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A Family Affair: The Borgias' Scandalous Legacy

Daytime Program on Zoom

Tues., June 29, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0598
$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member
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"A Glass of Wine with Caesar Borgia" by John Collier, 1893, Ipswich Museum and Art Gallery


The Borgias. The name has become synonymous with blind ambition, murder, rape, incest, and torture. The Renaissance-era Italian family’s debaucheries and political intrigues—not to mention two popes—have been immortalized in the diaries of Johann Burckardt, The Prince by Machiavelli, and a popular cable tv series. But was there something else beyond the sex, simony, and scandal?

Art historian Elizabeth Lev provides a broader context to the family’s story. The Borgias understood that society held no reward for weakness, and pursued power in Italy despite challenges posed by figures such as puritan fanatic Savonarola and ongoing struggles among neighboring Italian city-states.   

Lev highlights their political aspirations, religious conflicts, and patronage of the arts, which yielded great works that ultimately failed to redeem the family's reputation. She reveals how Church and State became intertwined for the gain of a single dynasty—and the surprising epilogue to the Borgias’ inevitable downfall.


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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.