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
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