Showing posts with label Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Show all posts

7 February 2018

Amedeo Guillet – army officer

Superb horseman helped keep the British at bay

Amedeo Guillet, pictured in his military dress uniform, was a brilliant horseman
Amedeo Guillet, pictured in his military dress
uniform, was a brilliant horseman

Amedeo Guillet, the last man to lead a cavalry charge against the British Army, was born on this day in 1909 in Piacenza.

His daring actions in Eritrea in 1941 were remembered by some British soldiers as ‘the most frightening and extraordinary’ episode of the Second World War.

It had seemed as though the British invasion of Mussolini’s East African empire was going like clockwork. But at daybreak on January 21, 250 horsemen erupted through the morning mist at Keru, galloping straight towards British headquarters and the artillery of the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry.

Red Italian grenades that looked like cricket balls exploded among the defenders and the guns that had been pointing towards Italian fortifications had to be quickly turned to face a new enemy.

The horsemen later disappeared into the network of wadis - ravines - that crisscrossed the Sudan-Eritrean lowlands.

Guillet’s actions at Keru helped the Italian army regroup and go on to launch their best actions in the entire war. Guillet was to live on until the age of 101 and become one of the most decorated people in Italian history.

Guillet was born into a Savoyard-Piedmontese family, who were minor aristocracy that had, for generations, served the Dukes of Savoy and later the Kings of Italy.

Guillet in action on the battlefield in 1940
Guillet in action on the battlefield in 1940
He spent most of his childhood in the south and said he remembered the Austrian biplane bombing of Bari during the First World War. He followed family tradition by joining the army and, after attending the military academy at Modena, went into the cavalry.

Guillet excelled as a horseman and was selected for the Italian eventing team to go to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. But Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia interrupted his career as a competition rider.

He had himself transferred to a cavalry division and fought repeated actions with them. He witnessed the aerial gas attacks on Emperor Haile Selassie’s lightly-armed warriors, which appalled the world.

In Guillet’s opinion, gas was largely ineffectual against an enemy that could flee. He fought with horse, sword and pistol. He suffered a painful wound to his left hand and was later decorated for his actions.

He was flattered to be chosen by General Luigi Frusci as an aide de camp, in the division sent to support Franco in the Spanish Civil War, where he suffered shrapnel wounds, but helped to capture three Russian armoured cars and crews.

Guillet disapproved of  the pro- Nazi alliance and anti-semitism
Guillet disapproved of  the pro-
Nazi alliance and anti-semitism
But he disapproved of the pro-Nazi alliance and the anti-Semitic race laws adopted by Italy and asked for a posting to East Africa, where a family friend, Amedeo Duke of Aosta, had been appointed viceroy.

Mussolini’s decision to enter the war on the side of Germany in 1940 cut off Italian East Africa, which was surrounded by the territories of its enemies. Aosta gave Guillet command of 2,500 men, both cavalry and infantry. With almost no armour, Guillet’s horsemen were used to delay the British advance.

His actions at Keru and in subsequent battles won time for the Italian army, but eventually the British broke through. Most of the Italian army surrendered but Guillet refused to do so.

Aosta ordered his men to fight on to keep as many British soldiers as possible in East Africa.

For nine months Guillet launched a series of guerrilla actions against British troops with his mistress, Khadija, an Ethiopian Muslim, at his side. He believed he would never see Italy, or the woman he had planned to marry there, ever again.

Two British intelligence officers pursued him. One of them, Major Max Harrari, would later become an art dealer and one of his close friends. But Guillet managed to escape across the sea to neutral Yemen where he became a friend of the ruler Imam Ahmed. He sneaked back to Eritrea in 1943 in disguise, from where he returned to Italy on the Red Cross ship, Giulio Cesare.

He married his Neapolitan cousin, Beatrice Gandolfo, in 1944 and spent the rest of the war as an intelligence officer.

At the end of the war, after the decision to abolish the monarchy in Italy, Guillet told Umberto II he intended to leave the country for good, but the deposed King asked him to keep serving Italy, whatever sort of Government was installed.

Despite being wounded many times, Guillet not only survived his wartime experiences but lived to be 101 years old
Despite being wounded many times, Guillet not only survived
his wartime experiences but lived to be 101 years old
Guillet joined the diplomatic service and because his Arabic was fluent he served in the Middle East. He was later ambassador in Jordan, Morocco and India.

In 1975 he retired and went live in County Meath in Ireland to enjoy the fox hunting.

According to his biographer, Sebastian O’Kelly, Guillet was ‘a kind, generous man who thought himself lucky to have survived many bullet and grenade wounds, sword injuries and bone fractures.’ Guillet’s wife, Beatrice, died in 1990.

In 2000, Guillet was presented with the Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy, the highest military decoration, by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Guillet’s life story was the subject of a film made by Elisabetta Castana for the national TV channel RAI in 2007.

In 2009 he was still well enough to be able to celebrate his 100th birthday at the army officers’ club in Palazzo Barberini in Rome.

When Guillet died in June 2010 in Rome he was widely respected as one of the last men to have commanded cavalry in a war.

