Printer Friendly

The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere.

Caroline P. Murphy. The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. xvii + 360 pp. + 34 color pls. Index. illus. map. bibl. $28. ISBN: 0-19-518268-5.

Painstakingly combing diplomatic and personal correspondence, account books, and notarial contracts and then filling gaps from the political and cultural historiography on Renaissance Italy, Caroline Murphy reconstructs the life of Felice della Rovere (ca. 1483-1536), a largely forgotten woman, almost unique in her family heritage, impressively resilient amidst the buffetings of a turbulent era of Rome's history. Felice was the acknowledged, though only sometimes welcome, daughter of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere and his mistress Lucrezia, who subsequently married Bernardino de Cupis, a maestro di casa for the della Rovere. For all Murphy's imaginative efforts, Felice's early life remains shadowy. Even her first husband's name eludes us. When her father became Pope Julius II in 1503, she gained more visibility, although the author smartly sketches the continuing ambiguities of her position. In a dynastic age her affiliation with the ruler of the Papal State gave her clout; at the same time both her illegitimacy and Julius's erratic way with personal and political ties left her influence uncertain. Felice came into her own only with her calculated, but ultimately beneficial, marriage to the head of the prestigious, well-endowed old Roman Orsini family. Political maneuvering both inside and outside this many-branched clan along with the incessant demands of careful estate management, on which other power rested, consumed Felice's considerable energies and intelligence for the rest of her life, and especially in her eventful two decades of widowhood that included the Sack of Rome. In this last phase of her life, where fuller documentation records her initiative and persistence most clearly, we see Felice as not only a woman shaped by the drama around her but also a maker of her own and her family's history.

The publishers have chosen to market this story not only to scholars, but also to a broader public. Historical biographies, particularly of highborn women playing out fraught lives in the wings of political power, have long been popular. Felice, made notable by her papal parentage, is a fit subject for the genre. Renaissance Rome delivers a rich backdrop that Murphy's art historical skills evoke with a colorful eye to art, architecture, and material culture. Her first book on the painter Lavinia Fontana also had a hardworking woman as its protagonist. In both the author draws on the general social history of women to situate one life. She leaves it to interested scholars to make connections in the other direction and to ask how Felice's story illuminates the rest of women's history. In this context I find Felice interesting less for her "extraordinary" birth family and its ramifications than for her more ordinary activity as wife and mother, as the "patrona et gubernatrix" of the Orsini.

The story unfolds in a series of often very short chapters, each focused on an episode or a person in the intricate webs of Felice's life and alliances. To sew this motley into a legible tapestry, Murphy invokes themes and metaphors. Sometimes these connectors seem strained, such as the link between the Genoese della Rovere and the sea; elsewhere they tangle with the meandering thread of chronology. Rather than linear argument, the book adopts the spatial organization of a medieval painting, where multiple incidents in a story sit juxtaposed on a single canvas. Suggestions about motives or explanations of behavior, often (though not always) convincing, fit into the separate sections. A more general sense of Felice's personality accumulates only gradually as the mind slips, not always sequentially, from topic to topic.

The book's framing aims at a general audience. Two sections of well-chosen color illustrations represent the people and places of Felice's world. The map of Roman sites, drawn on a modern street plan, is less effective. Tables would help sort the murky genealogies of the della Rovere family and their tangled alliances with the Gonzaga and the Este. As in many books, there are glitches of diction or fact. Taking geography as example, Rieti is not in the Marche, nor is Vicovaro south of Rome. Compact footnotes and bibliography nonetheless record the substantial scope of Murphy's research. Altogether, she has done readers, scholarly and not, very good service in recovering an intriguing lost figure and offering her to our acquaintance in this thoughtful and textured biography.

ELIZABETH S. COHEN

York University (Toronto)
COPYRIGHT 2006 The Renaissance Society of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cohen, Elizabeth S.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:741
Previous Article:The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture.
Next Article:Lorenzo de' Medici and the Art of Magnificence.
Topics:


Related Articles
Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture.
The Faun in the Garden: Michelangelo and the Poetic Origins of Italian Renaissance Art.
The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome.
Papal Patronage and the Music of St. Peter's, 1380-1513.
The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome.
The Altar and Altarpieces of New St. Peter's Outfitting the Basilica 1621-1666.
Francesco Paciotti: Architetto urbinate (1521-1591).
The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture.
Art and Culture at the Sistine Court: Platina's "Life of Sixtus IV" and the Frescoes of the Hospital of Santo Spirito.
Patronage and dynasty; the rise of the della Rovere in Renaissance Italy.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters