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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lucrezia Tornabuoni - Renaissance Poet

In Robin Maxwell’s newest book, O, Juliet, the title character, Juliet Capelletti is best friends with Lucrezia Tornabuoni. While Juliet is a fictional character, Lucrezia is not.

Lucrezia was raised in a wealthy family in Florence and she was married to Piero de Medici – that’s right, those Medici! Cosimo de Medici – the patriarch of the family – became her father in law. Lucrezia and Piero were married for political reasons, but quickly fell in love. They had 5 children over a short period of time.

Belonging to the most powerful family in Florence gave Lucrezia a lot of opportunities that other women of the time would not have had. She was very compassionate and townsfolk would often come to her first when they had a problem they needed resolved. She was a good business woman and would listen fairly to the cases set before her. In a society that was patriarchal, this was a huge thing!

As I said before, her marriage was a relatively good love match – even if it started out as a political move. I believe that this had some bearing in her practice of proving charity to women and girls who wanted to get married, but didn’t have the dowry to bring to a husband.

But one of the most shocking things about Lucrezia (at the time), was that she wrote and published poetry, as a woman. Very few women were published during their lifetime or under their own names. Most women of the time were not highly educated and didn’t have vast amounts of leisure time, when most of it was devoted to household duties. Lucrezia wrote mostly religious poems – like the one below (this is actually more of a hymn – as it is put to music):

Here is the strong king
Here is the strong king
Open up the gates!

O infernal prince of hell,
Do not resist his entrance:
This is the celestial king.
Who comes with almighty power:
Do him reverence instead
And open wide the gates.

Who is this great one,
Who comes in victory?
He is the almighty Lord,
He is the Lord of glory.
The victory is his alone;
For he has conquered death.

He has won the battle,
That endured for many years;
He makes the whole earth tremble
To release us from our troubles.

He seeks to replenish heaven's thrones
So he can restore his court.

The thing that I love about Lucrezia writing poetry and being public about it is that in the novel, Juliet writes a lot of great poems, but keeps it a secret from everyone, but Romeo and Lucrezia. I just thought that it was so appropriate for a little bit of Lucrezia to be embedded in the character of Juliet – which gave her more of a real feel.
The other events at HFBRT today are:
Robin Maxwell Guest Post at Hist-fic Chick,
Marie’s Book Review at The Burton Review.
Amy's Book Review at Passages to the Past
O, Juliet Cover Art Comparison at Historically Obsessed

Copyright © 2009-2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I agree with you completely- and that point exactly about her doing poetry at a time where it was unheard of for a woman, for me was essential in bringing out the feel for the character. Maxwell made her heroine,as well as Lucrezia,strong. This makes for great reading; even for a younger female audience. I love your post. Thanks Heather:)

  2. You chose such an interesting topic to focus on for this post! I love it...and it happens to go hand in hand with the guest post that Robin wrote for me today on Lucrezia's father-in-law Cosimo. And just like you and Lucy said - it's SO amazing that at that time in history, a woman was a poet, openly. I'm sure it didn't hurt that she had Cosimo, a very open-minded individual and tremendous patron of the arts, became a part of her family. But even so, she clearly set the precedent for women authors and poets who would come later in time. Renaissance Florence is one of my favorite periods to read about, especially during this time and during the time of Signora da Vinci...so much was happening and changing in this city that was clearly ahead of its time. Like Robin said in my guest post, the Medici (and Cosimo in particular) really brought Florence (and later the rest of Europe would follow) out of the Dark Ages. Thanks for the fab post!

  3. Terrific post, Heather. Thank you for including that poem of Lucrezia's. I'd never seen it before. My editor on SIGNORA DA VINCI was so taken with Lucrezia that she suggested I make her the protagonist of my next novel. I wasn't ready to do that then, but the more I learn about her the more I love her, so maybe some day... One fact I only just learned this week (though I haven't seen it confirmed anywhere yet) was that Piero, her husband, had an illegitimate child that she brought up. I know that her mother-in-law, Contessina (Cosimo's wife) had the very same situation and even talks about it in O, JULIET. I'm going to look into this. Naughty Piero!

  4. Wonderful post, Heather! I love that there is so much more history to be found out surrounding Robin's characters!

  5. Great post Heather, she was an amazing woman. A rarity in her time.

  6. I had never heard of Lucrezia before reading about Robin's book. Now I'm intrigued to do more reading about her. Thanks for sparking my interest even more! Great post!

  7. Thanks for the interesting bio on this fascinating lady! I think the fact that her poetry, at least the one that you included here, is of a pious nature and she was married into the affluent family Medici greatly helped her chances of going public with her poetry. It seems like Juliet wouldn't have that option without the strong political family backing and the fact that her poetry was about love. I would mind reading more about these historical characters!

  8. Glad to hear that Lucrezia is getting the attention she deserves! You might like to know that she wrote a number of religious poems and put into verse five stories from the Bible, three of which focus on strong female characters: Judith, Esther, and Susanna. I've translated her entire corpus in "Sacred Narratives," which came out with the U. of Chicago Press in 2000 and from which the excerpt in your blog, "Here is the strong king," is taken. Let me know if you need more information - Jane Tylus, jane.tylus@nyu.edu

  9. Who - thanks so much for the information - and your translation is impressive.


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