One of Francesco Mochi's statues in Piacenza
One of Francesco Mochi's
 statues in Piacenza
Travel tip:

Piacenza, where Guillet was born, is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The main square in Piacenza is named Piazza Cavalli because of its two bronze equestrian monuments featuring Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and his son Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma, who succeeded him. The statues are masterpieces by the sculptor Francesco Mochi.

The Palazzo Barberini in Rome
The Palazzo Barberini in Rome
Travel tip:

Palazzo Barberini, where Guillet celebrated his 100th birthday, is just off Piazza Barberini in the centre of Rome. The palace was completed in 1633 for Pope Urban VIII to the design of three great architects, Carlo Maderno, Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

3 February 2018

Giovanni Battista Vaccarini - architect

Sicilian Baroque designs shaped the look of Catania

Vaccarini's Fontana dell'Elefante has  become the symbol of Catania
Vaccarini's Fontana dell'Elefante has
become the symbol of Catania
Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, the architect who designed many of the important buildings in Sicily’s second city of Catania, was born on this day in 1702 in Palermo.

He was responsible for several palaces, including the Palazzo del Municipio, the Palazzo San Giuliano and the Palazzo dell’Università.  He completed the rebuilding of a number of churches, including the Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, and designed the Baroque façade of the city’s Duomo – the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata – which had been a ruin.

Perhaps his most famous work, though, is the Fontana dell’Elefante, which he placed at the centre of the reconstructed Piazza Duomo, consisting of a marble pedestal and fountains, supporting an ancient Roman statue of an elephant made from lava stone, which in turn has an obelisk mounted on its back, supposedly inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Obelisk of Minerva in Rome, which is also borne by an elephant.

The monument's nickname in the Sicilian language is "Liotru," a reference to Elidoros, an eighth century wizard who sought, through magic, to make the elephant walk. The statue came to be adopted as the symbol of the city.

Vaccarini had shown artistic talents at an early age and as a young man went to Rome to study architecture, with the support of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, whose uncle had been Pope Alexander VIII. Ottoboni was a patron of the arts who had helped the career of the musician and composer Arcangelo Corelli.

A portrait of Vaccarini by Gaspare Serenario, painted in 1761
A portrait of Vaccarini by Gaspare
Serenario, painted in 1761
The young Sicilian was particularly keen on the work of Bernini and Francesco Borromini, two leading figures in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture. He was influenced too by the flamboyant styles of Alessandro Specchi, who built the papal stables, Filippo Raguzzini and Francesco de Sanctis, who designed the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti – the Spanish Steps.

When he returned to Sicily he was appointed, in around 1730, as city architect by the Senate of Catania, with the city still facing a massive reconstruction programme following the devastating earthquake of 1693, which is thought to have killed up to 60,000 people and virtually destroyed 70 cities, towns and villages.

Vaccarini thus spent much of his working life directing the restoration of the city, which has subsequently grown to be the second largest on the island, with a population of more than 315,000.

The only significant period he spent away from Catania was in 1756 when he travelled to Naples to help Luigi Vanvitelli and Ferdinando Fuga with the construction of the marble Reggia di Caserta, the Royal Palace at Caserta, north of the city.

Vaccarini spent more than half his life working on the  restoration of Catania's Duomo
Vaccarini spent more than half his life working on the
restoration of Catania's Duomo
The restoration of the Catania Duomo, which spanned 36 years from 1732 to 1768, probably best illustrates the style of Vaccarini, influencing the mood of late Sicilian Baroque, the façade notable for the juxtaposition of white marble with lava stone in alternating columns.

The small church of the Badia (Abbey) of Sant'Agata, adjacent to the cathedral, borrowed some ideas from Borromini’s church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, in Rome, in particular its high dome and delicate front of concave and convex ripples, with a preciseness of detail that was a constant in Vaccarini's work.

The Palazzo Gioeni and Palazzo Valle and the church of San Benedetto, in Via dei Crociferi, were also part of Vaccarini’s Catania project.

Vaccarini died in his home city of Palermo in 1768.

Catania, sprawling at the feet of Mount Etna, is the sixth largest metropolis in Italy
Catania, sprawling at the feet of Mount Etna, is the sixth
largest metropolis in Italy
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in the country, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. A little like Naples, only more so, in that it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe, Catania has been virtually destroyed by earthquakes twice, in 1169 as well as 1693, and regularly witnesses volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna. As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and has enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.

The beautiful Basilica della Collegiata
The beautiful Basilica della Collegiata
Travel tip:

Apart from Vaccarini’s work, there are many other examples of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture that give Catania its character, including the beautiful Basilica della Collegiata, with its six stone columns and the concave curve of its façade, designed by Stefano Ittar and Angelo Italia.  Elsewhere on the island, Rosario Gagliardi’s Church of San Giuseppe in Ragusa Ibla, Andrea Palma’s Duomo in Syracuse and Francesco Camilliani’s fountain in Piazza Pretoria in Palermo are other fine examples of the style.

7 January 2018

Pope Innocent X

Political pontiff dominated by sister-in-law

The portrait of Innocent X by the Spanish artist Diego Valesquez, notably for a terse facial expression
The portrait of Innocent X by the Spanish artist Diego
Velázquez, notable for a terse facial expression
A politically charged and controversial period in papal history ended on this day in 1655 with the death in Rome of Pope Innocent X.

