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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable biography of Caterina Sforza
This is an accessible and readable biography of Caterina Sforza aimed at a popular general audience rather than an academic one. Lev is an art historian and her admiration for Sforza does make her sometimes a little insensitive to the more negative sources. Like Alison Weir, she is happy to quote from the positive, even hagiographical sources written by Caterina's own...
Published 6 months ago by Roman Clodia

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Good detail, well researched
Good detail, well researched but not gripping, in fact I read it over a period of 2 months.
Perhaps Kindle is not the best format considering the wealth of foot notes, so perhaps this would have been more enjoyable in the printed format
Published 14 months ago by Paul Ashton


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable biography of Caterina Sforza, 13 May 2014
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This is an accessible and readable biography of Caterina Sforza aimed at a popular general audience rather than an academic one. Lev is an art historian and her admiration for Sforza does make her sometimes a little insensitive to the more negative sources. Like Alison Weir, she is happy to quote from the positive, even hagiographical sources written by Caterina's own court followers, but dismisses those written outside of her own circle of influence as having been tampered with or edited to give a deliberately hostile picture of Caterina.

Some of her readings are somewhat optimistic and unconvincing: men who described Caterina as a `virago' are deemed by Lev to be expressing their admiration of her - when, in reality, the term indicating a `manly' woman was no more flattering at the time (or, indeed, now) than to be described as a `womanly' man.

That said, this is an engaging story of another one of those steely Renaissance women, this time from Italy in the late fifteenth century. I do get a little irritated that every one of these books tracing Renaissance women's lives (Elizabeth, Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici, Lucrezia Borgia, the d'Este women, the Boleyns etc.) always tries to make out that the subject of the particular book is completely unique in Renaissance culture, something which clearly, from the evidence, isn't the case.

Small niggles aside, though, this is informative and entertaining even if its self-consciously feminist standpoint gives it an overly positive bias.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class biography of a fascinating woman, 29 May 2013
By 
EleanorB - See all my reviews
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Sometimes a biography is so good that the subject just leaps off the page and comes into such clear focus that you feel you actually know the person. Elizabeth Lev's book on Caterina Sforza is just such a one!

From her earliest childhood in mid 14th century Italy, this attractive, proud, clever and authoritative Sforza girl showed a resilience beyond her years. She was sacrificed by her ambitious father, as so many girls at that time were, to a strategic marriage. Hers was to Girolamo Riaro a nephew of Pope Sixtus. She was just 10 years old, and one non-negotiable condition of the marriage contract was immediate consummation - Riaro was 30 at the time! She eventually joined her husband in Rome, where she had her first taste of direct military action, and showed herself both braver and smarter than her lumpen spouse. Political changes in the Vatican meant a move with her husband and ever growing family to their fiefdom of Forli and Imola where plots against the unpopular Count Riario finally resulted in his assassination. Caterina's response to this outrage was strategically brilliant and perfectly judged, even to the point of risking her own children who were being held hostage by flaunting herself, and calling their captors' bluff by assuring them that she possessed the 'means to make more'. She saved not only herself and her children despite overwhelming odds, but emerged stronger. Her vengeance on the assassins (despite the fact that her relationship with Riario had caused her at times to wish herself dead), had to be seen to be effective as did her later armed defences of her castle and her sons' inheritance. Leadership meant hard decisions and she did not shy away from wreaking punishment on plotters and enemies. Her obvious femininity did not preclude great cruelty on occasions, and her revenge on the assassins of her second husband, was extreme even by the standards of the time. Her remarriages, once secretly and finally to a scion of the Medici family gave her more children and a reputation as something of a maneater.

The author is particularly good at guiding the reader through the quicksands of Renaissance family loyalties and fortunes, all driven by the complex twists and turns of the political landscape as successive Popes, each with the obligatory rapacious family in tow, took control of the throne of St Peter.

