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A Renaissance woman in power

Daughter of Venice: Caterina Corner, Queen of Cyprus and Woman of the Renaissance - Holly S. Hurlburt

In the 15th century Cyprus was an independent kingdom ruled by the descendants of French crusaders. In debt and faced with competing powers all of whom desired control over the strategically important island, in 1468 its king, Jacques II, agreed to marry a teenaged Venetian noblewoman named Caterina Corner. The daughter of a wealthy mercantile family, their union symbolized Venice's ascent in Cypriot politics, and when the then-18 year old traveled to Cyprus in 1572 to marry Jacques in person. Less than two years later, with the tragic deaths of both her husband and infant son, Caterina found herself the ruling queen of the island, which she governed until she was forced to abdicate by the Venetians in 1489.

 

Caterina's unusual life and unfortunate fate have long attracted the attention of artists and poets as well as scholars. One of the strengths of Holly Hurlburt's book is her ability to draw upon this output to deconstruct how Caterina was seen both in her time and afterward. As her title indicates, Hurlburt sees Caterina's Venetian identity as an indelible part of who she was as both a person and a ruler. Yet while reliant upon Venetian support throughout her reign, Hurlburt demonstrates that Caterina was not their puppet, a fact demonstrated by their deposition of her when the Venetians feared a possible marriage alliance between her and the heir to the throne of their Neapolitan rivals. Though no longer in power, Hurlburt shows how Caterina maintained her dignity afterward, living as the "Lady of Asolo" in northern Venice, where she not only ruled over the community but served as a Renaissance patron and influential personage.

 

By combining the analysis of art history with historical research, Hurlburt provides readers with an excellent study of a fascinating Renaissance figure. Though she eschews a narrative of Caterina's reign, she provides an overview that encapsulates the problems she faced as a woman performing in a role defined by men. In this her utilization of the artistic portrayals of her subject is a particular strength, one enhanced by the generous supplementing of the text with the illustrations to which she refers. It all makes for a book that should be read by anyone interested in learning about the lives of Renaissance women in power and how they responded to the challenges they encountered.