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1. THE EDUCATION OF AN AMAZON
ATERINA WAS BORN
Agents throughout the world flocked to the Via dei Spadari, "Street of the Swordsmiths." Early in the MY, morning they would line up outside the large palace marked the symbol of the Missaglia family, 3 the most famous armorers in Europe. Newly unveiled and the pride of the city were Ghiberti'sdoors to the Baptistery of Florence, with ten gilt-bronze panels in relief, which an admiringMichelangelo would later dub "the gates of Paradise." The greatest Florentine riches, however, lay in the ingenuity and the creativity of its free citizens.
2. CHILDHOOD'S END
The great hall was to boast a hunting scene featuring the duke, his brothers, and court intimates, including a spoof of the poor riding skills of one of the duke's favorites, a certain Alessio Piccininofrom Albania, who was depicted in an embarrassing position after "a stag has thrown him from his 1 horse and he is raising his legs to the sky in as attractive a manner as possible." The purpose of the decoration was to underscore the rightful succession from Visconti to Sforza rule. Please relate this to His above-mentioned Holiness and His Eminent brother, adding that we accepted him wholeheartedly not just as a son-in-law, but as a son, and thus we want 7 to keep and consider him."The hasty consummation did not please the pope, however, who was obliged to issue a papal bull within a matter of weeks to clear up the irregularities in the marriage.
3. THE COUNTESS-IN-WAITING
ITH THE LEGALITIES
His faithful secretary of state, Cicco Simonetta, dealt with day-to-day business loyally and efficiently but, subservient to the duke, proposed no initiatives for saving In the spring of 1474, fresh hopes for the establishment of a republic were aroused among theMilanesi when word spread that the duke had summoned the Council of Nine Hundred, a group of representatives elected throughout the duchy, to a special session. Frightened that her despotic, unfaithful husband 7 above all else."Sixtus IV was more than willing to use his papal authority to absolve the duke and even went so far as to declare that with Galeazzo's death, "peace itself died in Italy." Bona, in return, repaid the sumsher husband had extorted and donated a conspicuous amount of money to the papal fund for the defense of Christendom against the Turks.
4. THE TRIUMPHAL PARADE TO ROME
Morning Mass in the chapel was followed by picnics in the countryside, visits to the marketplace, and of course, many meals, whichwere wonderful not only for "the variety and the delicacy of the foods but also for the abundance."Caterina was installed in quarters appropriate to her state. Caterina's impatience to continue her journey was noted by Gian LuigiBossi, who wrote to the duchess of Milan that Caterina was "so desirous to find herself in the presence of his Holiness and to see her Count Girolamo that it seems to me her principal care and 5 concern." Although Caterina had supposed she would spend only a short time in Imola, she found herself delayed yet another ten days.
5. COURTIERS AND CONSPIRACIES
HE CEREMONIAL PROCESSION
The Ponte Sisto, as it was called, cut traveling time to the Vatican for prelates and pilgrims alike, but for Caterina it was the route to the lush gardens and forests of theJaniculum Hill, where she could breathe freely, away from the stuffy halls and crowded streets of the city. Bellowing at Girolamo, Sixtus called his nephew "a beast" and 6 forcefully reiterated his point: "I do not want the death of anyone, just a change in government."When Girolamo spoke to Montesecco alone a few minutes later, he interpreted the pope's equivocating statements as a tacit acceptance of the plan, and Montesecco reluctantly joined the Caterina had barely arrived in Rome and was still getting to know the man she had married.
6. THE GROWTH OF THE RIARIO DYNASTY
HE SHOCKING NEWS
For Caterina they brought fruits and sweets piled high on beautifully crafted "birth trays." After the perishables were consumed, the family could keep the brightly painted platters, some of wood, someof ceramic, some painted with the family coat of arms, and some decorated with a plump and cheery image of the infant John the Baptist, cousin to Jesus and born safely to the aged Elizabeth. On November 25, twelve Florentine ambassadors from the most famous families of the republic—the Tornabuonis (who were papalbankers), the Vespuccis (one of whom would soon make a trip of discovery to America), theGuicciardinis (one of whom would author the history of Florence), and the Soderinis (who would employ Michelangelo to sculpt the David)—came to the portico of Saint Peter's Basilica.
7. THE FAIREST IN THE REALM
At the height of this display of affection and jubilation, Girolamo rose to address his new subjects."People of Forlì," he began, "I promise that I will be a good son of this city and father to the people."He then went on to confirm the promise he had made to the delegation in Rome. She also asked for a pack of retrievers towork with her falcons "so well trained and valiant that I hope to be able to say when they catch a wild animal, 'Those are the dogs given to me by the illustrious duchess of Ferrara.'" She wroteengagingly, recognizing their common love of hunting and Ferrara's supremacy in the matter of hunting dogs; she seemed unaware that her husband was plotting to usurp her new friend's realm.
