Showing posts with label 1512. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1512. Show all posts

21 May 2019

Pandolfo Petrucci – ruler of Siena

Ruthless tyrant who encouraged art

Pandolfo Petrucci was one of the most powerful rulers in Italy
Pandolfo Petrucci was one of the most
powerful rulers in Italy
Pandolfo Petrucci, who during his time ruling Siena was one of the most powerful men in Italy, died on this day in 1512 in San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany.

Although he had been a tyrannical ruler, Petrucci had also done a great deal to increase the artistic splendour of his native city.

Petrucci was born into an aristocratic family in Siena in 1452. He had to go into exile in 1483 for being a member of the Noveschi political faction, which had fallen out of favour with the rulers of Siena.

After he returned to Siena in 1487, he began to take advantage of the struggles between the different political factions.

He married Aurelia Borghese, who was the daughter of Niccolò Borghese, an important figure in Siena at the time. After entering public office himself, Petrucci acquired so much authority and wealth that he became the ruling despot of Siena with the title of signore - lord.

His rapid rise to power alienated his father-in-law, who conspired with other influential citizens in Siena to assassinate him. However, Petrucci uncovered the plot and in 1500 had Borghese murdered. This act terrified his other enemies, which left Petrucci in complete control.

Rival Cesare Borgia planned to have  Petrucci executed
Rival Cesare Borgia planned to have
Petrucci executed 
He consolidated his power by surrounding himself with supporters whose loyalty to him was guaranteed by the income they were able to draw from public land and property.

However Petrucci’s rule did have some benefits for Siena because he eventually stopped the sale of public offices, secured economic advantages for the city, reformed the monetary system and encouraged the advancement of art.

Petrucci became involved in political intrigues, trying to win the trust of the condottiero Cesare Borgia before plotting against him. Borgia summoned him to a meeting where he was planning to execute Petrucci along with some of his other enemies but Petrucci did not attend the meeting and instead fled to Lucca.

Helped by his ally, King Louis XII of France, Petrucci was returned to power in Siena within a few months.

After Borgia’s death in 1507, Petrucci became one of the most powerful men in Italy.

In 1512 he handed control of Siena over to his son and died soon afterwards in San Quirico d’Orcia. His family continued to rule Siena until 1524.

The cathedral at Siena is considered to be one of Italy's  finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture
The cathedral at Siena is considered to be one of Italy's
 finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture
Travel tip:

Siena in Tuscany is well known as the venue for the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena. The race takes place in Siena’s Piazza del Campo, a shell-shaped open area which is regarded as one of Europe’s finest medieval squares. It was established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form the city of Siena.  The city's cathedral, with a pulpit designed by Nicola Pisani, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.

The town of San Quirico d'Orcia in Tuscany, where
Petrucci spent his final days
Travel tip:

San Quirico d’Orcia, where Petrucci died, is a small town in the province of Siena located about 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of the city of Siena. It is named after Saint Quiricus, an early Christian martyr. The Church of San Quirico dates back to the eighth century but was rebuilt in the 12th century.  A side portal added in the 13th century is believed to be the work of the sculptor Giovanni Pisano who was known to have been working in Siena at the time.

More reading:

Cesare Borgia, the son of a pope who quit the church to become a military leader

Scipione Borghese, the 20th century adventurer from a famous family line

How the power struggles of Petrucci's times inspired Machiavelli's The Prince

Also on this day:

1910: The birth of Mob boss Angelo Bruno

1972: Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Pietà, is damaged by vandalism

1981: A list of alleged members of the illegal masonic lodge Propaganda Due is published


11 April 2018

Battle of Ravenna

Thousands die in pointless conflict of the Italian Wars

The chaos of the Battle of Ravenna depicted in a  15th century woodcut
The chaos of the Battle of Ravenna depicted in a
15th century woodcut
French forces inflicted appalling casualties upon a largely Spanish Holy League army on this day in 1512 at Molinaccio just outside Ravenna.

The French, under the command of their brilliant 21-year-old leader Gaston de Foix, had taken Brescia in Lombardy by storm in February and then marched on Ravenna intending to provoke the papal Holy League army into battle. They also had an Italian contingent of soldiers with them under the command of Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.

Ramon de Cardona, Spanish viceroy of Naples and commander of the Holy League forces, led an army through the papal states of the Romagna to relieve Ravenna, passing Forlì and advancing north along the Ronco River.

Both sides had learned the new rules of warfare in the gunpowder age and were reluctant to assault well defended earthworks with cavalry or infantry.

They indulged in an artillery duel and had to manoeuvre unwieldy cannons to find effective lines of fire.

