Showing posts with label Rodrigo Borgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rodrigo Borgia. Show all posts

13 July 2022

Vannozza dei Cattanei - popes’ mistress

Mother of Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia was figure of influence

Vannozza dei Cattanei hailed from an aristocratic family in Mantua
Vannozza dei Cattanei hailed from
an aristocratic family in Mantua
Vannozza dei Cattanei, who was for many years the chief mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia - later Pope Alexander VI - was born on this day in 1442 in Mantua.

Herself from the aristocratic Candia family, Vannozza - baptised as Giovanna de Candia - grew up to be a beautiful woman but also a successful businesswoman, acquiring a number of osterie - inns - after she moved to Rome.

In 15th century Italy, it was not unusual for cardinals and popes to have mistresses, despite Holy Orders coming with a vow of celibacy.  Before her relationship with Rodrigo de Borgia, Vannozza allegedly was mistress to Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II and a rival to Borgia in the 1492 papal election that he won.

Rodrigo made no attempt to hide his sexual dalliances, acquiring the nickname Papa Cattivo - the naughty pope - not only for his promiscuity but his questionable morals in other areas, with allegations that he was involved in bribery and extortion on his rise to the top, and rumours that he poisoned some of his rivals.

Unusually, compared with other popes and cardinals who flouted the rules, Borgia openly acknowledged the children that Vannozza bore him during their relationship, which is thought to have lasted between 20 and 25 years, providing for them financially and having a significant influence over their lives.

The eldest, Cesare, born in 1475, became a cardinal and as leader of the Papal armies captured large amounts of territory that were added to the Pope’s empire.  Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, the treatise on power that was written as a kind of reference point for new princes and royals, was influenced by Cesare’s lust for power.

Pope Alexander VI is thought to have fathered four children with Vannozza
Pope Alexander VI is thought to have
fathered four children with Vannozza
Of the others, Giovanni - also known as Juan - became the second Duke of Gandia but was murdered at the age of 21, possibly by Cesare; Gioffre married the daughter of the King of Naples, which was advantageous to Rodrigo Borgia.

Lucrezia, meanwhile, was forced to marry three times to elevate Rodrigo’s own status and acquire land and wealth. She took lovers of her own and there were rumours that Giovanni was in fact her own son, the product of an affair with her father's chamberlain.

Vannozza herself had to agree to marriages arranged by Borgia, first to Domenico d'Arignano, an officer of the church, then Giorgio di Croce, for whom Borgia had procured a position as apostolic secretary, and later Carlo Canale, the warden of a papal jail.

Her relationship with Rodrigo Borgia is thought to have changed after she turned 40 and Borgia’s passion for her had diminished by the time he was elevated to Pope in 1492. The care of all her children was entrusted to others in Borgia’s circle, although she remained part of it herself as a sort of matriarchal figure and her former lover sought her counsel as Pope.

He continued to support her financially and by the time she died in 1518, at the age of 76, she had acquired a considerable portfolio of property around the city.

Vannozza outlived Rodrigo de Borgia by 15 years yet despite the nature of their relationship she was granted a public funeral, recognised by Pope Leo X as the widow of Alexander VI. She was buried in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, near her son, Giovanni, after a ceremony attended by the Papal Court. 

The skyline of Mantua has changed little since it was the Renaissance seat of the Gonzaga family
The skyline of Mantua has changed little since it
was the Renaissance seat of the Gonzaga family

Travel tip:

The small, historic city of Mantua in Lombardy, which can be found approximately 150km (93 miles) southeast of Milan along the Po Valley, is flanked on three sides by artificial lakes created in the 123th century as the city’s defence system, filled with water from the Mincio river, a tributary of the Po. There was a fourth lake, which meant the city was once surrounded by water, but it dried up in the 18th century and never replenished. It was traditionally the seat of the Gonzaga family, who established a court with a heavy emphasis on music, art and culture. The city has a number of architectural treasures and elegant palaces, while the skyline of its historic old centre has changed little since Renaissance times. At its heart is Piazza Mantegna, where the 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea houses the tomb of the artist, Andrea Mantegna. Inside the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, the Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Mantegna.

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is in Piazza del Popolo, adjoining Porta del Popolo
The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is in Piazza
del Popolo, adjoining Porta del Popolo
Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is a minor basilica in Rome that stands on the north side of Piazza del Popolo, hemmed in between the Pincian Hill and Porta del Popolo, one of the gates in the Aurelian Wall, its position making it the first church encountered by many travellers arriving in the city. The original church was founded by Pope Paschal II in 1099. The existing structure was built largely between 1472 and 1477 as part of an urban renovation programme instigated by Pope Sixtus IV. A trio of great architects - Andrea Bregno, Donato Bramante and Gian Lorenzo Bernini - contributed to its design and are among those whose works can be found inside, along with Raphael, Caravaggio, Alessandro Algardi, Pinturicchio and Guillaume de Marcillat. 

