Italy - Famous Renaissance Women

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Bianca Maria Visconti in a portrait by Bonifacio Bembo, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Bianca Maria Visconti
Bianca Maria Visconti

Bianca Maria Visconti was Duchess of Milan from 1450 to 1468.Born near Settimo Pavese, Bianca Maria was the illegitimate daughter of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan and last of the Visconti rulers, and Agnese del Maino, the only person the shy, secluded Filippo ever loved. Agnese was the daughter of Ambrogio del Maino ,a Milanese nobleman and ducal questore. Agnese served as Lady-in-Waiting to Filippo's wife, Beatrice di Tenda. The couple had a second daughter, called Caterina Maria or Lucia Maria, also born in Settimo in 1426, but she died shortly after her birth. Bianca's paternal grandparents were Gian Galeazzo Visconti and Caterina Visconti. When she was six months old, Bianca Maria and her mother were sent to a castle in Abbiate, where a rich residence had been established for the two of them. The Duke spent much of his time in Abbiategrasso, where he was impressed by Bianca Maria's strong character. Bianca Maria spent her childhood and adolescence in Abbiategrasso, where she received a humanist education. The Ducal library contained a wide variety of works: Latin classics, narrative texts in Provencal and French, scientific and dialectical works, as well as texts in Italian and volgare, mainly by Tuscan authors. Both Bianca and her father were passionate hunters and lovers of horses.

Portrait of a Lady (Ippolita Maria Sforza)

Ippolita Maria Sforza
Duchess of Calabria
1446 - 1484
by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Ippolita Maria Sforza

Ippolita (or Ippolyta) Maria Sforza was the eldest daughter of famed condottiero Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bianca Maria Visconti. Francesco became duke after his marriage to Bianca, who was the only heir to the Visconti ducal throne.

Ippolita received a strong humanist education under the tutelage ofthe eminent Greek scholar
Constantine Lascariswho came to Milan after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. At the age of 14, she delivered an oration before Pope Pius II, to much acclaim; later she engaged in a spirited competition with hergreat friendLorenzo de Mediciover who had the better knowledge of classical texts.

In 1466, aged 19, Ippolita married Alfonso, Duke of Calabria and heir to Ferrante I, King of Naples. Their union was part of a political stratagem aimed at cementing a new alliance between Milan and
Naples. Travelling to her new home, Ippolita brought with her a library of twelve books - including Cicero's De Senectute, which she had copied herself - and stopped along the way to buy several more manuscripts. One of her first acts upon arriving in Naples was to have a studiolo built for herself.

The marriage was not a happy one. Alfonso - perhaps threatened by Ippolita's advanced education and intelligence, perhaps merely disdainful of her pedigree - largely ignored his wife, taking numerous other lovers and eventually living all but openly with his mistress Truzia Gazzela (who he later married after Ippolita’s death). He provided Ippolita so little money to support her household that she was ultimately reduced to selling much of her trousseau as well as other family heirlooms.

Nonetheless, Ippolita found joy in learning, and took pleasure in the company of scholars. She was responsible for the education of her own children as well as that of her niece, Beatrice d’Este, who was fostered with her family (and who would ultimately grow into a formidable woman in her own right as the Duchess of Milan). Throughout her life, she was a great writer of letters and patron of the humanities.

Her influence at court as a balance to Alfonso's debauchery is undeniable, but the most lasting impact of her life is that she is one of the very first women to be a model ideal for the growing trend of the educated noblewoman as a tool for political gain. The fame of her house no doubt preceded her great intelligence and erudition, nonetheless, she was highly thought of by her powerful and learned contemporaries.

Her legacy to Italy is one of indirect furthering of the Medici hegemony in Tuscany; by interceding with her father-in-law on Lorenzo de' Medici's behalf she helped facilitate an end to thePazzi Warbetween Florence and the papacy in the 1470s. She became an idol and role model for Italian noblewomen of the Renaissance, a prototype for well-placed Renaissance ladies such as Isabelle d'Este, Elisabetta Gonzaga, Emilia Pia, Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara and others.

Ippolita died in 1484, aged 38. She was survived by her three children, Ferrante II, the later King of Naples; Isabella of Naples, duchess consort of Milan; and Piero di Rossano.