Described by some historians as a scheming and bitter pontiff, Innocent X’s tenure was notable for his malicious attack on a rival family, his destruction of the ancient city of Castro, a squabble with France that almost ended in war, his interference in the English Civil War and his refusal to recognise the independence of Portugal.

It was also overshadowed by rumours of an immoral relationship with his sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, the widow of his late brother. Historians generally agree that these were unfounded, yet Innocent X was dominated by her to the extent that she became the most powerful figure in his court, her influence so strong that ambassadors, cardinals and bishops knew that the pope would defer to her before making any decision and consequently would address any issues directly to her.

Born in Rome in 1574 and baptised as Giovanni Battista Pamphili, he came from a wealthy and well-established family who originally came from Gubbio in Umbria.

His parents, Camillo Pamphili and Flaminia de Bubalis, groomed him from an early age with the ambition that he would one day become pope.

Innocent X's predecessor, Urban VIII, as  depicted by Caravaggio in 1598
Innocent X's predecessor, Urban VIII, as
depicted by Caravaggio in 1598
He studied jurisprudence at the Collegio Romano and succeeded his uncle, Girolamo Pamphili, as auditor (judge) of the Roman Rota, the most important court in the ecclesiastical legal system.

Under Pope Gregory XV, he became nuncio (ambassador) to the court of the Kingdom of Naples, and was sent by Urban VIII to accompany his nephew, Francesco Barberini, whom he had accredited as nuncio, first to France and then Spain.

In May 1626, he was made apostolic nuncio to the court of Philip IV of Spain, an appointment that led to a lifelong association with the Spaniards. He was made a cardinal in 1627 at the age of 53.

He was elected pope in 1644 after a long and stormy conclave to find a successor to Urban VIII, undermined by the difficult relations between the Spanish and the French.  Pamphili was put forward as a compromise candidate, despite his sympathies towards Spain.  Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the de facto ruler of France, travelled to Rome to veto the appointment but arrived too late.

Soon after his accession, having given himself the name of  Innocent X, he began a legal action against the Barberini family, long-time rivals of the Pamphili, for alleged misappropriation of public funds.

It led the brothers, Francesco, Antonio and Taddeo Barberini, to flee to Paris, where they found a powerful protector in Cardinal Mazarin.  Innocent X confiscated their property and issued a bull (decree) that all cardinals who might leave the Papal States for six months without express papal permission would be deprived of their benefices and eventually cease to be cardinals.

A painting by an unknown artist believed to show Olimpia Maidalchini
A painting by an unknown artist believed
to show Olimpia Maidalchini
France refused to recognise the papal ordinance but it was only when Mazarin prepared to send troops to Italy that Innocent X yielded. Papal policy towards France became softer and in time the Barberini brothers were rehabilitated.

Innocent X’s destruction of the ancient city of Castro in Lazio seems to have been an act of revenge against Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, over a defeat suffered by Urban VIII and the humiliation that seemed to hasten his demise.

His intervention in the English Civil War was to send the archbishop of Fermo, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, to Ireland as nuncio extraordinary, along with a large quantity of arms, gunpowder and money, to support the foundation of an independent Catholic-ruled Ireland, only for Oliver Cromwell to hold sway and restore Ireland to his side.

Innocent X's decision to side with Spain over Portugal’s bid for independence was consistent with his general policy of supporting Spanish ambitions and, as an extension of that position, opposing France.

Although his papacy was dominated by political matters, he did not entirely neglect ecclesiastical issues. The most important in his time concerned the condemnation of Jansenism, an interpretation of the teachings of St. Augustine about grace and free will that he decreed was heretical.

He was cautious financially, although he did commission the completion of the interior of St. Peter’s as well as the transformation of Piazza Navona into the artistic masterpiece we see today, and the restoration of Palazzo Pamphili, the home of Pope Urban VIII, which looks out on the piazza.

Innocent X was pope for 11 years until his death in Rome at the age of 80. Religious historians are divided on his legacy, some believing he weakened the papacy, others that he increased its power. He was succeeded by Alexander VII, from the Chigi family.

Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Travel tip:

Built on the site of the Roman Stadium of Domitian, Piazza Navona became a public open space in the 15th century, when Rome’s main market moved there from Campidoglio. It already contained the Fontana del Moro (Moors Foutain) and the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), sculpted by Giacomo della Porta between 1574 and 1575, but Innocent X commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create its magnificent centrepiece, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in 1651, which is topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, moved from the Circus of Maxentius.

A typical staircase in medieval Gubbio
A typical staircase in medieval Gubbio
Travel tip:

Gubbio, the town in Umbria from which Innocent X’s family originated, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Italy, partly because, perched on the side of Monte Ingino, it is not accessible easily enough to attract hordes of visitors.  Full of narrow streets, alleyways and staircases, most of them dramatically steep, it has been dubbed La Città del Silenzio – the City of Silence – for its sometimes eerie serenity and calm. 


