22 June 1427|
25 March 1482 (aged 54)|
|Spouse(s)||Piero di Cosimo de' Medici|
|Father||Francesco di Simone Tornabuoni|
|Mother||Nanna di Niccolo di Luigi Guicciardini|
Lucrezia Tornabuoni (22 June 1427 – 25 March 1482) was a writer and influential political adviser. Connected by birth to two of the most powerful families in 15th-century Italy, she later married Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, connecting herself to another of the most powerful families in Italy and extending her own power and influence. She had significant political influence during the rule of her husband and then of her son, Lorenzo. She worked to support the needs of the poor and religion in the region, supporting several institutions. She was a patron of the arts, and also wrote poems and plays herself.
Family and marriage
Lucrezia was born on 22 June 1427. Her father was Francesco di Simone Tornabuoni, a noble from a family that could trace its lineage back 500 years. Her mother was Nanna di Niccolo di Luigi Guicciardini. Lucrezia was well-educated and read many texts, including in Latin and Greek. On 3 Jun 1444, Lucrezia married Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, son of Cosimo de' Medici, a wealthy banker from Florence. Francesco was a friend and supporter of Cosimo, even through Cosimo's 1434 exile from Florence. The marriage and her dowry of 1200 florins helped to seal the alliance between their families. The health of the couple was not always good, with Piero's gout and Lucrezia suffering from arthritis and eczema. These conditions caused her to frequently seek treatments at baths around Tuscany. She and her husband frequently wrote to each other while apart, with tenderness and concern. She became good friends with her brother-in-law, Giovanni.
Lucrezia and Piero had the following children:
- Maria (died before 1473), married Leonetto Rossi
- Bianca (1445-1488), married Guglielmo Pazzi
- Lucrezia de' Medici (1447–1493), married Bernardo Rucellai. She is also known as Nannina.
- Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–1492), Lord of Florence and was married to Clarice Orsini.
- Giuliano de' Medici (1453–1478), father of Pope Clement VII.
Lucrezia also bore two other sons and another daughter who did not survive to adulthood. Lucrezia and Piero made sure that their children acquired good taste in literary culture and the fine arts and also hired tutors to educate them in such subjects as philosophy, business and accounting, and politics. Gentile de' Becchi and Cristoforo Landino were among the teachers hired. Maria may have been a child born to Piero by another woman, but was raised with the other children. To celebrate the birth of their first son and heir, Piero presented Lucrezia with a desco da parto showing the Triumph of Fame by Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi. Giuliano was killed as a result of the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici.
Lucrezia and Piero wanted to increase their influence outside of Florence, especially in the Roman courts. To improve the family's social status, Lucrezia arranged for her son, Lorenzo to marry Clarice Orsini. Clarice's dowry was 6,000 florins. She arrived in Florence in June 1469. Unfortunately, Lorenzo wasn't very fond of his bride.
Since she, in contrast to her husband, was of a noble line, she helped creating bridges between her husband's family and the nobility. Her advice was sought by many and she received both high and low-born people. Her father-in-law admired her skills in deciding issues. In 1450 she and her husband visited Rome for an audience with Pope Nicholas V, who gave them permission to build an altar in their family chapel.
When Piero took over the government in 1464, his health kept him confined to bed. This transformed their bedroom into something resembling a noble court. His confinement meant that as Lucrezia was more free to move about, that she was often asked by others to bear their requests to him. This included appeals to end the exile or imprisonment of petitioners, and to stop attacks by soldiers. She was also called on to mediate disputes among others in the area, once ending a feud between two families that had gone on for twenty years. In spring 1467, she again visited Rome and the Pope, while also looking for a wife for Lorenzo. For a woman to travel without her husband and meet with the Pope and other influential officials like this was unusual, and commented upon by contemporaries. In October 1467, as part of a rivalry between Piero and Luca Pitti, there was an assassination attempt against Lucrezia and her son Giuliano.
Lucrezia's husband, Piero, died in 1469. After his death, she gained additional political influence as an advisor to her son. Lorenzo freely admitted at her death that she had been one of his most important advisors. She also gained more freedom to conduct business and own property. She bought houses, shops, and farms in and around Pisa and Florence. She would lease the shops out to different businesses, and thereby extended her patronage network. In 1477, she took a lease on a public bath facility near Volterra, which she renovated into a profitable venture. Her investments in communities around Florence helped spread the family influence and support network.
She became well known for supporting religious convents, and working with them to help widows and orphans. Often this assistance was provided by helping a family member to get a good position in the church or government. She would also use her own income to provide dowries for women from poor families so that they could marry.
Lucrezia wrote religious stories, plays, and poetry. She read some of the poems to famous poets, comparing them with their compositions. Some of her poems were set to popular tunes and performed publicly. She wrote stories about Esther, Susanna, Tobias, John the Baptist and Judith. Her works were written in part to inspire and educate her grandchildren, and her plays were not performed publicly in her lifetime. Her poetry was printed and published four years after she died.
She was also a significant patron of the arts. She recommended poets in her circle to use chivalric themes, which some of them did. She commissioned the Morgante, by Luigi Pulci, who called her "a famous lady in our century." She also supported the poets Angelo Poliziano and Bernardo Bellincioni. She and Bellincioni would exchange humorous poems that they had written. Poliziano admired her poetry. He was also a tutor for her grandchildren by Lorenzo, and would read her poems to them.
Religious institutions relied on Lucrezia's patronage. She was responsible for the addition of the Chapel of the Visitation in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. She was known to be devoted to John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence. When she became ill in 1467, she believed her recovery was due to the intercession of Saint Romuald. From then on, she supported the hermitage at Camaldoli which he had founded. She was also noted for donating many votive statues of herself and her family to numerous churches.
Around 1475, her brother Giovanni Tornabuoni commissioned a portrait of her by Domenico Ghirlandaio, which is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (shown above). She may also be represented in three scenes in Ghirlandaio's frescos in the Tornabuoni Chapel: The Visitation, The Birth of the Baptist, and The Nativity of Mary.
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