Tag Archives: Italy

Period Persona – Giacomo di Grassi


Giacomo di Grassi was a 16th century Italian fencing master. Little is known about the life of this master, but he seems to have been born in Modena, Italy and acquired some fame as a fencing master in his youth. He operated a fencing school in Trevino and traveled around Italy observing the teachings of other schools and masters. Ultimately di Grassi developed his own method, which he laid out in great detail in his 1570 work Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l’Arme (“Explanation of Striving Safely with Arms”). In 1594, a new edition of his book was printed in London under the title His True Arte of Defence, translated by an “I.G. gentleman” and published by an admirer named Thomas Churchyard.

While di Grassi’s teachings were arguably designed for the side sword, the English translation substitutes “rapier” for every mention of the sword. The translator explains – since English (of his time) distinguishes between “sword” and “rapier”, while Italian does not – that he has generally chosen to translate spada as “rapier”, because in Italy the rapier and dagger are carried, and not the sword (except in a military context), as is also the case with gentlemen in England.

Link to “His True Arte of Defence”


Period Persona – Cesare Borgia

220px-Cesareborgia Date of Birth: 13 September 1475 or 1476

 Died: 12 March 1507 (aged 31)

 Birthplace: Rome, Italy

Son of Cardinal Rodrigo de Lanzol y Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, and his  mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, about whom information is sparse. The Borgia family  originally came from the Kingdom of Valencia, and rose to prominence during the mid-  15th century; Cesare’s great-uncle Alphonso Borgia (1378–1458), bishop of Valencia,  was elected Pope Callixtus III in 1455. Cesare’s father, Pope Alexander VI, was the first  pope who openly recognized his children born out of wedlock.

Cesare was initially groomed for a career in the Church. He was made Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15. Following school in Perugia and Pisa where Cesare studied at Sapienza University of Rome, along with his father’s elevation to Pope, Cesare was made Cardinal at the age of 18.

Alexander VI staked the hopes of the Borgia family in Cesare’s brother Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy. Giovanni was assassinated in 1497 in mysterious circumstances: with several contemporaries suggesting that Cesare might have been his killer. Cesare’s role in the act, however, has never been clear.

On 17 August 1498, Cesare became the first person in history to resign the cardinalate. On the same day, the French Louis XII of France named Cesare Duke of Valentinois, and this title, along with his former position as Cardinal of Valencia, explains the nickname “Valentino”.

 Duke of Valentinois

Duke of Valentinois

Cesare’s career was founded upon his father’s ability to distribute patronage, along with his alliance with France, in the course of the Italian Wars. Louis XII invaded Italy in 1499: after Gian Giacomo Trivulzio had ousted its duke Ludovico Sforza, Cesare accompanied the king in his entrance into Milan.

At this point Alexander decided to profit from the favourable situation and carve out for Cesare a state of his own in northern Italy. To this end, he declared that all his vicars in Romagna and Marche were deposed. Though in theory subject directly to the pope, these rulers had been practically independent or dependent on other states for generations. In the view of the citizens, these vicars were cruel and petty. When Cesare eventually took power, he was viewed by the citizens as a great improvement.

Cesare was appointed commander of the papal armies with a number of Italian mercenaries, supported by 300 cavalry and 4,000 Swiss infantry sent by the King of France. Despite being deprived of his French troops after the conquest of those two cities, Borgia returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph and to receive the title of Papal Gonfalonier from his father. In 1500 the creation of twelve new cardinals granted Alexander enough money for Cesare to hire the condottieri, Vitellozzo Vitelli, Gian Paolo Baglioni, Giulio and Paolo Orsini, and Oliverotto da Fermo, who resumed his campaign in Romagna. While his condottieri took over the siege of Piombino (which ended in 1502), Cesare commanded the French troops in the sieges of Naples and Capua, defended by Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna. On 24 June 1501 his troops stormed the latter, causing the collapse of Aragonese power in southern Italy. n June 1502 he set out for Marche, where he was able to capture Urbino and Camerino by treason. He planned to conquer Bologna next. However, his condottieri, most notably Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Orsini brothers, feared Cesare’s cruelty and set up a plot against him. The fact that his subjects had enjoyed his rule thus far meant that his opponents had to work much harder than they would have liked. He eventually recalled his loyal generals to Imola, where he waited for his opponents’ loose alliance to collapse. Cesare called for a reconciliation, but imprisoned his condottieri in Senigallia, a feat described as a “wonderful deceiving” by Paolo Giovio, and had them executed.

Although he was an immensely capable general and statesman, Cesare would have trouble maintaining his domain without continued Papal patronage. Niccolò Machiavelli cites Cesare’s dependence on the good will of the Papacy, under the control of his father, to be the principal weakness of his rule.

