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Caterina Sforza: Renaissance Virago

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Caterina Sforza: Renaissance Virago

Afternoon Lecture/Seminar

Friday, January 19, 2024 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0798
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La dama dei gelsomini, by Lorenzo di Credi, presumed portrait of Caterina Sforza (Pinacoteca Civica di Forlì)

The illegitimate daughter of the autocratic Duke of Milan, married at ten years old to a dissolute papal nephew, Caterina Sforza seemed destined to victimhood, yet she turned the tables on popes and princes alike. Her upbringing in the military Sforza court prepared the young Caterina to control fortresses, train mercenaries, and fearlessly face danger. Her exploits stunned Renaissance society as they tried to fathom this anomaly of iron determination wrapped in seductive beauty.

Art historian Liz Lev looks at how Caterina Sforza's contemporaries tried to capture the paradoxes of this virago, as she was dubbed, reconciling her courtly grace with her fierce defense of family and property. From battling the College of Cardinals on the ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo, to fending off an insurrection in her realm of Forli, to eventually facing Cesare Borgia and the armies of France, Caterina’s bravery provoked criticism from Machiavelli, derision from her male neighbors, and the odd poem by mercenary soldiers. Meet this forgotten heroine, depicted by Botticelli and admired by Isabella d' Este, whose legacy included the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, her direct heirs.

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