Tuesday, December 30, 2014


The very concept of a ‘new year,’ a ‘new beginning’ can bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in people. It can also find us participating in bizarre activities in hopes of making the next year, the New Year, the best it can be. Here is a short glimpse into some of the amusing and often strange ways people around the world celebrate the ringing in of the new.

No surprise, our journey starts in Italy, where many, many New Year’s traditions abound. In the span of time, this country was, not so very long ago, not a unified nation but a conglomerate of City/States, each with their own distinctive dialects and traditions, individuality that still exists today. Yet some traditions have spread throughout the entirety of the land.

If you’re walking the streets in Italy at the stroke of midnight, beware of falling objects. It is an old Italian custom to throw old things out the window to symbolize readiness to accept the New Year.

Looking for some luck in the coming year? The Italians say wearing red underwear to ring in the New Year does just that. In other countries, it is believed red will bring love, while wearing yellow underwear fosters good luck.

In Romanian, farmers believe that on the cusp of the New Year, horses can talk. They also believe it’s a bad omen if you understand their words. Perhaps this might be cause for worry no matter what day of the year it is.

Stepping forward with your right foot at exactly 12:00 a.m. will literally and figuratively have you start off the new year on the right foot, or so it is believed in Argentina.

At the stroke of midnight, attempt to stuff 12 grapes in your mouth. If successful, Spaniards believe you can expect to achieve good luck in the coming year.

In El Salvador, they crack an egg into a glass bowl at midnight and leave it on the windowsill overnight. Whatever figure it has made in the morning will portend the fortune for the coming year.

Guatemalans grab 12 pennies at 12 a.m. and go outside. Throw the
pennies behind you while you face the opposite end of the street. They believe it will bring the participant money in the coming year.

Smart Russians incorporate alcohol into their festivities. Their tradition consists of writing a wish on a piece of paper, burning it, mixing the ashes in a glass of champagne, and drinking it before 12:01 a.m. Interesting.

Perhaps not as odd as some of the above, in Japan they ring all of their bells 108 times in alignment with the Buddhist belief that this brings cleanness. They also believe smiling as the New Year rings in will bring good luck.

In Switzerland, they celebrate the New Year by dropping ice cream on the floor. Seems like a waste of good ice cream.

Columbians carry their suitcases around with them all day in hopes of having a travel-filled year.

In Denmark they take out the anger of the old year by throwing plates against doors for good luck, while the Irish throw bread against the walls to rid homes of old spirits.

Americans have their own peculiarities. On New Year’s day they open all the doors and windows, letting out the old year and welcoming in the new. It’s also believed that seeing a red cardinal on New Year’s day is an omen for good luck in the coming year.

Whichever odd--or not so odd--way in which you welcome the New Year--wish and hope for a better coming year--believing it, believing it can always be better, is the most important.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


It began with his grandfather, the great Cosimo. It began with Cosimo’s love of spending money to enrich the city he loved so much. In his own words, he reveals such expenditures arose from a profound sense of civic duty, “All those things have given me the greatest satisfaction and contentment because they are not only for the honor of God but are likewise for my own remembrance.” (Taylor. F.H. (1948) The Taste of Angels; a History of Art Collecting from Rameses to Napoleon, pp 65-66). It was a duty passed to and expanded by his grandson.

The list of artists and philosophers under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici reads like a Who’s Who of the Italian Renaissance. Below are the most prominent as well as examples of their works.

In the realm of intellectualism, he expanded the library begun by his grandfather (a library now known as the Medici or Laurentian Library) by importing from the East great amounts of classical works. He financially supported a workshop to copy all books in his possession and to spread their content across all of Europe.

The Platonic Academy, led by Marsilio Ficino (under the patronage of Lorenzo), was a modern form of Plato’s Academy. Other members, and those who called Lorenzo patron, included Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano as well as Marsilio Ficino. The informal group supported the development of humanism and attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity.

Piero and Antonio del Pollaiolo, were two brothers of extraordinary artistic talent; they came under the wing of Il Magnifico at a fairly early age. It was by Lorenzo’s connections that they were able to establish their own studiolos. Both went on to produce magnificent works, works that furthered the evolution of art intrinsic to the Renaissance.

Battle of Nude Men (1465-1475, engraving)
Antonio del Pollaiolo
Justice (1470,
tempura on panel)
Piero del Pollaiolo
Antonio (1429-1498) was a goldsmith, engraver, painter, and sculptor. Like his brother, his work reveals classical influences as well as those rooted in the essence of human anatomy. Antonio’s work exhibits a far darker side than his brother’s, a strong brutality, especially in his metal-work and sculpture, where he achieved his greatest success.

There is to be found a greater sense of piety and serenity in Piero del Pollaiolo’s (1443-1496) work than in his brother’s. His works tend much more to the religious as well as female portraiture. Portrait of a Woman, Portrait of a Girl, Coronation of the Virgin as well as the Seven Virtues exhibit his softer nature.

The Last Supper
(1480; fresco)
Considered a member of the third generation in the many waves of the Florentine Renaissance, Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) was not only a master painter but one of the most prolific, creating a massive body of work in frescoes, altar pieces, and portraits. The trend of incorporating contemporary portraits within religious narratives was perfected under his brush. His studio contributed not only some of the greatest works of the age, but one of the greatest artists of the era as well.