Caterina's eventual downfall came at the hands of the brutal Cesare Borgia (by now a new Papal family was setting the agenda!) and the conqueror of the Tigress exacted full revenge both militarily and sexually. Her latter years were spent in Florence, but even then she was still fighting, albeit through lawyers, for her rights as a widow and mother.

She lived, in her 46 years, the most intense and challenging of lives. Her beauty, style, brains and ferocious defence of her lands and rights, made her notorious in her own era, and this absolutely first class biography adds to her lustre in the present.

If you enjoy this, and you will, I recommend as a great companion work the biography of her great granddaughter: Isabella de Medici: The Glorious Life and Tragic End of a Renaissance Princess - which I have also reviewed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 26 Jan 2013
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Fast paced, atmospheric, real adventure, what a woman. A very good read. A very detailed account but does not get in the way of the story.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fair Picture of a Notorious Renaissance Noblewoman, 18 Oct 2011
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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"The Tigress of Forli," is the debut publication of Rome-based Elizabeth Lev. It is a nonfiction treatment of the life of the 15th-16th century Italian woman, Caterina Riario Sforza De Medici, one of the most prominent, and vilified, women in Renaissance Italy. (The Renaissance was generally considered to have taken place between the 14th and 17th centuries, and to have been centered in Italy.The term means, literally, rebirth, and referred to the fact that by rediscovering ancient texts, art, and architecture, scholars infused new knowledge into civilisation). Caterina was a three times married wife, mother of eight surviving children, shrewd leader, and fearless warrior. Elizabeth Lev here re-examines her extraordinary life and accomplishments.

Caterina was an illegitimate child of the mighty soldiers, the Sforza (means strong in Italian) of Milan. Apparently, however, the Renaissance period wasn't much bothered by the concept of illegitimacy, and, as was the norm in those days, Caterina was raised with her half-brothers and sisters at the court of Milan. As was also apparently the norm in those days, she received as good an education as did her brothers, for, as the author mentions, the Renaissance knew that death came early and often. And noblewomen who were married to soldiers - condottiere, as Italy called them--were often widowed early in life, while the rightful heir to their husband's throne was still young. So, such women were named as regents. They had to run and hold their lands for their sons, and that required an understanding of government, politics, and warfare--especially if you were a Sforza.

Caterina was wed at age ten to the reigning pope's corrupt nephew: that too was the way things were done in those days of arranged marriages. This marriage guaranteed that Caterina would be ensnared in Italy's political intrigues early in life. The beautiful fair-haired young girl spent turbulent years at the center of the Renaissance world, in Rome's papal court, as the favorite of the Pope, her husband's uncle. At that Pope's death, and the accession of a Pope hostile to her family, she moved to lands she had been given in the Pope's holdings in the Romagnol province of Forli. Following her husband's assassination--her second husband would be assassinated too-- she ruled Italy's crossroads with iron will, martial strength, political savvy - and, still beautiful, an icon's fashion sense. Her final marriage was to a scion of the junior branch of the De Medici, the famous rulers of Florence; this husband died young, of a sudden fever, while at a spa hoping to improve his health. But Caterina was finally to lose her lands to the monumentally murderous, corrupt and cruel Borgia family, after the accession of the Borgia Pope. However, she put up a resistance that inspired all of Europe and set the stage for her progeny - including Cosimo de' Medici - to follow her example to greatness. She was a shrewd and fearless leader until the end of her brief life, at 46. (Other famous renaissance women, such as Isabella D'Este, born of the house of Ferrara, married to the duke of Mantua, lived into their 60s, but undoubtedly had put less mileage on their odometers.)

Once upon a time, I studied Renaissance History at Cornell University, even took some Italian. I then tried to write a biography of Isabella D'Este Gonzaga, of Mantua. I trudged around the New York Public Library, 42nd Street; and the British Library, doing research; and was stymied, as most of the original material was in Latin, which I've never studied. But I had heard of Caterina; she was called a "virago," which I took as a term of criticism, although Lev says it originated as a word of praise, meaning a woman who had a man's qualities of strength, courage and daring.