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Giulio d’Este of Ferrara 

1814: The founding of the Carabinieri police force

1928: The birth of Mafia mobster and ‘pentito’ Tommaso Buscetta 

1974: The birth of racing driver Jarno Trulli


14 June 2022

Giovanni Borgia - murdered son of Pope

Killing still unsolved after 500 years despite plenty of suspects

Giovanni Borgia was the brother of Cesare and Lucrezia
Giovanni Borgia was the brother
of Cesare and Lucrezia
Giovanni Borgia, the brother of Cesare and Lucrezia and son of Pope Alexander VI, was murdered on this day in 1497 in Rome.

There was no shortage of possible suspects but the murder was never solved. The grief-stricken Pope launched an immediate murder inquiry, but mysteriously closed down the investigation after just one week, leading to speculation that the perpetrator could have been a member of Giovanni’s own family.

The case has fascinated historians and writers for the last 500 years and been the subject of many books, including Mario Puzo’s historical novel, The Family, and it has featured in many films and televisions programmes.

Giovanni was born in Rome in either 1474 or 1476 to the then Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his mistress, Vanozza dei Cattanei. He is thought to have been  the eldest of the children fathered by Pope Alexander VI with his mistress, but this is disputed.

He was married to Maria Enriquez de Luna, who had been betrothed to his older half-brother, Pedro Luis, who had died before the marriage could take place.

Afterwards, Giovanni was made 2nd Duke of Gandia, Duke of Sessa, Grand Constable of Naples, Governor of St Peter’s and Gonfalonier and Captain General of the Church.

He and and Maria had twins, a boy and a girl, Juan and Francisca, and another daughter, Isabel, who was born after the murder of her father.

Painter Ettore Roesler Franz's impression of the
Via Rua in Ghetto as it make have looked in 1880
Giovanni was killed near what later became Piazza della Giudecca in the ghetto of Rome. He was last seen alive at a feast arranged in his honour by his mother at her villa near the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. His siblings, Cesare, Lucrezia and Gioffre were all present at the feast.

On the way back to the Papal Palace, he stopped and dismissed his retainers, saying he was going to visit his mistress. He took with him only his valet and a masked man whose identity has remained unknown, but who was believed to have been visiting Giovanni for about a month before the murder. Giovanni then rode as far as the ghetto, where he ordered the groom to wait for him until a certain time, when he was planning to return to the Papal Palace. He then rode off with the masked man.

The next morning his horse came back without its rider and with one of the stirrups cut off. The groom was later discovered in the same area dying of his wounds.

Pope Alexander ordered a search for his son. A witness was found whose information led to the discovery of Giovanni’s body. He had seen five men throw a corpse into the river next to the fountain at the Hospital of Jerome, where refuse was often disposed of.

Giovanni's brother, Cesare, was among the suspects
Giovanni's brother, Cesare,
was among the suspects
The river was dragged and Giovanni’s body was recovered from the Tiber on June 16, fully clad and with 30 ducats still in his purse, ruling out robbery as a motive. He had nine stab wounds in his head, neck, body and legs.

Although the killers have never been identified, there are three main theories about who was responsible:

First, the killer could have been either his brother, Cesare, or his brother, Gioffre, as both Giovanni and Cesare were having a relationship with Gioffre’s wife, Sanchia.

Second, the murder could have been carried out on behalf of Antonio Maria della Mirandola, whose house was near the Tiber. Giovanni had kept mentioning that he had dishonoured the daughter of one of the ancient Roman della Mirandola family.

Third, the murder could have been an act of revenge by relatives of Virginio Orsini, the head of a family hostile to the Pope, who had died in a prison in Naples.

In fictitious accounts of the murder written subsequently, the villain has sometimes been identified as Cesare, and sometimes as Lucrezia, with the help of one of her lovers.

