Caterina Sforza Gli Experimenti Workshop I

Ciao Tutti! Welcome to the first workshop I’m hosting for translating the recipes of Caterina Sforza’s Gli Experimenti. First, let’s learn who she was, what the book is, and talk about the foundations laid by other researchers who have studied her work.

Title Page of Pasolini’s Volume III

The Author

Caterina Sforza led a controversial and dramatic life, leaving us with letters, accounts, famous children, and a myth that is larger than life.

  • 1463 – Caterina is born illegitimate daughter of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza
  • 1477 – became the wife of Girolamo Riario the favorite nephew (or son) of Pope Sixtus IV
  • 1488 – named regent of Imola and Forli when first husband Girolamo Riario was assassinated
  • 1499 – defended against Cesere Borgia during his siege of Imola
  • 1509 – dies in Florence

During her lifetime she received both praise and blame from Leone Cobelli & Niccolo Machiavelli while Iacopo Foresti lauded her intellect but compared her to Assyrian Queen Semiramis (whose amorous appetites ruined her as a real ruler). Her son Giovanni “delle Bande Nere” de Medici obviously inherited his mother’s (and grandfather’s) gift for military strategy by distinguishing himself as a condottiere (mercenary) commanding papal forces. Her grandson, Cosimo I de’ Medici because the grand duke of Florence and through him her bloodline still remains in the noble houses of Europe.

A page from Cuppano’s manuscript

Gli Experimenti

At the end of the of the fifteenth century, Caterina Sforza recorded over four hundred recipes for health and beauty in a manuscript titled Gli Experimenti de la S.r Caterina da Furlj Matre de lo S.r Giouanni de Medici (Gli Experimenti = The Experiments). The original manuscript, written by Caterina with one recipe on each page, is now lost. Her stillroom book recipes are available to us in the form of a sixteenth-century transcription produced by Lucantonio Cuppano (b. 1507) and published by Pier Pasolini in the late nineteenth-century (Cuppano’s sixteenth-century transcription is held in a private archive). Sforza’s Experimenti includes instructions for making lip colors, creams, and hair dye; prescriptions for treating ailments from fever and headache to epilepsy and infertility; and recipes to improve libido and to “restore” virginity.

I’ve chosen No. 39 for our first recipe. I’ll provide the closest typed version to the original that I am able to along with a photo of the recipe from Volume III.


Title: a guarire la Roseza del volto

Recipe: Piglia Cerusa aqua rosa oleo de viole et mestica inseme et ugne la faccia

Let’s discuss it word by word down in the comments!

The introduction video for this workshop is up now on the YouTube channel here

Gli Esperimenti p 630


  1. Translate the title, making note of the purpose of the recipe and whether is it medicinal, cosmetic, domestic, or an alchemical concoction.
    1. Use Florio’s dictionary, Italian Weights reference, Google Translate, and Google search to determine additional information on the recipe.
  2. Translate the recipe, making note of the verbs and ingredient terms as these will likely be used again and again in the volume.
    1. Use the dictionaries and search engine again. If you plan to make the recipe be sure to also use historical herbals and modern herbal databases to make a note of the ingredients use in period as well as modern determination of safety. The EWG Skin Deep Database is an online tool for just this purpose. Also see, Gerard’s Herball and A Modern Herbal database in the references.


A Modern Herbal Database

Accademia della Crusca 1612 Italian Dictionary

Bartolomeo Cerretani, Storia fiorentina, ed. Giuliana Berti, Firenze, 1994.

EWG Skin Deep Database.

De Vries, Joyce. Caterina Sforza and the Art of Appearances.

Florio’s 1598 Italian/English Dictionary

*Florio’s 1611 Italian English Dictionary

FB Group

Gerard’s Herball.

James, C. (2012). [Review of the book Caterina Sforza and the Art of Appearances: Gender, Art and Culture in Early Modern Italy]. Parergon29(1), 260-261. doi:10.1353/pgn.2012.0014.

Milligan, Jerry. Moral Combat: Women, Gender, and War in Italian Renaissance Literature.

Ray, Meredith. Daughters of Alchemy: Women and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy. 2015. Harvard U Press.

Ray, Meredith. “The Alchemist’s Desire”. (with photos of the Cuppano manuscript)

*Sforza, Caterina. Experimenti de la Ex[ellentissi]ma S]igno]ra Caterina da Furlj Matre de lo inllux[trissi]mo S[ignor] Giovanni de Medici, in Caterina Sforza, ed. Pier Desiderio Pasolini, v. 3, 617-618 (Rome: Loescher, 1893).

*Zupko, Ronald Edward. Italian Weights and Measures from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century. 1981.


This is an example of a horrible translation. I’ve found some of the original and think we can do better:

She was wise, animose, great: complex, beautiful face, she spoke little; he wore a satin robe with two arms of trawl, a black velvet caper on the French, a man’s girdle, and scarsella full of golden ducats; a sickle for the use of retort next to it, and among the soldiers at the foot, and on horseback was feared much, because that Woman with weapons in hand was proud and cruel. She was the non-legitimate daughter of Count Francesco Sforza, the first captain of his time and to whom he was very similar in soul and daring, and he did not lack, being adorned with singular virtue, of some vice not small nor vulgar.


benissimo paghati, e migl[i]ori di tute le ??fanferie?? già fe gran tempo et copia grandissima d’artigl[i]eria et Madonna savia et animosa quant’altra donna de suoi temppi. Ell’era grande compresa bella faccia, parlava poncho, portava una vesta di raso tané con braccia due di strascicho, uno ci[i]amperone di velluto nero alla francese, uno cinto da homo et scharsella piena di Ducati d’oro, un falc[i]one a uso di stortta ??schaptto?? e tra soldati o appiè o a chavallo era temuta assai perché — quella donna mai conobbe paura et coll’arme [con l’arme] in mano era fiera et crudele; su figliola non ligittima del conte Franc(esc)o Sforzza, primo capitano de’ temppi sua, al quale fu molto simile nell’animo et ardire + ma non mancho, senddo ornata d’alcuna virtu singulare, di qualche vi-tio non piccolo ne vulghare.

Bartolomeo Cerretani, Storia fiorentina, 266

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