…essentially [Felice della Rovere] sacrificed her personal legacy for the good of her children. She sold her personal possessions to claim back the Orsini estate and she made a will of remarkable simplicity and humility. No building bears her name or her coat of arms; there are no altarpieces in which she is depicted in a donor portrait. And yet her story in all its amazing detail is preserved, waiting to be uncovered in an archive in Rome.
It is this detail that allows Felice, a pope’s bastard child, to teach us as much as a queen of England or France or an acquisitive Marchesa of Mantua. Felice has many lessons to impart about self-belief, about standing one’s ground, knowing when and when not to compromise, and about the value of decorum, bella figura, sprezzatura. If she is sometimes intimidating, she is always worthy of admiration and respect.
It might have taken almost half a millennium to resurrect her, but Felice is worth the wait. Her archive of dusty papers is still there in Rome, to be perused by the occasional scholar, and Rome and its environs are replete with memories of her. Travel to Bracciano, and you can look at the fonte she commissioned, which is now attached to a nineteenth-century wash-house. The castle still stands there; guided tours never mention Felice, but this is where she gave birth, where she had her tapestries made, and it was Felice who organised its cleaning and repainting.
In Rome you might pass by the Palazzo de Cupis on Piazza Navona and imagine a cardinal’s young daughter peering from its upper window, or stand below the place of Monte Giordano and see the Orsini Signora standing at the top of the entrance slope handing out Christmas boxes to servants.
And if you were to go and look at Raphael’s Mass of Bolsena in the Vatican Palace apartments where Julius II once lived, you could seek her out, among the frescoed figures: a dark-haired young woman fixing her gaze on her father, the Pope.
— Caroline Murphy, The Pope’s Daughter, p. 315