The ghetto is the area highlighted  adjoining the river Tiber
The ghetto is the area highlighted 
adjoining the river Tiber
Travel tip:

The Roman ghetto (Ghetto di Roma) was established in 1555 in the Rione Sant’Angelo close to the Tiber and the Theatre of Marcellus. It occupied the area bordered today by the Via del Portico d'Ottavia, Lungotevere dei Cenci, Via del Progresso and Via di Santa Maria del Pianto. Apart from brief periods, the ghetto was controlled by the papacy until the capture of Rome in 1870. Despite the area being subject to frequent flooding from the river, Jews were required to live in the ghetto, which was a walled quarter with its gates locked at night.  It was established by a papal bull - an edict - issued by Pope Paul IV in 1555, which also revoked all the rights of the Jewish community and prohibited Jews among other things from owning property and practising medicine on Christians.

Michelangelo's Moses is part of a huge funeral monument
Michelangelo's Moses is part of
a huge funeral monument 
Travel tip

The Church of San Pietro in Vincoli - St Peter in Chains - which was near the villa where Vanozza dei Cattanei was living, is a minor basilica best known for being the home of Michelangelo’s Moses. It is on the Oppian Hill near Cavour metro station, not far from the Colosseum. It was first built on old foundations in 432-440 to house the relic of the chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. San Pietro in Vincoli was the church of the powerful Della Rovere family and the Moses sculpture is part of a massive funeral monument for Pope Julius II - born Giuliano della Rovere - within which the Pope was buried.

Also on this day:

1800: The Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of Giacomo Leopardi, poet and philosopher

1968: The death of Nobel Prize-winning poet and engineer Salvatore Quasimodo


3 March 2020

Ascanio Sforza – Cardinal

Borgia pope’s ally used his power to benefit Milan

Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been described as  Machiavellian in his diplomatic skills
Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been described as
Machiavellian in his diplomatic skills
Ascanio Maria Sforza Visconti, who became a skilled diplomat and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, was born on this day in 1455 in Cremona in Lombardy.

He played a major part in the election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI in the papal conclave of 1492 and served as Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from 1492 until 1505.

Ascanio was the son of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bianca Maria Visconti. Two of his brothers, Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Ludovico Sforza, became Dukes of Milan, as did his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

At the age of ten, Ascanio was named commendatory abbot of Chiaravalle and he was promised the red hat of a cardinal when he was in his teens. He was appointed Bishop of Pavia in 1479.

Pope Sixtus IV created him cardinal deacon of SS Vito e Modesto in March 1484. Pope Sixtus died in August before Ascanio’s formal ceremony of investiture had taken place and some of the cardinals objected to him participating in the conclave to elect the next pope.

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia intervened on his behalf and Ascanio was received with all the rights of a cardinal. The conclave elected Giovanni Battista Cybo as Pope Innocent VIII.

Sforza played an important part in helping Rodrigo Borgia be elected as Pope
Sforza played an important part in helping
Rodrigo Borgia be elected as Pope
After Pope Innocent’s death in 1492, Ascanio promised his vote to Rodrigo Borgia at the next conclave. In return, Borgia promised him the office of Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, many other lucrative posts, and the Palazzo Borgia. Ascanio managed to persuade other Cardinals to vote for Rodrigo Borgia and he was duly elected, becoming Pope Alexander VI.

Ascanio became so powerful he was virtually prime minister of the Holy See.

He arranged the marriage of Giovanni Sforza, his cousin, to Lucrezia Borgia, the pope’s illegitimate daughter, but the marriage was annulled four years later on the grounds of non consummation.

The friendship between Ascanio and Alexander VI came to an end when the French invaded Italy because the Sforza family had made a secret alliance with King Charles VIII of France. Ascanio tried to get the pope deposed along with several cardinals but the papal troops defeated the French. Once the Sforzas gave up their support of the French, Ascanio was received in the Vatican again, but his relationship with Alexander VI was never the same.

When Giovanni Borgia, the pope’s son, was stabbed to death, Ascanio was accused of the murder but he was quickly absolved by the pope.

After the French invaded Italy again in 1500, Ascanio’s brother, Ludovico Sforza, was imprisoned and Ascanio was taken to France where he was held captive for nearly two years.

Andrea Sansovino's tomb for Ascanio  was commissioned by Pope Julius II
Andrea Sansovino's tomb for Ascanio
 was commissioned by Pope Julius II
In the papal conclave of 1503 Ascanio tried to succeed Alexander VI, but he was beaten by Francesco Piccolomini, who became Pius III. He died the same month as his coronation and Ascanio took part in the conclave of October 1503 when Giuliano delle Rovere was elected as Pope Julius II almost unanimously.

Ascanio became ill with the plague in May 1505 and died, aged 50, at his home near San Girolamo degli Schiavoni in Rome. He was buried the same evening with no ceremony because he had died of the plague.