But after two hours they changed tactics and both cavalry and infantry threw themselves forward in assaults. The casualties were heavy as horsemen clashed in swirling melees and infantry swarmed over ramparts and ditches.

Alfonso I d'Este, who led a contingent of  Italian soldiers in the battle
Alfonso I d'Este, who led a contingent of
Italian soldiers in the battle
The issue was decided when the French cavalry, having driven the opposing horsemen from the field, returned to attack the Spanish infantry.

While many of his soldiers were slaughtered, Cardona was taken prisoner.

Then, when the battle was effectively over, the French commander De Foix was killed during a pointless skirmish with the retreating Spanish infantry.

It was estimated that the French lost 4,500 men and the Holy League 9,000 in this battle, part of the War of the League of Cambrai, which took place during the long period of the Italian Wars.

The victory failed to help the French secure northern Italy and they were forced to withdraw from the region entirely by August of the same year.

Travel tip:

The Romagna, controlled by the Pope in the 16th century, was a region of Italy that approximately corresponds to the south eastern part of the present day region of Emilia-Romagna. It included the cities of Cesena, Faenza, Forlì, Imola, Ravenna and Rimini, where the Romagnola dialect is still spoken today.

The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna
The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna
Travel tip:

Ravenna, in Emilia-Romagna, was the capital city of the western Roman empire in the fifth century. It is known for its well preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture and has eight UNESCO world heritage sites. The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe.

More reading:

How the Treaty of Lodi brought peace to northern Italy

Ravenna, the Ostrogoths and the Sack of Rome

The murder of papal military leader Girolamo Riario


1 November 2017

Sistine Chapel ceiling revealed

All Saints’ Day chosen to show off Michelangelo’s work

The Creation of Adam, centrepiece of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, is among the most famous images in the world
The Creation of Adam, centrepiece of Michelangelo's Sistine
Chapel ceiling, is among the most famous images in the world 
Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel were unveiled for public viewing for the first time on this day in 1512.

The date of All Saints’ Day was chosen by Pope Julius II, who had commissioned Michelangelo, because he felt it appropriate to show off the frescoes on a significant festival in the Catholic Church year.

The frescoes, the central nine panels of which depict stories from the Book of Genesis, has become one of the most famous works of art in the world, the image of The Creation of Adam rivalled only perhaps by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa for iconic status.

Yet Michelangelo was reluctant initially to take on the project, which was first mooted in 1506 as part of a general programme of rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica being undertaken by Julius II, who felt that the Sistine Chapel, which had restored by his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, ought to have a ceiling that carried more meaningful decoration than the gold stars on a blue background of his uncle’s design.

The ceiling in all its glory
The ceiling in all its glory
Michelangelo, only 31 or 32 at the time, regarded himself as a sculptor rather than a painter. Already famous for his Pietà in St Peter’s Basilica and for his David in Florence, he was busy working on Julius II’s marble tomb, which would include a third great sculptured figure, that of Moses. 

When Julius became distracted by a war against the French, Michelangelo took the opportunity to make himself scarce, taking refuge away from Rome in the hope that the pope would somehow forget his ideas for the chapel and allow him to continue uninterrupted on the tomb.

However, in 1508 Julius summoned Michelangelo to begin work on the ceiling as discussed.  Feeling he had little choice, he signed the contract, although only on condition that he had a free hand over the content of his frescoes, rather than follow the pope’s idea for depictions of the Twelve Apostles, which Michelangelo felt lacked imagination.

For four years, Michelangelo and his assistants were engaged on the project, working from a unique system of platforms, balanced on a wooden scaffold and attached to the walls by brackets.  Contrary to the idea that was suggested in a movie made about his life in which Charlton Heston took the part of the artist, Michelangelo did not paint lying on his back but standing up, although craning his neck to paint above his head took its toll on his physical health.

He felt the damage to his spine turned him into an old man prematurely and that he had paid a high price but the end result was an extraordinary work, including more than 300 figures in a story in which he set out to depict the Creation, the Fall of Man, the promise of salvation through the prophets and the geneology of Christ.

The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden - another section of Michelangelo's ceiling fresco
The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden - another
section of Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes
The famous Creation of Adam, in which the index finger of God’s outstretched right arm is almost touching the left index finger of a languid, reclining Adam, is generally thought to depict Genesis 1:27, which contains the words: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him.”

The picture shows a totally naked Adam and portrays God, who is clothed, as a muscular figure with human form, with long, white hair and a white beard.  It was the first time a painter had represented God as such a dynamic figure; in other works, God was often depicted as a hand reaching down through clouds.

