Mary Hollingsworth

Catherine de’ Medici: The Life and Times of the Serpent Queen

History is rarely kind to women of power, but few have had their reputations quite so brutally shredded as Catherine de' Medici, Italian-born queen of France and influential mother of three successive French kings during that country's long sequence of sectarian wars in the second half of the sixteenth century. Thanks to the malign efforts of propagandists motivated by religious hatred, Catherine is often remembered as a schemer who used witchcraft and poison to eradicate her rivals, as a spendthrift dilettante who wasted ruinous sums of money on the building and embellishment of monuments and palaces, and, most sinister of all, as instigator of the St Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572, in which thousands of innocent Protestants were slaughtered by Catholic mobs.

Mary Hollingsworth delves into contemporary archives to discover deeper truths behind these persistent myths. The correspondence of diplomats and Catherine's own letters reveal a woman who worked tirelessly to find a way for Catholics and Protestants to coexist in peace (a goal for which she continued to strive until the end of her life), who was well-informed on both literary and scientific matters, and whose patronage of the arts helped bring into being glorious châteaux and gardens, priceless works of art, and magnificent festivities combining theatre, music and ballet, which display the grandeur of the French court.

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Princes Of The Renaissance

An illustrated history of the Renaissance told through the lives of its most influential patrons.

From the late Middle Ages, the independent Italian city-states were taken over by powerful families who installed themselves as dynastic rulers. Inspired by the humanists, the princes of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy immersed themselves in the culture of antiquity, commissioning palaces, villas and churches inspired by the architecture of ancient Rome, and offering patronage to artists and writers.

Many of these princes were related by blood or marriage, creating a web of alliances that held society together but whose tensions sometimes threatened to tear it apart. Thus were their lives dominated as much by the waging of war as the nurture of artistic talent. Mary Hollingsworth charts these developments in a sequence of chronological chapters, each centred on two or three main characters with a cast of minor ones - from Ludovico Sforza of Milan to Isabella d'Este of Mantua, from Pope Paul III to Emperor Charles V, and from the painters Mantegna and Titian to the architect Sansovino and the polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

Princes of the Renaissance is a vivid depiction of the lives and times of the élite whose power and patronage created the art and architecture of the Renaissance. In a narrative that is as rigorous and closely researched as it is accessible and informative, Mary Hollingsworth sets their aesthetic achievements in the context of the volatile, ever-shifting politics of a tumultuous period of history.

The Medici

The real story of the Medici is not the one that is usually told. The sanitized version - that they were wise rulers and enlightened patrons of the arts, the fathers of the Renaissance - is a fiction devised by later generations who reinvented their past to create this myth that now has the status of historical fact. In truth, they were just as devious and immoral as the infamous Borgias, tyrants loathed in the city they illegally made their own and which they beggared in their lust for power. This book explodes our gilded image of the Medici to reveal the sordid tale behind their astonishing trajectory from moneylending to the cream of Europe's nobility.

Having founded the bank that became the most powerful in Europe in the fifteenth century, the Medici gained political power in Florence, raising the city to a peak of cultural achievement and becoming its hereditary dukes. Among their number were no fewer than three popes and a powerful and influential queen of France. Their patronage brought about an explosion of Florentine art and architecture. Michelangelo, Donatello, Fra Angelico and Leonardo are among the artists with whom they were associated.

Thus runs the 'received view' of the Medici. Mary Hollingsworth argues that the idea that they were wise rulers and enlightened fathers of the Renaissance is a fiction that has acquired the status of historical fact. In truth, the Medici were as devious and immoral as the Borgias – tyrants loathed in the city they illegally made their own and which they beggared in their lust for power.


