Category Archives: Italy

Lucrezia Borgia 4.18.13 Thought of the Day

“If people knew the reasons for my fears, they would Be able to understand my pain.” — Lucrezia Borgia

Italiano: Lucrezia Borgia ritratta nella "...

Italiano: Lucrezia Borgia ritratta nella “Disputa di Santa Caterina” dell’Appartamento Borgia, nella Sala dei Santi in Vaticano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lucrezia Borgia  was born on this day in Subiaco, near Rome, Italy in 1480. Today is the 533rd anniversary of her birth.

Lucrezia  was the daughter of the powerful Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, and younger sister of Cesare and Giovanni Borgia.  When she was a toddler her father took the children away from their mother and sent them to live with his cousin, Adriana de Mila. The Cardinal took an active role in raising the children, making sure they were well-educated and properly brought up. He doted on pretty Lucrezia.

“Lucrezia was educated according to the usual curriculum of Renaissance ladies of rank, and was taught languages, music, embroidery, painting, etc…” [NNDB] She studied poetry and read the classics. She could converse in Latin, Italian, French and Greek. She was also a beauty. Her long blond hair, flawless complexion, hazel eyes and graceful stature were all the fashion in Renaissance Italy.

By eleven she was betrothed to a Spanish nobleman, Don Cherubin do Centelles, but that brokered arrangement was broken for a more advantageous one, with another Spaniard, Don Gasparo de Procida. Before the two could marry Cardinal Borgia became Pope Alexander VI, and  “he annulled the union with Procida; in February 1493 Lucrezia was betrothed to Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro.” (Ibid)

Portrait of Pope Alexander VI. Painting locate...

Portrait of Pope Alexander VI. Painting located at Corridoio Vasariano (museum) in Florence (Firenze), Italy. Measures of painting: 59 x 44 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time Lucrezia, at 13,  did walk down the aisle. Sforza was 15 years older than the girl and it was hardly a match made in heaven. So when the political winds shifted and the Pope wanted to annul the marriage his daughter didn’t object. But Sforza did. Alexander claimed the reason for the annulment was Sforza’s impotency, a charge the Lord of Pesaro vehemently denied — and offered to prove in front of anyone who cared to act as witness. He countered that Alexander and Lucrezia were having an incestuous relationship. He later recanted the allegations and accepted the annulment, but there were other Borgia enemies who took up the rumors.

Whispers of incest filled the streets of Rome and 14-year-old Lucrezia’s reputation was damaged beyond repair. There was also a claim that she poisoned her enemies. She allegedly had her own special formula for a an undetectable poison. She’s even supposed to have had a specially designed ring with a compartment for the poison and a tiny needle with which to administer it.

Coin of Lucrezia Borgia

Coin of Lucrezia Borgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pope Alexander married her off again, this time to Alphonso of Aragon, the 18-year-old duke of Bisceglie, to firm up his political alliances with Naples. Although it was an arranged marriage the match was a happy one. Lucrezia and Alphonso had a baby, Rodrigo and seemed to be very much in love. Alas it only lasted 2 years. “Pope Alexander and Lucrezia’s brother Cesare sought a new alliance with France, and Lucrezia’s marriage to Alfonso was a major obstacle.” [Biography] Alfonso was attacked by assassins in the streets of Rome. He was brutally stabbed in the head, arm and leg. With the help of his own guards he made it back to the papal residence, where he was nursed  by Lucrezia and others.  But, while he was recovering an assassin (almost certainly working for her brother) gained admittance to the sick room and strangled him. Lucrezia was heart broken.

After Alphonso’s death Pope Alexander went away to survey a  “new acquisition” and “left the administration of the Vatican and the Church in the hands of Lucrezia.” []

English: Lucrezia Borgia presiding over the Cu...

English: Lucrezia Borgia presiding over the Curia Romana in the abcense of her father Pope Alexander VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the political chess game that was Lucrezia’s life wasn’t over yet. Single again at 20 her father found her yet another husband Alfonso I d’Este. The d’Este family had heard the rumors of Lucrezia’s infamous behavior, they’d seen how her last two marriages had ended, and they knew how dangerous it was to dance with the Borgas . They bulked at the union, but when Alexander applied pressure — and upped the dowry — they gave in and the wedding took place in 1502. Lucrezia was packed up and sent to Ferrara.