In the world of the Renaissance, Caterina is most famous for an incident that may have happened in an early battle of her life. To quote the author:

"According to the most common version of the story, Caterina strode to the edge of the ramparts. With daggers drawn, the Orsis called to her, promising to kill her children, mother, and sister on the spot. In response, Caterina bellowed, `Do it then, you fools! I am already pregnant with another child by Count Riario, and I have the means to make more!' Then she turned on her heel and walked back into the castle.

That retort at Ravaldino would define Caterina Sforza throughout history. The Venetian ambassador, floored by her audacity, dubbed her a `tigress,' willing to eat her young to gain power. Galeotto Manfredi...passed down a particularly earthy version of the retort at Ravaldino. Writing to Lorenzo de' Medici, Manfredi claimed that Catherina, faced with these murderous threats, had brazenly raised her skirts, pointed to her genitals, and crowed that unlike the men below, she had the equipment for making more. Although no one else included these crude details in descriptions of the spectacle, Niccolo Machiavelli chose to repeat this salacious version in his DISCOURSES."

The author says that of all the many witnesses to this happening, only Manfredi reports it as having happened in this vulgar way, and that Machiavelli, the famously scheming and amoral Italian Renaissance figure who lent his name to certain types of underhand behaviors, reported it this way, to live down through the ages, because he hated Caterina: she had out negotiated him on one important occasion. We will never know.

Elizabeth Lev is a scholar of Renaissance art and culture. She is based in Rome, where she teaches college art history, gives tours of the city and the Vatican, and is a columnist for an international news service. She has done a fine job here in giving us a better, more complete picture of a woman probably known for all eternity for a brief incident that may never have happened. Sure worth reading if you are interested in Renaissance history, Italian history, or women's history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 17 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Tigress of Forli, The (Hardcover)
This is a brilliantly written book that is both intellectual and entertaining. Caterina is a fascinating person and the intriguing and turbulent period she lived in is brought to vividly to life without loss of historical gravitas. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Renaissance period who also respects good writing. Elizabeth Lev is an admirable writer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography, 27 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Tigress of Forli, The (Hardcover)
I read this and really enjoyed it.
Lev manages to illuminated the life of this Italian aristocrat.
It is head and shoulders above the move recent 'Deadly Sisterhood'
by Leonie Frieda which is so dense, and badly put together
as to be unreadable.
If you are going to read just one book, get'The Tigress'
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable virago, 16 Dec 2012
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tigress of Forli, The (Hardcover)
The Medici, the Sforza, Florence and the whole of Renaissance Italy are all totally fascinating - like a whole different world really in their way of life, the society, the beauty and the murderous intrigue, the astonishing wealth and the horrendous brutality.

Caterina was born the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, heir to the Duchy of Milan. Married three times, imprisoned by Cesare Borgia, sister-in-law to Lorenzo de' Medici, mother to eight known children, vilified by Machiavelli, painted by Botticelli, grandmother of Cosimo de' Medici, Duke of Florence and direct ancestor of innumerable European royalty and nobility. A remarkable woman, who died aged 46, but who packed more into her life than most people would in ten lifetimes. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Renaissance life, 23 April 2014
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This book was recommended by an Amazon reviewer and it was a great read. The author manages to incorporate much background social history into the narrative, which in itself is clear and interesting. Strongly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better than any fiction, 14 April 2014
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This is one of the best biographies I have read in a long time. It was like reading a biography of a character from Game of Thrones. It didn't actually read like a biography at all, it was so fast paced and exciting I found myself sat up reading it well into the night.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, 8 Mar 2014
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Really well written book. What an amazing woman, wish I could have her round for tea to discuss politics :-)
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Tigress of Forli, The
Tigress of Forli, The by Elizabeth Lev (Hardcover - 12 Dec 2011)
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