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Conclave 1559

A papal election is compelling theatre. It is a unique event, conducted with magnificent and arcane ceremonial in a format that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. The death of John Paul II in 2005 marked the start of a three-week media frenzy, with blanket coverage in the newspapers and on television, and armies of ‘experts’ interviewed to throw light on what was happening behind the locked doors of the Vatican. Another conclave is expected in the near future – and it will engender a similar fascination with what is one of the most unpredictable events in global politics. Conclaves have so often changed the course of history but their details remain shrouded in secrecy. Legend may have it that the Holy Ghost chooses the pope, but we can be sure a conclave is primarily about power: the cardinal who successfully engineers two-thirds of the votes in his favour will become a leading figure on the world stage. In 1559, as in 2013, the papacy was in crisis, under attack for its reluctance to embrace the need to reform abuses; the college of cardinals too was deeply divided between moderates and conservatives, as well as between personal rivalries and national factions; and a conclave was imminent. In 1559 the election of Pius IV would signal the start of the Counter-Reformation – perhaps it will provide a model for conclaves yet to come.

  • Conclave 1559 is the story of one of the most notorious conclaves in history, the last in which the rules of secrecy were totally ignored.
  • Using contemporary letters, diaries and reports, this book will reveal the complex and often devious manoeuvring between ambitious men hungry for power.
  • Astonishing levels of outside interference as foreign rulers attempt to rig the election.
  • A cast of colourful characters, some guilty of murder and heresy, others pious churchmen, but most of whom were motivated explicitly by self-interest.
  • Bribery and and corruption, dirty deals on a staggering scale, vitriolic rows and violent brawls, will make this a good read.
  • A magnificent setting in the Sistine Chapel and other halls of Renaissance splendour.
  • Uniquely, thanks to the ledgers of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, this tale of political chicanery will be illuminated with the more commonplace details of daily life inside the sealed world of the Vatican.



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The Borgias

The Borgia family of Renaissance Italy has become a byword for pride, lust, cruelty, avarice, splendour and venomous intrigue. It has inspired abomination and fascination in almost equal measure, perhaps best epitomised by Lucrezia Borgia, a woman vilified down the centuries as the embodiment of the scheming femme fatale.

We continue to be mesmerized by the more scandalous elements of the Borgia legend: the unscrupulous means by which Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI and then exploited his position to advance his children, notably Cesare and Lucrezia, and his wider family; the pope’s extortionate greed; the unparalleled corruption at the heart of Alexander’s pontificate; the brutal elimination of rivals by assassination, execution and poison; the incestuous relationships between father and daughter, and between brother and sister. Not surprisingly, there was even talk of supernatural pacts with the Devil. The Borgia tale has not only spawned numerous historical accounts of the family, but also inspired writers of romantic fiction, poets, dramatists, painters and musicians.

Carefully sifting fact from fiction, The Borgias is a compelling year-by-year account of their scandalous and tumultuous reign. Each year is covered by a concise, informative and accessible narrative, amplified by extensive quotation from contemporary sources and accompanied by stunning images of the period – including illuminations, portraits, maps, seals, tapestries and original artefacts.

This sumptuous and lavishly produced book is popular history at its best, written by a master historian.

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The Cardinal’s Hat

The second son of Lucretia Borgia, Ippolito d’Este became archbishop of Milan at the age of nine. But he had to wait anther twenty years to acquire his coveted cardinal’s hat, the route to power and wealth in sixteenth-century Europe – and one that had little to do with piety.

This is the story of how Ippolito achieved his ambition, a story involving family squabbles and petty feuds, and the political agendas of the pope, the emperor and the king of France. Through Ippolito’s eyes we experience the sophistication of the French court, the pleasures of hunting in the Loire valley, the excitement of battle, and the intrigue and glamour of an international peace conference.

This is not just a story of political intrigue. From the astonishing quantity of account books and letters stored in the state archives at Modena, we are given a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people: cooks and stable boys, butchers and painters, bargemen and beggars. The ledgers deal not only with the trappings of power – gold and silver, silks and velvets, banquets and balls – but also with the stuff of everyday life. We learn how much soap and candles cost, what happened when the drains got blocked, and why tipping was so important.

