water. Arab influences can be enjoyed in the historic Kasbah Mazara del Vallo district, while the Museo del Satiro Danzante houses a bronze statue of a dancing satyr believed to have been sculpted by Greek artist Praxiteles, which was found at a depth of 500m (1,600 ft) in the Strait of Sicily by a fishing boat in 1998. 

The triumphal arch that forms the gate of the Castel Nuovo in Naples, home of the Aragonese court
The triumphal arch that forms the gate of the Castel
Nuovo in Naples, home of the Aragonese court
Travel tip:

The Aragonese court in Naples was based at Castel Nuovo, often known as the Maschio Angioino, the imposing castle that stands on the water’s edge in Naples, overlooking the Piazza Municipio. Alfonso of Aragon, who had conquered the throne of Naples in 1443, had the fortress completely rebuilt in its present form, entrusting the renovation of the old Angevin palace-fortress to an Aragonese architect, Guillem Sagrera. The five round towers, four of which were part of the square Angevin structure, reaffirmed the defensive role of the castle, while the castle’s status as a centre of royal power was underlined by the construction at the entrance, between the two western towers, of a triumphal arch, a masterpiece of Neapolitan Renaissance architecture which was the work of Francesco Laurana and others. It was built in 1470 and commemorates Alfonso of Aragon's entry into Naples in 1443.

Also on this day:

1333 and 1966: Devastating floods in Florence

1575: The birth of Bolognese painter Guido Reni

1737: The inauguration of Teatro di San Carlo

1964: The birth of crime writer Sandrone Dazieri


11 April 2023

Donato Bramante - architect and painter

Father of High Renaissance style left outstanding legacy

Bramante made his mark in Rome in the 16th century
Bramante made his mark in
Rome in the 16th century
The architect and painter Donato Bramante, credited with introducing High Renaissance architecture to Rome, died on this day in 1514 in Rome, probably aged around 70.

Bramante, who was also a perspectivist painter, worked in Milan before moving to Rome, where he produced the original designs for St Peter’s Basilica and built several buildings and structures considered to be masterpieces of early 16th century architecture.

These include the Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio on the summit of the Janiculum Hill, the Chiostro di Santa Maria della Pace near Piazza Navona, the Cortile del Belvedere and Scala del Bramante in the Vatican and the Palazzo della Cancelleria, located between Campo de' Fiori and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

Bramante was born Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio in around 1444 to a well-to-do farming family in Fermignano, a town in what is now the Marche region, a few kilometres south of Urbino. He was also known as Bramante Lazzari. 

Little is known of his early life, although it is possible he worked on the construction site of Federico da Montefeltro's Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, having trained under its architect, Luciano Laurana.

He moved to Milan in 1476 and the first work definitively attributed to him was in Bergamo, 50km (31 miles) or so to the northeast, where he painted murals, notably on the facade of the Palazzo del Podestà in 1477. His mastery of perspective is thought to have been influenced by Piero della Francesca, his contemporary.

In Milan, Ludovico Sforza appointed Bramante his court architect on the recommendation of his brother, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. His work there included the a rectory and cloisters of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which featured his characteristic use of arches, and alterations to the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie - famously the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper - where he added a cloister, a rectory and a dome surrounded by columns. 

Bramante's original design for the dome of St Peter's Basilica
Bramante's original design for the
dome of St Peter's Basilica
In 1499, however, Bramante’s time in Milan came to an abrupt end in 1499, when Ludovico Sforza was driven out by an invading French army. Bramante moved to Rome.

There, he immersed himself in the study of the architecture of ancient Rome, which would influence the style that became known as High Renaissance.

He became known to Giuliano della Rovere, the Cardinal who was the future Pope Julius II, his biggest patron. It was Julius who commissioned Bramante to build a new St Peter's, replacing the basilica erected by Constantine in the fourth century, which he envisaged would be the greatest Christian church ever constructed. 

