The eighth episode of The Borgias continues the story of French expedition into Italy, just stopping short of the entry into Rome. Comparing events with the historical record, we find what is depicted on screen more congruent with overall themes of 1494-5, rather than a recreation of specific events, with a fair amount of dramatic license thrown in to keep the characters busy. On an art historical note, a Fra Angelico is transported from Florence to make a very brief cameo, along with a glimpse of another more elusive piece. It was another episode with great action sequences, as French cannon are turned on the Papal forces.
An enjoyable regent
Michel Muller's portrayal of the 'affable' French King has been quite entertaining. After the entry into Florence last week, it was hoped we would see some of the negotiations that occurred between Charles and the Florentine representatives, which included Savonarola. For a period Charles also had occupied the recently deserted Palazzo Medici so having a scene set under the inverted 'Battle of San Romano' would not have been out of place. Unfortunately, this episode fast forwards to what can only be approximated as any time between January and December 1494 - these events being fixed as the date of King Ferrante of Naples death and Charles VIII arrival in Rome.
Alexander's conundrums, Cesare's influence
It is interesting to see the writers giving Cesare lines like 'I know little of the art of war' when he has already intimated that he would prefer to be in armour than the garb of a cardinal. This line was likely included to show Cesare's respecting of his father's wishes to openly support his brother's plan, but the acting direction and Cesare's numerous uncomfortable facial expressions indicate he had little confidence in Juan's plan to attack French cannon front on. As we got to see, the results were quite disastrous. It was a nicely done as far as effects for a TV series go, so we shouldn't be too picky about its historical accuracy.
Phantom battles and the teenage negotiator
Last week we were treated to a Viking style pillage of Lucca, something not mentioned in the histories of the era. What little reference to Lucca there are during this period indicates that Charles VIII was placatingly received by Lucca and Pisa, who along with Florence were quick to compare Charles to Julius Caesar. Interestingly, such a reference is made in the show, but not directed at Charles. The show presents us with another small engagement with a location described as "outside Rome". After a fearful demonstration of the effect of cannon on infantry, the task of negotiator falls to 14 year old Lucrezia, now being politely held hostage by Charles. Whilst it was nicely executed with Holliday Grainger dashing about on a horse and negotiating with her brother, there is nothing to suggest anything of the sort happened. It is true that an accord was struck between Alexander and Charles VIII, and the passage through Rome relatively bloodless, though this will likely be explored in the next episode.
We have not seen much of Johannes Burchardus, Papal Master of Ceremonies. It was nice to see him get a scene in this episode. So much of what we know of Alexander's tenure as pope is derived from his diaries, something which will be explored in greater detail in an upcoming post.
Back to the abbey with a Fra Angelico
It was a mild surprise to see Ursula Bonadeo again, I was hoping Cesare would be ready to move on, maybe travel to Milan and meet Leonardo. Unfortunately he still seems a little lovestruck and visits Ursula at the abbey - and is promptly again told to stay way. Shown as an altarpiece at the abbey chapel is a Fra Angelico painting that is actually part of a larger series showing the life of Christ. This was part of a 41 panel composition painted for the Santissima Annunziata Church in Florence.
There are also very quick glimpses of a piece which show what is likely to be tomb or sepulchre. There were many variations of this element depicted in scenes of the death, burial and assumption of Mary and Christ and other saints. I haven't been able to find a perfect match yet, if anyone recognises it, let me know.
What lies ahead?
The next episode will be the season finale. It is unlikely we will see Florence, but hopefully Leonardo may still make an appearance if some more plot points involving the Sforza are involved. Charles VIII entry into Rome and his negotiation with Alexander VI will likely be the focus. Although it was a tense diplomatic negotiation in actuality, the writers seem intent on depicting it as a something more akin to a trial for Alexander.