Giulia Farnese Historical Profile

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Historical Profile
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Name: Giulia Farnese
Born: 1474
Home town: Canino, Latium
Died: 23 March 1524
Position: Pope Alexander VI's mistress
House of: Farnese, Orsini by marriage
Nickname: Giulia La Bella (Giulia The Beautiful); The Pope's wh*re; The Bride of Christ, Venus of the Vatican, the Pope's Concubine.
Personality type: Subtly ambitious, charming, graceful, alluring, fashionable. Giulia's was described by Cesare Borgia as having"dark colouring, black eyes, round face and particular ardour.

Ferdinand Gregorovius described her as "still a beautiful and fascinating woman" at age thirty five.
Hobbies: Being the Pope's darling and court companion, dancing, parties, hunting.
Strength(s): Knew how to keep her most illustrious lover happy. Machiavellian instincts - one result of her affair with the pope is getting her brother a cardinal's hat.
Weakness(es): Adulterous. Perhaps as a matter of political and financial expediency, it could be excused as a weakness and rather listed as an astute career move.
Quirks: Later became a respectable Roman noblewoman after years of administering her estates in Carbognano. Her daughter Laura married a nephew of Pope Julius II.

"The most lovely to behold "
Giulia as described by Lorenzo Pucci

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A member of the Roman noble family of Farnese, Giulia Farnese was the daughter of Pier Luigi Farnese, Lord of Montalto and his wife Giovanna Caetani (an ancient noble family from Pisa). In 1489, at age fifteen Giulia married sixteen year-old Orsino Orsini, son of Alexander VI's third cousin Adriana de Mila, who was the widow of Ludovico Orsini. Seventeen year old Giulia Farnese may have met Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia sometime in 1491 during his frequent visits to the household of his daughter Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia was about eleven years old at the time living in the house of Rodrigo's cousin Adriana de Mila. Rodrigo was consumed by a strong passion and promptly made Giulia his willing mistress. He was about 60 years of age.

When their relationship began, Giulia "La Bella" was newly married to the Cardinal's relative by marriage, Orsino Orsini, who was about a year older than her. Her young husband received hefty financial rewards for his compliance over the long affair between Rodrigo and Giulia (1491 - 1500). Giulia's brother Alessandro Farnese was elevated to the position of Cardinal due to her enormous personal influence over the pope. Alessandro was nicknamed "the petticoat cardinal" because of this. He later became Pope Paul III.

Although evidence suggests the baby was indeed fathered by Orsino Orsini, it was publicly claimed that she bore Rodrigo a daughter, Laura, in 1492 - the same year he became Pope Alexander VI. By 1493 Giulia, Lucrezia and Adriana were installed in a palace connected by a private walkway to the Vatican Palace. She was the openly acknowledged mistress of the pope, who may have had her painted as Our Lady by Pinturicchio to adorn the walls of the Apartmento Borgia.

After her lucrative stint as pope's mistress, she retired to her principality of Carbognano - given to Orsino Orsini by Alexander VI - which she inherited and administered as ruler after her husband's death in 1500. Not much is known of her life after Alexander's death, however, Ferdinand Gregorovius noted that she was a regular correspondent with her friend Duchess Lucrezia Borgia. her reputation was rehabilitated during her later years as a result of her brother's intercession. Alessandro Farnese quickly became a a powerful cardinal. Her greatest wish, according to Gregorovius, was fulfilled when her only daughter married Niccolo della Rovere, a nephew of Pope Julius II.

Giulia returned to Rome for the wedding of her daughter Laura in 1505. Laura was wedded to Niccolò della Rovere, who was the son of the sister of then Pope Julius II. For Giulia, her time of love was not over. After a series of lovers, whose names have not been recorded, in the first years of her widowhood, she married Giovanni Capece of Bozzuto. He was a member of the lower ranking Neapolitan nobility. In 1506 Giulia became the governor of Carbognano. Giulia took up residence in the citadel of the castle, on the gate of which, years later, her name was inscribed. The chronicle of the castle states that Giulia was an able administrator who governed in a firm and energetic manner. Giulia stayed in Carbognano until 1522. Then she left the place and returned to Rome. She died there, in the house of her brother, Cardinal Alessandro. She was 50 years old. The cause of her death is unknown. Ten years later her brother ascended the papal throne as Pope Paul III. Laura and Niccolò had three sons, who inherited the possessions of the Orsini Family.