There was a competition organised, which Bramante won with a design based on an enormous Greek-cross structure topped by a central dome inspired by that of the huge circular Roman temple, the Pantheon. However when Pope Julius died in 1513, his successor replaced Bramante with Giuliano da Sangallo and Fra Giocondo, and the commission then passed to Raphael in 1514, a few months after Bramante’s own death. It was not until 1547 that Michelangelo took over as chief architect, making substantial changes to Bramante's original plan.

St Peter’s Basilica apart, Julius II employed Bramante on many more projects, including whole complexes of buildings, fountains and street layouts as the pontiff set about a programme of urban regeneration. 

Among these, his Cortile del Belvedere - Belvedere Courtyard - a long, rectangular courtyard connecting the Vatican Palace with the Villa Belvedere in a series of terraces, linked by stairs, influenced the design of courtyards across Europe.

The Tempietto di San Pietro is considered a Bramante masterpiece
The Tempietto di San Pietro is
considered a Bramante masterpiece
His Scala del Bramante, meanwhile, though described as a staircase, was in fact a ramp, an innovative double-helix spiral connecting the Vatican's Belvedere Palace to the outside world of Rome. Lined with granite Doric columns and featuring a herringbone paving pattern, it was designed to allow Julius II to enter his private residence while still in his carriage.  

Two of Bramante’s most acclaimed masterpieces, those that earned him the description of Father of the High Renaissance, were the cloister at Santa Maria della Pace, commissioned by Cardinal Oliviero Carafa around 1500, with a magnificent upper gallery characterised by alternating Corinthian pilasters and columns, and the Tempietto di San Pietro, commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, a circular temple composed of slender Tuscan columns, modelled after the ancient Roman Theatre of Marcellus.

An extrovert character who wrote poetry and music, Bramante was a close friend of Raphael, in whose fresco The School of Athens he depicts Bramante as the mathematician, Euclid.

The town of Fermignano can be found  a few kilometres south of Urbino
The town of Fermignano can be found 
a few kilometres south of Urbino
Travel tip:

Fermignano, Bramante’s birthplace, has a history that dates back to Roman times, when it was the location for the defeat of Hannibal’s Carthaginian army, led by his brother, Hasdrubal, in 207BC.  Significant buildings include the Delle Milizie tower and a Roman bridge over the Metauro river. A former paper mill located in Via Santa Veneranda used to be rented out by the Montefeltro family. The church of San Giacomo  in Compostela is an important historical monument with 14th and 15th century frescoes. A contemporary art gallery in the town is named after Bramante.

The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by
Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
Travel tip:

The Vatican City, which contains some of Bramante’s most significant work, occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens. Since 1929, it has enjoyed the status of the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.

Also on this day:

1512: The Battle of Ravenna

1890: The birth of dictator’s wife Rachele Mussolini

1987: The death of writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi



20 June 2021

Gian Galeazzo Sforza - Duke of Milan

Ruler who never truly held power

Gian Galeazzo Sforza was too young to inherit his father's title
Gian Galeazzo Sforza was too
young to inherit his father's title
Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the third member of the Sforza family to have the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1469 in Abbiategrasso, a town in the Po Valley about 22km (14 miles) north of Milan.

He was the sixth Duke of Milan in all, the title having previously been the property of the Visconti family.

However, Gian Galeazzo had only a short life and never truly held any power, having inherited the Duchy at the age of seven when his father, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, was assassinated in the porch of Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, on December 26, 1476, where he was attending a celebration for the Festa di San Stefano.

Gian Galeazzo could not legally inherit the Duchy until he reached the age of majority, which in Renaissance times was 14. Until then, Milan would be ruled by his mother, Galeazzo Maria’s widow, Bona of Savoy.

But Gian Galeazzo’s uncle, Ludovico Sforza, also known as Ludovico il Moro, had designs on the Duchy as Galeazzo Maria’s brother and the next five years encompassed a bitter struggle for the regency.