Not only an artist under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known to the world as Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was also one of the powerful man’s closest and dearest friends. His body of work includes some of the greatest of the age, with The Birth of Venus and Primavera most widely known. By his hand we see the magnificent merging of the Gothic realism with the study of the antique.
Venus and Mars
(1485 tempura and oil on poplar)

Winged Boy with Dolphin
(1470 bronze)
Verrocchio (which in Italian means ‘true eye’), born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni (1435-1488), was one of the greatest maestri of the Renaissance. His artistic supremacy encompassed sculpture, painting, and goldsmith work. A place in his studio was a sought after and much envied place, a place where other great artists would come into the bright light of the Renaissance. One of the brightest being none other than Leonardo da Vinci.

Lorenzo called Leonardo friend as well as artist. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was educated by his father (though born out of wedlock) and brought to Verrocchio’s studio by the same man. But to call Leonardo merely an artist is a statement of great injustice. He was more, so very much more…a polymath,
La Scapigliata
(1508 Oil on canvas; unfinished)
a personal favorite; she cried with me;
da Vinci
painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, cartographer, writer, botanist, and geologist. His genius and monumental curiosity gave rise, quite rightly, to the term Renaissance Man.

Much time could be spent debating who was the greatest artist to come under the wing of the great Lorenzo…Leonardo or Michelangelo. The time would be better spent simply reveling in the magnificent works of both men.

Madonna and Child
(1501-1504, marble)
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), like Leonardo, was a man of many talents. Poet, engineer, architect, painter, and sculptor, his creations still beautify the world. Though most known for his work on the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo considered himself, first and foremost, a sculptor. Lorenzo’s support of this talented man went beyond most others, giving Michelangelo a place in his home during the most trying times of a very traumatic life. In the words of biographer Paolo Giovi, Michelangelo was both ‘bizzarro e fantastico.’ Michelanglo’s body of work is among the most prolific and the most profound.

Through his generosity, intellectual curiosity, as well as his joy and admiration of artistic works, Lorenzo de’ Medici may be called, without question, one of the greatest forces behind the magnificence that was the Renaissance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Like most powerful men of his time, Lorenzo de' Medici’s love life followed the typical path: he married the woman who would bring not only wealth but power, yet his heart and his passion belonged, in truth, to another. In the case of Il Magnifico, his women were anything but typical.

The Orsini family possessed all the characteristics of prime in-law candidates, not only wealthy, they were members of the nobility of the papal court. Clarice, born c. 1453, was the daughter of the Lord of Monterotondo and Bracciano, Jacopo (Giacomo) Orsini and his wife and cousin, Maddalena Orsini.

Lucrezia Tornabuoni de Medici
Lucrezia Tornabuoni, wife to the sickly Piero de' Medici, was a formidable matriarch of great fortitude and influence. With the assistance of her brother, Giovanni Tornabuoni, the director of the Medici bank in Rome, Lurcrezia made a special visit—some have suggested she did so under the guise of a simple family visit—to Rome and used the occasion to further inspect the girl that had gone to the top of her list of possible spouses for her son Lorenzo, a young man with great promise and potential. His future mate could be no less. Lucrezia’s ‘inspection’ borders on intrusive by the standards of modern sensibilities, but were, in fact quite normal for the time.

The first letter sent back to her husband in Florence, bound there by his gout, Lucrezia wrote of Clarice:
Clarice Orsini
’She is fairly tall, and fair, and has a nice manner, though she is not as sweet as our girls. She is very modest and will soon learn our customs. Her face is round, but it does not displease me. We could not see her bosom as it is the custom here to wear it completely covered up, but it seems promising.’ She further reported of Clarice’s red hair and narrow hips.

As Lucrezia became more and more inclined toward the Orsini girl, Lorenzo made his own visit to Rome, where the two met in person. His approval confirmed the coupling and though marriage was agreed upon, negotiations of the marriage contract was a protracted affair spanning almost the full length of a year, long after the Medici had returned to Florence. Among other details, a dowry of 6,000 florins was agreed upon.

Lorenzo de' Medici married Clarice Orsini by proxy on 7 February 1469, much to the displeasure of the Florentines. Not only was Clarice a very religious and introverted woman—antithetical to the Humanist movement obsessing most Florentines of the time, especially Lorenzo himself—they felt Lorenzo’s choice of a woman of Rome was a condemnation of Florence’s own young women of noble standing. If the Medici were to take this major step—for the first time marrying into a class above their own—should it not be to one of their own?

To pacify the fiorentinos, Lorenzo arranged a grand festival to celebrate the betrothal and to share the good fortune of the family with the people. As his father was too ill to plan the event, Lorenzo took charge. A young, virile man, Lorenzo’s idea of a grand festival was a joust, an opulent affair, one to mirror the coming ostentation of Lorenzo’s unofficial ‘reign’ over Florence. In March of 1469, the Piazza Santa Croce was paved with sand and surrounded with seating stands for a large audience. Eighteen knights in full regalia paraded past the Queen of the Tournament, but none so magnificent as Lorenzo himself. And though he had been unseated by one of his opponents, Lorenzo took first prize. The people of Florence were appeased and Lorenzo was happy, even though the affair cost 2,000 more florins than the dowry he would receive.

While Lorenzo partied, Clarice set herself to becoming a Florentine…learning the ways of her new land, the customs, the dances. On the 4th of June, 1469, Clarice, resplendent in garb more appropriate to Florence styling, rode into the city on horseback, accompanied by Lorenzo’s brother, Giuliano, as well as a retinue of fifty knights. The streets teemed with the people of the city, people of every rank and title, on every street, in every piazza. Windows and doorways were festooned with olive branches, a sign of joy, as the people welcomed Clarice to their fair city.

