My Goodreads friend Lynne and her mom vacationed in Italy a couple of weeks ago, and she went to Ferrara! She visited many of the places where Barbara and Lucrezia and Duke Alfonso of The Second Duchess lived and celebrated and suffered and died. As she wrote to me, “There are no words for actually standing in these places.”
Here are some of her photographs, with brief quotes from to book illustrating how they were part of the story.
“The Monastero del Corpus Domini was in the old part of the city, occupying almost an entire city block in a section of narrow cobblestoned streets with names like Via Campofranco, Via Praisolo, and Via Pergolato. There were, however, no fields in sight, no meadows, and certainly no trellised arbors; the rose-colored brick walls of the church were almost flush with the pavement, with only the narrowest of paved walks to keep one’s feet out of the gutters… The bell for terce was just ringing as I directed my Austrian gentleman-at-arms to go up and knock. Nothing happened at first, and he knocked more vigorously. At last, a wicket inset into the wall beside the door was drawn back and a face appeared, framed in a wimple and veil.”
Lynne stood at the door just as Barbara did, and rang the bell. She wrote to me, “There was a doorbell, so I rang it.” I think that gave us both chills.
“For my prayers I was allowed to enter one of the stalls of the choir, a concession to my rank most visitors to the church would not enjoy. Not far from where I knelt were the tombs of the Este: the first Alfonso and the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, Ercole II the present duke’s father, and a number of others. With them lay Lucrezia de’ Medici, entombed not quite four years previously.”
The tomb in the center is that of Alfonso I and his wife Lucrezia Borgia, with two of their children. On the left is the tomb of Ercole I, and on the right the tomb of Lucrezia de’ Medici.
“The orange garden was not, as one might think, in a courtyard on the ground level with the other gardens and orchards of the Castello; it was a hanging garden, a square rooftop terrace jutting out from the great Lions’ Tower, landscaped with small paths and flower-beds with soil in boxes. The orange and lemon and citron trees in their wooden tubs were carried upstairs and downstairs as needed, and in cold weather such as this they were tended indoors like the petted aristocrats from the south they were. Surrounding the garden were parapets over which one could gaze out upon the city with its ancient walls, its marshes, its fields, and the silver branches of the Po, as if floating above it all.”
“The chapel was beautiful, small but with elegant geometric lines and a vaulted ceiling frescoed with images of the four Evangelists attended by their traditional symbols—Saint Matthew’s angel, Saint Mark’s lion, Saint Luke’s eagle, and Saint John’s bull—as well as by the proud white eagles of the Este. There were two or three niches along the walls, with statuary in the classical style.”
And of course there are extensive renovations to the ducal chapel in the course of the story. (!) The chapel was indeed greatly redecorated and renovated during the reign of Alfonso II.
As I wrote to Lynne when she was in Ferrara: “I am literally choking up with tears to think that you are there, in the monastery, where so many of the Este are buried. Standing there at Lucrezia’s tomb! It gives me chills, even though it is you and not me.”
It was such a delight to “travel” to Ferrara with Lynne and her mom, and I hope you all are as fascinated by these photographs as I am.