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#56 Alfonsina Orsini de’ Medici and Her Roman Tomb: A Conversation with Prof. Sheryl E. Reiss

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

Saturday, February 4th on Zoom

10am Los Angeles, 11am Phoenix, 1pm NY & Toronto, 6pm London, 7pm Florence

On February 13, 1520, Filippo Strozzi the Younger, Depositor General of the Apostolic Camera, wrote to a friend with news of the funeral of his mother-in-law, Alfonsina Orsini de’ Medici (1472-1520). Strozzi jested, “Alfonsina Orsini, whose death no one and whose life everyone mourned, and whose burial is most pleasant and salubrious to mankind.” Another observer, Bartolomeo Masi, noted in his diary that she died “with little good grace because she cared about nothing but accumulating money.” There is abundant evidence that Alfonsina Orsini was loathed by many male contemporaries, although there are complex motivations for their vilification of this formidable woman. She is familiar to historians of early 16th-century Florence and Rome as a powerful figure in Medicean politics and she was a significant patron of art and architecture. In this conversation with scholar Sheryl Reiss, we will consider her activities as a patron of painting, the decorative arts, and ephemera; her collecting of antiquities; and, especially, her patronage of architecture; and then examine and contextualize Alphonsina’s polychrome marble floor tomb in the Roman church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Extraordinary for an early Cinquecento monument, her tomb employs perspectival illusion to suggest an open grave or burial chamber beneath the pavement of the nave.

Sheryl E. Reiss received her PhD from Princeton University in 1992 and has lived in Chicago since 2018, where she is a Scholar-in-Residence at the Newberry Library and teaches at the Graham School of the University of Chicago. Previously, she has taught at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Cornell University, the University of California Riverside, the University of Southern California, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Dr. Reiss is a specialist in Italian Renaissance art and architecture with particular interest in the history of patronage. She is also interested in women and gender; archaism in early modern art; exchanges between Italy and Northern Europe; and funerary art. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Renaissance Society of America, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art (CASVA), and the Newberry Library. She has published widely on Italian art and art patronage of the early 16th century, focusing particularly on the patronage of members of the Medici family, and on Raphael and Michelangelo. She has co-edited two books: Beyond Isabella: Secular Women Patrons of Art in Renaissance Italy(2001, with David Wilkins) and The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture (2005, with Kenneth Gouwens). She is currently preparing a book, The Making of a Medici Maecenas: Giulio de’ Medici (Pope Clement VII) as Patron of Art; and, with Yvonne Elet and Linda Wolk-Simon, co-editing a collection of essays titled Reconsidering Raphael.


Minimum suggested donation: $20

This talk is free for Friends of Paola's Studiolo!

Look forward to seeing you on Zoom!

Warmest regards,


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