The Borgia family’s fame is thanks to its statesmen, its popes, and its extraordinary personalities. Over the centuries their nefarious reputation has captivated writers as different as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, authors of graphic novels such as Alejandro Jodorowsky and Milo Manara, and manga, including Cesare by Fuyumi Soryo (extremely popular among the younger generation right now). Audiences were fascinated by the recent television series.

Through portraits of the family, visitors to the exhibition will discover the families’ true faces, as well as those of the major protagonists of the period: princes, philosophers, scientists and theologians. An epoch in turmoil following the discovery of America and the Italian wars, against a background of unrest fermented by the friar, Girolamo Savonarole, already foreshadowing the Protestant Reformation to come and the birth of a new generation of humanists. At the dawn of the 16th century, Erasmus and Luther illustrated the renewal of philosophy.

They were extraordinarily enlightened patrons of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, in the various Italian courts with whom they had close relations.

Works by the greatest artists will be presented: Giovanni Bellini, Della Robbia, Dosso Dossi, Andrea Mantegna, Melozzo da Forlì, Michelangelo, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Raphael, Titian, Luca Signorelli, Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci were the centre of an abundant universe. Major Italian and European institutions have collaborated on this exhibition, and some works will be being shown in Paris for the fi rst time. Loans from prestigious international private collections will enable works that have been held in families for generations to be discovered.

The exhibition will be organized around three essential figures of the Borgias family:

Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia, born in Xativa in Spain, 1431–1503), elected pope in 1492, he is the central fi gure of the family. A brilliant and formidable man, he was debauched and corrupt (the word nepotism originated with him ). Among his numerous mistresses, Vannozza Cattanei bore him several children.

Two others have gone down in history:

Cesare Borgia (1476-1507) called the Valentinois, condottiero and ambitious politician dreamed of making Italy into a vast kingdom under the rule of the pope. He was the inspiration for Nicolas Machiavelli’s famous The Prince, the fi rst treatise on modern politics. Cesare was very close to Leonardo da Vinci, his military engineer. He was also surrounded by other great artists of the period, including Pinturicchio and his young pupil Raphael.

His sister, Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519), was one of the most extraordinary women of the Renaissance, and is credited with a reputation as a famous poisoner. A close friend of Isabelle d’Este, she became Duchess of Ferrara in 1505. At that most refi ned court, she patronized the most famous artists, Andrea Bregno and Dosso Dossi. Each of them sheltered many artists, such as Pinturicchio, author of the magnifi cent frescoes in the Borgia apartments in the Vatican, Paolo da San Leocadio who worked in Valencia on behalf of Rodrigo Borgia and even Piermatteo d’Amelia who created the frescoes on the vault of the Sistine Chapel that were later covered by those of Michelangelo.

Rome, under the impetus of the Borgias, with Melozzo da Forlì, Le Filarete and Antoniazzo Romano, enjoyed a great reputation. They had strong links with the other great artistic centres of Italy: in Venice, with Giovanni Bellini and Titian; in Florence, with Verrocchio and Luca Signorelli; and in Mantua, with Andrea Mantegna and in Urbino with Francesco di Giorgio Martini.

Raphael and Michelangelo, who would revolutionize the artistic scene, finish the exhibition.

Armour, swords and jewellery will reconstitute the family’s surroundings and the atmosphere of the century.