Showing posts with label 1455. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1455. Show all posts

3 March 2020

Ascanio Sforza – Cardinal

Borgia pope’s ally used his power to benefit Milan

Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been described as  Machiavellian in his diplomatic skills
Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been described as
Machiavellian in his diplomatic skills
Ascanio Maria Sforza Visconti, who became a skilled diplomat and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, was born on this day in 1455 in Cremona in Lombardy.

He played a major part in the election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI in the papal conclave of 1492 and served as Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from 1492 until 1505.

Ascanio was the son of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bianca Maria Visconti. Two of his brothers, Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Ludovico Sforza, became Dukes of Milan, as did his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

At the age of ten, Ascanio was named commendatory abbot of Chiaravalle and he was promised the red hat of a cardinal when he was in his teens. He was appointed Bishop of Pavia in 1479.

Pope Sixtus IV created him cardinal deacon of SS Vito e Modesto in March 1484. Pope Sixtus died in August before Ascanio’s formal ceremony of investiture had taken place and some of the cardinals objected to him participating in the conclave to elect the next pope.

Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia intervened on his behalf and Ascanio was received with all the rights of a cardinal. The conclave elected Giovanni Battista Cybo as Pope Innocent VIII.

Sforza played an important part in helping Rodrigo Borgia be elected as Pope
Sforza played an important part in helping
Rodrigo Borgia be elected as Pope
After Pope Innocent’s death in 1492, Ascanio promised his vote to Rodrigo Borgia at the next conclave. In return, Borgia promised him the office of Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, many other lucrative posts, and the Palazzo Borgia. Ascanio managed to persuade other Cardinals to vote for Rodrigo Borgia and he was duly elected, becoming Pope Alexander VI.

Ascanio became so powerful he was virtually prime minister of the Holy See.

He arranged the marriage of Giovanni Sforza, his cousin, to Lucrezia Borgia, the pope’s illegitimate daughter, but the marriage was annulled four years later on the grounds of non consummation.

The friendship between Ascanio and Alexander VI came to an end when the French invaded Italy because the Sforza family had made a secret alliance with King Charles VIII of France. Ascanio tried to get the pope deposed along with several cardinals but the papal troops defeated the French. Once the Sforzas gave up their support of the French, Ascanio was received in the Vatican again, but his relationship with Alexander VI was never the same.

When Giovanni Borgia, the pope’s son, was stabbed to death, Ascanio was accused of the murder but he was quickly absolved by the pope.

After the French invaded Italy again in 1500, Ascanio’s brother, Ludovico Sforza, was imprisoned and Ascanio was taken to France where he was held captive for nearly two years.

Andrea Sansovino's tomb for Ascanio  was commissioned by Pope Julius II
Andrea Sansovino's tomb for Ascanio
 was commissioned by Pope Julius II
In the papal conclave of 1503 Ascanio tried to succeed Alexander VI, but he was beaten by Francesco Piccolomini, who became Pius III. He died the same month as his coronation and Ascanio took part in the conclave of October 1503 when Giuliano delle Rovere was elected as Pope Julius II almost unanimously.

Ascanio became ill with the plague in May 1505 and died, aged 50, at his home near San Girolamo degli Schiavoni in Rome. He was buried the same evening with no ceremony because he had died of the plague.

Julius II commissioned Andrea Sansovino to erect a tomb for Cardinal Ascanio in the Cappella Maggiore of Santa Maria del Popolo with an inscription announcing that Julius II had forgotten Cardinal Ascanio’s honest opposition - ‘honestissimarum contentionum oblitus’.

Ascanio Sforza has been judged to have been both intelligent and Machiavellian, but to have remained dedicated to Milan and to his family.

In recent TV dramas about the Borgias, the role of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza has been played variously by the British actors, Clive Merrison, Peter Sullivan and Christian McKay.

Cremona's famous bell tower, il Torrazzo
Cremona's famous bell tower, il Torrazzo
Travel tip:

Cremona in Lombardy, where Ascanio Sforza was born, is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112 metres in height. The city is also well known for producing torrone, a type of nougat. It is thought the concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was first created in the shape of il Torrazzo to mark the marriage of Ascanio’s parents, Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco I Sforza, in 1441. To sample the many different types of torrone now made in Cremona, visit Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino in the centre of the city.