At first her new life in Ferrara was very difficult. Her husband was distant and unloving, her new family was suspicious and shunned her and she was removed from everyone she had every loved — especially her baby, Rodrigo. But Alfonso d’Este and eventually his family came to realize she wasn’t the murderous adulterer she painted to be.”She won over her reluctant husband by her youthful charm (she was only twenty-two), and from that time forth she led a peaceful life, about which there was hardly a breath of scandal.” [NNDB]

Possibly portrait of Lucrezia Borgia

Possibly portrait of Lucrezia Borgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1503 Pope Alexander died and she was finally free from her role as the family’s pawn. Two years later Alfonso’s father died making the couple the Duke and Duchess of Ferrara.

During their seventeen year marriage Alfonso and Lucrezia had 6 children, 2 of whom lived to adulthood. (Rodrigo lived to be 12-years-old. Although Lucrezia tried she never saw her son after she left Rome)

As Duchess she helped make the court of Fererra a truly Renaissance place. She…

gathered many learned men, poets and artists at her court, among whom were Ariosto, Cardinal Bembo, Aldus Manutius the printer, and the painters Titian and Dosso Dossi. She devoted herself to the education of her children and to charitable works [Ibid]

She died due to complications of child birth on June 24, 1519.

English: Lucrezia Borgia

English: Lucrezia Borgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michelangelo 3.6.13 bonus Thought of the Day

“I live and love in God’s peculiar light.” — Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Some days are deserts I struggle to find some one to profile on this blog…and some days are overwhelming. Today, besides Dame Kiri (who got the official Thought of the Day birthday nod) Michelangelo, Cyrano De Bergerac, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Willie Mays, and astronaut Gordo Cooper were on the A List for a possible birthday nod. I think it came down to the fact that I wanted to listen to some opera today, so Kiri won.

But I just can’t ignore Michelangelo. 

Especially given what is happening RIGHT NOW in what is arguably his most famous “installation” the Sistine Chapel.


Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born  on this day in Caprese, Italy in 1475. Today is the 538th anniversary of his birth.

The family soon moved to Florence, when Michelangelo was still a baby. His mother was ill, so little Michelangelo was sent to a wet-nurse who was part of a family of stone cutters.

Michelangelo’s father realized early on that his son had no interest in the family financial business, so agreed to apprentice him, at the age of 13, to the fashionable Florentine painter’s workshop. There, Michelangelo was exposed to the technique of fresco. Michelangelo had spent only a year at the workshop when an extraordinary opportunity opened to him: At the recommendation of Ghirlandaio, he moved into the palace of Florentine ruler Lorenzo the Magnificent, of the powerful Medici family, to study classical sculpture in the Medici gardens. []

“Faith in oneself is the best and safest course.” — Michelangelo

He went back to Florence in 1495 and worked  as a sculptor. Three years later he moved to Rome where he met Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas.

Michelangelo sculpted his Pieta, a sculpture of Mary holding the dead Jesus across her lap, for the Cardinal’s tomb.


Rome tickets & pictures 2010 082


Carved from a single piece of Carrara marble, the fluidity of the fabric, positions of the subjects, and “movement” of the skin of the Pieta—meaning “pity” or “compassion”—created awe for its early spectators. [Ibid]

His next major work was David.


front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He “turned the 17-foot piece of marble into a dominating figure.” [Ibid]

“A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.”— Michelangelo

Next he was asked by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The project fueled Michelangelo’s imagination, and the original plan for 12 apostles morphed into more than 300 figures on the ceiling of the sacred space. … Michelangelo fired all of his assistants, whom he deemed inept, and completed the 65-foot ceiling alone, spending endless hours on his back and guarding the project jealously until revealing the finished work, on October 31, 1512…. The resulting masterpiece is a transcendent example of High Renaissance art incorporating the Christian symbology, prophecy and humanist principles that Michelangelo had absorbed during his youth. The vivid vignettes of Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling produce a kaleidoscope effect, with the most iconic image being the Creation of Adam… [Ibid]


michelangelo (Photo credit: 熊͘)

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Click here for a virtual 3-d tour of the Sistine Chapel.

“I am still learning.”— Michelangelo

After the Sistine Chapel his work moved more toward architecture. He designed the tomb for Pope Julius II, the Laurentian Library in Florence, and the Medici Chapel. In 1546 he was appointed as the new architect for St. Peters Basilica in Rome. He designed the famous dome that crowns the church and work was well underway on it when Michelangelo died on Feb 18, 1564.