3 November 2017

Annibale Carracci – painter

Bolognese master produced his most influential work in Rome

A self-portrait of Annibale Carracci
A self-portrait of Annibale Carracci
The Baroque painter Annibale Carracci was born on this day in 1560 in Bologna.

Annibale and his followers were to become highly influential in the development of Roman painting, bringing back the classical tradition of the High Renaissance.

He was probably apprenticed as a painter with members of his own family in Bologna. But his talents began to develop during a tour of northern Italy in the 1580s. He lodged in Venice with the painter Jacopo Bassano, whose style of painting influenced him for a time.

Annibale has been credited with rediscovering the early 16th century painter Correggio, who had almost been forgotten outside Parma. Annibale’s Baptism of Christ, painted in 1585 for the Church of San Gregorio in Bologna, is a brilliant tribute to him.

In 1582 Annibale opened a studio in Bologna with his brother, Agostino Carraci, and his older cousin, Ludovico Carracci. While working there, Annibale painted The Enthroned Madonna with St Matthew in 1588 for the Church of San Prospero in Reggio.

By the time Annibale collaborated with the other two Carracci on frescoes in the Palazzo Magnani (now the Palazzo Salem) and two other noble houses in Bologna, he had become the leading master among them.

Carracci's Madonna Enthroned with St Matthew hangs in a gallery in Dresden
Carracci's Madonna Enthroned with St
hangs in a gallery in Dresden
In 1595 Annibale went to Rome to work for the rich, young cardinal Odoardo Farnese, who wanted the principal floor of his palace decorated with frescoes.

In Rome, Annibale studied Michelangelo, Raphael and ancient Greek and Roman art in order to adapt his style to his new surroundings.

After decorating the study in Palazzo Farnese, he was joined by his older brother, Agostino, in the chief enterprise of his career, painting the frescoes of the coved ceiling of the Galleria with love fables from Ovid.

These decorations were considered to be a triumph of classicism tempered with humanity. The powerfully modelled figures in these frescoes have been seen as an imaginative response to Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The Galleria Farnese became an invaluable place for young painters to study until well into the 18th century and proved a rich feeding ground for Gian Lorenzo Bernini among others.

Annibale was underpaid for his long and intense labours in the Palazzo Farnese and he gave up working on it altogether in 1605.

Annibale's Baptism of Christ
Annibale's Baptism of Christ
He subsequently produced some of his finest religious paintings, including landscapes for the Palazzo Aldobrandini in Frascati that were to influence the work of Domenichino and Nicolas Poussin in Rome.

Annibale died at the age of 48 in 1609 in Rome after a few years of illness. He was buried according to his wish near Raphael in the Pantheon. Many of his assistants and pupils, such as Domenichino and Guido Reni, were later to become the pre-eminent artists for the next few decades.

Part of the ceiling at the Palazzo Fernese in Rome
Part of the ceiling at the Palazzo Fernese in Rome
Travel tip:

Palazzo Farnese, where Annibale Carracci did some of his best work in the Galleria, is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome. Owned by the Italian republic, the palazzo in Piazza Farnese was given to the French Government in 1936 for a period of 99 years and currently serves as the French embassy in Italy. One of the scenes in Puccini’s opera Tosca is set in Palazzo Farnese.

Carracci is buried alongside Raphael at The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda in the heart of Rome
Carracci is buried alongside Raphael at The Pantheon in
Piazza della Rotonda in the heart of Rome
Travel tip:

The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda, is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Rome. It was built as a temple but was converted into a Christian church in the seventh century. The Pantheon now contains the tombs of painters and kings. Along with Annibale Carracci, King Umberto I of Italy, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy and Raphael are buried there.

31 July 2017

Alessandro Algardi – sculptor

Baroque works of art were designed to illustrate papal power

Algardi's extraordinary marble relief, Fuga d'Attila, which he created for St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Algardi's extraordinary marble relief, Fuga d'Attila,
which he created for St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Alessandro Algardi, whose Baroque sculptures grace many churches in Rome, was born on this day in 1598 in Bologna.

Algardi emerged as the principal rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture and although Bernini’s creations were known for their dynamic vitality and penetrating characterisation, Algardi’s works were appreciated for their sobriety and surface realism. Many of his smaller works of arts, such as marble busts and terracotta figures are now in collections and museums all over the world.

Algardi was born in Bologna, where he was apprenticed in the studio of Agostino Carracci from a young age.

He soon showed an aptitude for sculpture and his earliest known works, two statues of saints, were created for the Oratory of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna.

After a short stay in Venice, he went to Rome in 1625 with an introduction from the Duke of Mantua to the late pope’s nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who employed him to restore ancient statues.

This portrait by Carlo Maratta  is thought to be of Algardi
This portrait by Carlo Maratta
 is thought to be of Algardi
Although it was a time for great architectural initiatives in Rome, Algardi struggled for recognition at the start as Bernini was given most of the major sculptural commissions.

Algardi was commissioned to produce some terracotta and marble portrait busts and also worked on the tombs of the Mellini family in the Mellini Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo.

He received his first major commission in about 1634 to sculpt a funeral monument for Pope Leo XI, who had reigned for less than a month in 1605.