Queen Caterina Cornaro (Gentile Bellini, c. 1500)
Caterina Cornaro
Queen of Cyprus
1454 - 1510
Caterina Cornaro

Caterina was the daughter of powerful Venetian merchant Marco Cornaro and Fiorenza Crispo. In 1472 she was chosen from among family members of the Venetian oligarchy to marry Giacomo II, the new king of Cyprus. This created an important ally for Cyprus. After a short idyllic year as queen consort, Caterina was left a widow at the untimely death of Giacomo. She bore a son, christened Giacomo III shortly after his death, and after his early death, became Queen of Cyprus - though over time, in name only. Venice gradually usurped her position and took possession of the little island. The former crusader state turned kingdom had been a tributary state of the Mameluks since 1426. Under Caterina, who ruled the island from 1474 to 1489, the island was controlled by Venetian merchants, and in 1489 she was forced to abdicate and to cede the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice.

Caterina was given the city and environs of Asolo, northwest of Venice, and lived the rest of her life as Countess. Asolo soon gained a reputation as a court of literary and artistic distinction, mainly as a result of it being the fictitious setting for Pietro Bembo's platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani. Catherine died in Venice in 1510.

Caterina Sforza, Countess of Imola, Lady of Forlì
Caterina Sforza
Lady of Imola and
Countess of Forli
1463 - 1509
by Lorenzo di Credi
Caterina Sforza

(1463 - 1509) Lady of Imola and Countess of Forlì.
Caterina was the daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza and his mistress Lucrezia Landriani. She was brought up in the ducal court and used as a valuable pawn in the game of Italian power-politics. She was involved in some very messy assassinations and conspiracies, war with the Borgias, and has earned a legendary status in the history of Italy and the Renaissance.

Caterina Sforza married three times, first to the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, Girolamo Riario , second to her lover, a young rash courtier named Giacomo Feo, and third to the love of her life,Giovanni de Medici "il Popolano", a cadet branch cousin of Lorenzo "il magnifico" de Medici, a Florentine diplomat. She bore nine children, seven of whom survived. The youngest, her only son by Giovanni de Medici, went on to become famous across Italy as the last great condottiero, Giovaani della Banda Nere, his descendants became rulers of Tuscany and married into the French royal House of Bourbon.

Although her life straddles the changes gradually taking place between the Medieval andRenaissance
eras, she is held up as an ideal of a different kind of Renaissance woman. She was not an early feminist, but she was a
"Virago". A woman with the admirable qualities of a strong and honorable man. This label did not demean her or impune her feminine character whatsoever. Men and women admired her for her strong rule, courage, and her intelligence. To be called a virago in the 16th century was the ultimate compliment for an independent Renaissance Woman.

Isabella d'Este
Isabella d'Este
Marchioness of Mantua
(as a young woman in her twenties)
by Titian, c. 1534-1536
Isabella d'Este

(18 May 1474 – 13 February 1539). Marchesa of Mantua
Isabella d'Este was the first child and cherished daughter of Ercole I, duke of Ferrara princess of Naples (Leonora of Aragon), granddaughter of King Ferrante/Ferdinand I of Naples. She was also a valuable chess piece in the game of Italian political marriages, especially so because of her classical education and royal blood. She married Francesco II Gonzaga - a powerful military leader and ruler of the independent marquisate Mantua, allied with Urbino, the papacy, and Ferrara. Her younger sister Beatrice (see below) married Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan.

Isabella was the epitome of the quintessential Renaissance Woman. She enjoyed a brilliant education equal to her brothers because she was expected to become the wife of a powerful ruler. She was also well-informed of the changing political scene, acted on behalf of her husband, hosted festivities, and honoured state visitors, gave her husband and state the required heirs, commissioned artworks of the highest quality, maintained the edge of fashion and set trends extending even so far as France.

She was the esteemed Marchesa of Mantua for almost her entire life, and is known as one of the leading women of the Italian Renaissance. Her influence and wise rule made her a major cultural and political figure. She was the regent of Mantua during the absence of her husband, Francesco and after his death during the minority of her son Federico II, Duke of Mantua.