With the help of her powerful counsellor, the ducal secretary Cicco Simonetta, Bona managed to repel Ludovico’s first bid to seize power, but not for long.

Ludovico Sforza had designs on the Duchy of Milan
Ludovico Sforza had designs
on the Duchy of Milan

Ludovico was determined that Milan would be his and redoubled his efforts, this time using deception, persuading Bona that Simonetta was plotting against her.

Taken in by Ludovico’s false story, Bona had Simonetta arrested, tried for treason, imprisoned in Pavia and ultimately executed, at which point Ludovico turned on Bona, seized her son and ordered Bona to leave Milan.

By this time, Gian Galeazzo was 13, still not old enough to assume power, and in the meantime Ludovico, while ostensibly ruling as regent, strengthened his power base.

Gian Galeazzo grew up, marrying his cousin, Princess Isabella of Naples, at the age of 19.  He had no desire to challenge his uncle’s position as regent of Milan, even though he had every right to reclaim the Duchy, and the couple moved to the castle of Pavia, where they had four children.

The peace between them began to fragment, however, when Ludovico married Beatrice d'Este, daughter of Duke Ercole I d'Este of Ferrara and Modena in 1491.

Isabella and Beatrice became rivals on behalf of their children. Isabella feared that her son, Francesco, would be deprived of the Duchy to which she believed he was the rightful heir, while Beatrice insisted that Ludovico’s unchallenged rule meant that his son, Massimiliano, should inherit the title.

The argument came to a head when Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, at the age of 25, at the Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace), the summer home of the the Sforza family, in Vigevano, in the province of Pavia, about 40km (25 miles) southwest of Milan. 

Ludovico's wife, Beatrice, wanted her son to inherit the Duchy
Ludovico's wife, Beatrice, wanted
her son to inherit the Duchy
Bizarre stories circulated as to the cause of death, among them that it was due to sexual excesses. However, according to the 16th century Italian historian Francesco Guicciardini in his History of Italy, he was poisoned by Ludovico.

One version of events claims that Gian Galeazzo was taken prisoner by his uncle, kept in a caged pit in his dining room at the Palazzo Ducale, and given only enough food to keep him alive. The story has it that Ludovico let him out on the occasion of a visit by Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, at which he demanded that he be cooked a dinner of pheasants. Ludovico is said to have agreed to his request but contaminated one of the birds with poison, which killed his nephew in front of the shocked cardinal.

Ludovico is said to have joked afterwards that Gian Galeazzo was “Duke for an hour” before being undone by his greed. 

Whatever the truth of Gian Galeazzo’s death, Ludovico immediately approached the State Council of Milan, demanding the Duchy should pass to him rather than four-year-old Francesco. The council, fearing the implications of another child as Duke, agreed to his demand.

Five years later, however, in the course of the Italian Wars, the army of Louis XII of France took Milan from Ludovico Sforza and it was not until 1512, four years after Ludovico’s death in captivity in France, when Imperial German troops drove out the French, that Massimiliano was able to become Duke.

The Visconti Castle in Abbiategrasso was built in 1382 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti
The Visconti Castle in Abbiategrasso was built
in 1382 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti
Travel tip:

Abbiategrasso, today a town of 32,000 inhabitants in the Milan metropolitan area, is home to the Visconti Castle, built in 1382 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and enlarged and decorated by Filippo Maria Visconti after 1438. The nearby Basilica church of Santa Maria Nuova was built in 1388 to celebrate the birth of Gian Galeazzo Visconti's son. The castle passed into the ownership of the Sforza family in common with much of the Visconti family’s property when the male line died out in 1450.  Abbiategrasso is also the home town of Giuseppina Tuissa, one of the partisans who captured Mussolini as he tried to flee to Switzerland in 1945, and of the fashion designer, Franco Moschino.