Robert MacPherson (1811-1872) - Rome - St. Pet...

Robert MacPherson (1811-1872) – Rome – St. Peter’s Dome in the Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last Judgment of Michelangelo Buonarroti

Last Judgment of Michelangelo Buonarroti (Photo credit: Wikipedia) The Last Judgement is a massive painting that takes up the alter wall of the Sistine Chapel. It took 4 years to complete.

Antionio Vivaldi 3.4.13 Thought of the Day

Français : VIVALDI: Portrait d’un violoniste v...

Français : VIVALDI: Portrait d’un violoniste vénitien du XVIIIe siècle, par François Morellon de La Cave (1723), portrait généralement considéré comme étant celui de Vivaldi Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica (Bologna) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Antonio Vivaldi was born on this day in Venice, Italy in 1678. Today is the 335th anniversary of his birth.


Vivaldi was born into a working class family. He was the eldest of 9 children. His father, who started out as  a tailor, then a barber, learned how to play the violin and eventually landed a gig as church violinist for St. Marks in Vienna. Antonio’s father taught him to play violin as well.


“In 1703, he became ordained as a priest and was widely known as the “Red Priest” due to his red hair.” [] But he  really had no calling to religious life. His religious training was a way for him to get an education (a common practice amongst the poor). Once ordained he…”no longer wished to celebrate mass because of physical complaints.” [Baroque] It is uncertain whether the illness was angina, asthma or a nervous disorder.


He began to teach violin at Ospedale della Pieta, a girls “orphanage” (it was really a home for the illegitimate daughters of wealthy noble men.) He also composed for the girls.


Vivaldi is best known for his Concertos (especially those for violin), his choral works and his operas (he wrote over 40.)


Here’s Autumn from his Four Seasons:



and  here’s Gloria in a in Excelsis Deo.



Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon la Cave; 1725

Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon la Cave; 1725 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Orchestral music


  • over 230 vn concs., incl. “Four Seasons,” op.8 nos. 1-4 (circa 1725)
  • circa 120 other solo concs. (bn, vc, ob, fl, rec etc)
  • circa 40 double concs. ensemble concs. ripieno concs. and sinfonias
  • 4 concs. for double orch

Chamber music


  • circa 40 vn sonatas
  • 9 vc sonatas
  • circa 10 fl sonatas
  • 27 trio sonatas
  • 22 chamber concs.

Sacred vocal music


  • Gloria, D
  • Magnificat, g
  • psalms, hymns, motets etc
  • Juditha triumphans (oratorio, 1716)

Secular vocal music


  • circa 50 operas, circa 20 surviving, incl. Teuzzone (1719), Tito Manlio (1720), Giustino (1724), Orlando (1727), La fida ninfa (1732), Griselda (1735)
  • 3 serenatas
  • circa 40 solo cantatas

[List from Great Performances]


Thought of the Day 11.11.12 Stanley Tucci

“People wear shorts to the Broadway theater. There should be a law against that.”
–Stanley Tucci

Stanley Tucci was born on this day in Peekskill, New York in 1960. He is 52 years old.

His mom, Joan, was a writer and secretary and his father, Stanly, Sr., was an art teacher. His grandparents immigrated from Calabria Italy. He enjoyed playing soccer and baseball in school, and he acted in school plays. He went to SUNY Purchase where he got his BFA from the school’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts.

Tucci’s twin loves are acting and food — something he indulged in Big Night and Julie & Julia. [My personal favorite pair of Tucci films.]

He’s made 93 movies and television shows in his career thus far. [For a complete breakdown of his film credits go to his IMDb page  HERE] Starting 1985 with a bit part in Prizzi’s Honor and spanning nearly three decades to his role as Caeser Flickerman in the upcoming the Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Tucci has been a very busy man.

He’s a terrific collaborative actor and has been the backbone of many a movie. Think the Devil Wears Prada, orJulie and Julia for that matter,  in both he plays second fiddle to Meryl Streep. He never tries to out shine his co-star, but his performance is a little gem of acting goodness.

Movie still from Conspiracy [Image courtesy HBO]

Tucci also has the ability to take a one-dimensional character and breath so much life into it that he steals the picture. He’s done it with plenty of villains — most chillingly as Adolf Eichmann in Conspiracy and George Harvey in The Lovely Bones.