Julius II commissioned Andrea Sansovino to erect a tomb for Cardinal Ascanio in the Cappella Maggiore of Santa Maria del Popolo with an inscription announcing that Julius II had forgotten Cardinal Ascanio’s honest opposition - ‘honestissimarum contentionum oblitus’.

Ascanio Sforza has been judged to have been both intelligent and Machiavellian, but to have remained dedicated to Milan and to his family.

In recent TV dramas about the Borgias, the role of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been played variously by the British actors, Clive Merrison, Peter Sullivan and Christian McKay.

Cremona's famous bell tower, il Torrazzo
Cremona's famous bell tower, il Torrazzo
Travel tip:

Cremona in Lombardy, where Ascanio Sforza was born, is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112 metres in height. The city is also well known for producing torrone, a type of nougat. It is thought the concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was first created in the shape of il Torrazzo to mark the marriage of Ascanio’s parents, Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco I Sforza, in 1441. To sample the many different types of torrone now made in Cremona, visit Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino in the centre of the city.

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, where Ascanio Sforza is buried
The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, where
Ascanio Sforza is buried
Travel tip:

Ascanio Sforza’s tomb by Sansovino is in Santa Maria del Popolo, a minor basilica in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The basilica was important during the Borgia era. When the Pope’s son, Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, was murdered in 1497 his body lay in state in the basilica for several days before being buried in the Borgia chapel. Vannozza dei Cattanei, former mistress of Alexander VI, and Ludovico Podocataro, the pope’s secretary and physician, were also buried there.

Also on this day:

1578: The death of Venetian Doge Sebastiano Venier

1585: The inauguration of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza

1768: The death of composer and teacher Nicola Porpora

1882: The birth of fraudstar Charles Ponzi


27 July 2018

Adolfo Celi – actor and director

Successful career of a Sicilian who was typecast as a baddy

Adolfo Celi in his most famous role as the villain Emilio Largo in the 1965 Bond film Thunderball
Adolfo Celi in his most famous role as the villain
Emilio Largo in the 1965 Bond film Thunderball
An actor who specialised in playing the role of the villain in films, Adolfo Celi, was born on this day in 1922 in Curcuraci, a hamlet in the province of Messina in Sicily.

Celi was already prominent in Italian cinema, but he became internationally famous for his portrayal of Emilio Largo, James Bond’s adversary with the eye patch, in the 1965 film Thunderball.

He had made his film debut after the Second World War in A Yank in Rome (Un americano in vacanza), in 1946.

In the 1950s he moved to Brazil, where he co-founded the Teatro Brasiliero de Comedia.  He was successful as a stage actor in Brazil and Argentina and also directed three films.

Celi’s big break came when he played the villain in Philippe de Broca’s That Man from Rio. Afterwards he was cast as the camp commandant in the escape drama, Von Ryan’s Express, in which Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard played prisoners of war.

After appearing in Thunderball, Celi was offered scores of big parts as a villain.

Celi (left) in a scene from the 1975 comedy-drama  Amici miei (My Friends), directed by Mario Monicelli
Celi (left) in a scene from the 1975 comedy-drama
Amici miei (My Friends), directed by Mario Monicelli
He later made a spoof of Thunderball in the film, OK Connery, in which he played opposite Sean Connery’s brother, Neil.

Despite being fluent in several languages, Celi’s heavy Sicilian accent meant he was always dubbed when he appeared in English language films.

But he was allowed to speak for himself when he appeared as the Spanish pope, Alexander VI, formerly Rodrigo Borgia, in the 1981 BBC series, The Borgias.

Celi was married three times. His son, Leonardo Celi, is a director and his daughter, Alessandra Celi, is an actress.

Celi (right) played Pope Alexander VI in The Borgias
Celi (right) played Pope
Alexander VI in The Borgias
In his later years, Celi worked mainly in the theatre. In February 1986, when he was 64, he was in Siena directing and acting in I misteri di Pietroburgo, a theatrical version of Dostoevsky’s work, The Mysteries of St Petersburg.

He suddenly became ill and his friend, the great Italian theatre and film actor Vittorio Gassman, had to take his place on the stage for the premiere of the play on the evening of February 19.

Adolfo Celi died a few hours later in hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Messina.

