Showing posts with label Galeazzo Maria Sforza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Galeazzo Maria Sforza. 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


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24 January 2020

Galeazzo Maria Sforza - Duke of Milan

Effective leader with dark side



Piero Pollaiuolo's portrait of Galeazzo, which is kept by Uffizi in Florence
Piero Pollaiuolo's portrait of Galeazzo,
which is kept by Uffizi in Florence
Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who became the second member of the Sforza family to take the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1444 in Fermo, in what is now the Marche region.

Sforza was an effective ruler but is often remembered as a tyrant with a cruel streak.  He ruled Milan for just 10 years before he was assassinated in 1476.

In that time, Galeazzo did much to boost the economy of Milan and the wider area of Lombardia. He introduced measures to promote and protect the work of Lombard craftsmen and boosted agriculture by the introduction of jasmine farming and rice cultivation. Farsightedly, he realised that a healthy population was a more productive one and expanded the health institutions started by his father, Francesco Sforza.  He minted a new silver coin, the Testone, which carried an image of his profile on the reverse.

He saw to it that work on Milan’s cathedral, which had started almost 100 years earlier, continued to progress, and took over the construction of a major hospital that his father had wanted to see built.

Galeazzo was also a major patron of music, attracting composers and musicians not just in Italy but from northern Europe, especially the Franco-Flemish areas of present day Belgium and Holland. Alexander Agricola, Johannes Martini, Loyset Compère, and Gaspar van Weerbeke all had their standing boosted by their association with the Sforza court, where they composed masses, motets and secular music.

The Testone coin, bearing the image of Galeazzo Maria Sforza on the reverse
The Testone coin, bearing the image
of Galeazzo Maria Sforza on the reverse
He was also a patron of the arts, although this was mainly connected with the extravagant decoration and embellishment of the vast Castello Sforzesco. The castle had been built by his father, Francesco, but he and Galeazzo’s mother, Bianca Maria Visconti, chose to live in the more modest Corte d’Arengo rather than be seen to flaunt their wealth.

Such considerations were dismissed by Galeazzo, who decided the castle was a suitable home for him and his family and hired two Florentine architects of particular note, Bartolomeo Gadio and Benedetto Ferrini, to oversee the restructuring of the Ducal Court, Rocchetta courtyard and his own private accommodation.

He commissioned the Ducal Chapel, built in 1471, and engaged artists of considerable reputation such as Bonifacio Bembo, Giacomino Vismara and Stefano de Fedeli.  The chapel’s extraordinary decoration, with much use of pure gold, makes it one of the masterpieces of Sforza art.

A skilled soldier, Galeazzo was called back from a military expedition in France at the time of his father’s death and hundreds of Milanese turned out to acclaim him as the new Duke when he returned to the city. It was not long before his ruthless streak emerged, however. At first ruling jointly with his mother, he soon took steps to relegate her to a much less influential position and it was not long before she moved to Cremona, where she had considerable support.  It is said that she was in contact with Ferdinand I of Naples, an enemy of Galeazzo, and after she became ill and died in 1468 there were suspicions that Galeazzo had ordered his agents to poison her.

Part of the sumptuously decorated ceiling of the Ducal Chapel
Part of the sumptuously decorated
ceiling of the Ducal Chapel
If that were true, it would have been consistent with the stories of cruelty that have been associated with Galeazzo, who is said to have taken delight in condemning those who offended him to agonizing deaths and subjecting his enemies to torture.  A womaniser, he allegedly raped the wives and daughters of Milanese noblemen, confident that they would be too fearful for their own safety to raise objections.

However, his excesses and cruelties eventually cost him his life when three of high-ranking officials in his court, Carlo Visconti, Gerolamo Olgiati and Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani, conspired to assassinate him.  All three had motives, Lampugnani’s stemming from a land dispute that cost him a considerable part of his fortune, Olgiati’s from political differences, and Visconti’s from suspicions that Galeazzo had raped his daughter.

Their plot came to fruition on 26 December, the feast of Santo Stefano, when Galeazzo attended the Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore to celebrate the saint.  When Galeazzo arrived, Lampugnani knelt before him in the atrium but then rose suddenly and stabbed him in the groin and chest. Visconti and Olgiati joined in, plunging their own weapons into the body of the Duke, who was soon dead.

Lampugnani himself was killed by one of Galeazzo’s guards, while Visconti and Olgiati were caught and executed within days.  Galeazzo was succeeded as Duke of Milan by Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the first-born of his four legitimate children, although for five years, until his majority, Milan was governed by his mother, Bona of Savoy.

The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, which Galeazzo Maria Sforza turned into his luxurious home
The inner courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan,
which Galeazzo Maria Sforza turned into his luxurious home
Travel tip:

The Castello Sforzesco is one of the main sights for visitors to Milan, situated to the northwest of the city centre, with the Parco Sempione behind it. Francesco Sforza built it on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.

The Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, the scene of Galeazzo Maria Sforza's assassination
The Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, the
scene of Galeazzo Maria Sforza's assassination
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santo Stafano Maggiore can be found in Piazza Santo Stefano, to the southeast of Milan’s centro storico, just a few minutes’ walk from the Duomo. Although it dates back to the fifth century, the present structure was built in 1075 in Romanesque style.  It contains the relics of at least eight saints. As well as being the scene of the death of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, an event which is commemorated with a plaque in the atrium, the church also witnessed the baptism, in 1571, of the painter Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio.

Also on this day:

41AD: The assassination of Roman Emperor Caligula

1705: The birth of the castrato singer Farinelli, acknowledged as music’s first ‘superstar’

1916: The birth of actor Arnoldo Foà

1947: The birth of footballer Giorgio Chinaglia


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