Still from Big Night.

When filming Big Night –which Tucci co-wrote, co-directed and starred in — he and his mother produced a short cook book called Cucina & Famiglia.  He worked with her again to put out The Tucci Cookbook“The Tucci Cookbook,” a paean to Italian cooking — and to Italian-American families…” [] was published in October. It’s a tribute to Tucci’s Italian grandmother who taught him his kitchen skills.

“The Tucci Cookbook,” in which the recipes are interlaced with reminiscences from two generations of Tuccis, suggests the meaty, saucy ways in which a love of food can bind and govern a family. That love has certainly shaped Stanley Tucci’s life and career, in which cooking and eating seem to be the glues for every relationship, the sidebars to every adventure, the grace notes of every achievement. [Ibid]

Still from Julie & Julia

When he was cast as Paul Child in Julie & Julia he called up Meryl Streep and encouraged her to research their roles by cooking together.

Mr. Tucci… is a proud and avid cook, and at his home in northern Westchester County, … his arsenal of equipment trumps what many restaurants have on hand. In addition to the six burners and acres of counter space in his kitchen, there’s a mammoth stone pizza oven, made in Italy, on the patio outside, along with a gas grill as large as a Fiat, a free-standing paella pan the size of a wading pool, and a coffinlike wood-and-aluminum roasting box, called a Caja China, that can accommodate up to 100 pounds of meat. He likes his dinner parties populous and his friends carnivorous.[Ibid]
You can also find him on Vine Talk reruns on PBS where he host a team of experts and celebrities as they talk casually (but knowledgeably) about everything from Cabernet to Chardonnay.


Thought of the Day 10.27.12 Desiderius Erasmus

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”

“The desire to write grows with writing.”

“War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it.”

Desiderius Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Rotterdam Renai...

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Rotterdam Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest and theologian, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Desiderius Erasmus was born on this day in Rotterdam, Holland in 1467 (or perhaps 1466). Today is the 545th (546th) anniversary of his birth.

He was the illegitimate son of Gerard (aka Roger) of Gouda and his housekeeper, Margaret Rogers. He was their second son.  Gerard either was a Catholic priest at the time of Erasmus’ birth or he took vows soon after. Although his parents never married the boys weren’t neglected. Their father saw to it that they were well educated. He sent 9-year-old Erasmus and 12-year-old Pieter to “one of the best Latin grammar schools in the Netherlands near Deventer.” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] Margaret moved to the town to take care of the boys. At this semi-monastic school they and learned Latin, Greek and a humanist approach to literature and culture.

In 1483 the Black Plague hit the city. Margaret died and the boys went back to Gouda. Gerard soon fell ill too. At his death the brothers were left with a small inheritance in the hands of three guardians. At first they were sent to a grammar school. “The highest level of study there did not go up to the level the brothers had already completed at Deventer. Erasmus regarded this period as a total waste.” [Ibid] The boy’s options were limited.

“Since the two boys had only a small inheritance and, being born out-of-wedlock, were not eligible for an ordinary career as secular priests or for membership in many professions, entry into a monastery was their only realistic option.”[ibid]

It was an option neither of them wanted, but Pieter agreed, and after much pressure Erasmus finally gave in. He entered the Steyn monastery in 1487 as a novice.

“He felt no true religious vocation for such a step, and in later years characterized this act as the greatest misfortune of his life. … He was left free, however, to pursue his studies, and devoted himself mainly to the ancient classics, whose content and formal beauty he passionately admired.”[New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia]

Here he found kindred spirits who shared his love of classical literature. He wrote De Contemptu mundi (On Contempt of the World) while at Steyn (although it wasn’t published until 1521). Still he resented the limits on his activities and freedoms, and he felt thwarted by the limited intellect of some of the other monks (he wrote about that in Antibarbarorum liber (Book Against the Barbarians). None the less he agreed to be ordained as a priest in 1492.

Ordination should have turned the lock in the monastery, gate as it were, but Erasmus’ was already  “identified as an intelligent and widely read monk with an outstanding Latin style.” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] and about a year after taking final vows he was plucked from the monastery to act as secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen. It was to be a temporary assignment, but some how he managed never to return.

