Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, June 22, 2015

Lucrezia Tornabuoni: Business Woman, Political Adviser, Poet

Lucrezia Tornabuoni Medici (born 22 June 1425)


Lucrezia Tornabuoni, c. 1475,
portrait by Domenico Ghirlandaio
A member of one influential Florentine family, Lucrezia Tornabuoni married into another influential family, the Medici.

It is possible, of course, to write about Lucrezia Tornabuoni exclusively in relationship to the powerful men in her life: daughter of Francesco di Simone Tornabuoni, a wealthy banker and elected magistrate in the city of Florence; sister of Giovanni Tornabuoni, a papal ambassador, banker, and office holder in Florence; wife of Piero de' Medici, banker and the de facto ruler of Florence from 1464 to 1469; mother of Lorenzo de' Medici, known as "the Magnificent"; grandmother of two popes, Leo X and Clement VII. 

But, as Gerry Milligan notes, "In Florence, a city where there was no princely court to provide titles of authority to women and at a time when women were frequently kept from the public sphere of men, Lucrezia Tornabuoni (b. 1425–d. 1482) exercised an impressive influence over the politics and culture around her." 

While it is true that her "family network" was her "source of influence," Lucrezia Tornabuoni is significant beyond her role as daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother.

She was a successful landowner, buying and leasing property, collecting rents, and renovating a hot springs, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a family retreat and a spa for paying guests. 

Her husband sent her on diplomatic missions that required tact and delicacy. After her husband's death, she continued to have an influence in Florentine civic affairs, measured not only by the advice she offered to her son but also by the careful arrangement of her children's marriages, building political bridges and reinforcing links between important allies. 

Her public role was also maintained by her key role in funding charitable enterprises throughout the city. I particularly like her role in helping to provide dowries for young women who petitioned for her assistance and answering the requests of nuns for cloth so that they could make their habits! 

Well-educated herself, she made sure her children were also well educated. She was an important patron of the arts, one recent study detailing her influential role as a promoter of the "visual arts of fifteenth century Florence." 

Lucrezia Tornabuoni,
detail from a fresco in the Medici Palace,
Ghirlandaio
Tornabuoni was also an accomplished writer. Aside from a large number of surviving letters, her works include a religious sonnet (only one sonnet survives, though it is clear from her correspondence that she composed more lyric poems in this form), a series of storie sacre, or verse narratives, retellings of Old  and New Testament stories (including several lives of female figures, including Susanna, Judith, and Esther), and a series of nine laudi, or poems of praise, set to music.

Lucrezia Tornabuoni died on 28 March 1482.*

Gerry Milligan's very informative essay on Lucrezia Tornabuoni is available through the online Oxford Biographies; you can access it by clicking here. Mary Bosanquet's 1960 biography, Mother of the Magnificent: A Life of Lucrezia Tornabuoni is out of print, but used copies are available; this is a bit romanticized, but the history itself is solid. I also like Natalie Tomas's The Medici Women: Gender and Power in Renaissance Florence, but it's incredibly expensive--InterLibrary Loan??

Lucrezia Tornabuoni's letters are available only in Italian, but the verse narratives and lyrics are available and affordable in Jane Tylus's English translation, Lucrezia Tornabuoni de' Medici: Sacred Narratives. This volume also contains an extended introduction, with a good biography.

And, by the way, Lucrezia Tornabuoni is a foremother of a woman we have met before, Caterina de' Medici, who ultimately became queen and regent of France. Lucrezia is Caterina's great-great-grandmother.

*In my original post, I inadvertently repeated Tornabuoni's birth date here instead of giving her date of death--this post has now been updated, thanks to antoniafiorenza 1469's observation!

**And thanks to Alexandra Lawrence for her correction to my spelling of Gerry Milligan's name!