14 Sforza!" and welcoming her to "her home." To Caterina, it must have been heartening to hear her
Stopping in Imola, the safer of the two cities in the Riarios' realm, she left the children and a conspicuous portion of the family treasures, along with their summerclothes. The Venetians sent a condottiere from Rimini, Roberto Malatesta, who arrived in Rome with his own well-trained troops to the relief of the Roman people, who now believed thatthe destructive impasse between Alfonso, the duke of Calabria, and Girolamo, the count of Forlì, would be broken.
From the moment the rider burstinto the papal apartments to inform Sixtus, Caterina was already writing letters announcing that "with 19 maximum honor and our victory they had broken and dispersed" the troops of the duke of Calabria. By November, Milan, Florence, Ferrara, Naples, and the Papal States had agreed to an armistice, and on December 13, 1482, the return to tranquility was celebrated in the pope's new church, Santa Mariadella Pace—Saint Mary of Peace—built to commemorate the end of this war.
8. THE BIRTH OF ATHENA
By hinting at and later openly making accusations ofsexual misbehavior, he was making use of an ancient theme familiar to all Romans: the kidnapping of the ruler Menelaus's wife, Helen, started the Trojan War; the rape of the Roman matron Lucretiaspelled doom for the Etruscan kings; and the host of Christian virgins who chose death over dishonor played a part in the downfall of the Roman Empire. King Ferdinand of Naples (an ally at the moment) and the papal condottiere Federico di Montefeltro have pride of place in Christ Delivers the Keys to Saint Peter, while Charlotte, queen of Cyprus, whose island state had been taken by the Turkish fleet and who was living in exile in Rome, listens to Christ in The Sermon on the Mount.
6 Staatliches Museum. The golden-haired woman in sharp profile represents Caterina's high position
Joining forceswith his nephew, Cardinal Raffaello Riario, who only a few years earlier had been the terrifiedFlorentine prisoner in the wake of the Pazzi conspiracy, Girolamo ruled Rome from behind the now weak and aged pontiff. A substitute for Il Tolentino inForlì had been hastily chosen in the archbishop of Imola, a cruel and inept man who wrongfully punished the entire city for a supposed conspiracy by detaining all the citizens inside the city wallsand forbidding the harvesting of grapes for wine, a major source of income to the town.
All the court was filled with pain and anguish and the exasperation of the people was kept in 9 check by force of arms." All of Caterina's intercessory powers were rendered useless, as the pope, failing in health, was no longer able to control his rampaging nephew. Surrounded by foot soldiers and cavalry and framed by a forest of lances, "she was feared, because that woman with the 15 weapons in her hands was proud and cruel." Riding off to her new life in Forlì, she resembled less the delicate subject of Botticelli's portraits and more the powerful women who would appear inMichelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel.
9. THE LEAN YEARS
In the chill of the dimly lit church, he was joined by the ambassadors of the marquis of Ferrara, the marquis of Mantua, and the lord ofRimini. Many were shocked that the young and beautiful countess would be so heedless ofher own health and life, but she dismissed the danger, claiming that she had seen the plague many times in Rome and had noticed that "those who die are weak and downtrodden." The people weregrateful to the countess for her personal warmth, bravery, and practical advice.
10. TAKING CENTER STAGE
But the moment her brother-in-law, Governor Domenico Ricci, brought her the news of Zaccheo's murder,she leapt on her horse and took the hard road to Forlì as fast as her unwieldy body would allow."Pregnant up to her throat" as contemporaries described her, Caterina rode up to the moat and called to Codronchi to explain why he had killed her castle keeper. In response to the implication that her husband might have stolen the object, she haughtily stated that "it is not in our nature to unduly desire things of others, nor does necessitycompel us to have to; through the grace of God, with these and other things we are more than well furnished." She closed her letter by diverting blame to Ercole's own court, pronouncing that hisproblems lay in his own house.
