Showing posts with label 1492. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1492. Show all posts

20 April 2020

Pietro Aretino – writer

Satirist was both admired and feared by the nobility

Pietro Aretino, captured by his friend, the Venetian painter Titian in around 1545
Pietro Aretino, captured by his friend, the
Venetian painter Titian in around 1545
Poet, playwright and prose writer Pietro Aretino was born on this day in 1492 in Arezzo in Tuscany.

Aretino became famous for his satirical attacks on important figures in society and grew wealthy from the gifts he received from noblemen who feared being exposed by his powerful pen.

Although he was the son of an Arezzo shoemaker, he pretended to be the natural son of a nobleman and took his name from Arretium, the Roman name for Arezzo.

He moved to Perugia while still very young and lived the life of a painter, but in 1517 when he was in his early twenties, Aretino moved on to Rome, where he secured the patronage of the rich banker, Agostino Chigi.

When Pope Leo X's pet elephant, Hanno, died, Aretino wrote a satirical pamphlet, The Last Will and Testament of the Elephant Hanno, cleverly mocking the leading political and religious figures in Rome at the time. This established his fame as a satirist. He then wrote a series of viciously satirical lampoons supporting the candidacy of Giulio de’ Medici for the papacy. Giulio duly became Pope Clement VII in 1523.

Despite being supported by the Pope and his patron, Chigi, Aretino was finally forced to leave Rome because of writing a collection of ‘lewd sonnets’, sonetti lussuriosi, in 1524.

The painter Titian became a good friend
and supporter of Aretino
By 1527 Aretino had settled in Venice where he was admired but also feared by those in power and he received enough money to be able to live in a grand - albeit dissolute - style.

He became a close friend of the painter Titian and sold paintings on Titian’s behalf to Francis I, the King of France.

Titian’s portrait of Aretino, painted in around 1545, shows him wearing a gold chain that he had received as a gift from the King of France.

It is claimed Francis I of France and Charles V of Spain both paid him a pension at the same time, each hoping he would damage the reputation of the other.

Aretino wrote six volumes of letters that were published from 1537 onwards which reveal his cynicism and justify the name he gave to himself, ‘flagello dei principe’ - scourge of princes.

He was particularly vicious in his attack on Romans, not forgetting that they had forced him to move to Venice. In his Ragionamenti - Discussions - written between 1534 and 1536, Roman prostitutes reveal to each other the moral failings of many of the important men in the city and in his Dialogues, he examines the carnality and corruption among Romans at the time.

Aretino’s dramas present well observed pictures of lower-class life, free from the conventions that burdened other contemporary dramas. The best known is Cortigiana - The Courtesan - published in 1534, a lively and amusing insight into the life of the lower classes in Rome.

Aretino captured in another portrait  by Titian, painted in 1512
Aretino captured in another portrait
by Titian, painted in 1512
Aretino also wrote a tragedy, Orazia, published in 1546, which has been judged to be the best Italian tragedy written in the 16th century.

Pietro Aretino died in 1556 in Venice aged 64. It was claimed at the time that he either suffocated because he could not stop laughing, or fell backwards and hit his head while laughing.

He was buried in the Church of San Luca, which lies between St Mark’s Square and the Rialto bridge in Venice.

In 2007, the composer Michael Nyman set some of Aretino’s Sonetti lussoriosi to music under the title 8 Lust Songs. Aretino’s texts again caused controversy when the songs were performed in London in 2008 as the printed programmes containing extracts had to be withdrawn after there were allegations of obscenity.

The interior of the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco in the heart of Arezzo
The interior of the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco
in Piazza San Francesco in the heart of Arezzo
Travel tip:

Arezzo, where Pietro Aretino was born and acquired his surname, is an interesting old town in eastern Tuscany, which was used as the location for the 1997 film Life Is Beautiful. One of the scenes in the film took place in front of the Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla, a medieval abbey. Right in the centre of the town, the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco is the most famous sight in Arezzo and attracts many visitors as it contains Piero della Francesco’s cycle of frescoes, The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466 and considered to be his finest work.

The church of San Luca in Venice, which can be found between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge
The church of San Luca in Venice, which can be found
between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge
Travel tip:

Pietro Aretino was buried in the Church of San Luca close to Salizzada San Luca in the St Mark’s sestiere of Venice. On his tombstone was the epitaph: ‘Here lies Aretino, poet Tosco, that everyone spoke poorly about, except Christ, who apologised saying: ‘I do not know him.’’ This inscription was later removed, either by the Inquisition, or during restoration work on the floor of the church in the 18th century. It is claimed many journalists, writers and non-believers used to visit the church looking for Aretino’s tomb. On either side of the altar there used to be paintings from the 16th century, in which Aretino was portrayed as part of the crowd. It has been claimed that the paintings were removed by one of the priests in the 19th century to discourage the interest and they have still not been put back.

Also on this day:

1317: The death of Sant’Agnese of Montepulciano

1949: The birth of Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s first Communist prime minister

1951: The death of anti-Fascist politician Ivanoe Bonomi


12 September 2018

Lorenzo II de’ Medici – Duke of Urbino

Short rule of the grandson of Lorenzo Il Magnifico

Lorenzo II de' Medici ruled Florence from 1513 to 1519 but died aged only 26
Lorenzo II de' Medici ruled Florence from
1513 to 1519 but died aged only 26
Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino, was born on this day in 1492 in Florence.  The grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Lorenzo II ruled Florence from 1513 to 1519.

Niccolò Machiavelli addressed his work, The Prince, to Lorenzo II, advising him to accomplish the unification of Italy under Florentine rule by arming the whole nation and expelling its foreign invaders.

When Lorenzo was two years old, his father, who became known as Piero the Unfortunate, was driven out of Florence by Republicans with the help of the French.

The Papal-led Holy League, aided by the Spanish, finally defeated the rebels in 1512 and the Medici family was restored to Florence.

Lorenzo II’s uncle, Giuliano, ruled Florence for a year and then made way for his nephew. Another uncle, Pope Leo X, made Lorenzo the Duke of Urbino after expelling the legitimate ruler of the duchy, Francesco Maria della Rovere.

Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince was written for Lorenzo
Niccolo Machiavelli's The
was written for Lorenzo
When Francesco Maria returned to Urbino he was welcomed by his subjects. Lorenzo II regained possession of the duchy only after a protracted war in which he was wounded. In 1519 Lorenzo II died at the age of just 26 and the duchy reverted to the della Rovere family.

He was succeeded as ruler of Florence by his cousin, Giulio de’ Medici.

By Lorenzo II’s marriage with Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne, he had one daughter, Caterina de’ Medici, who was born three weeks before he died.

She married Henry, Duc d’Orleans in 1533, who went on to become King Henry II of France, making her the Queen Consort of France.

Lorenzo II’s illegitimate son, Alessandro, became the first Duke of Florence.

Michelangelo designed his sculpture Pensieroso as a monument  for Lorenzo II's tomb at the Basilica of San Lorenzo
Michelangelo designed his sculpture Pensieroso as a monument
 for Lorenzo II's tomb at the Basilica of San Lorenzo
Travel tip:

Lorenzo II was buried in the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence. His tomb is adorned by Michelangelo’s sculpture, Pensieroso, which was meant to represent him. The Basilica is in the centre of the market district and is one of the biggest churches in the city. Designed by Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, it replaced an older structure dating back to the fourth century.

The Renaissance Ducal Palace at Urbino is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site
The Renaissance Ducal Palace at Urbino is listed as a
Unesco World Heritage site
Travel tip:

Urbino, which Lorenzo II ruled over briefly, is inland from the Adriatic resort of Pesaro, in the Marche region. A majestic city on a steep hill, it was once a centre of learning and culture, known not just in Italy but also, in its glory days, throughout Europe. The Ducal Palace, a Renaissance building 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.

More reading:

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere - 16th century condottiero who served Pope Leo X

How Piero the Unfortunate acquired his name

Niccolò Machiavelli - the man whose name became part of the language of power

Also on this day:

1937: The birth of tragic actress Daniela Rocca

1943: The Nazis free Mussolini in daring mountain raid


8 April 2018

Lorenzo the Magnificent - Renaissance ruler

Patron of the arts who sponsored Michelangelo and Botticelli

A portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent by the Florentine artist Agnolo Bronzino
A portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent by the
Florentine artist Agnolo Bronzino
Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence usually known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, died on this day in 1492 in the Medici villa at Careggi, just to the north of the city.

He was only 43 and is thought to have developed gangrene as a result of an inherited genetic condition.  He had survived an assassination attempt 14 years earlier in what became known as the Pazzi Conspiracy, in which his brother, Giuliano, was killed.

The grandson of Cosimo de’ Medici, Lorenzo was a strict ruler but history has judged him as a benevolent despot, whose reign coincided with a period of stability and peace in relations between the Italian states.