The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano, seen from the Castello Sforzesco
The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano,
seen from the Castello Sforzesco
Travel tip:

Historic Vigevano is renowned for shoemaking and is a centre for rice growing but its main claim to fame is as the home of the Castello Sforzesco, a Lombard fortress developed by the Visconti family and rebuilt between 1492–94 for Ludovico Sforza, born in the town, who transformed the fortification into a rich noble residence. Leonardo da Vinci was his guest at Vigevano, as was the architect Donato Bramante, who designed the tower that watches over the beautiful rectangular Piazza Ducale, which was completed in 1493 as the forecourt to the castle.  The Peroni Brewery was founded by Giovanni Peroni in Vigevano in 1846.

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi

1935: The birth of footballer Armando Picchi

1952: The birth of novelist Valerio Evangelisti

1967: The birth of Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris


28 December 2017

Piero the Unfortunate – Medici ruler

Ill-fated son of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment  earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment
earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, later dubbed Piero the Unfortunate or The Fatuous, died on this day in 1503, drowning in the Garigliano river, south of Rome, as he attempted to flee following a military defeat.

The eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero was handed power in Florence at the age of 21 following the death of his father.

He was a physically handsome young man who had been educated specifically so that he would be ready to succeed his father as head of the Medici family and de facto ruler of Florence.

Yet he turned out to be a feeble, ill-disciplined character who was not suited to leadership and who earned his unflattering soubriquet on account of his poor judgment in military and political matters, which ultimately led to the Medici family being exiled from Florence.

Piero took over as leader of Florence in 1492. Initially there was calm but the peace between the Italian states for which his father had worked tirelessly to achieve collapsed in 1494 when King Charles VIII of France led an army across the Alps with the intention to march on the Kingdom of Naples, claiming hereditary rights.

The young leader’s first bad decision had been to ally Florence with Naples rather than Milan, where his father had striven to maintain an even-handed relationship with both.

Ludovico Sforza, the former regent of Milan, was unimpressed, but at the same time saw an opportunity to re-assert his power in the city by scheming with Charles VIII to eject his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, and replace him as Duke.

Charles VIII of France
Charles VIII of France
In return he allowed Charles’s army, some 30,000 strong, to proceed unchallenged through his territories and arrive at the borders of Tuscany.  Piero’s decision to ally with Naples meant that Florence, by association, was France’s enemy

Piero at first attempted to mount some resistance, but at a time when the fanatical Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola was undermining the authority of the Medici court he struggled to garner support from the Florentine elites.

He then made the extraordinary decision to seek a deal with Charles, taking the lead from his father’s great act of diplomacy in 1479, when Lorenzo reached a settlement with Naples by making a personal visit to the King of Naples.

Piero persuaded Charles to give him an audience, yet returned home having given away several important Tuscan castles along with the ports of Pisa and Livorno.

His poor handling of the situation and failure to negotiate better terms led to an uproar in Florence, and the Medici family fled. The family palazzo was looted, the Republic of Florence was re-established and the Medici formally exiled.

A member of the Medici family would not rule Florence again until 1512, after Piero’s younger brother, Giovanni, was elected Pope Leo X.

Piero and his family at first fled to Venice. In 1503, as the French fought the Spanish over the Kingdom of Naples, he travelled south. The two armies engaged in the Battle of Garigliano, named after a major river between Naples and Rome, and after the French were routed Piero attempted to escape to the south but was drowned as he tried to cross the the Garigliano river.

French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from
the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
Travel tip:

The Garigliano river, which flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea near Marina di Minturno, south of Formia, marks the border between Lazio and Campania.  Its strategic position has led it to be the scene of several notable battles. In 915 a coalition of the papal army, the Byzantines, Franks, Lombards and Neapolitans defeated the Garigliano Arabs there and in 1503 came the fateful Battle of Garigliano after which Piero drowned and Medici power transferred to his brother, Giovanni.  During the Italian Campaign of the Second World War, the Liri and Gari-Garigliano rivers were key elements of a system of German defensive lines around which the battle of Monte Cassino took place in 1943-1944.