FAME FOLLOWS VICTORY
while the obverse bears the mottoA detail from The Miracle of Saint James the Elder, from the Feo Chapel in the church of SanBiagio, Marco Palmezzano, 1494–1495These frescoes were destroyed in 1944, but photographs have preserved the image of Caterina's second husband, Giacomo Feo, standing in the center of the lunette, in front of the column. Portrait of Caterina Sforza de' Medici, Giorgio Vasari, 1555 This portrait was commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici for the hall that he dedicated to Giovanni dalle Bande Nere in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
11. THE RETORT AT RAVALDINO
WORDS DRAWN, GIROLAMO'S
Tornielli, looking to the good of all the Forlivesi, expressedthe hope that this equitable compromise would reduce the tension of the situation and, he added, 1 avoid "breaking the heart of the countess any further."These prudent words soothed the turbulent spirits of the Forlivesi. "My lady," Feo asked, "what do you want?"Caterina took a deep breath and in a rush of words, broken by tears and sobs, implored him to 2 "give the fortress to these men, so they will free me and my children!" Slowly and respectfully, the Caterina, with much handwringing, wailed that not only would she be killed but all of her littlechildren would be brutally slaughtered by these criminals, who would stop at nothing to control Forlì.
8 Count Riario and I have the means to make more!" Then she turned on her heel and walked back into the castle
Now that Caterina was in the fortress, the old man predicted, "she will fight [you] to the death" and in the end "all of you—even me, old and sick as I am—will have to bear the punishment for your lack offoresight!" Savelli, realizing that the situation had escaped his control, wrote to Rome, asking for a contingent of soldiers to occupy the city. Portraying themselves as patriots who had rid Forlì of the tyrant who "sucked the blood of the poor, was untrue to his word and 17 finally, loved no one but himself," they suggested that their exploit was more "divine than human."They confided that "we hope to start the siege [of Ravaldino] today" and that the complete takeover of the city would follow shortly.
12. THE SPOILS OF WAR
Moments after the Council of Eight capitulated in the face of the Milanese army and returned the town to Riario rule, citizens who had hidden away in their homes since Girolamo's murder poured into thestreets, cheering for their indomitable countess. All theForlivesi remembered the sight of the boy standing at the edge of the moat, with an Orsi dagger pressed to his throat, while Caterina defied his captors.
WENTY THOUSAND MEN
Unlike the unfortunate Barone, who had been co- opted to execute the Roffi conspirators and went running to the nearest shrine to expiate his sins,Babone relished his work; having no ties to the townspeople, he felt no qualms about the grisly job. Alarge Bible sat on a table in front of her, its parchment pages gaping open to display the sentence "In the beginning was the Word." Each man was called forward by name and read a contract guaranteedby the duke of Milan.
13. FANNING THE FLAMES
Led by the illustrious cardinal, Caterina and all her children, barefoot anddressed in the traditional garb of the penitent, even took a little pilgrimage to Piratello during the In early 1490, Caterina started to deal with the harsh realities of ruling Forlì. Although the duke and the countess regularly exchanged gifts at the beginning of Lent, Ercole sending salted eels for thelong meatless weeks and Caterina offering candied chestnuts and the first fruits of the Romagnol orchards, most of their correspondence was fraught with hostility.
14. BLINDED BY LOVE
Caterina summoned her subjects and explained that after the useless alliances withNaples, Florence, and the papacy, which were meant to ensure the protection of her lands and people, she would put the city under the wing of Ludovico and the French. Concluding that she was a puppet in the hands ofFeo, who was tied to no political interest but his own, the Florentines, the papacy, and the Milanesi 5 give her state to the Turk, before she gives up Giacomo Feo!"The only way out of this situation, the prophetic Florentine foresaw, was through death.
15. AVENGING FURY
On the night of the murder, several members of the confraternity of the Battuti Neri retrievedGiacomo's body from the ditch outside the Schiavonia gate, bringing the tattered carcass to the Church of San Girolamo. She started by tearing down the palace where she had lived withGirolamo, leaving no beam standing to remind her of "every memory of that place where she had 10 suffered shame and disrespect." The destruction of the house on the piazza where she had lived among the people coincided with the unexpected illness and death of her own twelve-year-old son,Giovanni Livio.
16. INTRIGUE AND INVASION
As the negotiations drew to a close that day, Caterina gently revealed that she would lose face by acceptingthe dishonorable conditions Florence was proposing, especially if Florence didn't honor the terms of The number of well-placed Florentines in her court, as well as her readiness to offer men and 9 supplies, had convinced the young diplomat that "every day he saw clearly evident signs" ofCaterina's friendship toward Florence. She would be happy to conclude the treaty as soon as possible under the stated conditions; the back pay owed Ottaviano, the new condotta at twelve thousand ducats, and a writtenstatement of Florence's obligation to "defend, protect, and maintain her state." Machiavelli balked at the last condition, saying to Caterina's secretary that he could not sign such an agreement withoutauthorization from the Signoria of Florence.