Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Players: The Borgia Bunch

Sofonisba Anguissola, Portrait of the Artist's Sisters Playing Chess, 1555, National Museum in Poznań. Images from a 2006 show at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, "At Home in Renaissance Italy".
Here's a story about a man named Borgia...

Pope Alexander VI, his "nephew" (wink!) Cesare, and his "niece" Lucrezia had a message they wanted to send when they showed up to kiss Mike Allen's ring at Politico's PLAYBOOK lunch: We're a family, we love each other a lot, and we're taking over Italy.

It's almost as if the Borgias were the Brady Bunch—if the Brady Bunch had bribed their way into the papacy and then spread their corruption northward toward the Alps with a combination of war, rape, pillage, and the occasional discreet poisoning.

Except for the fact that this Brady Bunch wasn't all together; the kids' brother Juan, sadly, had his throat slit and was tossed into the Tiber in 1497, and the following year Lucrezia's lover Perotto ended up, stabbed to death, in the Tiber too, and it's far from clear that Cesare didn't kill both of them, and their absence was keenly felt. A Brady Bunch, if you will, in blood-soaked clothing and a lot of missing persons and a sort of haunted look.

But they were much more comfortable talking about the subjugation of Romagna and the Marche and very hush-hush plans for overthrowing the pesky democrats of Tuscany. And when Mike wanted to ask about baby Giovanni ("Is he really your half-brother, Lucrezia?"), well! If looks could kill, he would have been in the Tiber as well!

The three Borgias who did share the stage projected an air of mutual affection, even intimacy, as they chatted about siege warfare and putting civilians to the sword and the fecklessness of those Florentines and their so-called humane ideas. The Pope laughed at the same jokes, but tucked into his roast boar and chestnuts with more gusto than the other two, sitting somewhat apart. (Metaphor alert: he ate the liver with his bare hands.) "Pass the salt," said Cesare, but when Lucrezia gave it to him he suddenly didn't seem to want any.
Kitchen Scene, Vincenzo Campi
Possibly 1580-90, 
Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan.

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