He helped maintain the Peace of Lodi, a treaty agreed in 1454 between Milan, Naples and Florence which was signed by his grandfather.

However, he is most remembered as an enthusiastic patron of Renaissance culture, providing support for poets, scholars and artists, notably Michelangelo and Botticelli.

He contributed more than anyone to the flowering of Florentine genius during the second half of the 15th century. Respected himself for his poetry, he held lavish parties for his artistic friends at the Careggi villa and was the protector of artists such as Giuliano da Sangallo, Botticelli, Andrea del Verrocchio, and Verrocchio’s pupil Leonardo da Vinci.

A young Lorenzo as he appeared in Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi
A young Lorenzo as he appeared in
Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi
Lorenzo opened a school of sculpture, at which he noticed the great talent of a 15-year-old pupil called Michelangelo Buonarroti, whom he took under his wing and brought up like a son.

Sandro Botticelli repaid his patronage by using Medici family members as models in some of his most famous religious paintings. In his Madonna of the Magnificat, for example, one of the figures is Lorenzo, while the Madonna is his mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni. Lorenzo also appears in Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, while Mars in his Mars and Venus is Lorenzo’s brother, Giuliano.

In addition to his patronage of artists, Lorenzo also expanded the collection of books begun by Cosimo, which became the Medici Library. He retrieved large numbers of classical works from the East, which he had copied and shared with other countries across Europe. He also supported philosophers such as Marsilio Ficino, Poliziano and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

Although the assets of the Medici bank were diminished during Lorenzo’s rule, partly through the family focussing more on power than the actual source of their power, i.e. money, they were still not short of jealous rivals and the Pazzi family fell into this category.

With the support of Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Pazzi conspired with Girolamo Riario, the Lord of Imola, and Francesco Salviati, the archbishop of Pisa, to attack Lorenzo and Giuliano, who were joint rulers of Florence at the time, during High Mass at the Duomo.

The goal was to kill both and seize power, but while Giuliano was being stabbed to death Lorenzo escaped into the sacristy, where he hid from the assassins. The coup d’état therefore failed and it is estimated that around 80 people, either conspirators or their associates, were captured and executed in the months that followed.

Controversially, it was Lorenzo de’ Medici, taking advice from his friend, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who was responsible for the return to Florence of the firebrand priest Girolamo Savonarola, who had left his position at the Convent of San Marco some years earlier after proposing sweeping reforms to the Catholic Church.  Savonarola’s preaching, in which he railed against despotic rulers and the exploitation of the poor, and persuaded people that works of art and literature were sinful and should be destroyed, would eventually provoke the overthrowing of the Medici family.

The Palazzo Pitti was acquired by the Medici family from the Florentine banker Luca Pitti
The Palazzo Pitti was acquired by the Medici family
from the Florentine banker Luca Pitti
Travel tip:

Florence has a wealth of preserved antiquity, but one of the finest examples of true Renaissance architecture is the Palazzo Pitti - the Pitti Palace - which was originally commissioned in 1458 as a house for the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, a friend and supporter of Cosimo de’ Medici. Designed by Luca Fancelli, a pupil of Filippo Brunelleschi, it is characterised by a strong, symmetrical structure, wide arches and rusticated stone pillars and walls. It was later sold to Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de Medici (not to be confused with Cosimo de’ Medici, who came from a different branch of the family) , and remained in the Medici family for centuries. Today it houses the biggest museum in Florence and a number of art galleries, and looks out across the Boboli Gardens, created on land Eleonora bought from the wealthy Boboli family.

The Villa Careggi, where Lorenzo died in 1492
The Villa Careggi, where Lorenzo died in 1492
Travel tip:

In common with his grandfather, Cosimo, Lorenzo died at the Villa Careggi, originally a working farm acquired in 1417 by Cosimo’s father to make his family self-sufficient. Cosimo employed the architect Michelozzo to remodel it around a central courtyard overlooked by loggias. Lorenzo extended the terraced garden and the shaded woodland area. Careggi, which is not far from Florence’s airport, is nowadays a suburb of the city, about 8km (5 miles) northwest of the centre.