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, where Ascanio Sforza is buried
The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, where
Ascanio Sforza is buried
Travel tip:

Ascanio Sforza’s tomb by Sansovino is in Santa Maria del Popolo, a minor basilica in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The basilica was important during the Borgia era. When the Pope’s son, Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, was murdered in 1497 his body lay in state in the basilica for several days before being buried in the Borgia chapel. Vannozza dei Cattanei, former mistress of Alexander VI, and Ludovico Podocataro, the pope’s secretary and physician, were also buried there.

Also on this day:

1578: The death of Venetian Doge Sebastiano Venier

1585: The inauguration of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza

1768: The death of composer and teacher Nicola Porpora

1882: The birth of fraudstar Charles Ponzi


18 February 2018

Blessed Fra Angelico – painter

Talented Friar became patron of Catholic artists

A detail from a Luca Signorelli fresco in Orvieto cathedral, thought to represent Fra Angelico
A detail from a Luca Signorelli fresco in Orvieto
cathedral, thought to represent Fra Angelico
The early Renaissance painter who became known as Fra Angelico died on this day in 1455 in Rome.

Fra Angelico is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 15th century, whose works reflected his serene religious attitude.

He painted many altarpieces and frescoes for the Church and Priory of San Marco in Florence where he lived for about nine years.

In 1982, more than 500 years after his death, Fra Angelico was beatified by Pope John Paul II in recognition of the holiness of his life. In 1984, Pope John Paul II declared him ‘patron of Catholic artists’.

The artist was born Guido di Pietro at Rupecanina near Fiesole, just outside Florence, towards the end of the 14th century.

The earliest recorded document concerning him dates from 1417 when he joined a religious confraternity at the Carmine Church and it reveals that he was already a painter.

The first record of him as a Friar is dated 1423 and shows him to have been a member of the Dominican order.

The San Marco altarpiece in Florence is one of Fra Angelico's most famous works
The San Marco altarpiece in Florence is one of Fra
Angelico's most famous works
It is believed his first paintings were an altarpiece and a painted screen for the Carthusian Monastery in Florence, but these no longer exist.

Between 1418 and 1436 he lived at the convent of Fiesole where he painted frescoes and an altarpiece. A predella - platform - of the altarpiece is now in the National Gallery in London.

In 1439, while living at the convent of San Marco in Florence, he completed one of his most famous works, the San Marco altarpiece, which was unusual for its time as it showed the saints grouped in a natural way as if they were able to talk to each other. Paintings such as this became known as Sacred Conversations and were later executed by many other artists, including Bellini, Perugino and Raphael.

In 1445 Fra Angelico was summoned to Rome to paint the frescoes of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament at St Peter’s. He moved to Orvieto in 1447 to paint works for the Cathedral and then went back to Rome to design frescoes for Pope Nicholas V, which were probably later painted by his assistants.

Fra Angelico returned to live in his old convent in Fiesole in 1449, but must have eventually gone back to Rome to do more work for the Vatican. He died in a Dominican Convent there in 1455 and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Piazza Giotto is the central square of Vicchio
Piazza Giotto is the central square of Vicchio
Travel tip:

Rupecanina, where Fra Angelico was born, is a hamlet of Vicchio, a town about 25 km (16 miles) north east of Florence. Many other Italian painters came from the area, including Giotto, who was believed to have been born in Colle di Vespignano, another hamlet of Vicchio, in about 1270.

The Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome
The Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome
Travel tip:

Fra Angelico’s tomb, which was the work of Isaia da Pisa, is in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome because the artist died in the adjoining convent. He had painted a fresco in the cloister there, which has not survived.  The important Dominican Church is in Piazza Minerva, close to the Pantheon, and was built directly over an ancient temple. The church was consecrated in 1370 and the fa├žade was designed by Carlo Maderno.

Also on this day:

1 December 2017

Lorenzo Ghiberti – sculptor

Goldsmith renowned for 'Gates of Paradise'

The baptistry doors known as 'The Gates of Paradise'
The baptistry doors known as
'The Gates of Paradise' 
Sculptor, goldsmith and architect Lorenzo Ghiberti died on this day in 1455 in Florence.

