Castle Sforzqa in Milan where Lucrezia Crivelli lived as mistress of the Duke of Milan and as his wife's lady-in-waiting

On this day in history: Lucrezia Crivelli, mistress of Duke of Milan, dies

History of Italy News

Lucrezia Crivelli passed away on May 27, 1508. Known primarily as the lover of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Crivelli’s life is intertwined with the culture of 15th-century Milan.

Born into the noble Crivelli family, who were prominent in Milanese society, little is known of Lucrezia Crivelli’s early life.  Crivelli was lady-in-waiting to Beatrice d’Este, the Duke of Sforza’s wife, from 1475 until Beatrice’s death in 1497.   

Her beauty and charm soon brought her to the attention of Duke Ludovico Sforza. By the late 1480s, she had become one of his mistresses. She gave birth to his son, Giovanni Paolo, who went on to become the first Marquess of Caravaggio and a celebrated condottiero.

The Court of Ludovico Sforza

Ludovico Sforza, an ambitious and cultured ruler, surrounded himself with scholars, artists, and courtiers who contributed to Milan’s status as a Renaissance hub. Among his circle were illustrious figures such as Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante.

One of the most enduring aspects of Crivelli’s legacy is her association with Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork. She is often believed to be the subject of Leonardo’s painting “La Belle Ferronnière,” though this identification is debated.

A verified painting of Lucrezia Crivelli attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, long held by her family, was exhibited in Germany in 1995. This artwork, “Profile of a Young Lady,” is believed to depict a different woman than the one featured in “La Belle Ferronnière.”

Painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci of Lucrezia Crivelli, Profile of a Young Lady

More conclusively, another of Ludovico’s mistresses, Cecilia Gallerani, is immortalised in Leonardo’s “Lady with an Ermine.”

Later Life and Death

Following Ludovico’s fall from power in 1499, Crivelli’s life receded from the public eye. The political upheaval that followed the French invasion of Milan likely forced her into a more private existence.

Lucrezia Crivelli spent her final years at the Castello of Canneto near Mantua, where she was under the protection of Isabella d’Este, the elder sister of Beatrice. She remained there until her passing in 1508.

Interestingly, it is believed that Ludovico Sforza, her former lover, also died on the same day in 1508. After being captured by the French during the Italian Wars, Sforza was imprisoned in the dungeons of the castle of Loches in Touraine, France, where he ultimately met his end.

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