The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
Travel tip:

Piero the Unfortunate’s body was buried in the cloister of Monte Cassino abbey, one of the most famous abbeys in the world, established in the sixth century when Saint Benedict chose its mountain location as a place to host him and his fellow monks as they travelled from the monastery at Subiaco, outside Rome. At a height of 520m (1,700ft) it is a landmark for travellers on the A1 motorway and the Rome-Naples railway. The abbey has been destroyed four times – by the Lombards in 577, the Saracens in 887, an earthquake in 1349 and by the ferocious Battle of Monte Cassino in the Second World War, when the Allies made the controversial decision to bombard the site, which they suspected was being used by the Germans to launch artillery attacks.  Fortunately, the Germans smuggled out most of the priceless books and artworks to a place of safety prior to the bombardment and the abbey was rebuilt after the war had ended.

More reading:

Also on this day:

(Paintings: Portrait of Piero by Gherardo di Giovanni del Fora (1494); portrait of Charles VIII by unknown painter in the style of Jean Perréal, Musée Condé, Chantilly; Battle of Garigliano by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1840), Palace of Versailles) 

(Picture credit: Monte Cassino Abbey by Ludmiła Pilecka via Wikimedia Commons)

27 May 2017

Lucrezia Crivelli – lady in waiting

Mystery of the beautiful woman in painting by Leonardo

For many years, it was assumed the woman in Da Vinci's La belle Ferronnière was Sforza's mistress, Lucrezia Crivelli
For many years, it was assumed the woman
in Da Vinci's La belle Ferronnière was
Sforza's mistress, Lucrezia Crivelli
Lucrezia Crivelli, mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who was for a long time believed to be the subject of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, died on this day in 1508 in Canneto sull’Oglio in Lombardy.

Crivelli served as a lady in waiting to Ludovico Sforza’s wife, Beatrice d’Este, from 1475 until Beatrice’s death in 1497.

She also became the Duke’s mistress and gave birth to his son, Giovanni Paolo, who went on to become the first Marquess of Caravaggio and a celebrated condottiero.

Crivelli lived for many years in the Castello of Canneto near Mantua under the protection of Isabella d’Este, the elder sister of Beatrice, until her death in 1508.

Coincidentally, her former lover, Ludovico Sforza, is believed to have died on the same day in 1508 while being kept prisoner in the dungeons of the castle of Loches in Touraine in France, having been captured by the French during the Italian Wars.

It was never proved, but it was assumed for many years that Crivelli may have been the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting La belle Ferronnière, which is displayed in the Louvre in Paris. Another theory was that either Beatrice d’Este or Isabella of Aragon could have been the subject.

It is now thought LucreziaCrivelli was the subject of Da Vinci's Profile of a Young Lady
It is now thought LucreziaCrivelli was the subject
of Da Vinci's Profile of a Young Lady
It was originally believed to be Crivelli because da Vinci had painted another of Ludovico Sforza’s mistresses, Cecilia Gallerani, in his painting Lady with an Ermine.

Eventually the theory was disproved when a painting of Lucrezia Crivelli, also by da Vinci and which had been kept by her family for centuries, was put on display in Germany in 1995. The woman in this painting, Profile of a Young Lady, is thought not to be the same woman who featured in La belle Ferronnière.

The real Crivelli painting has been examined by the man who restored The Last Supper, Pinin Barcillon Brambilla, who found some pigments to be the same as those of the Milanese mural.

The Castello Sforzesco in Milan
The Castello Sforzesco in Milan
Travel tip

One of the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke of Milan in 1494 he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several rooms. The castle now houses some of the city’s museums and art galleries. For more information visit

Travel tip

Canneto sull’Oglio, where Lucrezia Crivelli died, is in the province of Mantua in Lombardy, about 100 km (62 miles)  south of Milan. It is home to the restaurant Dal Pescatore, which has three Michelin stars. Run by the Santini family, the restaurant is famous for its pumpkin-stuffed tortelli.