Basilica of San Lorenzo
In the grand Basilica of San Lorenzo, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and funded by Lorenzo’s grandfather Cosimo, the wedding ceremony took place. The reception (a word far too small for what followed) took place in the garden and courtyard of the Medici palazzo, lasted three days, and included no less than five banquets; 4,000 capons were consumed, as were 300 barrels of wine, and 17 tons of sweatmeats and sugared almonds. Copper goblets filled with wine surrounded Donatello’s David as along the streets allegorical floats, decorated with drapery and flowers, were paraded through the city. A battle was staged in the piazza in front of the palazzo and a play was performed in the garden.

And yet, for all this opulence and festivity, all this celebration, this was a marriage doomed for the start. Was it Lorenzo’s virility against Clarice’s piety? Such would seem the most reasonable answer, but it was not the truth. The truth was that Lorenzo was in love, had been since before he laid eyes on Clarice…to Lucrezia Donati.

While notions abound and debate as to whether their relationship was one of courtly love or true marital infidelity, Lorenzo’s devotion was not only intense, but lifelong, as evidenced by the many poems and verses written to her and about her.
Lucrezia Donati

The most prevalent theory of their meeting comes at the wedding of one of Lorenzo’s brigata, a close dear friend. There, it is said, Lucrezia wove a garland of flowers for Lorenzo and asked that he wear them in a joust, out of love for her, though by this time, she had been married to Niccolo Ardinghelli for three years. Not only did he wear it, the banner he carried held her image, one crafted by Verrocchio. Lucrezia was a great beauty, and a muse to many of the greatest artists of the age, including Sandro Botticelli. Letters abound, especially those written by his friends while Lorenzo was in Milan, telling him of Lucrezia’s activities in his absence. One such letter urged Lorenzo’s return, so that, in the absence of her husband as well, ‘sweet terrain (would remain) unplowed.’

The truth has died with them, all that remains are these letters and Lorenzo’s own words…words of a deep and abiding love.

What should the smitten godling do, now that 
He can no longer catch the comely nymph?
The more she is denied to him, the more
Desire inflames and stings his smitten heart.
The nymph’s already close to where my Arno
Receives Ombron, whose waves he joins with his;
Seeing the Arno cheers Ombrone so,
His ruined hopes begin to rise.

I’ve learned just how to please the one I loved,
And how to win her love, this woman who,
The more she’s loved, the more she is displeased.
Oh icy Boreas, freeze my current, turn
My coursing waters into solid ice,
That, petrified, I can attend the nymph.
And may the sun with shining golden shafts
Nevermore melt my hardened, crystal waves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


As a writer of fiction, I enjoy writing my blog posts, factual--but hopefully still entertaining--articles about the topics covered in my books, the historically accurate subjects that ignite the stories. In light of this, I could not let my 100th post go by without honoring it with a special edition.

As a writer of historical fiction which endeavors, first and foremost, to shed light on the lives of women, it seems only proper to dedicate this post to those very women. Though some of the women listed are still living, they are or have been enormously important, influential, notable, or all three...to me! To me...this is vital to keep in mind while perusing my list, my celebration. But please join in...let me know who you think might be on YOUR list!

Barbara DiMauro Russo--b1933; my mother; a vibrant woman about to turn 81 and still living life enthusiastically. She has seen me through the very worst of times without hesitation (and they have been some of life's worst events). I'd be lost without her.

Jennie 'Vincenza' DeRobbio Russo--1908-1995; my paternal grandmother; could cook exquisitely and command unquestionably.

Gertrude Petrini DiMauro Lambert--1911-2011; my maternal grandmother; raised two children by herself through the Great Depression and raised outstanding adults; spoke her mind without equivocation or apology.

Abigail Adams--1744-1818; former First Lady of the United States; her educated opinions
did much to guide her husband during his tenure.

Agatha Christie--1890-1976; award-winning, prolific author of mysteries that kept me
reading long into the night, a true and gifted story-teller.

Amelia Earhart--1897-1937; first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; a
gutsy women to be greatly esteemed.

Ann Boleyn--1501-1536; second wife to Henry VIII; I see her as a victim to her
circumstances, doing her best in a bad situation.

Anne Frank--1929-1945; her courage, her life, and her book have never left my consciousness.

Audrey Hepburn--1929-1993; talented, beautiful, philanthropic and elegance personified.

Barbara Streisand--b1942; that astonishing voice, her demand for excellence, both profound.

Barbara Walters--b1929; ground-breaking in so many different ways, upon her shoulders so many stand.

Betsy Ross--1752-1836; did she or didn't she, no one truly knows, but a she is a legend as a
woman of the Revolution nonetheless.

Betty Friedan--1921-2006; if you haven't read The Feminine Mystique, whether woman or man…
read it.

Betty White--b1922; who doesn't love this women who proves age IS just a number.

Billie Holiday--1915-1959; hers was the voice of inspiration in so many ways.

Billie Jean King--b1943; I will NEVER forget the day she beat Bobby Riggs…I saw all my beliefs
taking form.

Bonnie Parker--1910-1934; strange choice some might say, but there are lessons to be
learned from her about what NOT to do for the love of a man.

Calamity Jane--1852-1903; one of the first female explorers, daring to go where few other women

Catherine the Great--1729-1796; ruled Russia for 34 years and did so scandalously.

Charlotte Bronte--1816-1855; talent and devotion so demanding to be heard she gave up her name
to do it.