The news of his father’s death (1503) arrived when Cesare was planning the conquest of Tuscany. The new pope, Pius III, supported Cesare Borgia and reconfirmed him as Gonfalonier; but after a brief pontificate of twenty-six days he died. Borgia’s deadly enemy, Giuliano Della Rovere, then succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened Cesare Borgia into supporting him by offering him money and continued papal backing for Borgia policies in the Romagna; promises which he disregarded upon election.

Cesare Borgia, who was facing the hostility of Ferdinand II of Aragon, was betrayed while in Naples by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, a man he had considered his ally, and imprisoned there, while his lands were retaken by the Papacy. In 1504 he was transferred to Spain and imprisoned first in the Castle of Chinchilla de Montearagón, but after an attempted escape he was moved to the Castle of La Mota, He did manage to escape from the Castle of La Mota with assistance, and he made it to Pamplona on 3 December 1506, and was much welcomed by King John III of Navarre who was missing an experienced military commander, ahead of the feared Castilian invasion (1512).

He recaptured Viana, Navarre, in the hands of forces loyal to the count of Lerín, Ferdinand II of Aragon’s conspirational ally in Navarre, but not the castle. In the early morning of 11 March 1507, an enemy party of knights fled from the castle during a heavy storm. Outraged at the ineffective siege laid on the castle, the Italian commander chased them only to find himself on his own. The party realized that, and Borgia got trapped in an ambush, receiving the injury of a fatal spear. He was then stripped of all his luxurious garments, valuables and a leather mask covering half his face, disfigured possibly by syphilis during his late years, and left lying naked.

Period Persona – Cosimo de Medici


Cosimo de Medici

The floor tomb of Cosimo de' Medici in San Lor...

The floor tomb of Cosimo de’ Medici in San Lorenzo, Florence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born: 27 September 1389 in Florence, Italy

Died: 1 August 1464 in Florence, Italy

Cosimo di Giovanni de Medici was the first of the Medici political dynasty. He was also known as “Cosimo ‘the Elder'” (“il Vecchio”) and “Cosimo Pater Patriae” (Latin: ‘father of the nation’).

He represented the Medici bank, managed the papacy’s finances and became the wealthiest man of his time. Despite never holding office, he controlled Florence via his wealth and was the start of a dynasty that held power for centuries. Cosimo was an important patron of Renaissance art.

After his father died in 1429, Cosimo continued the family’s commercial and financial practices with great success. He brought goods of little weight and high value from the East and lent money to the princely houses of Europe. Cosimo also adopted the policy, already traditional in his family, of supporting the lesser guilds and the poor against the wealthy aristocracy which ruled the city.

In 1433, who were jealous of Cosimo and his power were spurred on by Rinaldo degli Albizzi, the most influential of their number, and had Cosimo arrested with the intention of putting him to death. He was exiled instead when, from his place of imprisonment, he succeeded in buying the favor of Bernardo Guadagni, the gonfalonier of justice, for 1,000 ducats (about $25,000).

One year later, in October 1434, the sentence of exile was overturned by a new government favorable to Cosimo, and he returned to the city in triumph. From that time until his death he controlled both the foreign and domestic affairs of Florence, using his prestige and his money to keep his adherents in the government. Cosimo himself took public office only briefly. Cosimo promptly reformed the system of taxation, changing from a fixed income tax to a graduated one. This placed a heavier burden on the wealthy, who grumbled that the Medici tyrant was using the tax as a weapon against them. The middle class and the poorer citizens, who were Cosimo’s strength, were delighted and became even more ardent in their support, particularly when they saw that the funds gained through taxation, amplified by substantial contributions from Cosimo’s own pocket, were put to use in public projects.

He commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to restore the church of S. Lorenzo, which was in dire need of repair and the cloisters of Fiesole owe their erection to Cosimo. Along with the physical adornment of Florence and its environs, Cosimo provided for its cultural life. He sent his ships to the East to gather the precious manuscripts of ancient writers, and he hired scribes to copy what he could not buy. He added to this growing collection the private library of Niccolò Niccoli, an enthusiastic bibliophile who left his books to Cosimo in gratitude for generous loans which had saved him from financial ruin. These valuable manuscripts were distributed to the monastery of S. Marco in Florence and the abbey at Fiesole. These collections were open to the public.

In spite of his riches and the lavish entertainments he provided for his guests, Cosimo lived modestly. He ate and drank moderately and simply and worked long, regular hours. He dressed without ostentation and was accessible to the humblest Florentine. His generosity, mildness, and wit were legendary. Upon his death on Aug. 1, 1464, a grateful city decreed that on his tomb should be inscribed the words Pater Patriae (father of his country).