The other interesting feature is that behind God and the figures surrounding him is what looks like a swirling cloak that forms an anatomically accurate outline of the human brain, although others have hypothesised that it is meant to represent a human uterus and the scarf hanging from the cloak an umbilical cord, supporting the theory that the picture symbolises birth.

Michelangelo is said to have wanted more time to perfect the work but, under some pressure from Julius II, he revealed it on November 1, 1512 to general acclaim, before returning to work on Julius’s tomb, which can nowadays be found in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli.

Today, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, situated within the Apostolic Palace, which is the official residence of the popes, is visited by some five million people each year at a rate of about 25,000 every day.

The chapel is a significant building in the Vatican in that it is the place in which the cardinals meet in papal conclave to elect a new pope. For a while, because of the grime and dirt that had collected on its surface, the detail of the frescoes were almost invisible.  But, between 1980 and 1999, teams of experts successfully removed the soot deposits left behind by burning candles and restored the colours to their original vividness (although some critics said the colours were too bright).

Michelangelo is said to have been paid 3,000 ducats for his work on the project, the equivalent of about $78,000, or €67,000 today.

The rather plain exterior of the Cistine Chapel, deep within the Vatican complex
The rather plain exterior of the Cistine Chapel, deep
within the Vatican complex
Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel is in the Apostolic Palace, where the Pope lives, in Vatican City. The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, the uncle of Pope Julius II, who had it restored during his papacy. Michelangelo’s contribution also includes The Last Judgment, which is painted on the altar wall of the chapel and was not finished until 25 years after he completed work on the ceiling. The work was controversial for its depiction of nudity, some of which the Council of Trent, the ecumenical council that took place in Trento between 1545 and 1563, declared to be obscene and ordered Mannerist painted Daniele da Volterra to cover up.

Michelangelo's Moses, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II
Michelangelo's Moses, part of the tomb
of Pope Julius II
Travel tip:

The church of San Pietro in Vincoli, situated less than 1km from the Colosseum, is a minor basilica originally built during the fifth century to house the relics of the chains that bound St Peter when he was in prison in Jerusalem.  The church contains the mausoleum of Pope Julius II, made up by Michelangelo’s striking statue of Moses, which was completed by 1515 after 10 years. The mausoleum today is dimly lit until one of the visitors makes a donation and it lights up.

7 November 2015

Niccolò Machiavelli

Enforced retirement gives public servant time to write about his ruthless ideas

Statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, whose name has become synonymous with the words ‘cunning’ and ‘duplicity’, was dismissed from office in Florence on this day in 1512 by a written decree issued by the Medici rulers.

The Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno in Florence
Machiavelli was forced to withdraw from public life and retired to his home in the Chianti region of Tuscany, where he wrote his most famous work, The Prince, which was to give the world the political idea of ‘the ends justify the means’.

Had the Medici not distrusted him, Machiavelli might have continued to serve in Florence as a diplomat and military leader. 

He may never have passed on to mankind the ideas he had learnt from his work during the turbulent period in Italian history when popes and other European countries were battling against Italy’s city states for power.

In The Prince he was able to write with first-hand knowledge about the methods he had seen used by Cesare Borgia and his father Pope Alexander V1 to take over large parts of central Italy.

The ideas he put forward were to make the word ‘machiavellian’ a regularly used pejorative adjective and the phrase ‘Old Nick’ to become an English term for the devil.

The book put forward the idea that the aims of princes, such as glory and survival, could justify the use of immoral means.  

Machiavelli also advocated that it is safer to be feared than to be loved, if you can’t achieve both, and he recommended that if an injury has to be done to a man ‘it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared’.

His ideas were to exert a lasting, profound influence on western political thought and are still referred to today. But in modern times, people have begun to interpret them as pragmatic observations rather than as encouraging ruthlessness, cruelty and violence in people.

Machiavelli never got back into public office after the decree of 7 November 1512 and he died at his home in 1527 at the age of 58.

Travel Tip:

Machiavelli wrote ‘The Prince’ at his country home in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, south of Florence, in the heart of Chianti country near San Casciano Val di Pesa. The house where he is believed to have lived is now a Bed and Breakfast called La Fonte del Macchiavelli.

Travel Tip:

There is a monument to Machiavelli in the beautiful Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, where many famous Florentines are buried. A marble structure by Innocenzo Spinazzi was erected in his memory in 1787. The Latin inscription on the front of the monument translates as: ‘No eulogy is equal to such a name’. 

More reading:

'The ends justify the means' - the life of Niccolò Machiavelli