Lucrezia Borgia (18 April 1480 - 24 June 1519) was the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, the powerful Renaissance Valencian who later became Pope Alexander VI, and Vannozza dei Cattanei. Her brothers included Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, and Gioffre Borgia.
Lucrezia's family later came to epitomize the ruthless Machiavellian politics and sexual corruption alleged to be characteristic of the Renaissance Papacy. Lucrezia was cast as a femme fatale, a role she has been portrayed as in many artworks, novels, and films.
One painting, Portrait of a Youth by Dosso Dossi at the National Gallery of Victoria, was identified as a portrait of Lucrezia in November 2008. This painting may be the only surviving formal portrait of Lucrezia Borgia. However, doubts have been cast on that claim. Several other paintings, such as Bartolomeo Veneziano's fanciful portrait, have also been said to depict her but none have been accepted by scholars at present. She is described as having heavy blonde hair which fell past her knees, a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes which constantly changed colour, a full, high bosom, and a natural grace which made her appear to "walk on air." These were the physical attributes that were highly appreciated in Italy during that period.
Very little is known of Lucrezia as a historical personage, and her complicity in the political machinations of her brothers and father cannot be determined at this time. Her father and/or brother certainly arranged several marriages for her to important or powerful men in order to advance their own political ambitions. Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza (Lord of Pesaro), Alfonso of Aragon (Duke of Bisceglie), and Alfonso d'Este (Duke of Ferrara). Tradition has it that Alfonso of Aragon was an illegitimate son of the King of Naples and that Cesare may have had him murdered after his political value waned.
Lucrezia Borgia died in Ferrara on 24 June 1519 from complications after giving birth to her eighth child. She was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini.
On 15 October 1816, the Romantic poet Lord Byron visited the Ambrosian Library of Milan. He was delighted by the letters between Borgia and Bembo ("The prettiest love letters in the world") and claimed to have managed to steal a lock of her hair ("the prettiest and fairest imaginable") held on display.
Lucrezia is the ancestress of many notable people, including American Civil War general P.G.T. Beauregard and actress Brooke Shields. She is a collateral relative of most of the royal families of modern Europe including that of the United Kingdom.
Several rumours have persisted throughout the years, primarily speculating as to the nature of the extravagant parties thrown by the Borgia family. Many of these concern allegations of incest, poisoning, and murder on her part; however, no historical basis for these rumors has ever been brought forward, beyond allegations made by the rivals of the Borgias.
It is rumoured that Lucrezia was in possession of a hollow ring that she used frequently to poison drinks.
An early 20th-century painting by Frank Cadogan Cowper that hangs in the London art gallery, Tate Britain, portrays Lucrezia taking the place of her father, Alexander VI at an official Vatican meeting. This apparently documents an actual event, although the precise moment depicted (a Franciscan friar kissing Lucrezia's feet) was invented by the artist.