Vittoria Colonna

Vittoria Colonna
1490 - 1547
Vittoria Colonna

Vittoria Colonna was a marchioness of Pescara, was an Italian noblewoman and poet.The daughter of Fabrizio Colonna, grand constable of the kingdom of Naples, and of Agnese da Montefeltro, Vittoria Colonna was born at Marinoa fief of the Colonna family in the Alban Hills near Rome. Betrothed when four years old at the insistence of Ferrante I, king of Naples to Francesco Ferrante d'Ávalos, son of the marquis of Pescara, she received the highest education and gave early proof of a love of letters. Her hand was sought by many suitors, including the dukes of Savoy and Braganza, but at nineteen, by her own ardent desire, she was married to d'Ávalos on the island of Ischia. There the couple resided until 1511, when her husband offered his sword to the League against the French. He was taken captive at the Battle of Ravenna (1512) and conveyed to France.

During the months of detention and the long years of campaigning which followed, Vittoria and Ferrante corresponded in the most passionate terms both in prose and verse. They saw each other but seldom, for Ferrante was one of the most active and brilliant captains of Charles V; but Vittoria's influence was sufficient to keep him from joining the projected league against the emperor after the Battle of Pavia (1525), and to make him refuse the crown of Naples offered to him as the price of his treason. In the month of November of the same year he died of his wounds at Milan. Vittoria, who was hastening to tend him, received the news of his death at Viterbo; she halted and turned off to Rome, and after a brief stay departed for Ischia, where she remained for several years. She refused several suitors, and began to produce those Rime spirituali which form so distinct a feature in her works. In 1529 she returned to Rome, and spent the next few years between that city, Orvieto, Ischia and other places. In 1537 we find her at Ferrara, where she made many friends and helped to establish a Capuchin monastery at the instance of the reforming monk Bernardino Ochino, who afterwards became a Protestant.

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Bona Sforza
1493/94 - 1557
Bona Sforza

Bona Sforza (2 February 1494 or 2 February 1493 – 19 November 1557) was a member of the powerful Milanese House of Sforza. In 1518, she became the second wife of Sigismund I the Old. She was the third child of Gian Galeazzo Sforza and his wife Isabella of Naples. Her older brother was Francesco Sforza and her sisters were Ippolita Maria (the younger) and Bianca Maria. All of Bona's siblings died young. When her mother Isabella of Naples died in 1524, Bona succeeded to the titles Duchess of Bari and Princess of Rossano. She also became the holder of the Brienne claim to the title of King of Jerusalem.Almost from the beginning of her life in Poland, Queen Bona tried to gain a strong political position. She began to form her own cabal and also benefited from the support of the king. She was also supported by Piotr Kmita Sobieński, Andrew Ladislaus and Piotr Gamrat, taking them to her offices and creating the so-called Triumvirate. She managed to also get Pope Leo X to decide on the appointment of fifteen ecclesiastical benefice of very high importance (e.g. in Kraków, Gniezno, Poznań, Włoclawek and Frombork).Bona came out of the belief that one of the most important things needed for the effective implementation of policies and plans for strengthening royal authority, is access to appropriate high finance. Therefore she set herself the objective of magnification and the assembly domain of dynastic wealth as much as possible, which would give the Jagiello family financial independence.

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Eleanor of Toledo
Eleanor of Toledo

(1522 – December 17, 1562), born Doña Leonor Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio, was a Spanish noblewoman who was Duchess of Florence from 1539. She is credited with being the first modern first lady, or consort. She served as regent of Florence during the absence of her spouse. Eleanor was born in Toledo, the second daughter of the Viceroy of Naples, Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, Marquis of Villafranca - Charles V's lieutenant-governor, - and Maria Osorio, 2nd Marquise of Villafranca. Her father was the second son of Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, 2nd Duke of Alba and therefore, the third Duke of Alba was his eldest brother. Eleonora di Toledo became the wife of Cosimo I de' Medici, the ruler of Tuscany, whom she married in 1539. Her father demanded that Cosimo settle a large amount of money on her as her dowry, but as the Medici were new to their ducal status, the marriage was attractive for a variety of political and dynastic reasons.

