Titian’s portrait of Catarina Cornaro in the Uffizi in Florence is interesting because of the romantic career of the young woman. She was the beautiful Venetian girl adopted and dowered by the Republic as an only daughter, then given in marriage to King James of Cyprus. She was only fourteen when she was betrothed to King James in the Grand Hall of the Council in the Doges Palace.
When she was eighteen the impressive ceremony took place before the high altar in San Marco, which made her the wife of King James and Queen of Jerusalem, Cyprus and Armenia.
Perhaps Venice never saw a more gala day than that in 1472 when Catarina set forth for Cyprus. The Bucentaur lay before the Palazzo Cornaro, in waiting for the Queen of Jerusalem, Cyprus and Armenia. In cloth of gold, and all regal attire, she stood in the door-way of her father’s palace. The Doge himself led her into the galley, and seated himself by her side. Slowly and majestically the splendid barge moved through the Grand canal, followed by the prayers and good wishes of thousands of her countrymen. At the Lido, the Admiral of the fleet from Cyprus waited with his ships to take his young and beautiful Queen to his sovereign. King James died one year after the marriage and after various political intrigues she was prevailed upon to abdicate her sovereignty, and was given in exchange the whole region of Asola, in the Dolamites.
She was permitted to retain the title of Queen and sign herself Queen of Jerusalem, Cyprus and Armenia and Lady of Asola. For twenty years she held her mimic court here.
Raphael’s friend, the brilliant Cardinal Bembo, came from the court of Lucrezia Borgia at Ferrara and was a guest at the Pal-ace. He celebrated the beauties of Asola in a poem written on the marriage of Fiametta, the beautiful and favorite attendant of the Queen.
Tradition tells of the splendid palace, of the fountains fed from the hills, of the great avenues and groves, of the splendid frescoes on the outer walls of the palace. Giorgione painted on one of the towers a superb portrait of the Queen on horseback. All that remains of it now are the foundations, some bits of low wall and what was once the clock tower.
Robert Browning, when a young man making a pedestrian tour through the Dolamites, came upon Asola. He was so charmed with the beauty of the scene and of its marvelous sunsets, he remained here for some time, and it was here he wrote Sordello and Pippa Passes.
After Mrs. Browning’s death he came again to Asola, and asked permission of the authorities to buy and restore the ruined clock tower for a summer residence. The day he lay dying in Venice the permission to do so was given him.
( Originally Published 1912 )
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