Chelsea Handler--b1975; first woman to break into late night tv; what you see is what you
get…a powerful women refusing to apologize for it.

Cher--b1946; voice, fashion, beauty, guts and a major influence on my childhood.

Clara Barton--1821-1912; founder of the American Red Cross; a true nurturing soul.

Cleopatra--69BC-30BC; perhaps first woman feminist; knew her power and how to use it.

Coco Chanel--1883-1971; breaking boundaries with timeless sophistication and taste;
revolutionized women's fashion.

Diana, Princess of Wales--1961-1997; so much respect for what she endured and what she accomplished.

Eleanor Roosevelt--1884-1962; unfettered wisdom.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton--1815-1902; daring to be a female activitist.

Emily Bronte--1818-1848; like her sister, talent and a love of craft, in a word…Heathcliff.

Emily Dickinson--1830-1886; a reclusive poet with the depth of soul and emotion.

Erma Bombeck--1927-1996; spot-on humorisst about the state of motherhood; her wit
really helped through the hard times.

Estee Lauder--1908-2004; an unstoppable businesswoman who founded a beauty empire.

Florence Nightingale--1820-1910; war nurse, founder of modern nursing; such dedication
is so impressive.

Georgia O’Keefe--1887-1986; inspiration that magnificent art can triumph over personal challenges.

Gloria Steinheim--b1934; helped mold the minds of so many women, women who now
always demand equality and justice.

Golda Meir--1898-1978; a political powerhouse when women as such were an anomaly.

Goldie Hawn--b1945; simply adorable as well as talented; loved watching her on Laugh In
while growing up.

Harriet Tubman--b1822-1913; at great personal risk led hundreds of slaves to freedom
along the Underground Railroad.

Helen Keller--1880-1968; from blind and deaf mute to author and political activist; simply amazing.

Helen Mirren--b1945; astoundingly talented actress that is showing just how beautiful aging can be.

Hypatia--350AD-415AD; Greek philosopher who furthered the teachings of Aristotle, vital teachings.

Indira Ghandi--1917-1984; first female Prime Minister of India; ground-breaker.

Isadora Duncan--1877-1927; American born dancer; amazing talent taken tragically too soon.

J. K. Rowling--b1965; came from nothing but never gave up; I'll treasure her stories always.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis--1929-1994; her elegance and grace never wavered. 

Jane Austen--1775-1817; for Mr. Darcy alone, PLUS six astounding works. 

Janice Joplin--1943-1970; definitively unique; a talent gone too soon.

Joan Didion--b1934; her works are devoted to the exploration of the disintegration of
American morals and cultural chaos. 

Joan of Arc--1412-1431; her passion, her belief, her determination take my breath away.

Josephine Baker--1906-1975; another in my list of ground-breaking women…the 'Bronze Venus.'

Joyce Brothers--1927-2013; yes, people, we can talk and enjoy sex!

Judy Garland--1922-1969; tortured torch singer; her 'Dorothy' will live forever in my heart.

Lady Godiva--980-1067; well…that took guts.

Lizzie Borden--1860-1927; guilty or not, her tale transfixes.

Louisa May Alcott--1832-1888; where would we be without her 'Little Women?'

Lucille Ball--1911-1989; you can be beautiful and funny; adored her.

Madeleine Albright--b1937-first women to become the United States Secretary of State.

Mary, mother of Jesus Christ--18BC-41AD; I cannot imagine her pain.

Madonna--b1958; born one month after me, she had me dancing and singing; she wrought
changes for better or worse.

Margaret Atwood--b1939; phenomenal writer, environmental activist…my kind of woman.

Margaret Chase Smith--1897-1995; first US women to served as a US Representative and US Senator.

Margaret Mitchell--1900-1949; for an amazing story, for Rhett Butler, for helping this writer find her 'voice.'

Margaret Sanger--1879-1966; one of the first American birth control activists.

Margaret Thatcher--1925-2013; first female Prime Minister of the UK; may not have agreed
with her politics…admire her fortitude.

Marie Antoinette--1755-1793; as Queen to Louis XVI in this volatile period, she didn't stand a chance.

Marie Curie--1867-1924; the world needs more scientists of this caliber with a feminine sensibility.

Marilyn Monroe--1926-1962; a real woman, a beauty, a tortured soul.

Martha Washington--1731-1802; the first First Lady of the United States.

Mary Cassatt--1844-1926; a woman impressionist among the men and holding her own.

Mary Magdalene--dates unknown; never a prostitute, I love to think that Jesus was so

Mary Shelley--1797-1851; how wonderful to think that such a 'monster' was created by a woman.

Mary Todd Lincoln--1818-1882; so much to have lived through.

Mary Wollstonecraft--1759-1797; author and 18th century advocate of women's rights.

Maya Angelou--1928-2014; author, poet, dancer, actress, singer…truth teller most of all.

Melinda Gates--b1964; a philanthropist of an astounding scale; all that money and she's still so very

Meryl Streep--b1949; one of the greatest American actresses…period.

Michelle Obama--b1964; smart, dedicated, sophisticated….a real woman.

Mother Theresa--1910-1997; her contributions were not only her actions but what she inspired others to do.

Mrs. Alfonso-my sixth grade teacher. She, more than anyone, allowed me to see that I was a writer.

Nellie Bly--1864-1922; ground-breaking reporter famous for record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days.

Oprah Winfrey--b1954; rising above traumas most could not
begin to handle to become one of the most powerful

Pearl S. Buck--1892-1973; author, Pulitzer AND Nobel Prize winner.

