Borgia Pope Did NOT Have a Painting of the Madonna Modeled on His Mistress, New Exhibit Suggests

The confident demeanor of a man about to bust some Renaissance gossip. Photo via AP Images.

Here’s a good one for fans of centuries-old gossip about dead people: A museum in Rome is hosting an exhibit that questions the scandalous centuries-old notion that a 15th century Vatican painting used a Borgia pope’s mistress as a model for the Madonna. Take that, you scurrilous rumor-mongers of the late 1400s!

That’s according to the Associated Press, reporting on the show at the Capitoline Museums, dedicated to the work of Renaissance artist Pintoricchio:

One of the curators, Francesco Buranelli, branded as essentially “fake news” the notion that Pintoricchio’s “Madonna with Child” was a portrait of Giulia Farnese. A stunning beauty with long, chestnut-colored tresses, Farnese came from an ambitious Italian noble family. Detractors dubbed her “the Bride of Christ” and “the pope’s concubine.”

Giorgio Vasari, a 16th century painter and biographer of artists, perpetuated the claim that “Madonna with Child was essentially a portrait of Farnese. The Capitoline show’s organizers describe her as “the adolescent lover and not very hidden concubine” of Alexander VI, who was born as Rodrigo de Borgia.

Important detail: The painting was in the pope’s private apartments. Racy! In fact, dangerously close to outright blasphemy! And it was such a scandal that a successor, Pope Alexander VII, had it removed half a century later.

Anyway, it’s all part of efforts to convince everyone that the Borgias were the Borgias but they weren’t, like, E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY: THE BORGIAS.

Buranelli said dismantling the long-held legend about the Madonna portrait fits into recent efforts to evaluate the Borgia pope’s accomplishments apart from the libertine legacy many associate him with. (Before becoming pontiff, he is believed to have fathered seven children by various mistresses.

That is “not to say rehabilitating him, but trying to judge him in the context of his times, in particular the political times in which he reigned,” the curator said.

Good luck with that, fella.

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