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  • Buying Up Clarice October 30, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback










    Beach hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the Italian Renaissance this past week: blame the genitals of the mad, bad but always interesting Caterina Sforza. And in this difficult time of renaissance obsession one source that has run around and around his head is (Lauro Martinez’ translation of) an extraordinary letter sent by Lucrezia de Medici in the mid-late fifteenth century. Lucrezia is in Rome wife- hunting for her eldest son Lorenzo – he of Savonarola, the ‘Great’, and the Pazzi Conspiracy. If this was a man writing there would be the pulse of sensuality in the description of her prime candidate: Clarice Orsini. As it is Lucrezia’s prose is part Jones (as in ‘keeping up with’) and part meat market. Breakfast in bed and candlelit dinners for two simply don’t figure.

    Thursday morning on the way to St Peters, I met my lady, the sister of the cardinal, Maddalena Orsini, with her daughter, who is almost fifteen or sixteen years old. The girl was dressed in the Roman fashion, in a broad wrap of linen, and she seemed to me very beautiful in that outfit, fair and tall. But because she was rather covered up, I couldn’t see her as I would have liked. It happens that yesterday I went to visit the said Monsignor Orsini… and after I had made the requisite avowals in your name, his sister entered with the girl, who this time was wearing a close-fitting skirt without the wrap. We spent quite a while conversing and I really studied the girl, who is, as I’ve said, of an attractive height and fairness and she has a sweet manner – though not as fine as our daughters. But she is all modesty and could soon be made to adopt our ways.

    Now honestly is this the mother-in-law that you would like?

    She’s not a blonde because you don’t find those in Rome. Her hair tends towards the reddish and there’s a lot of it. The face itself is a bit round but I don’t disapprove; her throat is nice and slender though it strikes me as a bit thin or rather on the delicate side. Her bosom we couldn’t see because the custom here is to go round all bundled up, but the promise is good. She does not walk with her head up proudly, like ours, but somewhat down, and I believe this comes from shyness. She really is very bashful. Her hands are long and slender. So all told we consider that the girl is definitely above average but not as good as our girls. Lorenzo has seen her and if he’s satisfied you’ll be able to tell. I feel that whatever you and he decide will be well done and I will agree to it. It’s in God’s hands.

    God’s hands… Lucrezia now gets on down to the grimy business of what really matters: not vital statistics or bearing but dowries made of brick and stone.

    The girl is the daughter of the lord Jacopo Orsini of Monte Ritondo and her mother is the cardinal’s sister. She has two brothers. One is bred to arms serving the well esteemed lord Orso, the other a priest and subdeacon to the Pope. They have half of Monte Ritondo; the other half belongs to the uncle, who has two sons and three daughters. In addition to half of Monte Ritondo they have three other castles belonging to her brothers and I gather that they are well settled there and are better off every day because apart from being maternal nephews of the Cardinal, of the archbishop and of the knight, they are also cousins through their father to the aforesaid lords, who love them greatly.

    Then in a second letter Lucrezia rounds off the attack on her prey.

    As I said to you by letter before we’ve had a close look at the girl. There was no fuss and if the thing [i.e. marriage] doesn’t work out you’ll have lost nothing because nothing was said. The girl has two features. She is tall and fair-skinned and though she doesn’t have a beautiful face, it is not a peasant’s, and she does have a handsome presence.

    ‘A peasant’s face’… This from the Medici family that only three generations before had been burning charcoal in the Mugello with the rest of the contadini!

    Then comes the final insult: the girl’s name is given last, like the dim afterthought that it really is. The ‘misspelling’ is an acceptable variant, but after what has come before it seems to be adding insult to injury.

    Find out if Lorenzo likes what he saw, as there are so many other things in her favour, that if he is satisfied we also could be. Her name is Crarice.

    And they say arranged marriages were/are often happy.


    ‘Crarice’ spent most of her marriage, Beachcombing always imagines, listening to Lorenzo’s (truly) beautiful lyrics written to women whose name did not begin with ‘c’. Then if this needs any more driving home we are not sure if the Botticelli picture above is really of Clarice or not.

    Any other sources for the medieval meat market? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com