Pocahontas--1595-1617; it often takes a woman to bring two worlds together.

Queen Elizabeth I--1533-1603; a life like little others, a powerful woman in a man's world…
and kicked ass.

Queen Elizabeth II--b1926; Queen at 16, she's had some missteps along the way but there is strength to be admire here.

Queen Isabella I--1451-1504; struggled to gain her throne and then did remarkable things once upon it.

Queen Victoria--1819-1901; Queen of UK during a great age; a wife and mother who
showed just how much we women can do.

Rosa Parks--1913-2005; Called 'The First Lady of Civil Rights' her courage on that day is
almost beyond comprehension.

Sacagawea--b1788-d unconfirmed; helped forge this land I call home.

Sally Ride--1951-2012; truly going where no WOMAN had gone before.

Sandra Day O’Connor--b1930; first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.

Simone de Beauvoir--1908-1986; author, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist.

Sofonisiba Anguissola--1532-1625; one of the first women 'accepted' as an artist, paving
the way for women artists.

Sojourner Truth--b unknown-1883; abolitionist and women's right activist.

Sophia Loren--b1934; Italy's most famous and honored actress;
she showed me that big lips and a Roman nose can be beautiful.

Susan B. Anthony--1820-1906; absolutely essential women in the women's suffrage movement.

Susan Sarandon--b1946; admire her talent and her commitment.

Unsinkable Molly Brown--1867-1932; philanthropist and activist who survived the sinking of the Titantic.

Victoria Woodhull--1838-1927; American leader in the women's suffrage movement; first
female candidate for US President.

Virgina Woolf--1882-1941; foremost modernists of 20th century; in her work all women
can find a piece of themselves.

Yoko Ono--b1933; artist and activist and wife to my first love, John Lennon.

And to all my devoted readers--women and men--thank you...you inspire me to work better, write better, every day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


It has been said, and said quite often, that there are pivotal points in history. But history is made, and by those with the intelligence, inventiveness, and courage to do so. Such is the life of Lorenzo de' Medici.

The previous posts concerning this intriguing man left him at the cusp of adulthood, at the cusp of the greatness that would become his to claim. On December 5, 1469, Lorenzo’s father, Piero, died, having ‘ruled’ for only five years. It was no more than two days later when a contingent of eminent Florentine citizens approached Lorenzo, respectfully requesting him to continue the Medici rule of their state. At the tender age of twenty, Lorenzo obliged, ruling much as his grandfather and father before him had done, from behind the scenes, never holding any official public office. Though groomed for such responsibilities from birth, it can be rightly surmised the heavy weight of such a burden at such a young age. But his duties did not stop there. He became the leader of his family—a large one by all accounts—as well as the head of one of the largest banking institutions in Europe. And he did it all with aplomb and distinction.

By less than a year, Lorenzo’s father was able to witness the marriage of his oldest living son. The proxy marriage of Lorenzo de' Medici to Clarice Orsini took place on the 7th of February, while the actual hand-clasping took place on June 4, 1469. Such a coupling forged together the powerful Medici clan with one of the oldest and most powerful noble families of Rome. It was a political maneuver of genius proportion; it was a fruitful and lifelong establishment.

As his ‘reign’ continued, Lorenzo brought ever greater notoriety and prestige to his house, especially when, in 1471, he orchestrated an agreement with Pope Sixtus IV, assuring that the Medici bank would continue to handle the papal finances. In 1472, he further endeared himself with the people of Florence—winning their hearts completely—when, using some of the family’s own fortune, he imported large amounts of grain as the city was struck by a bad harvest. His quick action and self-sacrifice saved the city he loved so much from an assured and imminent famine.

But the journey to becoming Il Magnifico would not continue upon a smooth path. The murder of his brother Giuliano, the betrayal of so many he thought were his friends and colleagues, would forever change the benevolent man Lorenzo was at heart. His revenge upon them was fearsome and without the due course of justice, a revenge enacted against so many, including the Archbishop of Pisa. His actions plunged the city/state of Florence into a declaration of war with not only the Vatican but with the King of Naples. The ill-effects of the war upon the people, turned many against Lorenzo. But, as the pain and rage of his brother’s death diminished—for it would never leave him completely—Lorenzo knew he must salvage the situation, realizing his wrath, his pain, had taken him out of control and had put his people in danger, a danger they knew and resented him for.

King Ferdinand I
In the most bold and daring move of his life, Lorenzo—without the knowledge or blessing of the Florentine government—traveled by sea to Naples, placing his life and the fortune of his city in the hands of King Ferdinand I (Don Ferrante). According to the Encyclop√¶dia Britannica Eleventh Edition, "Ferdinand was gifted with great courage and real political ability, but his method of government was vicious and disastrous. His financial administration was based on oppressive and dishonest monopolies, and he was mercilessly severe and utterly treacherous towards his enemies." Among the many interesting hobbies the king participated in, hunting was one of his favorites, both of the four-legged and the two-legged sort. And like those that lived in the forest, were this king to successfully make a kill, he would have his prized stuffed. Dead, embalmed, and dressed in the costumes which they wore in life, his deceased enemies lived on in the king’s ‘museum of mummies.’ Thus was the man in whom Lorenzo entrusted his life

The gamble proved fruitful; Lorenzo charmed and persuaded with great acumen, convincing Ferdinand that it would do great harm to all of Italy to be divided by a war such as the one beating upon their doors. With the gift of peace in his hands, Lorenzo returned to his homeland, received with the open arms of the people and the great joy of all. His eminence over Florence would never again be called into question, never again be challenged.