Then he was asked to create a colossal statue of Filippo Neri for Santa Maria in Vallicella and after this Algardi produced a sculptural group to represent the beheading of St Paul for the Church of San Paolo in Bologna. These works firmly established his reputation.

In 1644 the new pope, Innocent X, and his nephew, Camillo Pamphili, favoured Algardi over Bernini.

A large bronze of Innocent X by Algardi is now in the Capitoline Museums. In the grounds of Villa Pamphili, Algardi and members of his studio executed fountains adorned with sculptures and created other garden features.

Algardi's funeral monument for Pope Leo XI
Algardi's funeral monument for Pope Leo XI
In 1650 Algardi received commissions from Spain and there are four chimney pieces by him in the Royal Palace of Aranjuez and figures by him on the fountain of Neptune in the gardens. A tomb in the Augustinian monastery at Salamanca is also by him.

The Fuga d’Attila relief, Algardi’s large marble panel of Pope Leo XI and Attila for St Peter’s Basilica, reinvigorated the fashion for marble reliefs. It depicted the historical legend of the Pope stopping the Huns from looting Rome, illustrating papal power.

Algardi died in 1654 within a year of completing this work, which was much admired by his contemporaries.

The 17th century Villa Doria Pamphili is situated in Rome's largest landscaped public park
The 17th century Villa Doria Pamphili is situated in
Rome's largest landscaped public park
Travel tip:

The Villa Doria Pamphili is a 17th century villa in Rome with, what is today, the largest, landscaped public park in the city. The villa is situated just outside Porta San Pancrazio in the ancient walls of Rome. It began as a villa for the Pamphili family and when the line died out in the 18th century it passed to Prince Andrea IV Doria, from which time it has been known as the Villa Doria Pamphili. In 1644 Cardinal Giambattista Pamphili was elected to the papacy and took the name of Innocent X. He aspired to a grand villa and brought in Algardi to help with the design and create the sculptures in the garden.

Travel tip:

The huge marble Fuga d’Attila relief, showing Pope Leo XI restraining Attila from marching on Rome, was the largest high relief sculpture in the world when it was created by Algardi between 1646 and 1653 for St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Basilica had been completed and consecrated in 1626. It was believed to be the largest church in the world and was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of Saint Peter.

29 July 2017

Pope Urban VIII

Pontiff whose extravagance led to disgrace

Caravaggio's portrait of the future Urban VIII
Caravaggio's portrait of the future Urban VIII
The controversial Pope Urban VIII died on this day in 1644 in Rome.

Urban VIII – born Maffeo Barberini – was a significant patron of the arts, the sponsor of the brilliant sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose work had a major influence on the look of Rome.

But in his ambitions to strengthen and expand the Papal States, he overreached himself in a disastrous war against Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, and the expenses incurred in that and other conflicts, combined with extravagant spending on himself and his family, left the papacy seriously weakened.

Indeed, so unpopular was Urban VIII that after news spread of his death there was rioting in Rome and a bust of him on Capitoline Hill was destroyed by an angry mob.

His time in office was also notable for the conviction in 1633 for heresy of the physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, who had promoted the supposition, put forward by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus, that the earth revolved around the sun, which was directly contrary to the orthodox Roman Catholic belief that the sun revolved around the earth.

A bust of Urban VIII sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1637-8
A bust of Urban VIII sculpted by
Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1637-8
Urban VIII was born to Antonio Barberini, a Florentine nobleman, and Camilla Barbadoro, in Florence in April 1568, moving to Rome after the death of his father in 1571 to be placed in the charge of his uncle, Francesco Barberini, who was part of the papal staff.

He was educated by the Jesuits, received a doctorate of law from the University of Pisa and, through the influence of his uncle, was appointed by Pope Clement VIII to be a papal legate to the court of King Henry IV of France.

He became rich overnight at the death of his uncle, who had some years earlier named him as his heir. He immediately bought a palace in Rome that he turned into a luxurious Renaissance residence.

He maintained his high status in the church under Clement VIII’s successor, Pope Paul V, who raised him to the order of the Cardinal-Priest, with the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio. On the death of Paul V’s successor, Pope Gregory XV, he was chosen as pope in 1623.

Only 56 when he began he reign, he was seen as an elegant, refined figure with an aristocratic bearing and regarded as an excellent debater. He also was skilled in writing Latin verse and was the author of a number of hymns and scriptural works.

Yet he was extraordinarily extravagant and with shameless nepotism appointed several members of his family to prominent positions in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini took on many commissions for Urban VIII
Gian Lorenzo Bernini took on many
commissions for Urban VIII
He elevated to Cardinal his brother Antonio Marcello Barberini and his nephews Francesco Barberini and Antonio Barberini. He also gave another nephew, Taddeo Barberini, the titles Prince of Palestrina, Gonfalonier of the Church, Prefect of Rome and Commander of Sant'Angelo.  The effect of this was that the wealth of the Barberini family grew massively.

Urban VIII’s sponsorship of Bernini was also extremely expensive, for all that it enriched the landscape of Rome for posterity.

In addition to having him sculpt several portrait busts of himself, Urban commissioned Bernini to work on the family palace in Rome, the Palazzo Barberini, the College of the Propaganda Fide and the Fontana del Tritone in the Piazza Barberini.

Urban appointed Bernini architect of St Peter’s in succession to Carlo Maderno. Many important additions were down to Bernini, including the gilt-bronze baldacchino over the tomb of St Peter and the colonnades enclosing the piazza in front of the basilica, which is considered his greatest architectural achievement.

Numerous members of the Barberini family also had their likenesses sculpted by Bernini, such as his brothers Carlo and Antonio. Urban also had Bernini rebuild the Church of Santa Bibiana and the Church of San Sebastiano al Palatino on the Palatine Hill.

Urban VIII’s spending extended to building the grandiose papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, fortifying the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, erecting the strategically located Fort Urbano at Castelfranco Emilia, near Modena, developing Civitavecchia, north of Rome, into a flourishing port with a military harbour, and enlarging the arsenal at Tivoli.

Bernini's Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini is one of the sculptor's many famous works in Rome
Bernini's Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini
is one of the sculptor's many famous works in Rome
With the acquisition of the Duchy of Urbino in 1626, he had established the Papal States as a compact, well-defended bloc dominating central Italy.

But then came the war against Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, which some historians blame on his nephews.

The conflict was rooted in a quarrel over questions of etiquette during the Duke’s visit to Rome in 1639. In revenge,  the nephews persuaded Urban to ban the export of grain from Castro, an ancient city controlled by the Farnese family in what is now northern Lazio, to the Papal States.

This deprived Farnese of an income he needed to pay the interest on his borrowings. The Duke's creditors complained to the pope, who took forcible possession of Castro in order to assure the payment. When the Duke still failed to meet his debts, Urban excommunicated him and deprived him of all his fiefs.

What Urban VIII had not foreseen was that the Farnese would enlist the support of Tuscany, Modena, and Venice in raising an army of about 3000 horsemen, who put the papal troops to flight. When Urban refused to accept proposed peace terms, hostilities were renewed and continued until the pope finally conceded defeat in March, 1644.

By then the debts of the Papal States had grown so huge that 80 per cent of their annual income was spent on paying the interest alone.

Urban VIII died disliked and in disgrace, his achievements as pope, such as denouncing the slave trade in the West Indies and Brazil, clearing the way for Jesuit missionaries to travel to South America, China and Japan and banning the use of tobacco in holy places – a decree that was repealed 100 years later – not given the recognition they deserved.

His tomb, sculpted by Bernini, is in St Peter’s Basilica.

The papal palace at Castel Gandolfo opens on to the town's main square, Piazza della Libertà
The papal palace at Castel Gandolfo opens on to the
town's main square, Piazza della Libertà
Travel tip:

Visitors to the town of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills, overlooking Lago Albano in the area known as the Castelli Romani, can now go inside Urban VIII’s 17th century papal palace, which ceased to be a papal residence in 2016 at the behest of the incumbent Pope Francis, ending its centuries’ old role as the summer retreat for the pontiff.  Built on the site of what was once the residence of the Roman emperor Domitian, the palace was designed for Urban VIII by the then architect of St Peter’s, Carlo Maderno.

Tortellini are said to be shaped to represent a female navel
Tortellini are said to be shaped to represent a female navel
Travel tip:

Castelfranco Emilia is a town just to the east of Modena, straddling the ancient Via Emilia, the Roman road that ran from Piacentia (now Piacenza) to Ariminum (now Rimini) on the Adriatic coast. It is said to be the home of tortellini, the stuffed pasta supposedly created by an innkeeper to represent the navel of a female guest with whom he was particularly taken and whom he had spied upon while bathing.

22 May 2017

Trevi Fountain inaugurated

Famous fountain now helps raise money for the poor

The Trevi Fountain was opened by Pope Clement XIII
The Trevi Fountain was opened by Pope Clement XIII
Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain, Fontana di Trevi, was officially opened by Pope Clement XIII on this day in 1762.

Standing at more than 26 metres high and 49 metres wide it is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and probably the most famous fountain in the world.

It has featured in films such as La Dolce Vita and Three Coins in the Fountain.

For more than 400 years a fountain served Rome at the junction of three roads, tre vie, using water from one of Ancient Rome’s aqueducts.

In 1629 Pope Urban VIII asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini to draw up possible renovations but the project was abandoned when the pope died.

In 1730 Pope Clement XII organised a contest to design a new fountain. The Florentine Alessandro Galilei originally won but there was such an outcry in Rome that the commission was eventually awarded to a Roman, Nicola Salvi.

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in the  fountain scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita
Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in the
fountain scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita
Work on the fountain began in 1732 but Salvi died in 1751 when it was only half finished. Made from Travertine stone quarried in Tivoli near Rome, the fountain was completed by Giuseppe Pannini, with Oceanus (god of all water), designed by Pietro Bracci, set in the central niche.

Coins are traditionally thrown into the fountain using the right hand over the left shoulder. This was the theme of the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain and the award-winning song of that name.

An estimated 3000 euros are now thrown into the fountain each day and the money is used to subsidise a supermarket for needy people in Rome.