Eleonora's royal Castilian ancestors and relations with the Habsburgs provided the Medici with the blue they had hitherto lacked and began the process of placing them on a footing with other European sovereigns. Through her father, Eleonora also provided the Medici with a powerful link to Spain, at that time ultimately in control of Florence, so that the marriage offered Cosimo I the opportunity to show sufficient loyalty to and trust in Spain that Spanish troops could be withdrawn from the province. Eleanor and Cosimo had eleven children, including five sons who reached maturity (Francesco, Giovanni, Garzia, Ferdinando, and Pietro); before this time the Medici line had been in danger of becoming extinct. Thus by providing an heir, and ample spares, as well as through her daughters' marriages into other ruling and noble families of Italy, she was able to inaugurate an era of strength and stability in Tuscany. Two of her sons, Francesco and Ferdinando, reigned as grand Dukes of Tuscany.

Sofinisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola
Court Painter, Spain
c1532 - 1625
Self-Portrait, 1556, Lancut Museum, Poland
Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the first great female painter of the Renaissance.

She was born in
Cremona, Lombardy around 1532, the oldest of seven children, six of whom were daughters. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, was a member of the Genoese minor nobility, though the family were not wealthy. Nevertheless, Amilcare saw to it that all seven children received a humanist education and training in the fine arts such as music and painting. From around the age of fourteen, Sofonisba studied under the tutelage of Bernardino Campi, a respected local painter, and later under Bernardino Campi.

Although Sofonisba enjoyed much more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings. In spite of these restrictions, Sofonisba worked with what she had using the limited models available to her, painting numerous self-portraits and experimenting with more intimate, informal styles of portraiture.

Her father, an eager promoter of her work, at one stage arranged for Michelangelo to be shown drawing Sofonisba had done of a laughing girl. The great master acknowledged her talent, but added that a crying child would have made for a more difficult subject. Sofonisba took it as a challenge and did him one better, sending him a drawing of her crying brother being comforted by a smiling sister.

In 1557, King Philip II of Spain invited Sofonisba to join his court as a lady-in-waiting and painting teacher to his new queen, the fourteen-year-old Elisabeth of Valois. Sofonisba spent the next two decades in Spain, during which time she painted numerous portraits of members of the Spanish royal family and court.

When she was 39, Philip arranged for her to be married to a Sicilian nobleman, Fabrizio de Moncada, providing her with a very respectable dowry. They moved back to Italy in 1578, however Fabrizio died the following year. A widowed Sofonisba sailed home to Cremona, and on the voyage fell in love with the ship's captain, a Genoese nobleman named Orazio Lomellino. They married soon after.

She settled with Orazio in Genoa, where she continued to paint and frequently received fellow artists and literary figures. She painted her final self-portrait in 1620, at the age of 88, before giving up the craft due to her deteriorating eyesight. She died in 1625, aged 93, apparently retaining her sharp wit right up until the end.

Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana
1552 - 1614
Self Portrait
Lavinia Fontana

(24 August 1552 – 11 August 1614) was Italian renaissance painter. Lavinia Fontana was born in Bologna, the daughter of the painter Prospero Fontana, who was a prominent painter of the School of Bologna at the time and served as her teacher. Continuing the family business was typical at the time.

Her earliest known work, " Monkey Child" , was painted in 1575 at the age of 23. Though this work is now lost, another early painting, Christ with the Symbols of the Passion, painted in 1576 is now in the El Paso Museum of Art. Early in her career, she was most famous for painting upper-class residents of her native Bologna. She began her commercial practice by painting small devotional paintings on copper, which had popular appeal as papal and diplomatic gifts, given the value and lustre of the metal. She later created paintings of male and female nudes and large scale religious paintings.

Marietta Tintoretto
Marietta Robusti
1560? - 1590
Marietta "Tintoretto" Robusti

(1560? – 1590) was a female Venetian painter of the Renaissance period. She is one of very few known female artists of this period, a group that included Lucia Anguissola
and Diana Scultori Ghisi.

The only known primary source for details of Marietta Robusti’s life is Carlo Ridolfi's Life of Tintoretto, first published in 1642, although she is mentioned briefly in Raffaelo Borghini’s Il Riposo della Pitura e della Scultura of 1584.These two sources disagree on the year of her birth: according to Borghini, she was born in 1555, but Carlo Ridolfi indicates that she was born in 1560.