More reading:

Cosimo de' Medici - founder of the Medici banking dynasty

Girolamo Riario - the papal military leader murdered after failed Pazzi plot

The rival in the court of Lorenzo who broke Michelangelo's nose

Also on this day:

1848: The death of the composer Gaetano Donizetti

1868: The birth of equestrian pioneer Federico Caprilli, who revolutionised jumping technique


28 December 2017

Piero the Unfortunate – Medici ruler

Ill-fated son of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment  earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment
earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, later dubbed Piero the Unfortunate or The Fatuous, died on this day in 1503, drowning in the Garigliano river, south of Rome, as he attempted to flee following a military defeat.

The eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero was handed power in Florence at the age of 21 following the death of his father.

He was a physically handsome young man who had been educated specifically so that he would be ready to succeed his father as head of the Medici family and de facto ruler of Florence.

Yet he turned out to be a feeble, ill-disciplined character who was not suited to leadership and who earned his unflattering soubriquet on account of his poor judgment in military and political matters, which ultimately led to the Medici family being exiled from Florence.

Piero took over as leader of Florence in 1492. Initially there was calm but the peace between the Italian states for which his father had worked tirelessly to achieve collapsed in 1494 when King Charles VIII of France led an army across the Alps with the intention to march on the Kingdom of Naples, claiming hereditary rights.

The young leader’s first bad decision had been to ally Florence with Naples rather than Milan, where his father had striven to maintain an even-handed relationship with both.

Ludovico Sforza, the former regent of Milan, was unimpressed, but at the same time saw an opportunity to re-assert his power in the city by scheming with Charles VIII to eject his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, and replace him as Duke.

Charles VIII of France
Charles VIII of France
In return he allowed Charles’s army, some 30,000 strong, to proceed unchallenged through his territories and arrive at the borders of Tuscany.  Piero’s decision to ally with Naples meant that Florence, by association, was France’s enemy

Piero at first attempted to mount some resistance, but at a time when the fanatical Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola was undermining the authority of the Medici court he struggled to garner support from the Florentine elites.

He then made the extraordinary decision to seek a deal with Charles, taking the lead from his father’s great act of diplomacy in 1479, when Lorenzo reached a settlement with Naples by making a personal visit to the King of Naples.

Piero persuaded Charles to give him an audience, yet returned home having given away several important Tuscan castles along with the ports of Pisa and Livorno.

His poor handling of the situation and failure to negotiate better terms led to an uproar in Florence, and the Medici family fled. The family palazzo was looted, the Republic of Florence was re-established and the Medici formally exiled.

A member of the Medici family would not rule Florence again until 1512, after Piero’s younger brother, Giovanni, was elected Pope Leo X.

Piero and his family at first fled to Venice. In 1503, as the French fought the Spanish over the Kingdom of Naples, he travelled south. The two armies engaged in the Battle of Garigliano, named after a major river between Naples and Rome, and after the French were routed Piero attempted to escape to the south but was drowned as he tried to cross the the Garigliano river.

French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from
the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
Travel tip:

The Garigliano river, which flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea near Marina di Minturno, south of Formia, marks the border between Lazio and Campania.  Its strategic position has led it to be the scene of several notable battles. In 915 a coalition of the papal army, the Byzantines, Franks, Lombards and Neapolitans defeated the Garigliano Arabs there and in 1503 came the fateful Battle of Garigliano after which Piero drowned and Medici power transferred to his brother, Giovanni.  During the Italian Campaign of the Second World War, the Liri and Gari-Garigliano rivers were key elements of a system of German defensive lines around which the battle of Monte Cassino took place in 1943-1944.

The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
Travel tip:

Piero the Unfortunate’s body was buried in the cloister of Monte Cassino abbey, one of the most famous abbeys in the world, established in the sixth century when Saint Benedict chose its mountain location as a place to host him and his fellow monks as they travelled from the monastery at Subiaco, outside Rome. At a height of 520m (1,700ft) it is a landmark for travellers on the A1 motorway and the Rome-Naples railway. The abbey has been destroyed four times – by the Lombards in 577, the Saracens in 887, an earthquake in 1349 and by the ferocious Battle of Monte Cassino in the Second World War, when the Allies made the controversial decision to bombard the site, which they suspected was being used by the Germans to launch artillery attacks.  Fortunately, the Germans smuggled out most of the priceless books and artworks to a place of safety prior to the bombardment and the abbey was rebuilt after the war had ended.