Travel tip:

One of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s most spectacular works in Rome is the fountain of the Four Rivers, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, in Piazza Navona, with four marble figures symbolising the four major rivers of the world. It was designed in 1651 for Pope Innocent X.

The Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini
The Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini
Travel tip:

The Fountain of the Tritons, Fontana del Tritone, in Piazza Barberini in Rome was designed and built by Bernini near the entrance to Palazzo Barberini, the home of Pope Urban VIII’s family.

30 January 2017

Carlo Maderno - architect

Facade of St Peter's among most notable works

The facade of St Peter's Basilica in Rome is one of Carlo Maderno's most significant architectural works
The facade of St Peter's Basilica in Rome is one of
Carlo Maderno's most significant architectural works
The architect Carlo Maderno, who has been described as one of the fathers of Italian Baroque architecture, died on this day in 1629 in Rome.

His most important works included the facades of St Peter’s Basilica and the other Roman churches of Santa Susanna and Sant’ Andrea della Valle.

Although most of Maderno's work was in remodelling existing structures, he had a profound influence on the appearance of Rome, where his designs also contributed to the Palazzo Quirinale, the Palazzo Barberini and the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo. 

One building designed and completed under Maderno's full control was the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in the Sallustiano district.

Carlo Maderno was born in Capolago on the shore of Lake Lugano
Carlo Maderno was born in Capolago
on the shore of Lake Lugano
Maderno was born in 1556 in the village of Capolago, on the southern shore of Lake Lugano in what is now the Ticino canton of Switzerland, part of the finger of Italy's northern neighbouring country that extends between the Italian lakes Como and Maggiore.

Marble was quarried in the mountains around Capolago and as well as a talent for sculpture he had experience as a marble cutter when he moved with four of his brothers to Rome in 1588 to work with his uncle, Domenico Fontana.

Fontana also made his architectural mark in the city, where he worked on the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the nearby Palazzo Montalto.  He also erected the 327-ton Egyptian obelisk at the centre of St Peter's Square as well as the obelisks in Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, and Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Maderno's first commission in his own right, in 1596, was to build a facade for the church of Santa Susanna at the Baths of Diocletian, located on the Quirinal Hill.

Completed in 1603, Maderno's work on Santa Susanna has earned praise from modern architectural critics and at the time won him the admiration of Pope Paul V, who appointed him as the architect of St Peters, a position previously held by Domenico Fontana.

The facade of St Peter's has attracted criticism because it obscures the view of Michelangelo's dome from the piazza
The facade of St Peter's has attracted criticism because it
obscures the view of Michelangelo's dome from the piazza
Extensive changes to St Peter's Basilica were demanded of Maderno by Paul V, both inside and out. Principally, he was required to modify Michelangelo's plans by adding an extended nave and a palatial facade.

His work on the inside, which changed the layout from Michelangelo's Greek cross to the present Latin cross, is generally seen as a seamless expansion but the facade has been condemned by some critics as a disaster.

Their main complaint is that the massive classical structure, with its lower two levels in brown stone and the top level in white marble, severely limits the view of Michelangelo's magnificent dome, despite it being the tallest in the world, particularly for the crowds looking up from the piazza.  The eight unevenly spaced columns have also divided opinions, praised in some quarters as a forceful statement, criticised in others as incongruous.

Happily, more blame was attached to an over-ambitious and architecturally ignorant pope than to Maderno himself.  There is an acceptance that he had much less freedom over the design than in his other projects.

The Palazzo Barberini was designed by Maderno on  behalf of the the family of Pope Urban VIII
The Palazzo Barberini was designed by Maderno on
behalf of the the family of Pope Urban VIII
Maderno's influence is seen too in the churches of Gesù e Maria, San Giacomo degli Incurabili, Santa Lucia in Selci and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, where he is buried.

The Palazzo Barberini, which Maderno designed for the family of Pope Urban VIII, was completed by Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Travel tip:

From conception to completion, St Peter's Basilica took more than 150 years to build.  Suggested by Pope Nicholas V in about 1450, at which time the original St Peter's was near collapse, it was not finished until 1615.  Although the principal design input from the laying of the first stone in 1506 came from Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini, contributions were also made by Giuliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo, Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo.  Michelangelo became involved with reluctance, ironically, after Pope Paul III's first choice as architect, Giulio Romano, died before he could take up the post and second choice Jacopo Sansovino refused to leave Venice.

Michelangelo's dome dominates the Rome skyline
Michelangelo's dome dominates the Rome skyline
Travel tip:

For all that the view from close quarters may have been impaired, Michelan- gelo's dome is one of the dominant features of the Rome skyline.  Situated in the Vatican City next to the Tiber river, St Peter's is the largest Christian church in the world, covering 5.7 acres with a capacity to accommodate 60,000 people, with room for a further 400,000 in the square outside.  The dome itself rises to a height of 136.57 metres (448.1 feet) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross.  The Egyptian obelisk in the square, which rises to 40m (132 ft), is said to have been erected at or near the spot in which St Peter was allegedly crucified by the Romans in 64 AD.