Marietta was born and died in Venice, the eldest daughter of the painter Jacopo Robusti, from whom she inherited her nickname, la Tintoretta (translated as little dyer girl, after Jocopo’s father’s occupation as a tintore, or dyer). She is thus variously known as Marietta Robusti, Marietta Tintoretto, and la Tintoretta.

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Eleonora Gonzaga
Eleonora Gonzaga

Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino was the eldest of the seven children of Francesco II Gonzaga, and Isabella d'Este. Her father was a notorious libertine, and her mother, a gifted patroness of the arts of the late Italian Renaissance. On 25 September 1509, aged just sixteen, she married Francesco Maria I della Rovere, duke of Urbino, son of Giovanni della Rovere, duca di Sora e Senegaglia, and Giovanna da Montefeltro, and nephew of Pope Julius II. Their two sons and three daughters would all have progeny. Eleonora, who was largely responsible for the internal government of Urbino during her husband's exile, was an important patron of the arts in her own right. A princess of the highest culture, she was the friend of Pietro Bembo, Sadolet and Baldassare Castiglione, as well as the poet Torquato Tasso. Titian painted her once formally (in 1537, a companion to his painting of her husband Francesco from the same year), but her face appears to be recognisable in three other Titian paintings of about that time: 'La Bella', 'Girl in the Fur Cloak' and possibly the 'Venus of Urbino' commissioned by her son Guidobaldo.

Beatrice d'Este in a portrait by the hand of Leonardo da Vinci.
Beatrice d' Este
Beatrice d'Este

Beatrice d'Este was duchess of Milan, one of the most beautiful and accomplished princesses of the Italian Renaissance, was the daughter of Ercole I d'Este and younger sister of Isabella d'Este and Alfonso d'Este. She was betrothed at the age of fifteen to Ludovico Sforza (known as il Moro), duke of Bari, regent and afterwards duke of Milan, and was married to him in January 1491. Beatrice married Ludovico in a double Sforza-EsteEste wedding. Ludovico married Beatrice, while Beatrice's brother, Alfonso d'Este, married Anna Sforza, the sister of Gian Galeazzo Sforza. Leonardo da Vinci orchestrated the wedding celebration. Beatrice and Alfonso's sister, Isabella d'Este (1474–1539), was married to FFrancesco II Gonzaga Marquess of Mantua. Beatrice had been carefully educated, and availed herself of her position as mistress of one of the most splendid courts of Italy to surround herself with learned men, poets and artists, such as Niccolo da Correggio, Bernardo Castiglione, Bramante, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others. Leonardo da Vinci presented her with a portrait of herself for her wedding gift, a beautiful piece of Renaissance art. In 1492 she visited Venice as ambassador for her husband in his political schemes, which consisted chiefly in a desire to be recognized as duke of Milan. On the death of Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Lodovico's usurpation was legalized, and after the Battle of Novara (1495), both he and his wife took part in the peace congress of Vercelli between Charles VIII of France and the Italian princes, at which Beatrice showed great political ability. However, her brilliant career was cut short by death through childbirth, on the 3rd of January 1497 at the age of 22. The child was a stillborn son. Beatrice belongs to the best class of Renaissance women, and was one of the culture influences of the age; to a great extent, her patronage and good taste are responsible for the splendour of the Castello of Milan, the Certosa of Pavia, and many other famous buildings in Lombardy.

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Bona of Savoy, Duchess of Milan
Bona of Savoy

Bona of Savoy, Duchess of Milan was the second spouse of Galeazzon Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan and a member of the noble Italian House of Savoy. She served as regent of Milan during the minority of her son 1476–1481.Bona was born in Chambéry, Savoy. Her parents were Louis, Duke of Savoy and Anne de Lusignan of Cyprus. She was one of nineteen children.In 1464, she was to have been betrothed to Edward IV of England, until his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was revealed. Bona married Galeazzo Maria Sforza on 9 May 1468. An alliance between the Sforza and the royal house of France had been rumoured from as early as 1460: and "[i]n June 1464 Bona of Savoy was officially offered to Galeazzo by letters from the King of France and the Duke of Savoy." Galeazzo and Bona had three children: Gian Galeazzo Sforza (20 June 1469 – 21 October 1494), married his first cousin Isabella of Naples (2 October 1470 – 11 February 1524), by whom he had issue, including Bona Sforza, Queen consort of King Sigismund I of Poland, who in her turn had six children. Bianca Maria Sforza (5 April 1472 – 31 December 1510), in January 1474, married firstly Philibert I, Duke of Savoy; on 16 March 1494, married secondly, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, she had no issue by her two husbands. Anna Sforza (21 July 1476 – 2 December 1497), married Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Anna died while giving birth to her only child, a son, who died shortly after his baptism. Alfonso's second wife was Lucrezia Borgia.