Erasmus persuaded the bishop to send him to study theology at the University of Paris, in the Collège de Montaigu. He found Montaigu less than wonderful. The food was so bad it ruined his digestive system for life. The housing was filthy.  And the students were expected to do menial labor along with their studies. He also “expressed hostility to the traditional scholastic theology based on questions, disputations, and reliance on Aristotle.” [Ibid] He found it, in a word, medieval. ” But Paris also had an active literary life and had been thoroughly exposed to the humanistic culture of Italy. The city and the court had a substantial circle of humanists.” [Ibid]

For the next two decades he travelled back and forth across Europe staying in Paris, Leuven (Belgium), England, Basel (Switzerland) and Italy but he consciously avoided any permanent alliances that would limit his intellectual freedom or literary expression. “…after his return from England in 1500, religion as well as the study of Greek became more prominent in his thought.”[Ibid] He was determined to master Greek so he could translate biblical texts and he focused a good deal of his attention on the writings of “St. Jerome, the most learned of the ancient Latin Fathers… ” [Ibid]  He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity at Turin. He befriended printer/publisher Aldus Manutius and embraced the new technology of the printing press as a way to communicate.

In 1514 he went to Basel and met with publisher Johann Froben who became his publisher of choice for the rest of his life. He worked with Froben to publish Novum Instumentum  (later Novum Testamentum  which “included the first published edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, accompanied by a cautious revision of the traditional Latin New Testament and by Erasmus’ annotations explaining how in specific passages…” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] This ‘new testament’ was a marketing coup as much as it was a literary masterpiece. In Spain a bigger, better financed (and probably better researched — they had better Greek manuscripts) New Testament was sitting in a warehouse waiting the blessing of Cardinal-Archbishop of Toledo (the work’s sponsor.)  Erasmus and Froben were under no such editorial control. The Spanish…

“Edition was made obsolete even before publication by Erasmus’ humanistic methods of textual criticism. The future of biblical studies belonged to the new philological and critical methods developed by Erasmus, not to the cautious and traditionalist approach of the Spanish scholars Their edition was obsolete  [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

It didn’t hurt that he dedicated his Greek/Latin hybrid New Testament to Pope Leo X. in 1517 He published his research on St. Jerome (all seven volumes of it) ” confirming his status as the greatest scholar of his generation.” [Ibid] Erasmus and Froben also put out a new addition of the former’s Adages with additional proverbs.
The Adages became not only a handy tool for those who wrote in Latin but also a medium for expressing Erasmus’ opinions, and the book was another literary and financial success, frequently reprinted throughout the century. [Ibid]
In 1516 Erasmus petitioned the Pope Leo X for “relief from certain legal disabilities.”[Ibid]

1.    the burden and consequences of his illegitimate birth
2.    his membership in the monastery at Steyn
3.    having to wear the robes of the Augustinian monks

Leo  approved the petition. Erasmus moved to the University of Louvain in the Netherlands.Although his German Humanism was not a perfect match with the more conservative Louvian theology Erasmus seemed to have found a home.
But then there was that GERMAN,  Martin Luther, who went and nailed his protest to the door of a church.  “With remarkable rapidity, reform-minded young German humanists (and many older ones also) who had become admirers of Erasmus identified Luther’s ideas and reform program with those of Erasmus, regarding Luther and Erasmus as leaders of a single movement.” [Ibid]  Erasmus HAD been a vocal critic regarding the follies and abuses of the clergy, but  it was against his nature to take up a partisan position on the issue of Protestantism.

“The emergence of Luther caused serious problems for Erasmus across a broad front, including his situation in Louvain….Erasmus came under intense pressure to join in their denunciation of Luther, but he was unwilling to do so, claiming that he was so busy that he had read none, or almost none, of Luther’s publications. In reality, he had read at least some of Luther’s books with great interest and had concluded that while Luther took extreme positions on some questions and might have made some errors, there was much to be praised in his works.” [Ibid]

Unable to denounce Luther Erasmus moved from Louvian to Basel, back to his old friend the printer, Froben.  He lived there for eight years until the city “reformed” in 1529. He felt morally obligated “to leave a city where open Catholic worship was suppressed. He moved to the near-by city of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, also a university town. ” [Ibid]
He died in 1536 …
“He did not have a priest available to administer last rites, and there is no evidence that he desired such ministrations, which he had always respected if done in the right spirit but never considered very important. He died during the night of 11–12 July. A whole host of ailments contributed to his end, but dysentery was the immediate cause.”[Ibid]

English: bust of Ermasmus, made by Hildo Krop ...

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