More reading:

Why Michelangelo was called 'the greatest artist of all time'

How Gian Lorenzo Bernini's spectacular fountains adorn Rome

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Also on this day:

1935: The birth of movie actress Elsa Martinelli

(Picture credits: Main picture of St Peter's by Jean-Pol Grandmont; Palazzo Berberini by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra; Rome skyline by Daryl_Mitchell; all via Wikimedia Commons)


11 December 2016

Pope Leo X

Renaissance pope supported art but did not foresee the Reformation

Pope Leo X, with cardinals Giulio de Medici  and Luigi de Rossi, in a portrait by Raphael
Pope Leo X, with cardinals Giulio de' Medici
 and Luigi de Rossi, in a portrait by Raphael
Pope Leo X was born as Giovanni de' Medici, on this day in 1475 in Florence.

The second son of Lorenzo de' Medici - Lorenzo Il Magnifico - who ruled the Florentine Republic, Leo X has gone down in history as one of the leading Renaissance popes, who made Rome a cultural centre during his papacy.

He is also remembered for failing to take the Reformation seriously enough and for excommunicating Martin Luther.

Giovanni was always destined for a religious life and received a good education at his father’s court, where one of his tutors was the philosopher Pico della Mirandolo. Giovanni went on to study theology and canon law at the University of Pisa.

In 1492 he became a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals, but after his father died later that year, he returned to Florence to live with his older brother, Piero.

He was exiled from Florence in 1494 with the rest of his family, accused of betraying the Florentine republic, and spent the next six years travelling throughout northern Europe.

On his return to Italy in 1500 he settled in Rome and on the death of his brother, Piero, he became the head of the Medici family. Giovanni took part in the conclaves in 1503 that elected first Pope Pius III and then Pope Julius II.

Giovanni was named papal legate to Bologna and Romagna in 1511 and supervised the restoring of Medici control over Florence the following year. Although his younger brother, Giuliano, was in charge of the Florentine republic in name, it was really his older brother, Giovanni, the Cardinal, who ruled.

Giovanni was elected Pope on March 11, 1513 and took the title of Leo X.

He was ordained a priest on March 15 and consecrated Bishop of Rome before being crowned Pope.

Having spent his youth at the court of Lorenzo dè Medici, Leo X personified Renaissance ideals. He was lavish with both the church’s money and his own. Under his patronage, Rome became the cultural centre of Europe once again.

St Peter's Basilica in Rome, as seen from the roof of  Castel Sant'Angelo
St Peter's Basilica in Rome, as seen from the roof of
Castel Sant'Angelo
Work was speeded up on the construction of the new St Peter’s Basilica, which had been initiated by Pope Julius II. The holdings of the Vatican Library were increased and the arts flourished during his papacy.

As ruler of the Papal States and head of the Medici family who ruled the Florentine republic, Pope Leo X gave offices and benefits to his family to strengthen still further his position.

In 1517, after an attempt had been made on his life, Leo X named 31 new Cardinals. A former Cardinal was strangled in prison and several other imprisoned and executed after being implicated in the attempted assassination.

The Pope also had to contend with the power of France from the north and Spain to the south in the struggle to control Italy.

To raise additional money for the reconstruction of St Peter’s Basilica, Leo X reaffirmed granting papal indulgences for the remission of sins to those who contributed.

Martin Luther, whom Leo X believed was a heretic
Martin Luther, whom Leo X believed was a heretic
This was challenged by Martin Luther, who circulated his Ninety-Five Theses attacking the practice. Leo X issued a papal bull charging Luther with 41 instances of deviation from the teaching and practice of the church and ordered him to recant within 60 days or be excommunicated. Luther defied the Pope and was excommunicated by him on 3 January 1521.

Leo X believed Luther was a heretic whose teaching would leave some of the faithful astray, but that true religion would triumph.

Leo X died in Rome in December 1521 leaving behind political turmoil in Italy and religious turmoil in northern Europe. He did not take seriously the demand for church reforms that would later grow into the Protestant Reformation.

Travel tip:

The stunning Renaissance Basilica of St Peter’s in Rome was completed and consecrated in 1626, helped by the funding acquired by Pope Leo X. Believed to be the largest church in the world, Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of St Peter. Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini were among the many artistic geniuses who contributed to the design of the church, which is considered to be a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Located within Vatican City, the Basilica is approached along Via della Conciliazione and through the vast space of St Peter’s Square. It is believed that St Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, was executed in Rome on October13, 64 AD during the reign of the Emperor Nero. He was buried close to the place of his martyrdom. The old St Peter’s Basilica was constructed over the burial site 300 years later. Archaeological research under the present day Basilica was carried out during the last century and Pope Pius XII announced the discovery of St Peter’s tomb in 1950.

The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library
The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library
Travel tip:

The Vatican Library, inside the Vatican Palace, was built up by Pope Leo X during his papacy. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world but was formally established in 1475, the year Leo X was born. Today it is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology and can be used by anyone who can document their qualifications and research needs. The Vatican Library contains a defence of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church against Martin Luther, supposedly written, or at least signed by, Henry VIII, King of England. He added a couple of lines to the text in his own hand before presenting the book to Pope Leo X.

More reading:

How Pope Julius II came to commission Michelangelo

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Bernini and the fountains of Rome

Also on this day:

1912: The birth of film producer Carlo Ponti