Lucrezia Borgia  

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"Burchard tells us how, for the amusement of Cesare, of the Pope, and of Lucrezia, these fifty courtesans were set to dance after supper with the servants and some others who were present, dressed at first and afterwards not so. He draws for us a picture of those fifty women on all fours, in all their plastic nudity, striving for the chestnuts flung to them in that chamber of the Apostolic Palace by Christ’s Vicar--an old man of seventy--by his son and his daughter." --The Life of Cesare Borgia (1912) by Rafael Sabatini, on the Banquet of Chestnuts

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Lucrezia Borgia (April 18, 1480 - June 24, 1519) was the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, the powerful Renaissance Valencian who later became Pope Alexander VI, and Vannozza dei Cattanei. Her brothers included Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, and Gioffre Borgia.

Lucrezia's family later came to epitomize the ruthless Machiavellian politics and sexual corruption alleged to be characteristic of the Renaissance Papacy. In this story Lucrezia was cast as a femme fatale, a role she has been portrayed as in many artworks, novels and films.

No authentic portrait of Lucrezia is known, though several paintings, such as Bartolomeo Veneziano's fanciful portrait (see illustration) have been said to depict her. Often these images are simply part of Lucrezia's myth.

Not enough is known about the historical Lucrezia to be certain whether any of the stories about her active involvement in her father's and brother's crimes are true. Her father and/or brother certainly arranged several marriages for her to important or powerful men, in order to advance their own political ambitions. Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza (Lord of Pesaro), Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie, and Alfonso d'Este (Prince of Ferrara). Tradition has it that Alfonso of Aragon was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that Cesare may have had him murdered after his political value waned.



Several rumours have persisted throughout the years, primarily speculating as to the nature of the extravagant parties thrown by the Borgia family. Many of these concern allegations of incest, poisoning, and murder on her part; however, no historical basis for these rumours has ever been brought forward, beyond allegations made by the rivals of the Borgias.

  • It is rumoured that Lucrezia was in possession of a hollow ring that she used frequently to poison drinks.
  • An early 20th century painting by Frank Cadogan Cowper that hangs in the London art gallery, Tate Britain, portrays Lucrezia taking the place of her father, Pope Alexander VI, at an official Vatican meeting. This apparently documents an actual event, although the precise moment depicted (a Franciscan friar kissing Lucrezia's feet) was invented by the artist.

Plays, operas, films, and novels

Plays and operas

  • Victor Hugo's tragedy, loosely based on the stories of Lucrezia, was transformed into a libretto by Felice Romani for Donizetti's opera, Lucrezia Borgia (1834), first performed at La Scala, Milan, 26 December 1834. When it was produced in Paris, in 1840, Hugo obtained an injunction against further productions. The libretto was then rewritten and retitled La Rinegata, with the Italian characters changed to Turks, and the performances were resumed. The first English-language production was in London on 30 December 1843.
  • Mentioned in the Roger Waters's song Leaving Beirut.
  • Momus has also referenced Lucrezia in a song Lucretia Borgia from the album The Little Red Songbook.
  • David Copelin's dark comedy Bella Donna dramatized a quasi-fictional series of events in the Borgia legend. First performed at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July, 2005; published by Playwrights Canada Press, 2006.
  • Joseph Aragon's musical Lucrezia Borgia portrayed the title character in a more charitable light than the accepted norm. First performed at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival by the Canadian Musical Theatre Development Group in July, 2007.



  • The historical novel, Prince of Foxes, made into a movie of the same name starring Orson Welles and Tyrone Power.
  • F.M. Klinger´s 1791 novel Fausts Leben, Thaten und Höllenfahrt features an episode in which the Borgias figure, including an affair between Faust and Lucrezia.
  • Rafael Sabatini's novel The Shame of Motley features Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia as supporting characters.
  • Rafael Sabatini wrote a book, The Life of Cesare Borgia, that attempts to treat the Borgias historically.
  • Gregory Maguire's novel Mirror, Mirror is a historical fantasy that retells the story of Snow White, in which Lucrezia figures prominently as the evil stepmother. She is depicted as a decadent, vain and beautiful woman with a mind for politics and little regard for others. Her affair with her father is hinted at but never confirmed, but her relationship with Cesare is a major plot point.
  • Jeanne Kalogridis's book The Borgia Bride tells the story of Sancha of Aragon (sister of Alfonso who later married Lucrezia) married to Jofre Borgia about her life in Rome and her involvement with Cesare and Lucrezia. The latter is depicted as having an incestuous relationship with her father and brother but not as a vicious person. She's mostly manipulated by her family.
  • Jean Plaidy's two novels, "Madonna of the Seven Hills" and "Light On Lucrezia" follow the story of Lucrezia and her entanglement with her father and brothers. Plaidy's writing is well-supported by research and her extensive knowledge of European history; based on her understanding, Plaidy portrays Lucrezia as a pawn of her father and brother Cesare.
  • Kerri Hawkins' 2002 novel Blood Legacy: The Story of Ryan includes Lucrezia, her father and brother Cesare as minor characters.
  • A novel The Family, written by Mario Puzo, was centered around the Borgia family. Although this novel was started early in his career, it was his last novel to be completed. Puzo called the Borgias "the first crime family" and incorporated many of their exploits and characteristics into his blockbuster novel, "The Godfather"; most prominently the notion that family loyalty was of primary importance above all else.
  • David Davalos' 2002 play Daedalus features Lucrezia Borgia involved in a secret love affair with Leonardo da Vinci, who is working as a military engineer for her brother Cesare.
  • Milo Manara, an Italian comic book creator, drew a comic book divided in three parts depicting the story of the Borgia family. The texts were written by Alejandro Jodorowsky.
  • A fictionalized version of Lucrezia appeared in issues 98-100 of Avengers West Coast as the supervillain Cyana, a member of the fourth incarnation of the Lethal Legion.
  • She appears as a side character in the Dutch book De Scharlaken Stad, by Hella S. Haasse. The book tells the story of her brother Giovanni Borgia.
  • A fictionalized version of Lucrezia, along with her brother Cesare, appeared as villains in the 2005 Buffyverse novel Queen of the Slayers.
  • The novel Lucrezia Borgia and the Mother of Poisons, Roberta Gellis, Forge Books, 2004. Depicts Lucrezia as an amateur sleuth tracking down who is doing the poisoning and learning about the properties of aconite along the way.
  • The novel Lucrezia Borgia, John Faunce, Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition 2004
  • The historical novel, Lucrezia Borgia, by Maria Bellonci, Mondadori, 2003, was first published in 1939, winning the Viarreggio Literary Award and the Galante Prize. An English translation, The Life and Times of Lucrezia Borgia, is available from Phoenix Press.

Television and other media

  • Lucrezia Borgia animation short done on Shermon and Peabody part of the first season of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.
  • Lucrezia Borgia is mentioned in M*A*S*H by Charles Emerson Winchester (played by David Ogden Stiers). He discusses that gourmet cooking in the Army would be better served by Lucrezia than the Army cook.
  • Lucrezia Borgia is mentioned in Blackadder with Rowan Atkinson. Blackadder says to Baldrick: If you were to serve up one of your meals in Staff HQ, you would be arrested for the greatest mass poisoning since Lucrezia Borgia invited 500 of her close friends round for a wine and anthrax party.
  • A short musical video called Cantarella, with vocals made by computer showed Miku Hatsune has Lucrezia Borgia and Kaito has Cesare Borgia. The video tells the story about Cesare Borgia trying to poison Lucrezia with Cantarella.

See also

Le Notti segrete di Lucrezia Borgia

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lucrezia Borgia" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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