29 November 2016

Maria d’Aragona (±1503-1568)

In the "Golden Age of Bastards" King Ferrante I of Naples (1423-1494) was an illegitimate son of King Alfonso V of Aragon and his mistress Giraldona Carlino. Ferrante I married twice and had several illegitimate children, too. One of Ferrante’s mistresses, Diana Guardado, was a member of an aristocratic patrician family. She gave birth to three of his children: Maria d’Aragona (who married a brother of Pope Pius III), Giovanna d’Aragona (who married a brother of Pope Julius II) and Ferdinando d’Aragona (†1542). Ferdinando was created Duke of Montaldo and married twice, too. His youngest child was Maria d’Aragona (1503-1568).

Maria's sister Giovanna 
d'Aragona (1502-1575) 

was also a patron 
of writers.
Maria d’Aragona’s brilliance and beauty were widely praised. She frequented intellectual and religious circles, and was acquainted with the poetess Victoria Colonna. In 1523 Maria married Alfonso d’Avalos (1502-1546), Marquess del Vasco. He became a decorated soldier. In 1538 he was appointed governor of Milan for Emperor Charles V. Subsequently, Maria lived in the ducal palace in Milan, while her husband was constantly in the field with his army. In 1544, in one of the worst massacres of the century, Alfonso lost 12,000 of his men in a battle against the French. He was wounded in a battle and never fully recovered from his wounds. The last years of his life he was a broken. After her husband’s death in 1546 Maria, her 7 children and her sister Giovanna (to the right), settled in Pavia, where they established a literary salon. In 1547 they moved to Castell dell’Ovo in Naples and reopened their salon. Driven out of the castle during a rebellion, Maria managed to live out the last years of her life in Naples, where she died in 1568.

In 2012 the remains of Maria d’Aragona were dug up in Naples. When a linen bandage was cut off from Maria’s arm, a large, oval ulcer was discovered. Examination of the tissue with a microscope showed the presence of Treponema Pallidum, a spirochaete bacterium that is known to cause syphilis. The tissue was so well preserved that the spiral shape of the bacteria could be detected. Maria also harbored human papillomavirus in a venereal wart—the first diagnosis of this sexually transmitted, cancer-causing disease in the tissue of a mummy.

Sexually transmitted diseases were common in Renaissance Italy. It was easily spread by soldiers, having sex with - or raping – women, so Maria was most likely infected by her soldiering husband. See also: Syphilis in the Italian Renaissance.

25 November 2016

Intermezzo - Syphilis & the Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance is also known as the “Golden Age of Bastards”. Powerful men routinely took many mistresses and fathered several children with them. “Natural” children were frequently raised by the legal wife, alongside half brothers and sisters; others were sent to live and be educated in foreign courts. 
The Wolf of Rimini
Several of these bastards had brilliant careers: 
  • Despite the presence of legitimate children Lionello d’Este (1407-1450) was favoured by his father as successor as Marquess of Ferrara. 
  • Career soldier Federigo III da Montefeltro (1422-1482) was an illegitimate son of the lord of Urbino. 
  • The notorious Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-1468), popularly known as “The Wolf of Rimini”, was an illegitimate son of the lord of Fano.
The Italian Renaissance is also known as the era of highly contagious syphilis. At the time, social environmental and biological conditions were ideal for the spread of infections: new contacts among people, increasing trade, movements of armies from one part to the other within Europe, and also promiscuity and prostitution. 
The first well-documented major outbreak of syphilis occurred in Naples in the mid-1490s after Charles VIII of France had invaded Italy. It was of exceptional virulence, highly contagious and caused severe ulceration. Soon, a slower-progressing form of syphilis replaced the initial severe form. Many symptoms were less severe, and the rash, of a reddish colour, did not cause itching. Moreover, the gummy tumours then appeared only in a limited number of cases. For Renaissance rulers, leading the licentious lifestyle of court society of the time, syphilis was almost an occupational hazard.