Out of these minutiae, Ippolito is brought to life, as are the lives of his staff and the Renaissance epoch itself. Painstakingly researched, incomparably rich, and uniquely compelling, The Cardinal’s Hat is a finely etched portrait of a life of relentless ambition.

CRITICAL ACCLAIM  for The Cardinal’s Hat

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Patronage in Sixteenth Century Italy

Patronage of art is an exciting subject, increasingly popular not only as a field of academic research but also with the less specialized reader who wants to know more about the men and women who commissioned the grand churches, magnificent palaces, villas and gardens decorated with statues, fresco cycles and altarpieces for which Italy is so justly famous. The sixteenth century was a momentous period in history and its patrons richly deserve investigation. While war, economic chaos and religious turmoil radically altered the political, social and religious life of Italy, the century witnessed unprecedented expenditure on art and architecture.

This was a century of famous patron-artist partnerships: Julius II and Bramante embarked on the monumental task of rebuilding St Peter’s; Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to paint his celebrated Last Judgement; Sixtus V and Domenico Fontana transformed the urban fabric of Rome; Borromeo and Pellegrino Tibaldi introduced the ideals of the Counter-Reformation in an ambitious programme of religious architecture in Milan; the centre of Venice was dramatically remodelled by the city’s government and Jacopo Sansovino; wealthy Venetian patricians built beautiful villas in the Veneto from designs by Palladio, and commissioned their portraits and altarpieces from artists of the calibre of Titian and Tintoretto. Giulio Romano built and decorated the Palazzo del Te for Federigo Gonzaga and, in perhaps the most famous partnership of all, Vasari gave visual expression to Cosimo I’s ambitions in an enormous programme of building and embellishment that established Florence as a centre of artistic excellence.

Here Dr Hollingsworth examines how patrons acquired their wealth, how they spent it, why they invested so much in art and what factors governed their choice of themes and styles. She discusses the process of design and construction, and the complex relationships between artists, patrons, agents and advisors. Above all, she investigates the impact of political and religious change on the development of sixteenth-century art and demonstrates the extent to which patrons controlled the final appearance of their projects.

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Patronage in Renaissance Italy: from 1400 to the early sixteenth century

This is the first comprehensive study of patrons in the Italian quattrocento. It will be of great interest to art historians and their students, and to lovers of Renaissance art and civilisation.

At the start of the fifteenth century the patron, not the artist, was seen as the creator and he carefully controlled both subject and medium. In a competitive and violent age, image and ostentation were essential statements of power. Buildings, bronze or tapestry were much more eloquent statements than the cheaper marble or fresco. The artistic quality that concerns us was less important than perceived cost. The arts in any case were just part of a pattern of conspicuous expenditure which would have included for instance holy relics, manuscripts and jewels – all of which had the added advantage that they were portable and could be used as collateral for bank loans.

Since Christian teaching frowned on wealth and power, money also had to be spent on religious endowments made in expiation. But here too the patron was in control, and used the arts and other means to express religious belief not aesthetic sensibility.

This artists in the Early Renaissance were employed as craftsmen. Only late in the century did their relations with patrons start to adopt a pattern we might recognize today. This book, which also discusses the important differences between mercantile republics like Florence and Venice, the princely states such as Naples and Milan, and the papal court in Rome, is essential for a full understanding of why the works of this seminal period take the forms they do.

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Architecture of the 20th Century

This book explores the changes that have taken place in architecture in the twentieth century. In this beautifully presented volume, Dr Mary Hollingsworth critically assesses the contribution of individual architects, such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, and of schools like the Bauhaus.

With its lively narrative and attractive illustrations, Architecture of the 20th Century will be indispensable both to the student of architecture and to the general reader.

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Art in World History

A history of art that runs always parallel with the history of humanity – in fact, which is meant to be an integral part of it. This is the first, truly innovative aim of the book, a monumental work with more than one thousand full-colour illustrations of the highest quality. In all its complexity and density of information, it is made an easy and quick reference tool by its articulate design, which enhances the clarity and richness of a text construed as captivating narrative, and which relies on the visual immediacy of annotated diagrams, plans, tables and captions for the ultimate impact on the inquisitive reader.