More reading:

Also on this day:

(Paintings: Portrait of Piero by Gherardo di Giovanni del Fora (1494); portrait of Charles VIII by unknown painter in the style of Jean Perréal, Musée Condé, Chantilly; Battle of Garigliano by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1840), Palace of Versailles) 

(Picture credit: Monte Cassino Abbey by Ludmiła Pilecka via Wikimedia Commons)

12 October 2017

Piero della Francesca - Renaissance painter

Mathematician famous for exploring perspective

Della Francesca's assumed self- portrait in his Ressurrection
Della Francesca's assumed self-
portrait in his Ressurrection
Piero della Francesca, recognised as one of the greatest painters of the early Renaissance, died on this day in 1492 in what was then Borgo Santo Sepolcro, near Arezzo.

He was thought to have been around 77 years old – his exact birth date is not known – and it has been popularly theorised that he was blind in the later years of his life, although evidence to support the claim is sketchy.

Della Francesca’s work was characterised by his exploration of perspective and geometric form, which was hardly surprising since in his own time he was as famous among his peers as a mathematician and geometer as well as an artist.

He came to be recognized in the 20th century as having made a major contribution to the Renaissance.

His fresco cycle The History – or Legend – of the True Cross in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, painted between 1452 and 1466, and his diptych – two-panelled – portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza - the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, dated at between 1465 and 1472, which can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, are among his best-known works.

Detail from Della Francesca's stunning History of the True Cross fresco cycle in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo
Detail from Della Francesca's stunning History of the True
fresco cycle in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo
He had been born in Borgo Santo Sepolcro – now known as Sansepolcro – in around 1415, into a fairly prosperous family. His father, Benedetto dei Franceschi, is thought to have been a wool and leather merchant, while his mother was the daughter of another wool merchant.  They saw to it that Piero had a good education. At that time, he was known as Piero di Benedetto dei Franceschi.

He may have learned his trade from one of several Sienese artists working in the town as he was growing up.  It is known that he was an associate in Florence of Domenico Veneziano, with whom he worked in 1439 on frescoes in the church of Sant’Egidio for the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. He also knew Fra' Angelico, who introduced him to other leading masters of the time, including Masaccio and Brunelleschi.

In 1442 he returned to Santo Sepolcro, where he was commissioned for an altarpiece in the church of the Misericordia, which showed the influence of Masaccio and also Donatello and highlighted the deliberation with which he worked. The altarpiece was not completed until 1462.

Della Francesca's diptych of the Dukes of Urbino
Della Francesca's diptych of the Dukes of Urbino
In 1449 he executed several frescoes in the Castello Estense and the church of Sant'Andrea of Ferrara and, during a period in Rimini, working for the condottiero Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, he painted the fresco of St. Sigismund and Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta in the Tempio Malatestiano, as well as Sigismondo's portrait.

In 1452 Della Francesca was called to Arezzo to replace Bicci di Lorenzo in painting the frescoes of the Basilica of San Francesco. The History of the True Cross cycle is generally considered not only to be among his masterworks but of Renaissance painting in general.

Experts say that “the simplicity and clarity of structure, controlled use of perspective, and aura of serenity (in The History of the True Cross) are all typical of Piero’s art at its best.”

Painted at the same time as the Arezzo cycle are a fine depiction of Mary Magdalene in Arezzo cathedral, the Resurrection in the Palazzo Comunale at Sansepolcro, which features a self-portrait of the artist, and his Madonna del parto in the chapel of the cemetery at Monterchi.

The Flagellation of Christ aroused controversy
The Flagellation of Christ aroused controversy
In 1454 he signed a contract for the multi-panelled polyptych of Saint Augustine in the church of Sant'Agostino in Sansepolcro. The central panel was lost and the four wing panels, with representations of Saints, are in different places around the world.

However, The Baptism of Christ, which was executed around 1460 for the high altar of the church of the Priory of San Giovanni Battista at Sansepolcro, is in The National Gallery in London.

During his time working in Urbino, in the service of Count Federico III da Montefeltro, in addition to his famous diptych, Della Francesca also painted The Flagellation of Christ, which became one of the most famous and controversial pictures of the early Renaissance, with Christ pictured in the background as three unidentified figures dominate the foreground.

Della Francesca was much less active in his declining years, with little evidence that he painted much at all, yet 16th century artist and historian Giorgio Vasari's contention that he was blind in his 60s does not tally with his completion in his final decade of a geometrical treatise dedicated to Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, son and heir of Duke Federico, written in his own handwriting, and another on perspective in painting.

He passed away in his own house in Santo Sepolcro on the same day that Christopher Columbus made landfall in The Bahamas, believing he had reached Asia.