Il Magnifico’s dominance and his influence would continue to shape not only Florence, but all of Italy until his death in 1492. Lorenzo de’ Medici’s intuitive gift—among his many gifts—for recognizing true talent in others would bring these individuals to the fore of life in the Renaissance, people who would change all of life as we know it, people who were the Renaissance.
Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici
Il Magnifico
by Michelangelo

Thursday, August 14, 2014


It was the undeniable evidence of his intellect, his physical agility, and his courage, which propelled Lorenzo de' Medici to the forefront of his generation (irrespective of the fact that he was not the first born), to garner the full attention of his grandfather's and his father's tutoring and grooming to take over the ruling of the great Florentine family. Such concentrated focus could have easily birthed sibling rivalry, and yet, it didn't. Though second to the youngest of six children, each in their turn came to realize the truth of Lorenzo, his innate leadership, his charismatic personality, and his powerful loyalty to all whom he loved. He loved and protected them with every ounce of his being and they, gladly, followed.

There is little to be found about Giovanni di Piero de' Medici, not even an image, no doubt because of his illegitimacy. Regardless of his illicit birth, Piero's wife, the irascible Lucrezia Tornabuoni, raised Giovanni as one of her own. There are indications of his involvement in the family business--an easily assumable fact--and of his being a sickly person; an indication supported by his early death at the age of twenty-five.

Maria is identified as the woman on the right
in this depiction of the Magi on the Medici
Chapel wall by Benozzo Gozzoli. The other
two woman portrayed are her sisters,
Bianca and Lucrezia.
The first born child of Piero and Lucrezia was a girl child named Maria. Thanks to the forward-thinking of her very progressive mother, Maria enjoyed nearly the same education as her male siblings, replete with literature, art, mathematics and Latin. As the child of the Medici, her education also included Humanist Classicism. Her education and grace served her well. Her marriage to Leonetto de' Rossi, would produce one child, a child that would become a powerful Cardinal.

Bianca, the second child to Piero and Lucrezia, would be raised as were all the Medici children, with an extensive education. Her marriage to Guglielmo de Pazzi, while originally seen as a beneficial match, would, in fact, eventually lead to one of the greatest tragedies the Medicis had ever (or would ever) know, changing the very course of the family's history.

Loggia Rucellai
Known as Nannina--the nickname of her maternal great-grandmother, Piero's third daughter Lucrezia was equally educated. At the age of thirteen, Nannina was married to Bernardo Rucellai. When she moved out of her father's house and into her husband's five years later, she brought with her a dowry of 2500 florins. The wedding ceremony, attended by no less than five hundred guests, filled the loggia and the Piazza Rucellai.

The youngest child of this branch of the Medici holds the most bitter fruit, that of a dashingly handsome young man, brutally murdered in the prime of his life. As younger brothers will, Giuliano de' Medici idolized his older brother Lorenzo, and though he had little taste for politics or even banking, he followed his elder sibling wherever it would take him. It took him to a place were he became a pawn in the constant jostling for power that took place between the Florentine families. As older brothers will, Lorenzo felt keenly responsible for his younger brother, kept an ever vigilant and watchful eye over Giuliano.

His brother's savage death would forever change Lorenzo, turning a peaceful humanist into a man hell-bent on revenge. His actions would not only change the course of his family but of all of Florence.

"The murder of Giuliano shocked Florence, and a number of portraits were ordered for public display to serve both as memorials and as warnings to other plotters. Botticelli's painting may have been the prototype for others, and lent symbolic gravity to Guiliano’s passing, showing him as an icon, almost a saint. The open window and mourning dove were familiar symbols of death, alluding to the flight of the soul and the deceased's passage to the afterlife. Some scholars, noting the lowered eyelids, suggest this portrait was painted posthumously from a death mask."
National Gallery of Art (www.nga.gov), Washington, DC

Thursday, July 24, 2014


"It is necessary now for you to be a man not a boy; be so in words, deeds and manners.
-Piero de' Medici to his son Lorenzo, May 11, 1465

Born in 1449, Lorenzo de' Medici was born to Lucrezia Tornabuoni and Piero de' Medici (aka Piero the Gouty). In truth, the greatest influence in his life, in addition to his educated and prolific mother, was his grandfather, Cosimo de Medici. Like his grandfather he practiced patronage of both the arts and learning, much in the very same manner. Yet he extended his boundaries, no doubt by the influence of his mother, and became a prolific poet himself. But first, he was naught but a child, a child of the most powerful family in Italy.

Detail from The Procession of the Magi
In a move of political brilliance quite uncharacteristic, Lorenzo's father, Piero, extended the customary three days between birth and baptism to position it to fall on the same day as the Feast of the Epiphany. With the stagecraft of a theatrical master, he brought the child's christening in perfect cohesion to tie the ritual to the day on the sacred calendar most associated with the family's power and prestige. For generations, the Medici had been associated with the celebrations dedicated to the Magi. Every few years, magnificent processions would fill the cobbled streets of a beautified Florence--processions paid for by Medici money--parades that would end at the Medicean convent of San Marco where a holy creche was housed. Even the more staid Cosimo participated, dressing the part of in a cloak of fur and gold brocade.

