Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Elizabeth Lev
Q: Where did you find out about Caterina Sforza?
A: I ran across Caterina’s story while I was living in Imola, working on my graduate degree. Streets and shops were named for her and clearly she was a big deal in this small town. But when I ran into her portrait in the Uffizi gallery in Florence as grandmother of the first Medici duke and then in the Sistine Chapel under Michelangelo’s famous ceiling, I began to realize she was a much more than just a local idol. Then, while reading a book on the history of the Medici family I read a little sketch of her life and I was hooked. Q:What were the challenges involved in writing this book?
A:After 20 years in Italy, I thought my Italian was pretty good, but reading documents in various Italian dialects was definitely challenging. During the four years of research and writing, I got used to the way Renaissance Romans spelled, and learned idiomatic phrases from 15th-century Romagna. It was fun—like standing in a town square 500 years ago listening to all the gossip, stories, and news, and even the occasional weather report!
Q:How do you see Caterina as relating to contemporary women?
A: Caterina amazes me, because she resembles a 21st-century go-getter, multitasking woman, in a world where that was not considered an admirable quality. She ran a business, raised eight children, ruled two towns, fought off assassins, had steamy love affairs, and even had her own cosmetics line! All this in 46 years of life! In our age we love to see people who are passionate about what they do, in her age restraint was the highest virtue. Her ability to think several steps ahead and strategize would have put her at the helm of a Fortune 500 company today, but in her world it was disconcerting to encounter a woman "who thought like a man."
Q: What did you find most interesting about her?
A: When I started researching, I was surprised that there wasn’t more out there on her. I wondered why there weren’t stacks of biographies as there are for other celebrated women. When I got midway through her life, I encountered the problem of her colossal mistakes. Caterina did some very controversial things. Some were clever plays and I think, at the end of the day, wisely done. Others, however, were embarrassing and even cruel. I became fascinated with someone who had so publically and terribly fallen from grace through her own actions and how she recovered from it. One of the most interesting things to me about her was that she would never give up, even when the enemy she had to conquer was herself.
Photos from the Book
(Click on Images to Enlarge)
Romantic depiction of Caterina Sforza being taken prisoner after the assassination of her husband, Girolamo Riario, ruler of Imola and Forli. (Dario Gobbi,1914)
Detail from The Purification of the Leper. This fresco was parinted to face the papal throne in the Sistine Chapel. Caterina is pregnant and carrying firewood, while her son Cesare fends off a viper at her feet. (Sandro Botticelli, 1481)
Portrait of Caterina Sforza de’ Medici. Vasari portrays Caterina in a widow’s veil after the death of her third husband, Giovanni de’ Medici. (Giorgio Vasari, 1555)
"A rich account of a dramatic and tragic life: a tale of murder, childhood marriage, revenge, rape, accession to power by a Florentine woman, and a violent downfall. Lev offers a rich, nuanced portrait of a highly controversial beauty and military leader and her violent albeit glittering Italian Renaissance milieu." — Publishers Weekly
"An engrossing biography of one of Renaissance Italy’s most accomplished powerbrokers. The author writes with a light touch and an eye for the pageantry and drama of the time—her subject was known as one of the best-dressed women in Italy—while colorfully recounting weighty affairs of state. An inspiring tale of the courage and fortitude of an enigmatic and indomitable woman."—Kirkus
"Lev continues the recent biographical trend of unearthing extraordinary women from the historical dustpile. The Renaissance is hot right now, and this well-researched biography is a welcome addition to the reexamination of the era." —Booklist