An engrossing biography of one of Renaissance Italy’s most accomplished powerbrokers.
Few people were better able to navigate the sea of shifting alliances and internecine squabbles that characterized 15th-century Italy than Caterina Sforza (1463–1509). All the more remarkable is that she was able to do it in an era when all of her rivals were men. Widowed by three husbands—two of them assassinated before her eyes—Sforza ruled over the province of Forlì as regent for her young son Ottaviano, and was reviled, admired and feared in equal measure by popes, foreign powers and her own subjects alike. Lev (Art History/Duquesne Univ.) deftly explores the psychological strains endured by the Countess, from her first marriage to a diffident and cowardly nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, to the murder of her beloved second husband and the merciless vengeance she took upon the conspirators, to her heroic and single-handed defense of her city from the Venetians and her ultimate imprisonment in the dungeons of Cesare Borgia. The author writes with a light touch and an eye for the pageantry and drama of the time—her subject was known as one of the best-dressed women in Italy—while colorfully recounting weighty affairs of state. In one memorable scene, Sforza gains the upper hand negotiating a military alliance with a young Machiavelli: “While Machiavelli had thought the seduction of Catarina was complete, she made it clear that the courtship was only beginning. Stung by his misreading of the situation, he showed his shock and hurt through both his words and gestures, betraying his inexperience. Only later would Machiavelli learn to conceal his true thoughts behind a mask of wit and irony.”
An inspiring tale of the courage and fortitude of an enigmatic and indomitable woman.