A copy of a lost or destroyed fresco by Pinturicchio, painted for Pope Alexander VI's private apartments in 1492-3 was re-dsicovered in 2007. The original would have looked much like the small fragment of the baby Jesus (below left). Giorgio Vasari (whose anecdotes have been both proven and found to be inaccurate) is considered to be the first art historian and wrote in his Lives, "Above the door of a room in the Borgia apartments, Pinturicchio painted Signora Giulia Farnese as Our Lady and, in the same painting, put the head of Pope Alexander adoring her." He probably would not have seen it, but only heard from others that it once existed. According to Roman Historian Giovanni Incisa della Rocchetta, the copy at left was made by Pietro Facchetti. None of this has been explored in depth, however, it remains a possible link to what the lovely Giulia may have looked like.
Fragment of Pinturicchio'Il bambino Gesu delle Mani'
One of the fragments of the original Pinturicchio fresco, called "the baby Jesus of the hands" (above) is in a private collection. the fragment of the Madonna is also in an unknown private collection. The fragment of the pope is thought to be destroyed.
Pope Alexander kneeling before Madonna and Child (copy) by Pinturicchio
Copy of the entire fresco, made in the 15th century before it was removed.

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In Clemente Fusero's "The Borgias" he writes (on page 170): "A group of letters, for long centuries buried in the obscurity of the Vatican's Secret Archive, and brought into the light of day by Ludwig von Pastor [and published in his monumental History of the Popes], reveals and Alexander VI who is no woolly-minded rhetorician, but a sharply-etched living character, baring his heart before our very eyes...Of the forty-four letters published by Pastor, and covering a period from November 1493 to the ends of December the following year, some are exclusively political in character, shedding light on events during the period...others, (sixteen in all) are written by Lucrezia Borgia, Giulia Farnese, and Adriana de Mila to Alexander VI, or by him to the three women, and provide invaluable evidence as to the nature of their relationships one with another."

FROM POPE ALEXANDER TO ADRIANA DE MILA: Dated October 22, 1494 from Rome.
The ladies were at Capodimonte, attending to Giulia's dying brother, when Orsini Orsini made it know that he was going to keep Giulia from going back to Rome, and try to bring her to his own castle at Bassanello (Vasanello) nearby. The pope wrote to Adriana orderign her to keep Giulia at Capodimonte and prevent her going to Bassanello:
At last you have revealed all the evil and malice in your assured that you will suffer most condign punishment for your deceit... - From The Borgias (Clemente Fusero, p. 174)

FROM POPE ALEXANDER TO GIULIA FARNESE: Dated October 22, 1494, from Rome.
After the pope heard she was being persuaded to stay away from Rome by her husband Orsino Orsini he angrily wrote:
Ungrateful and perfidious Julia. We have received a letter of yours, by Navarico's hand, in which you signify and declare that your intention is not to come here unless Ursino [sic] wills it; and though hitherto we understand well enough your wicked inclinations, and from whom you sought advice, nevertheless in consideration of your feigned and pretended assurances [see Giulia's letter below], we could not wholly persuade ourselves that you were capable of treating us with such ingratitude and disloyalty (having so often sworn and given your word to us that you were at our command, and would not keep company with Ursino) as now to do the contrary and go to Bassanello, at opne peril of your life; nor can I believe that you are acting thus except to get yourself pregnant a second time by that equia of Bassanello. And we hope that very soon both you and madame Adriana, most ungrateful of women, will acknowledge your fault and suffer condign punishment for it. And moreover, as regarding the present we command you, on pain of excommunication latae sententiae and eternal malediction, that you do not stir forth from Capodimonte, much less go to Bassanello for matters concerning our state. - From The Borgias (Clemente Fusero, p. 175)

the great Florentine statesman, dated October 21,1493:
You will have received letters from Florence before mine reaches you and have learned what benefices have fallen to Lorenzo [brother of Puccio], and all that Giulia has secured for him, and you will be greatly pleased. - From Lucretia Borgia (Ferdinand Gregorovius, p. 82)

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  • And since perchance Your Holiness may believe, reading the above-mentioned things [Lucrezia's previous letter extolling the delights of their journey and stay at Pesaro], that we are in great joy and happiness, we do certify this as a great error, since being absent from Your Holiness, and all my happiness and well-being depend thereupon, I cannot taste such delights with any satisfaction...Wheresoever my treasure is, there shall my heart be also...And he who says the contrary is right foolish; so we beseech Your Holiness, do not forget us, having confined us here, and if Your Holiness please [sic] to remember us, bring us back soon to kiss the feet we miss and long for...[on the back of the sheet] To my one and only lord. - From The Borgias (Clemente Fusero, p. 171)
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  • Rodrigo Borgia performed the nuptial ceremony at the marriage between Giulia and Orsino.
  • The newly-built palace of Santa Maria del Portico, where Giulia went to live when Rodrigo became pope, had a private door that lead into St Peter's. This allowed the Pope to visit his daughter Lucrezia and her guardian Adriana de Mila, as well as Giulia.
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  • The Life and Times of Lucrezia Borgia, Maria Bellonci (1953).
  • The Borgias, Clemente Fusero
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