Part of his legacy were the magnificent doors he created for the Baptistery of the Florence Duomo that have become known as the Gates of Paradise.

Ghiberti had become a man of learning, living up to the image of the early 15th century artist as a student of antiquity, who was investigative, ambitious and highly creative.

His Commentaries - I Commentarii - which he started to write in 1447, include judgements on the great contemporary and 14th century masters as well as his scientific theories on optics and anatomy, revealing the scope of his artistic and practical experimentation.

Ghiberti was born in 1378 in Pelago near Florence and was trained as a goldsmith by Bartolo di Michele, whom his mother had married in 1406 but had lived with for some time previously.  Ghiberti took his name from his mother’s first husband, Cione Ghiberti, although he later claimed that Di Michele was his real father.

He moved to Pesaro in 1400 to fulfil a painting commission from the city's ruler, Sigismondo Malatesta, but returned to Florence when he heard about a competition that had been set up to find someone to make a pair of bronze doors for the Baptistery of the cathedral.  

Detail from Ghiberti's second set of doors to the baptistery, which depicts scenes from the life of Joseph
Detail from Ghiberti's second set of doors to the baptistery,
which depicts scenes from the life of Joseph
Ghiberti’s design won and the contract was signed for him to produce the doors in Di Michele’s workshop.  He began the project in 1407 and it would take him until 1424 to complete. He actually created two sets of doors; the first, for the Baptistery, depicted scenes from the New Testament, the second, with ten square panels and deemed to be superior to the first, scenes from the Old Testament.

It was Michelangelo who suggested they were of such quality they would be worthy of being chosen as the Gates of Paradise.  The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari declared then to be “undeniably perfect in every way”.

Although, it was the doors that established Ghiberti’s reputation he took other commissions, including gilded bronze statues of St John the Baptist for niches of the Orsanmichele church in Florence and the Arte di Calimala (Wool Merchants' Guild) and one of St. Matthew for the Arte di Cambio (Bankers' Guild). He  also produced a bronze figure of St. Stephen for the Arte della Lana (Wool Manufacturers' Guild).

He also wrote what is considered to be the first autobiography of an artist, which formed part of I Commentarii. 

I Commentarii has come to be regarded as one of the most important sources of information about the Renaissance and the art of the period.

Ghiberti was an influential figure in many ways.  Among the artists who worked in his studios as they were making their way in the world included Donatello, Masolino di Panichale, Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi, Paolo Uccello, and Antonio Pollaiuolo.

He married Marsilia, the 16-year-old daughter of Bartolomeo di Luca, a wool carder. They had two sons – Tommaso, who was born in 1417, and Vittorio born the following year – who both joined Ghiberti in his business, Vittorio taking over the workshop after his father’s death.

The market square in Pelago
The market square in Pelago
Travel tip:

Pelago, a small town in Tuscany about 20km (12 miles) east of Florence, was developed by the Etruscans on the site of a settlement thought to date back to the Paleolithic period. It grew around a castle built in the 11th century in an area rich in castles, usually built on the top of a hill.  At the foot of Pelago Castle is a marketplace and a number of palaces once owned by wealthy noblemen.  The church of San Clemente, which originates in the 12th century and now contains a museum, can be found within the castle walls.

Florence's Duomo is one of the most familiar sights in Italy
Florence's Duomo is one of the most familiar sights in Italy
Travel tip:

The Florence Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore - with its enormous dome by Filippo Brunelleschi and campanile by Giotto, is one of Italy's most recognisable and most photographed sights, towering above the city and the dominant feature of almost every cityscape. From groundbreaking to consecration, the project took 140 years to complete and involved a series of architects. Arnolfo di Cambio, who also designed the church of Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio was the original architect engaged and it was to his template, essentially, that the others worked.  When he died in 1410, 14 years after the first stone was laid, he was succeeded by Giotto, who himself died in 1337, after which his assistant Andrea Pisano took up the project.  Pisano died in 1348, as the Black Death swept Europe, and a succession of architects followed, culminating in Brunelleschi, who won a competition - against Ghiberti, as it happens - to build the dome, which remains the largest brick-built dome ever constructed.