period: Caterina Sforza

Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì

Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì (1463–1509) was an Italian noblewoman, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan. Raised in the Milanese court, which in the fiteenth century was admired by all of Europe, Caterina later held the titles of Lady of Imola and Countess of Forli; she was also the Regent for her first-born son, Octaviano.

The descendant of a dynasty of famous condottieri, she earned a reputation at an early age for taking bold, if not impetuous, actions to safeguard her possessions from possible usurpers, and to uphold the military defense of her states. In her private life Caterina was devoted to alchemy, hunting and dancing. She was said to be a devoted mother as well as a dedicated teacher to her many children. But it was also said that when she was besieged and the attackers threatened to kill her children who they held hostage she responded by exposing her private parts and saying: ‘Ho con me lo stampo per farne degli altri!’ (I have the equipment to bear more!).

When her second husband was assassinated she exacted a terrible revenge not only upon the conspirators but on their wholer families. In 1499 she lost Forli after a heroic defence and was then imprisoned by Cesare Borgia, who justified her imprisonment on the basis of an accusation of attempting to poison Pope Alexander VI, Cesare’s father, in retaliation for the Papal bull depriving the Countess of her fiefdoms. She was released in 1501 and after the death Of Aledxander VI she campaigned to regain the lordships of Imola and Forli but was rejected by both cities. Thereafter she led a quiet life in Florence and confided to a monk: ‘If I were to write the story of my life, I would shock the world.’

Caterina Sforza’s reputation has been contrasted with that of her contemporary Isabella of Castile; the latter’s actions were as vicious but historians – at least European historians – have been much kinder in respect of Isabella’s ‘spiritually sanctioned’ activities. And Lucrezia Borgia, who may only have been a pawn in her familys struggle for power, has come to be regarded as a veritable female devil.

The movies

The Borgias (2011): This mini-series aptly tags itself as the story of ‘the original crime family’. Gina McKee plays Caterina Sforza with Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia Borgia and Joanne Whalley as Vanozza Cattaneo. Balázs Novák was the makeup artist & prosthetic supervisor for the first season.

Los Borgia (2006): This mini-series portraited the Borgia dynasty that spawned a pope, Alexander VI, two of whose children achieved lasting notority: Cesare Borgia as the role model for Machiavelli’s The Prince; Lucrezia Borgia as the epitome of femine duplicity. For thirty years Rodrigo Borgia worked his way up the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church before becoming Pope. He then starts a reign of terror to establish a new age of Borgia power. Paz Vega played Caterina Sforza with María Valverde as Lucrecia Borgia, Ángela Molina as Vanozza and Katy Louise Saunders as Giulia Farnese. Walter Cossu was the key makeup artist.

The Borgias (1981): Featuring Diane Fletcher as Caterina Sforza. Maybe the BBC will release this train-wreck in the UK one day; it is now available on DVD in Italy.

Caterina Sforza, la leonessa di Romagna (1959): If anyone has any images of Virna Lisi as Caterina Sforza, please email themakeupgallery.