B is for The Beauty Secrets of Lucrezia Borgia
|Here she is holding a dagger. |
Battista Dossi, 1486
Pope Alexander IV’s daughter, Lucrezia (1480 - 1519), was a renowned beauty and may have been the subject of many great works of art, although she only has one confirmed portrait. She was described as having “heavy blonde hair which fell past her knees; a beautiful complexion; hazel eyes which changed color; a full, high bosom; and a natural grace which made her appear to ‘walk on air.’”
She was blonde, but she was Spanish by descent and the rest of her family was dark, so how did the most famous femme fatale of the Renaissance lighten her hair before there was Clairol?
|Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto, detail|
It’s generally believed that this color was achieved by rinsing it in a mixture of lye and lemon juice before exposing it to sunlight. The longer it was exposed, the lighter it would become. This process would take a long time for anyone, but imagine how much longer it would take if your hair fell past your knees. To give you some idea, there is an account that on one occasion, Lucrezia postponed a journey for days just to wash her hair. (1)
She wasn’t the only one doing it, either. Bleaching recipes were common in medieval cosmetic texts, and most of them include using lye or ashes in a rinse. There must have been something to it, because the practice of lightening hair with lemon juice has remained popular to this day. Elle Magazine even has a helpful guide to lightening your hair with lemon juice and sunlight a la Lucrezia Borgia, only they’ve replaced the lye with chamomile tea for a less caustic rinse. Whether you want to follow in the footsteps of your smokin’ hot foremothers or you’re just curious, you can read their recipe here.
A lock of Lucrezia’s famous blonde hair is kept in the Ambrosian Library in Milan to this day.
(1) Pointer, Sally. The Artifice of Beauty. Sutton Publishing, 2005.