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Isabella of Aragon
Duchess of Milan
Isabella of Aragon

Isabella di Aragona was born a princess of Naples, granddaughter of King Ferdinand I of Naples and daughter of King Alphonse II of Naples by his wife, Ippolita Maria Sforza. From 1489 to 1494 she was the Duchess Consort of Milan, and from 1499 to 1524 the Duchess of Bari and Princess of Rossano. After her brother Ferdinand II's death, she was the heir of the Brienne claim to the title King of Jerusalem.

At the age of eighteen, Isabella left her childhood home to be married to her first cousin Gian Galeazzo II Maria Sforza, the
Duke of Milan. She quickly learned, however, that Gian Galeazzo had no power in Milan: his uncleLudovico Sforza, who had ruled as regent during the Duke's boyhood, remained the de facto ruler. It was Ludovico who held the real power in the city. When Isabella tried to encourage her newhusbandto assert his authority, he would simply nod solemnly before promptly repeating everything she had said to his uncle.

Despite being married to a wastrel, Isabella took some pleasure in Milan's vibrant cultural scene. She would often host literary and musical evenings, filled with performances from accomplished musicians, lively literary debates and readings of poetry and prose. Frequent attendees included Matteo Bandello, Bellincione, Niccolo da Correggio and Leonardo da Vinci. The latter remained friendly towards Isabella throughout her time in Mantua; later, as her worked on his famous Last Supper, he would show her his sketches and invite her to watch him as he painted. There has even been some suggestion, notably fromRobert PayneandMaike Vogt-Lüerssen, that Isabella was the subject of the Mona Lisa, although the consensus of art historians today is that the painting depictsLisa Gherardini.

Isabella had three children with Gian Galeazzo: Francesco,Bonaand Ippolita. She doted on them, but feared for Francesco's inheritance: Not only would Gian Galeazzo do nothing to fight for his birthright, but after Ludovico's marriage to Beatrice d'Este in 1491 there was every danger that the Duchy of Milan would pass to the uncle's son rather than that of the rightful Duke.

Over time, Gian Galeazzo became increasingly prone to drunkenness and erratic behaviours, at times getting physically abusive and striking Isabella. Eventually his health deteriorated to the point that he was bedridden, leaving Isabella alone to contend with Ludovico's scheming (including an unsuccessful attempt to smear her reputation by framing her as a poisoner). Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, throwing Isabella into a deep depression. She was 23, and already a widow.

The next few years were particularly black for Isabella. Her husband was dead and his usurper still alive and ruling. Her homeland of Naples was at war with the land of her husband and children. When Beatrice died in 1497, Ludovico evicted Isabella and her daughters from the castello, keeping her son Francesco as a hostage.

In 1499, the French invaded Milan, causing Ludovico to flee. Isabella's misfortunes were not over, however, and when King Louis XII left Milan for France, he took its rightful duke, Francesco, with him as a hostage. A distraught Isabella wrote letter after letter, offering bribes and begging for her son's return, but to no avail. She would never see him alive again.

With nothing else to stay for in Milan, Isabella returned home to Naples with her daughters. In1501 she was given the duchy of Bari, the principality of Rossano and the county of Borello, where she finally had the freedom to govern. She introduced a number of reforms, including more rigorous surveillance of public officials to weed out corruption. She oversaw numerous public works, improved defences and, as she had in Milan, sought to surround herself with artists and writers.

