Renaissance and Reformation Caterina Cornaro
Holly Hurlburt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0388


Born into the Venetian patriciate class, Caterina Cornaro (also Corner, b. 1454–d. 1510), ruled the island of Cyprus as its last queen from 1473–1489. Her wealthy and ambitious father, Marco, and uncle Andrea possessed political and mercantile interests in the Cypriot kingdom ruled by the French Lusignan family that facilitated her marriage to King Jacques II in 1468, a union sanctioned and supported by the Venetian Republic. His death in 1473 prompted an attempted coup that Caterina and her infant son, Jacques III, evaded with Venetian assistance the following year. The coup provided justification for Venetian interference in Cypriot governance, which, despite Caterina’s resistance, gradually increased until Venice forced her abdication in 1489. After her return to the Venetian mainland, Caterina divided her time between the hill town of Asolo, which she governed on Venice’s behalf as recompense for her sacrifice of her kingdom; her hunting lodge (Barco) at Altivole; and Venice, where she continued to marshal her royal authority, arranging marriages for family and friends and regularly petitioning the Venetian government for offices and benefices for her former courtiers. Perhaps the most famous woman of the Venetian Renaissance, Caterina appeared in the paintings of Gentile Bellini as well as those of other artists. The image of her sacrifice of her kingdom for the sake of Venice appeared on her tomb in the church of San Salvador, Venice, other family tombs, and on the ceiling of the Great Council Hall in the Doge’s Palace. Venerated in humanist orations and poetry, Caterina and her court provided the setting for Pietro Bembo’s poetic musing on the nature of love, Gli Asolani (1505).

General Overviews

Traditionally, much scholarship on Caterina has focused upon biography. Those authored for a general audience often repeat a romanticized narrative of her life: the best of those, and a handful of more scholarly treatments, are included here: Zacchia-Rondinini 1938, Colasanti 1979, Hunt and Hunt 1989, Hurlburt 2015. A recent flurry of conferences and celebrations timed to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of Caterina’s death resulted in several anthologies (Perocco 2011, Syndikus and Rogge 2013), which both address previous themes and cover new ground. Scholarship on Caterina generally has appeared in English and Italian, with fewer works in French, German, and Greek.

  • Colasanti, Francesco. “Corner, Caterina.” In Dizionario biografico degl’Italiani. Vol. 22. 1979.

    A detailed online biography of Caterina with thorough bibliography of manuscript and printed sources.

  • Hunt, David, and Iro Hunt, eds. Caterina Cornaro: Queen of Cyprus. London: Trigraph, 1989.

    David Hunt served as high commissioner of Cyprus and later president of the Institute of Hellenic Studies. This volume, which he edited with his wife, contains essays by Peter Edbury, Hunt, Joachim Joachim, and Terrence Mullaly on Cyprus, Caterina’s reign there, and her return to Venice. The book has a useful bibliography and color illustrations but no notes.

  • Hurlburt, Holly. Daughter of Venice: Caterina Corner, Queen of Cyprus and Woman of the Renaissance. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2015.

    The only comprehensive scholarly biography of Caterina and the most recent scholarship in English. This monograph reveals a previously understudied archival record detailing Caterina’s interactions with Venetian magistrates both during and after her reign. The archival documents reveal her engagement with the processes of governance both in Cyprus and in Asolo. Hurlburt also examines in detail the cultural output (art and literature) inspired by her during her lifetime.

  • Perocco, Daria, ed. Caterina Cornaro: L’illusione del regno. Sommacampagna, Verona: Cierre Edizioni, 2011.

    Proceedings of a 2010 conference held in Asolo; six essays in Italian. Not specifically focused on Caterina in Asolo. Includes works by Giuseppe Gullino, Daria Perocco, and Evgenia Skoufari and an essay by the Asolo archivist Orietta Dissegna that discusses for the first time in print the archival sources there that demonstrate that Caterina actively engaged in the processes of governance of Asolo.

  • Syndikus, Candida, and Sabine Rogge, eds. Caterina Cornaro: Last Queen of Cyprus and Daughter of Venice/Ultima Regina di Cipro e figlia di Venezia. Münster, Germany, New York, Munich, and Berlin: Waxmann, 2013.

    Proceedings of a 2010 international conference; seventeen essays in English, French, and Italian from Benjamin Arbel, Lina Bolzoni, Martin Gaier, Gilles Grivaud, Chryssa Maltezou, and Perocco, among others. Interdisciplinary essays that treat Caterina and provide crucial context in Cyprus, Venice, and Asolo from the perspectives of art and architecture, literature, history, and music. Some essays also address Caterina in the art, literature, and music of later centuries.

  • Zacchia-Rondinini, Anna Loredana. Caterina Cornaro: Patrizia veneta, regina di Cipro. Rome: Cosmopoli, 1938.

    Best of the older biographies of Caterina, rare for its archival focus. Also invaluable for its detailed treatment of Caterina’s predecessor as Queen of Cyprus, Charlotte Lusignan (r. 1458–1463). Not widely available.

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