I am currently reading The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner and it’s a page turner! My review will post next week but to give you a taste of this novel about one of the most hated Queens in history. Does she deserve her reputation? I am very honored to welcome Mr. Gortner today with his thoughts on:
An Italian in France: Catherine de Medici and the French Renaissance
It took several weeks to get my new gowns fitted. In the meantime I began practicing my riding every day on a docile mare, using my Florentine saddle, which had a higher ridge and shorter stirrup length than customary in France and thus, Madame d’Etampes informed me, allowed me the extra advantage of being able to hike up my skirts to show off my ankles. “You do have lovely legs, my dear,” she remarked. “And the gentlemen always appreciate a hint of thigh.” – Excerpt from The Confessions of Catherine de Medici © C.W. Gortner 2010.
Popular history has painted Catherine de Medici as the perennial evil widow – the notorious queen mother who poisoned her foes and wreaked havoc upon France. Of course, history rarely tells us the whole story and Catherine’s is no exception. Still, the legend persists, and so we see Catherine enshrined forever in her unadorned black skirts and veil, a reptilian being without any glamour. We tend to forget that in fact she was once a pretty girl – thin, with the Medici’s slightly protuberant eyes, long beautiful hands, and, it was said, thick, curly auburn hair. She was not unattractive by our modern standards; though in her day, when willowy blue-eyed blondes were prized, she was never described as a beauty. Still, she had spirit and, most importantly, she had intelligence and a formidable education. A true product of the Italian Renaissance, she could speak several languages, read and write (in an age when literacy among women not of royal birth was a rarity, not the norm); and she imported with her to France the seeds of a cultural heritage that continues to flourish today.
It’s almost impossible to verify the claim that Catherine first brought pasta to France, though dried pasta was a staple in the 16th century for sea voyages. However, we can safely assume that if she did bring pasta, it wasn’t served in its most popular Italian incarnation, seeing as the first recipe for pasta with tomatoes was written in 1839. However, Catherine did import several other interesting devices, and her patronage of the arts made significte contributions to the French Renaissance and the world at large.
Like every well educated Renaissance person, she believed forces beyond our comprehension shaped the world; in particular, she was a firm believer in the power of astronomy and astrological influences. The French seer, Michel de Nostradamus, shared her belief and he dedicated many of his quatrains to her and her husband Henri II. She in turn patronized Nostradamus, safeguarding him and his rather unorthodox practices from the ecclesistical authorities. Without Catherine de Medici’s protection and support, we may never have had the opportunity to read the visionary prophesies of Nostradamus.
Catherine was an avid art connoisseur who re-modeled the Louvre to house her vast collection. She was following in the footsteps of her beloved father – in – law, Francois I, whose obsession with purchasing art – in particular Italian art – is responsible for the Louvre’s housing of such masterpieces as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Madonna of the Rocks.
After Francois’ death, his collection languished in various palaces including Fontanebleau; under Catherine’s guidance, the art was protected and preserved. In the same vein, Catherine had a keen appreciation for portraiture – a direct reflection of her humanistic education, in which the secular individual assumed vital importance. Under her patronage, the school of Clouet and others created astonishing images of some of the most important people of the age, including Catherine’s own children, allowing us centuries later to bask in their vivid, almost photographic likenesses. Her patronage of artists continued throughout her life; today, much of Catherine’s collection of portraits is on display in the Musee Conde, in the Chateau of Chantilly.
Architecture was another lifelong passion of Catherine’s, one in which she reputedly indulged rather wastefully. It is unfortunate that so little of her original architectural projects remain. Her chateau at Chenonceau, surely one of the most beautiful places on earth, bears testament to some of her work, including the gallery spanning the Cher River and sumptuous gardens. Another of her extant surviving projects is the impressive tomb she had built for herself and her husband in the mausoleum of kings in Paris’ Abbey of St. Denis. It is sad to contemplate that the tomb now stands empty, as the royal skeletons were removed from the Abbey during the Revolution and tossed together into a common pit.
Catherine collected books and reputedly amassed a significant library, amongst which were several important treatises on nature and the occult. She was an amateur poet and patronized poets liberally at court, including the famous Pierre Ronsard, whose verses evoke the era so beautifully. Under her guidance, the theatrical scene of the era was enlivened, as well, with many court events including plays and other forms of stage entertainment, setting the scene for the Sun King’s later extravaganzas.
Perhaps most fascinating, however, are the smaller contributions she made: Catherine is believed to have imported the first artichokes to France, as well as the first example of the modernized side-saddle. She was also the first documented user of female undergarments in France – which, if true, indicates that before she arrived, the ladies went commando under their gowns. It does make one wonder just how Catherine went about introducing the benefits of underpants to the ladies!
Thank you so much for spending this time with me. To find out more about The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, as well as special features about me and my work, please visit: www.cwgortner.com
So often only the bad comes down through history – it is important to learn of the good. Thank you so much C. W. Gortner for bringing these tidbits from the life of Catherine de Medici to Broken Teepee! Be sure to come back on May 30th when my review of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici will be posted.
Two lucky readers will get to learn what Catherine de Medici has to confess!
How do you win? It’s easy!
But first some rules:
No PO Boxes
18 years old+
One copy per household
Tell me which aspect of the guest post you found most interesting. Be sure to leave me your email address so I can contact you if you win.
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