Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lucrezia Borgia Was a Capitalist and Entrepreneur

From The University of Southern California Chronicle -- Lucrezia Borgia was a capitalist and entrepreneuer.


A Capitalist Ahead of Her Time

New research answers a longtime question of how Lucrezia Borgia boosted her personal wealth when times were tough.
By Suzanne Wu
Portrait assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia, by Bartolomeo Venziano

According to popular legend, Lucrezia Borgia, the duchess of Ferrara (1480-1519), stands falsely accused of poisoning her second husband. Victor Hugo portrayed her in thinly veiled fiction as a tragic femme fatale. Buffalo Bill named his gun after her.

New research by Diane Yvonne Ghirardo of the USC School of Architecture and USC College reveals that the only sister of Cesare Borgia, the model for Machiavelli’s book The Prince, was less interested in political intrigue than in running a business, undertaking massive land development projects that “stand alone in the panorama of early 16th-century projects, not only those initiated by women,” Ghirardo said.

Forced by an economic downturn to cut expenses and become an entrepreneur, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI would control between 30,000 and 50,000 acres in northern Italy within six years.

“This is a classic case of seeing only what you’re looking for and not getting the whole picture,” Ghirardo said of the centuries-old mystery surrounding how Lucrezia accumulated her vast personal wealth. Ghirardo noted that historians have long dismissed Lucrezia as an unaware woman because no record exists of her collecting art or antiquities.

“The information was there in the archives, but because she was a woman, scholars only looked at transactions for clothes, for jewelry or for works of art. Nobody looked at the other entries in the account registers,” said Ghirardo of the research project that took her more than seven years.

In the current issue of Renaissance Quarterly, Ghirardo explains how Lucrezia turned seemingly worthless swampland into reclaimed land. The property was used to cultivate grains, barley, beans and olive trees; to grow flax for spinning into linen; to pasture livestock for milk, meat, wool and hides; and for vineyards.

“That’s really a capitalist attitude: to leverage capital by getting the basic good – in this case, land – at the cheapest cost,” Ghirardo said.

For example, Ghirardo details Lucrezia’s first business venture with her husband’s cousin Don Ercole d’Este, who gave her title to half his land in Diamantia, a large marshy district west of Ferrara. In exchange, Lucrezia agreed to fund improvements to the land, including drainage, building embankments and digging canals.

As Ghirardo explained: “Lucrezia grasped the untapped potential of thousands of acres of marginal, waterlogged land, but she was too shrewd to employ her own resources to purchase it unless absolutely necessary.”

Surviving documents also indicated Lucrezia’s knowledge of contract terms, border disputes and even the skill of various hydraulic engineers, according to Ghirardo. Other records show her pawning an extremely valuable ruby-and-pearl piece of jewelry in order to buy more water buffaloes (especially to produce mozzarella).

“It’s not just what Lucrezia did and how she did it, but the immensity of her enterprises, that stands out,” Ghirardo said. “Nobody else was doing this on such a large scale, not even men. Nobody was prepared to put in that kind of money.”

Notably, Lucrezia held titles to the land she acquired in her own name, not in her husband’s. Profits from Lucrezia’s entrepreneurial activities were also for her use alone, according to Ghirardo.

“She could have purchased property that was already arable, but instead she got land that wasn’t useful and transformed it,” Ghirardo said. “I really believe that she thought of this as her Christian duty, to transform the land and make it better and then to use money to help fund her spiritual and religious interests.”

In account registers that the duke of Ferrara would not have seen, Ghirardo found indication of significant cash gifts to Lucrezia’s confessors, preachers and other religious figures, as well as unexplained cash dispersals, possibly for a love child.

“It’s a little like trying to reconstruct a life from a credit card statement. There’s a lot you can tell, but a lot that remains obscure,” Ghirardo said.

Lucrezia Borgia – widely described by her contemporaries as beautiful and blond, with a sunny disposition – died at 39 following complications from the birth of her eighth child. Three decades would pass before another comparable land reclamation project emerged in northern Italy.

The research was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Fulbright Program and the Graham Foundation.

MIT Enterprise Forums

MIT has some great enterprise forums coming up. There's a group in Connecticut that will let you see the forums streamed into a theater via a global broadcast program.

Read about the event for entrepreneurs here -- http://enterpriseforum.mit.edu/network/broadcasts/200902mit/index.html

Read below about the global broadcast in Connecticut.

MIT Enterprise Forum February Global Broadcast Programs

The MIT Enterprise Forum is proud to present TWO Global Broadcasts in February:

A Walk in the Clouds: Is Cloud Computing the Future of Enterprise Systems? Thursday, February 12th, 7:00 - 8:30pm
(6:00 - 7:00 networking and hors d'oeuvres and 7:00 - 8:30 WEBCAST program)

Presented by the MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta
Moderated by Charles Phillips, President of Oracle

Paint It Black: Avoiding the Financial Beast of Burden in 2009 and Beyond Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00 - 8:30 pm live from the MIT Campus
(6:00 - 7:00 networking and hors d'oeuvres and 7:00 - 8:30 WEBCAST program)

A detailed look at how companies should operate during the economic downturn and position themselves to thrive when the financial tables start to turn. Details

Location for both events:
Low Learning Center, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, CT (directions below)

Register online

Directions to University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington:

From I-84 East/West: Go to Exit 39 (Route 4 - Farmington). As you come down Exit 39, stay in the right lane because you will bear right approximately 1/4 mile down onto Rt. 4 (East), Farmington Avenue. Go straight approximately 1-1.5 miles. At 3rd traffic light, take a right into the University of Connecticut Health Center complex At the intersection with the red blinking light, proceed straight through. At the fork, bear left and proceed up the hill. Proceed through another stop sign (Guard Station) and parking lots are available on the left and right. Enter the Hospital Entrance. Proceed to the escalator on your left past the Information Desk. The program will be held in the Keller Lobby and Auditorium which is on your left once you get to the bottom of the escalator.

From Northbound Route 9: Take Exit 32 (left exit) onto I-84 West and stay in the right lane. Take Exit 39 (first exit). Turn right at first traffic light onto Route 4 East (Farmington Avenue). At third traffic light, turn right to enter the Health Center campus.

To Return to Route 9: Exit the Health Center campus via Munson Road. At the end of Munson Road, turn left onto South Road. At next stop sign, turn right and follow signs to I-84 East, staying in the right lane to exit onto Route 9 South.

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