The metaphorical of the Magi to the Medicis was one easily accepted. The Magi were one of the few figures of prominence and power in the Bible who obtained their eternity in Heaven with little difficulty. So were the Medicis looked upon by the Florentines. And more then one piece of art brought that metaphorical symbolism to light. While a simple version by Benozzo Gozzoli graced the wall of Cosimo's private cell in the monastery of San Marco, the same artist would create a wondrous piece, a frescoe consuming an entire room in the Medici palazzo, begun in 1459 and finding its completion in 1461.
Here in The Procession of the Magi, the youngest of the Magi was given the likeness of Lorenzo, then eleven or twelve years old. He is at the head of a cortege (first panel on the left) which includes his grandfather Cosimo, his father Piero and his brother Giuliano. Detail of Lorenzo depicted above.

Joining this form of obeisance to the great family, Sandro Botticelli created, in 1475 (tempura on wood), his own, more personal version. In this work Botticelli turned the adoration of the magi into an apotheosis of the Medici and their entourage.
The Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli includes several generations of the family and their retainers. 16 year-old Lorenzo is to the left, with his horse, prior to his departure on a diplomatic mission to Milan

As a young man, Lorenzo was enrolled in the Confraternity of the Magi, the religious brotherhood responsible for staging the magnificent processions.

From the beginning of his life, Lorenzo was born 'to the purple,' born into the wealth that the succeeding generations had amassed, to the business empire that had been forged. Such an auspicious beginning influenced not only how those around him viewed him, but of his own perception of self. Lorenzo's youth saw not only the dawning days of the Renaissance but a change of attitude towards wealth and riches, from them no longer being considered a vice but a virtue, and the Medici family had never been more virtuous then in the days of Lorenzo's childhood. His life was shaped not only by the luxury in which he lived, but also by the complex, contrasting layers of life in Florence. Differentiating it from other eras, this was not a time when the rich were sheltered from the poor; quite the opposite. Rich shops shared blocks with crowded tenements. On the streets, silk-clad shoulders rubbed against those of the poor wool-carders in soiled rags and wooden shoes. The astute youth that was Lorenzo knew the sharp contrast of his life to the squalid conditions endured by many of his neighbors. It was an early life lesson that was to greatly shape the magnificent man he was to become.

From his earliest days, Lorenzo was shuttled back and forth between the family's city estate to one of their many country retreats, much like many of the wealthy merchant and noble clans of the era. Closest to the city was the villa at Careggi (which would later prove to be one of the first sites of Lorenzo's sharp intelligence and unwavering courage). A day's ride north found the family either at the villa in Cafaggiolo or Trebbio. At Trebbio, Lorenzo found a passion in the hunt, a passion of such inspiration it would serve to produce some of the young man's best written poetry. His description of a sunrise comes from his work, The Partridge Hunt:

Villa del Trebbio
The wolf retreated to its wilderness.
The fox retreated to its den,
For there was now a chance it might be seen,
Now that the moon had come and gone again.
The busy peasant woman had already
Allowed the sheep and pigs to leave their pens.
Crystalline, chilly, and clear was the air;
The morning would be fair,
When I was roused by jingling bells and by 
The calling of the dogs and similar sounds.

While life was externally and materialistically idyllic, Lorenzo was also a product of the relationships in his life. His father Piero was a typical Florentine man of his age, stern and dutiful, any expressions of affection were influence by his belief that his role was to prepare Lorenzo for the momentous position he would inherit, the head of a political powerhouse and business empire. It was a heavy burden to realize at a young age, which Lorenzo would have had no choice in doing. His mother, while more outwardly affection, had heavy burdens of her own, including many children--some of whom passed young--the running of a large household, one at the center of the many facets of Florentine life, as well as some chronic physical ailments, including eczema, a condition she shared with her son Lorenzo. Yet throughout her life, Lucrezia Tornabuoni would be a calming influence on her son's life.

From the start, Cosimo and Piero knew what they had in the small boy that was Lorenzo...a child star, precocious and self-assured from an early age. And much like today, they used that fact to its full advantage. At the age of five, Lorenzo was dressed in the finest of French fashions and sent off to the main gate leading into the city to pay the first greetings to the visiting Duke of Anjou. With a lisp that charmed all who heard--both children and adults alike--he paid an obeisance more in keeping with a seasoned diplomat.

Even his illness they used to their advantage. In 1455, the six-year-old, while recuperating from an especially serious bout of eczema at the mineral springs in Mercato, the small Lorenzo was elected, "Lord of the Baths," a humorous affectation which involved presiding over parties and picnics and amusing to no end the varied assortment of gentlemen in attendance.

Two others played an affluential role in the young Lorenzo's life. He was devoted to his grandmother, Cosimo's wife Contessina di Bardi. She lived until 1473, surviving her husband by ten years. Amidst those who would use such a powerful young man...who would attach themselves to him for his power and not for the glory that was his truth...it is no wonder Lorenzo craved such a maternal figure, one who offered affection and unconditional love.

Born in Urbino, Gentile Becchi was chosen in 1454 by Piero de' Medici to tutor his two sons, Lorenzo and Giuliano, yet his influence and his standing within the family came to be far more reaching. He would come to accompany various family members on ambassadorial missions as well as to negotiate marriage contracts. That Lorenzo would, much later, chose this same man to tutor his own children, is a testimonial to his regard for the man who would open Lorenzo's mind up to the works of Plato and Aristotle, works that would forever change this young child into the magnificent man he was to become.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Considered by many to be the most prominent women of the Renaissance, any discussion of her children must begin with a small insight to the astounding intellect and forceful nature of the women that is Lucrezia Tornabuoni (1425-1482). With a life anchored in her city's golden age, Lucrezia exerted considerable influence not only on her husband and later her children, especially Lorenzo, but on the society in which she held sway. Influential in the politics and society of the age, she was as well a gifted and prolific poet.

