5 August 2019

Antonio Barberini – Cardinal

Pope’s nephew amassed fortune and became patron of the arts

Carlo Maratta's portrait of Antonio Barberini as an older man
Carlo Maratta's portrait of Antonio
Barberini as an older man
Catholic cardinal, military leader and patron of the arts Antonio Barberini was born on this day in 1607 in Rome.

As one of the cardinal-nephews of Pope Urban VIII he helped to shape the politics, religion, art and music of 17th century Italy and took part in many papal conclaves.

He is sometimes referred to as Antonio the Younger, or Antonio Barberini Iuniore, to distinguish him from his uncle, Antonio Marcello Barberini.

Antonio was the youngest of six children born to Carlo Barberini and Costanza Magalotti. Like his brothers, he was educated at the Collegio Romano.  His brother, Francesco Barberini, became Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Inquisition

His uncle, Maffeo Barberini, was elected as Pope the day after Antonio’s 16th birthday and became Pope Urban VIII.

Urban VIII was notorious for nepotism and he appointed Antonio as a cardinal just after his 20th birthday.  Nepotism was commonplace among popes from the Middle Ages up to the 17th century. The word derives from the Latin nepos (Italian: nipote), meaning nephew, to describe the practice among popes, who had taken vows of chastity and therefore could have no legitimate children, of appointing nephews to key positions.

Antonio was made papal legate in Avignon, where he forged some powerful connections. In 1636 he accepted the post of Crown-Cardinal-Protector of the Kingdom of France.

Barberini in a portait dated at around 1725, when he would have been 18 years old
Barberini in a portait dated at around 1725,
when he would have been 18 years old
It has been estimated that Antonio accumulated more than 63 million scudi in personal wealth during the 21-year pontificate of Urban VIII.

Antonio and his brother, Taddeo, led the Pope’s forces to occupy Castro after Urban VIII started a feud with the Farnese family. But their victory over the Farnese was short lived and they suffered a series of losses during which Antonio himself was nearly captured.

The Pope was forced to sign a peace treaty with the Farnese to prevent them from marching on Rome.

After Innocent X was elected as Pope, Antonio and Taddeo were accused of financial abuses and had to go into exile in Paris under the protection of Antonio’s supporter, Cardinal Mazarin.

The next Pope, Alexander VII, made Antonio the Cardinal Bishop of Frascati and Louis XIV of France made him the Archbishop of Rheims.

Antonio had a number of mistresses, including one he is said to have had whipped for flaunting herself during Carnevale and another who died mysteriously while carrying his child. There were also allegations that he had homosexual relationships, in particular with the castrato singer Marc'Antonio Pasqualini. But in later life he changed his lifestyle and became deeply religious.

Bernini's monument to Barberini in the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
Bernini's monument to Barberini in the
church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
He was patron to many composers, musicians, architects and artists. The composer Marco Marazzoli wrote music for him and dedicated his Fiori Musicali to Antonio in 1635.

Antonio commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to design the Palazzo del Propaganda Fide in Rome, but while Antonio was in exile, Bernini was replaced by Francesco Borromini, who had Bernini’s chapel demolished and replaced it with one built to his own design. Antonio and his brothers also commissioned the Teatro delle Quattro Fontane, an opera house built in 1632 near Piazza Barberini.

Antonio was a great admirer of Caravaggio, who died when he was just three years old. His extensive art collection contained many paintings by Caravaggio. He also commissioned Lorenzo Ottoni to complete a number of Barberini family sculptures for him.

Antonio died at Nemi near Rome in 1671, two days before his 64th birthday. There is a monument to him by Bernini in the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome.

An 18th century engraving of the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide in Rome by Giuseppe Vasi
An 18th century engraving of the Palazzo di Propaganda
Fide in Rome by Giuseppe Vasi
Travel tip:

Palazzo di Propaganda Fide, commissioned by Antonio Barberini, is at the southern end of Piazza di Spagna in Rome close to the Basilica Sant’Andrea delle Fratte. The main façade was designed by Bernini, but the side looking out on to Via di Propaganda was designed by Borromini. The chapel of the Biblical Magi was built by Borromini. One of the most famous examples of Italian baroque architecture, the palace was built to house the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and since 1929 it has been an extraterritorial property of the Holy See.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele is one of the main streets in Nemi
Corso Vittorio Emanuele is one of the
main streets in Nemi
Travel tip:

Nemi, the town where Antonio Barberini died, is in the Alban Hills overlooking Lake Nemi, a volcanic crater lake. It is about 30km (19 miles) southeast of Rome. The Roman emperor Caligula built several large barges for use on the lake. They were rediscovered during the Renaissance period but attempts to raise them from the bottom of the lake proved unsuccessful. Mussolini ordered them to be salvaged in 1929 but most of them were destroyed by fire in 1944, either deliberately by the retreating German army, or accidentally by squatters who had taken refuge in the building that housed them. The surviving remnants and replicas of Caligula’s barges can be seen in the Museo Nazionale at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome. Nemi is also famous for the wild strawberries that grow on the side of the volcanic crater in ideal conditions that make them taste sweet.

More reading:

Why Grand Inquisitor Francesco Barberini refused to condemn Galileo as a heretic

The genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

How Pope Urban VIII's extravagance ended in disgrace

Also on this day:

1623: The birth of composer Marc'Antonio Cesti

1953: The birth of magistrate Felice Casson, who exposed secretive Operation Gladio

2002: The death of thriller writer Franco Lucentini


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