Page after page, the reader is made to experience the excitement of discovering a wealth of information and interpretation in a full-range, panoramic view of the world history of art from its origins to the present time.

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Academic Publications

‘The Architect in Fifteenth-Century Florence’, Art History, 7 (1984), pp. 385-410

‘Lorenzo de’ Medici: Politician, Patron and Designer’, Apollo, 135 (1992), pp. 376-79

‘Patronage and Innovation in Architecture’, in G. Barba Navaretti, P. Dasgupta, K-G. Mäler and D. Siniscalco (eds.), Creation and Transfer of Knowledge. Institutions and Incentives, (Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, International Conference, Castelgandolfo, Rome, September 1995), Munich 1996

‘Alberti: A Courtier and his Patrons’, in C. Mozzarelli, R. Oresko and L. Venturi (eds.), La Corte di Mantova nell età di Andrea Mantegna 1450-1550 Rome 1997, pp. 217-24

‘Agents and Artists: Jacopo Meleghino at the Court of Pope Paul III’, The Court Historian, 4 (1999), pp. 207-15

‘A Cardinal and his Household in Rome and Ferrara in 1566’, The Court Historian, 5 (2000), pp. 105-126

‘Materializing Power: Cardinal Ippolito d’Este in 1540’, in L. Golden (ed.), Raising the Eyebrow: John Onians and World Art Studies, Oxford (Archaeopress) 2001, pp. 169-73

‘Italy 1300-1400’, ‘Italy 1400-1500’ and Italy 1500-1600’, in J. B. Onians (ed.), Atlas of World Art, London (Laurence King) 2004, pp. 120-3, 180-1

‘More truffles, your grace?’, The Times, 22 May 2004

‘Coins, Cloaks and Candlesticks: The Economics of Extravagance’, in E. Welch and M. O’Malley (eds.), The Material Renaissance: Costs and Consumption in Italy 1300-1650, Manchester (Manchester University Press) 2007, pp. 260-87

‘A Cardinal in Rome: Ippolito d’Este in 1560’, in Jill Burke and Michael Bury (eds.), Art and Identity in Early Modern Rome, Aldershot (Ashgate) 2008, pp. 81-94

‘Cloistered in Clover in the conclave of 1559’, The World of Interiors, January 2009, pp. 138-41

The Possessions of a Cardinal: Politics, Piety and Art 1450-1700, ed. Mary Hollingsworth and Carol Richardson, University Park PA (Pennsylvania State University Press) 2010

‘A Taste for Conspicuous Consumption: Ippolito d’Este and his Wardrobe, 1555-66’, in Mary Hollingsworth and Carol Richardson (eds.), The Possessions of a Cardinal: Politics, Pierty and Art 1450-1700, University Park PA (Pennsylvania State University Press) 2010, pp. 132-52

‘Urbino, Pesaro and Rimini: c. 1400-1550’, in C. Rosenberg (ed.), The Court Cities f Northermn Italy: Milan, Parma, Piacenza, Mantua, Ferrara, Bologna, Urbino, Pesaro and Rimini, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press) 2010, pp. 352-368

‘The Borgias’, Total Politics, December 2012, pp. 70-2

A Companion to the Early Modern Cardinal, ed. Mary Hollingsworth, Miles Pattenden and Arnold Witte, Leiden and Boston (Brill) 2020

'Cardinals in Conclave', in Mary Hollingsworth, Miles Pattenden and Arnold Witte (eds.), A Companion to the Early Modern Cardinal, Leiden and Boston (Brill) 2020, pp. 58-70

'The Cardinal's Household', in Mary Hollingsworth, Miles Pattenden and Arnold Witte (eds.), A Companion Guide to the Early Modern Cardinal, Leiden and Boston (Brill) 2020, pp. 260-75