Chief among her noted and conserved works are the Sacred Narratives, poems based on the lives of biblical figures-three of whom, Judith, Susanna, and Esther, are Old Testament heroines-are virtually unique in their range and expressiveness.

Ranging from gentle lyrics on the Nativity to moving dialogues between a crucified Christ and the weeping Poems of Praise. Within one such laudi, we find the overwhelming evidence of Lucrezia's intellect, strength and determination in which she raised her children, especially her sons who would come to define and bring the Renaissance to its titular glory. Her work is, as well, as testimony to a feminine freedom, one so seemingly incongruent with the era in which she lived, yet there were none that would inhibit or deride her. For your enjoyment, the laudi:

I Concern Myself with You No More

I concern myself with you no more;
I have taken up strong arms against you;
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride you instead.

 O enemy, I now have passed
The dubious way.
My Jesus has freed me;
You gain nothing by remaining.
I have known his grace, so I will not fall;
No longer tempt me with hook and bait
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride you instead.

You believe you have good reason
To shower me with pleasures;
But I no longer think of you
So I will not offend my Lord.
I want you to leave me be,
I no longer want to hear your cries.
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride you instead.

Who makes his way to the side of Christ,
Has little need of your words;
Who takes care to stop his ears
Is not harmed by your calls.
I go to follow him who died on the cross;
Do what you will, I desire you not.
I do not answer when you call,
I ridicule and deride you instead.

Now I want you to leave me be,
With your threat of mortal wounds!
I will think only on my sins
And on God, whose bounty is infinite.
I want now to lead my life
So that God will love me.
I do not answer when you call;
I ridicule and deride me instead.

Now show me what you can do
How many pleasures you know.
If you were you and of your party,
You would have from me nothing else.
Consider my struggle at an end
With your false and trivial ways!
I do not answer when you call,
I ridicule and deride you instead. 

While academics discuss this work in its obvious intent, that Lucrezia is denying a demon that would separate her from her Lord and God, it could also be a mantra against negativity of any sort, a denouncement of its power over lives which are in the control of their owner...I do not answer when you call, I ridicule and deride you instead. I am free from you.

After her husband's death in 1469, Lucrezia found only more freedom; she bought real estate in the Pisa territory. She took a lease on a spa in Volterra and converted it into a profitable health resort. Much like a dowager queen, Lucrezia spent much of her last years in the loving embrace of her son Lorenzo and his family. She died at age 56. Her contributions to the evolution of women and their infinite possibilities lives on.

Monday, June 30, 2014


Photo courtesy of Cinemablend.com
As a confirmed Francophile, someone who spent a great part of her life immersed in the works of Alexandre Dumas, and then spent a year and a half researching and writing a novel about the Musketeers (The Courtier’s Secret), I applaud BBC America’s latest portrayal of these famed soldiers, The Muskeeters. As the opening credits announce, the show is based ‘on the CHARACTERS’ of Dumas. Such a statement gives them the license to play a bit loosely with the history of the age, which the writers do, but nowhere near to the degree that some of the other period series of late (The Borgias, Da Vinci’s Demons) have done. What they have captured perfectly—through the writing, the casting, and the direction--is the marvelous essence that is The Musketeers. It is replete with breathlessly handsome dashing men, subtle yet sarcastic wit intrinsic to Dumas’ characters, and well-written episodes bursting with the action and adventure that originally defined these tales and why we cherish them as classic stories.

D'artagnan as portrayed by
Luke Pasqualino
For the first time D’artagnan, portrayed by Luke Pasqualino, has been
Charles de Batz
de Castelmore d'Artagnan
The real man Dumas'
based his character upon
cast with the coloring appropriate to his Gascon heritage (dark hair, dark eyes). Pasqualino possesses the youthful innocent charm so distinctive to the character. Athos played by Tom Burke is sufficiently gloomy and a forthright leader in equal parts, Howard Charles gives Porthos the perfect amount of snarkiness and forever honorable and to-the-death warrior that he was, and drenched in besotting masculine sensuality, Santiago Cabrera plays Aramis as he should be (women want him, men want to be him).

Santiago Cabrera as Aremis
Constance as portrayed by
Tamla Kari

In Constance, both the writing and the casting have taken a slightly different turn; Tamla Kari is not an exquisite beauty (though she is quite lovely) that we’ve come to know (i.e. Rachel Welch), nor is she the damsel in distress as she has been forever portrayed. And yet there is something wonderfully compelling in this version of the most important female in these tales. The other significant female role, that of Milady de Winter, has not yet coalesced (by the second episode) enough and she appears—thus far—a bit gratuitous. Maimie McCoy’s rendition of this character, and what the writers choose to do with her, will need watching.

By far one of the best inclusions is the stronger and more involved character of Captain Treville, played by Hugo Speer. Though his role in the Dumas’ original tales is small, his influence—most especially upon the young D’Artagnan—is vital to the Musketeers, to their code of honor. Hopefully this character will find more attention in this BBC America version.

But, as with the books, the true captivating core of these stories is the bond between these four men and the playful, lascivious, and always—always—devoted, determined, and honorable lives they lead. We are swept away by their chivalry, their prowess, and their beauty. As with any historical FICTION allowances have to be made in terms of story in order for a great fictional story to be told. In the case of BBC America’s The Musketeers, it is a very, very small price to pay for delightful entertainment.

All for one, and one for all!