Art historians Maria Grazia Pernis and Laurie Schneider Adams have written a compelling biography of a remarkable Renaissance woman, Lucrezia Tornabuoni de’ Medici. Born in 1427 to a family of the old nobility, Lucrezia was married off at seventeen to Piero de’ Medici, son of Cosimo de’ Medici, who was essentially the ruler of Florence. Although Florence was a republic, Cosimo held all the power. The Medici were bankers, and had only come into prominence in the previous generation. Marriages into the old nobility were a very common way for families such as the Medici, who had recently acquired their wealth, to solidify their power. After Cosimo’s death, Lucrezia’s husband Piero became ruler of Florence, but he suffered from ill-health and was not as strong a ruler as his father. He often turned to Lucrezia for political advice. In contrast to her mother-in-law, who believed women’s influence should be confined to the domestic sphere, Lucrezia was a skilled businesswoman and political advisor to both her husband and her son, Lorenzo, who became ruler of Florence at the age of only twenty-one, after his father’s untimely death. Lorenzo welcomed advice from his mother as he fended off attacks from both his enemies in Florence and from foreign powers such as the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples. Lucrezia was also known as a patron of the arts. Her husband’s and son’s rules saw a flourishing of the arts in Florence, and she was closely acquainted with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. A series of frescoes by Ghirlandaio depict Lucrezia and various members of her family.
Besides being a patron of the arts, Lucrezia wrote religious poetry about biblical figures such as Judith, Esther, Susanna, and John the Baptist. In a fascinating discussion of Lucrezia’s poetry, the authors show that she emphasized certain elements in the biblical stories to draw parallels with her own experiences, and to depict women as strong figures. Lucrezia was also a highly educated woman, who read Latin and possibly Greek, and had her daughters share the classical education that her sons were given.
Lucrezia experienced much tragedy in her life. Besides losing her husband at a relatively young age, her youngest son, Giuliano, was murdered in 1478 in a plot by enemies of the Medici to assassinate Lorenzo. Lucrezia’s own son-in-law was one of the Pazzi family who played an important role in the plot. Her son’s murder devastated her. She died a few years later, in 1482. This is a wonderful biography of an extraordinary woman.
Lucrezia Tornabuoni de' Medici is available from the Fine Arts Library: http://mirlyn.lib.umich.edu/Record/005210590 .