The church of Santa Maria dei Bianchi in Curcuraci was rebuilt by residents
The church of Santa Maria dei Bianchi
in Curcuraci was rebuilt by residents
Travel tip:

Curcuraci, where Adolfo Celi was born, is about 7km (4 miles) north of the town of Messina. The Church of Santa Maria dei Bianchi in the village had been built in a place where, according to tradition, the Madonna had appeared in 1347. The church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1908 but the local people worked together to rebuild it, completing the reconstruction by 1926. There is a statue of the patron saint of Curcuraci by the entrance gate and the residents hold a celebration for the saint every year on the first Sunday in September.

The Teatro dei Rinnovati, reopened in 1950, is the most famous of several theatres in the city of Siena
The Teatro dei Rinnovati, reopened in 1950, is the most
famous of several theatres in the city of Siena
Travel tip:

The most important theatre in Siena, the city where Celi died, is the Teatro dei Rinnovati right in the centre of the city in Piazza del Campo. Built in the 17th century to a design by the architect Carlo Fontana, the theatre opened in 1670 with a performance of the opera, L’Argia.  The theatre fell into disrepair in the early part of the 20th century and closed in 1927 but with the support of the famous Siena bank Monte dei Paschi, the municipal administration embarked on a programme of renovations designed to make it safe to use. Work was interrupted by the Second World War but the theatre was finally reopened in 1950.

More reading:

Why Mario Monicelli was called 'the father of Commedia all'Italiana'

The comic genius of Alberto Sordi

How Messina was all but destroyed in Italy's worst earthquake

Also on this day:

1835: The birth of poet and Nobel Prize winner Giosuè Carducci

1915: The birth of opera singer Mario del Monaco


11 August 2016

Pope Alexander VI

Scheming pontiff married off his children to secure power

Pope Alexander VI: a portrait by Cristofano  dell' Altissimo, property of the Uffizzi Gallery
Pope Alexander VI: a portrait by Cristofano
 dell' Altissimo, property of the Uffizzi Gallery
Rodrigo Borgia became one of the most controversial popes in history when he took the title of Alexander VI on this day in 1492 in Rome.

He is known to have fathered several illegitimate children with his mistresses and his reign became notorious for corruption and nepotism.

Born in Valencia in Spain, Borgia came to Italy to study law at the University of Bologna. He was ordained a Deacon and then made Cardinal-Deacon after the election of his uncle as Pope Callixtus III. He was then ordained to the priesthood and made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano.

By the time he had served five popes he had acquired considerable influence and wealth and it was rumoured that he was able to buy the largest number of votes to secure the papacy for himself.

He had made himself the first archbishop of Valencia and when he was elected as Pope Alexander VI, following the death of Innocent VIII, his son, Cesare Borgia, inherited the post.

Borgia had many mistresses, but during his long relationship with Vanozza dei Cattanei he had four children that he acknowledged as his own, Cesare, Giovanni, Lucrezia and Goffredo. He had several other children with different mothers.

Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia, which  can be found in Bergamo's Accademia Carrara
Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia, which
 can be found in Bergamo's Accademia Carrara
He made many military alliances to secure his position and married his children off to the offspring of important families to strengthen his power base.

Lucrezia is known to have had three marriages arranged by her father but rumours that she was involved in poisoning men who had become Borgia’s enemies have never been substantiated.

When France and Spain were at war, Borgia offered to help the French on condition that Sicily was given to his son, Cesare. Then he offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.

Cesare brought the north of Italy under control, conquering the duchies of Romagna, Umbria and Emilia, earning the admiration of Niccolò Machiavelli, who used Cesare as a model for his classic work on politics, The Prince.

As a patron of the arts, Borgia had Castel Sant’Angelo strengthened and restored and embellished the Vatican palaces. He also commissioned Michelangelo to draw up plans for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica.

Borgia fell ill with fever in 1503 and died five days later after confessing his sins. He was 72 years old.

After a short stay in the crypts of  St Peter’s, Borgia’s body was moved to the church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.

Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, which Rodrigo Borgia strengthened and restored
Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, which Rodrigo Borgia
strengthened and restored
Travel tip:

Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome was originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and his family. It was later used by popes as both a fortress and a castle and is now a museum. Pope Alexander VI had bastions built at each corner of the base, added battlements and warehouses for arms and developed a papal apartment inside. The castle was featured by Puccini as the setting for the third act of his opera, Tosca, which ends with the heroine leaping to her death from the castle’s ramparts.

Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, where Pope Alexander VI is buried, is the Spanish national church in Rome, dedicated to the Virgin of Montserrat. It is north of Palazzo Farnese in Via de Monserrato in the Campo dei Fiori area of Rome.

More reading:

Lucrezia Borgia - more sinned against than sinning?

How the Borgias inspired Machiavelli's political philosophy