The Duomo in Sansepolcro
The Duomo in Sansepolcro
Travel tip:

Sansepolcro is a town of 16,000 inhabitants situated about 38km (24 miles) northeast of Arezzo in the east of Tuscany, close to the borders with Umbria and Marche. The historic centre is entirely surrounded with fortified walls, built in the early part of the 16th century. The centre of the town is the Piazza Torre di Berta, named after the 13th-century tower of the same name, off which can be found the impressive Palazzi Pichi and Giovagnoli and the 14th-century cathedral, dedicated to St John the Evangelist.  As well as being the place in which Piero della Francesca was born and died, it is also the home of Buitoni pasta.

Arezzo's sharply sloping Piazza Grande
Arezzo's sharply sloping Piazza Grande
Travel tip:

Arezzo is one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany. Situated at the confluence of four valleys - Tiberina, Casentino, Valdarno and Valdichiana – its medieval centre suffered massive damage during the Second World War but still has enough monuments, churches and museums to be a worthwhile stopover on tourist itineraries. In addition to the Basilica di San Francesco and the Piero della Francesca cycle, sights to take in include central square Piazza Grande, with its sloping pavement in red brick, the Medici Fortress, the Cathedral of San Donato and a Roman amphitheatre.

11 August 2016

Pope Alexander VI

Scheming pontiff married off his children to secure power

Pope Alexander VI: a portrait by Cristofano  dell' Altissimo, property of the Uffizzi Gallery
Pope Alexander VI: a portrait by Cristofano
 dell' Altissimo, property of the Uffizzi Gallery
Rodrigo Borgia became one of the most controversial popes in history when he took the title of Alexander VI on this day in 1492 in Rome.

He is known to have fathered several illegitimate children with his mistresses and his reign became notorious for corruption and nepotism.

Born in Valencia in Spain, Borgia came to Italy to study law at the University of Bologna. He was ordained a Deacon and then made Cardinal-Deacon after the election of his uncle as Pope Callixtus III. He was then ordained to the priesthood and made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano.

By the time he had served five popes he had acquired considerable influence and wealth and it was rumoured that he was able to buy the largest number of votes to secure the papacy for himself.

He had made himself the first archbishop of Valencia and when he was elected as Pope Alexander VI, following the death of Innocent VIII, his son, Cesare Borgia, inherited the post.

Borgia had many mistresses, but during his long relationship with Vanozza dei Cattanei he had four children that he acknowledged as his own, Cesare, Giovanni, Lucrezia and Goffredo. He had several other children with different mothers.

Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia, which  can be found in Bergamo's Accademia Carrara
Altobello Melone's portrait of Cesare Borgia, which
 can be found in Bergamo's Accademia Carrara
He made many military alliances to secure his position and married his children off to the offspring of important families to strengthen his power base.

Lucrezia is known to have had three marriages arranged by her father but rumours that she was involved in poisoning men who had become Borgia’s enemies have never been substantiated.

When France and Spain were at war, Borgia offered to help the French on condition that Sicily was given to his son, Cesare. Then he offered to help Spain in exchange for Siena, Pisa and Bologna.

Cesare brought the north of Italy under control, conquering the duchies of Romagna, Umbria and Emilia, earning the admiration of Niccolò Machiavelli, who used Cesare as a model for his classic work on politics, The Prince.

As a patron of the arts, Borgia had Castel Sant’Angelo strengthened and restored and embellished the Vatican palaces. He also commissioned Michelangelo to draw up plans for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica.

Borgia fell ill with fever in 1503 and died five days later after confessing his sins. He was 72 years old.

After a short stay in the crypts of  St Peter’s, Borgia’s body was moved to the church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.

Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, which Rodrigo Borgia strengthened and restored
Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, which Rodrigo Borgia
strengthened and restored
Travel tip:

Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome was originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and his family. It was later used by popes as both a fortress and a castle and is now a museum. Pope Alexander VI had bastions built at each corner of the base, added battlements and warehouses for arms and developed a papal apartment inside. The castle was featured by Puccini as the setting for the third act of his opera, Tosca, which ends with the heroine leaping to her death from the castle’s ramparts.

Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, where Pope Alexander VI is buried, is the Spanish national church in Rome, dedicated to the Virgin of Montserrat. It is north of Palazzo Farnese in Via de Monserrato in the Campo dei Fiori area of Rome.

More reading:

Lucrezia Borgia - more sinned against than sinning?

How the Borgias inspired Machiavelli's political philosophy