Isabella outlived all but one of her children. Her youngest daughter, Ippolita, died suddenly at the tender age of seven. Francesco lived into adulthood -- once in France, he was placed in a monastery and eventually becameAbbot of Noirmountiers -- but died at 21 after falling from a horse. Bona alone lived into old age, after marrying
King Sigismund I of Poland. Isabella herself continued to rule over Bari until her death.

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Felice Della Rovere
Felice della Rovere

1483 - September 27 1536. Also known as Madonna Felice, she was an illegitimate daughter of Pope Julius II (the former Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere), and was one of the most powerful women of the Italian Renaissance.Felice was a well educated woman of stature and wealth, and she negotiated on behalf of her father in both international and Italian affairs.Felice was an expert in the business of wheat production and brokering; her acumen and experience touched the lives of such notable figures asCatherine de Medici,Baldassare CastiglioneandMichelangelo.

Felice's mother, Lucrezia Normanni, came from an old Roman family. Della Rovere arranged a marriage for Lucrezia to Bernardino de Cupis, the majordomo of a della Rovere household, and it was in the de Cupis home that Felice spent her childhood. She would remain close with her mother, stepfather and half-siblings throughout her life.

When Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) was elected, Cardinal della Rovere sent his daughter to live with his family in Savona, as he feared for her safety. Apparently Felice was married around the age of 14 and widowed very soon after. Over the years that followed, her father considered a number of potential husbands for her and even entered into marriage negotiations, but Felice was a headstrong young woman who rejected all her father's efforts to remarry her, causing a rift between the two.

Felice did eventually remarry at around 23. Her new husband, Gian Giordano Orsini, was 20 years her senior. He was the head of the Orsini, one of the most powerful families in Rome, and like Julius, he was a great rebuilder of Rome and patron of Michelangelo. For Felice, the marriage meant improved social status and close proximity to Rome -- Gian Giordano's seat of power, Bracciano, was only thirty kilometres from the city. In addition, although Gian Giordiano already had a son -- Napoleone -- from his previous wife, Felice's marriage contract dictated that any sons she bore would take precedence in the line of succession.

However, until she bore a son, Felice's position would not be secure. Hence, when Julius II sought to reconcile with her daughter by gifting her with a sum of 9,000 ducats, she made the decision to buy her own castle, Palo, which included extensive wheat fields and fine woods. Felice became very wealthy off the revenues from the sale of her wheat, much of which went directly into the Vatican, ensuring her continued influence there even after her father's death in 1513. She also proved herself politically and diplomatically able,negotiating a truce between the feuding Orsini and Savelli families and acting on her father's behalf to dissuade Orsini condottieri from taking up a contract with the Pope's enemies.

Her union with Gian Giordano produced two sons, Francesco and Girolamo, and two daughters, Julia and Clarice, as well as a son who died in infancy. Francesco, although the eldest son, was intended for the Church, while Girolamo was named the Orsini heir.

Felice carried influence with the Medici popes Leo X and Clement VII; she convinced Leo to make her half-brother a cardinal, something even her father had refused to do, and secured her daughter Julia's marriage on the promise that she would encourage Clement to make one of her new in-laws a cardinal (which he did).Leo also gave her the equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card, issuing a proclamation absolving her from any future crimes.

Before his death In 1517, Gian Giordano made Felice regent over all Orsini family estates. She would retain this position for over two decades, before ultimately handing over the reins to Girolamo. Overnight, Felice became one of the most powerful figures, male or female, in the city of Rome.

When troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, Felice and her children managed to take temporary sanctuary in the palace of her friend Isabella d' Este. They later escaped to a family palace inUrbino.

Her stepson, Napoleone, was long a thorn in her side; he resented her and her children for having deprived him of what he considered his rightful inheritance, and as time went on he became increasingly violent in his attempts to reclaim it. He eventually resorted to taking Girolamo hostage, but Felice refused to give in to his demands and, besieged by papal forces, Napoleone was forced to flee.

During a subsequent attack, Napoleone was killed by Girolamo. Although Napoleone had been the aggressor, fratricide was still a serious crime, and Clement punished Girolamoby confiscating the central Orsini estate of Bracciano, a devastating blow. Felice, through her tireless negotiating and fundraising, managed to secure Bracciano's return, saving the family from ruin.

For almost 20 years, Felice della Rovere exercised extraordinary influence on the actions of popes and princes.

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