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A look into the life of Vannozza Cataneï

A look into the life of Vannozza Cataneï 

Some drops of rain falling about my face brought me back to reality. Finally I was at the farm whose name awakened my most profound curiosity. Through the path, I saw the farm guard appear to accompany me within, at my own request. I had to introduce myself: “I am Assumpta Serna, an actress in the TV series ‘Borgia”. I play the woman who was Rodrigo de Borgia’s lover, Vannozza Cataneï.” “Come in”, he said. “It’s a pleasure for me to open the doors to a woman that wants to be like Vannozza, as this happened to be her house years ago…” 

Assumpta Serna as Vanozza dei Cattanei
(Picture by Michael Driscoll)

The farm was situated an hour from Rome. I was surprised by its beauty, harmony and peace. It was a beautiful place. There was a river that passes through the farm watering it with abundance, water that comes from the mountains, which someone had made into waterfalls, springs and lakes, around which they had erected stone bridges. Trees came from all parts of the world, they gave off the feeling that each one of them had been planted with care, choosing the spot, measuring wind, shade and light. The guide said the leaves of every tree change colour, but never fall. There was a delicate tree with leaves but with a strong trunk… like Vannozza I thought… I couldn’t resist my temptation and I asked him if I could steal some of its seeds… “ Go ahead,” he said, “it may be that they grow if you put them in water for a whole day”…


I told him that after the first series, we moved to Rome to subsequently go to the Cataneï farm to film the second series of ‘Borgia’. The guard explained that Vannozza had been the owner of the farm since 1491; Cardinal Borgia had handed over ownership and the farm became Cataneï, Vannozza’s last name. Cardinal Borgia then went on to have various children with Vannozza, whom he recognised as his nephews. The most well known in the history of his time were called: Juan, Lucrecia and César Borgia. In this farm, they grew up, they ran and they laughed… but also those walls, now crumbling, experienced the power of that woman. Rodrigo known as ‘the Catalan’, separated from Vannozza, ending their bond of love because he had younger lovers and was interested in being tied to Roman families such as that of Giulia Farnese…

Rodrigo Borgia was elected as Pope in 1492, after a close conclave with the Cardinals. Only then did he acknowledge his children as his own, providing them with perks, military and ecclesiastical honours and other corresponding titles.
In this farm, Vannozza died, surviving the death of Rodrigo and of all her children. How many times were these walls witnesses of the weeping and laughter of Vannozza? After her death, the farm was passed on to her descendants and subsequently to the guard’s uncle, who was also a guard, with the promise that no parties would be held or that nothing would be built on the land. Some 10 years ago, the farm became the property of the Ministry of Italian Culture.

The guard continued to show me the different rooms and its bare halls without any furniture, with wide windows to admire the outside, the vineyards, the trees and the mountains. Upon entering into a living room that wasn’t very big, I suddenly found myself gazing into the beautiful eyes of Vannozza, looking at me from the picture hanging on one of the walls. It was very old and valuable, a jewel in that empty ramshackle house.

Portrait of "Vannozza",
Giovanna of Candia, Contessa dei Cattanei.
I was moved and I asked the guard: - I can’t wait to get to know her – He sensed that I wanted to be left alone… alone with Vannozza.
I continued looking at that woman. Perhaps I couldn’t consider her beautiful in our current standards, but she was more than beautiful, it was the face of a very interesting woman.
My god! Those eyes drew me in so much that I could not look away.

I hoped that my labour in the interpretation of this person was as full of passion and love, as it was as realistic as possible, and that I was able to communicate, after more than 500 years, the personality of the woman and Roman mother “amorevole” known as Vannozza Cataneï. 


Upon stepping outside, the guard informed me that my colleagues were heading towards the vineyards. The cameras and the set were waiting for me. Seeds in my hand, I went to meet with the team and together with Cardinal Farnese, we began to tread the vineyards of ‘The Borgia’.

    October 2013.

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