10 August 2017

Ippolito de' Medici – Lord of Florence

Brief life of a Cardinal, soldier and patron of the arts

Ippolito de' Medici, as portrayed by Titian  between 1532 and 1534, in Hungarian dress
Ippolito de' Medici, as portrayed by Titian
between 1532 and 1534, in Hungarian dress
Ippolito de' Medici, who ruled Florence on behalf of his cousin, Giulio, after he became Pope Clement VII, died on this day in 1535 in Itri in Lazio.

At the age of 24, Ippolito was said to have contracted a fever that turned into malaria, but at the time there were also rumours that he had been poisoned.

There were two possible suspects. The fatal dose could have been administered on behalf of Alessandro de' Medici, whose abuses he was just about to denounce, or on behalf of the new pope, Paul III, who was believed to want Ippolito’s lucrative benefices for his nephews.

Ippolito was born in 1509 in Urbino, the illegitimate son of Giuliano de' Medici. His father died when Ippolito was seven and he came under the protection of his uncle, Pope Leo X. When he died five years later, Ippolito’s cousin, Giulio, who had become Pope Clement VII, sent him to Florence to become a member of the government, destined to rule the city when he was old enough.

Ippolito ruled Florence on his behalf between 1524 and 1527 but then Clement VII chose his illegitimate nephew, Alessandro, to take charge of Florence instead.

He created Ippolito a Cardinal in 1529 and named him archbishop of Avignon, which gave him a considerable income. Although there is no evidence that he was ever ordained as a priest or consecrated as a bishop, Ippolito was named Cardinal Priest of Santa Prassede and then Papal Legate in Perugia.

The ancient castle at Itri in Lazio, where Ippolito died
The ancient castle at Itri in Lazio, where Ippolito died
But Ippolito wanted to be the ruler of Florence rather than a cleric and was to spend the rest of his short life trying to depose his cousin, Alessandro.

In August 1529 Ippolito was one of the three Cardinals who met Emperor Charles V in Genoa to conduct him in state to Bologna for his coronation as Emperor.

In 1530 Clement VII granted Ippolito a half share of the annual papal income from the town and territory of Clusium for his lifetime.

Ippolito was sent to Hungary as Papal Legate in 1532 where he led 8,000 soldiers against the Ottoman Turks.

That same year he was named vice chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, the most lucrative office in the church, and he was transferred to the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso.

Jacopo Pontormo's portrait of Alessandro
Jacopo Pontormo's portrait of Alessandro
After Ippolito’s cousin, Clement VII, died, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese was elected Pope and took the name of Paul III.

Ippolito acted as Florentine ambassador to Emperor Charles V, passing on to him complaints about the administration of Alessandro de' Medici.

When he became ill with a fever and subsequently died on 10 August 1535 he was on his way to north Africa to present his case against Alessandro to the Emperor, who was on a military campaign there. It was rumoured he had either been poisoned by Alessandro de' Medici to prevent him from denouncing him, or by the new pope, Paul III, who wanted his posts in the church for his own nephews.

Ippolito had been a generous patron of the arts, which was acknowledged by Giorgio Vasari in his writing, and he was painted by Titian wearing Hungarian costume in 1533.

He was unsuitable for the church because of his friendship with a Venetian courtesan and his love for Guilia Gonzaga, who was painted by artist Sebastiano del Piombo, who also enjoyed Ippolito’s patronage.

But Ippolito enjoyed the lavish lifestyle his position in the church gave him. Clement VII had reputedly once tried to sack members of his household, which Ippolito had resisted on the grounds that although he probably did not need them, they needed him.

The Church of San Michele Arcangelo in Itri
The Church of San Michele
Arcangelo in Itri
Travel tip:

Itri in Lazio, where Ippolito died en route to Africa, is a small town in the province of Latina. It lies in a valley between the mountains and the sea near the Gulf of Gaeta. It has an ancient castle in the upper part of the town and the local people speak Itrano, a variation of the Naples dialect. The film Two Women, starring Sofia Loren, was filmed in Itri.

Travel tip:

Urbino, where Ippolito was born, is a beautiful city on a steep hill inland from Pesaro in the Marche region. The Ducal Palace, made famous by Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, is one of the most important monuments in Italy and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

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