Showing posts with label Pope Clement VIII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pope Clement VIII. Show all posts

22 November 2018

Alfonso II d’Este – Duke of Ferrara

Tasso’s patron raised Ferrara to the height of its glory


Alfonso II d'Este, a portrait by Girolamo da Carpi
Alfonso II d'Este, a portrait by
Girolamo da Carpi
Alfonso II d’Este, who was to be the last Duke of Ferrara, was born on this day in 1533 in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.

Famous as the protector of the poet Torquato Tasso, Alfonso II also took a keen interest in music.  He was also the sponsor of the philosopher Cesare Cremonini, who was a friend of both Tasso and the scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Although he was married three times, he failed to provide an heir for the Duchy.

Alfonso was the eldest son of Ercole II d’Este and Renée de France, the daughter of Louis XII of France.

As a young man, Alfonso fought in the service of Henry II of France against the Habsburgs but soon after he became Duke in 1559 he was forced by Pope Pius IV to send his mother back to France because she was a Calvinist.

In 1583 he joined forces with the Emperor Rudolf II in his war against the Turks in Hungary.

Alfonso II was proficient in Latin and French as well as Italian and like his ancestors before him encouraged writers and artists. He welcomed the poet Tasso to his court in Ferrara and he wrote some of his most important poetry while living there, including his epic poem, Gerusalemme Liberata.

As a young man, Alfonso fought in the service of Henry II of France
As a young man, Alfonso fought in the
service of Henry II of France
He was also the patron of poet and dramatist Giovanni Battista Guarini and professor of natural philosophy, Cesare Cremonini.

The composer Luzzasco Luzzaschi served as his court organist and Alfonso II sponsored the concerto delle donne, a group of professional female singers who became renowned for their technical and artistic virtuosity. Their success revolutionised the role of women in professional music, inspiring other, similar groups to be set up in the powerful courts in Italy.

Alfonso II raised the glory of Ferrara to its highest point during his reign and had the Castello Estense restored after it suffered earthquake damage in 1570.

After his death in 1597, Alfonso II’s cousin, Cesare d’Este, was recognised as his heir by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor. However, Pope Clement VIII refused to recognise Cesare d’Este on the grounds of ‘doubtful legitimacy’ and incorporated Ferrara into the Papal States in 1598. Cesare d’Este and his family were obliged to leave the city and the government of Ferrara was turned over to the Cardinal Legate.

Alfonso II is believed to be the Duke of Ferrara that the poem, My Last Duchess, was based on, written by the English poet, Robert Browning, and published in 1842.

Work on the Castello Estense  began in 1385
Work on the Castello Estense
began in 1385
Travel tip:

Ferrara is a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50 kilometres to the north east of Bologna. It was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent Este Castle in the centre of the city began in 1385 and it was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the Este line ended with the death of Alfonso II d’Este.

Hotels in Ferrara by Booking.com



The Monastero del Corpus Domini
The Monastero del
Corpus Domini
Travel tip:

Alfonso II was buried in the Monastero del Corpus Domini in Via Pergolato in the centre of Ferrara, which was founded first as a house for penitent women and then became a Franciscan convent for Poor Clares in 1431. It is the burial place of many other members of the Este family, including Lucrezia Borgia, who was the wife of Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.

More reading:

Why Cesare Cremonini refused to look through Galileo's telescope

How Torquato Tasso came to be seen as Italy's greatest Remaissance poet

Galileo Galilei: The founder of modern science

Also on this day:

1710: The death of composer Bernardo Pasquini

22 August 2018

Luca Marenzio – composer

Madrigal writer influenced Monteverdi


Luca Marenzio is believed to have been a  singer employed by the Gonzaga family
Luca Marenzio is believed to have been a
singer employed by the Gonzaga family
Luca Marenzio, a prolific composer of madrigals during the late Renaissance period, died on this day in 1599 in the garden of the Villa Medici on Monte Pincio in Rome.

Marenzio wrote at least 500 madrigals, some of which are considered to be the most famous examples of the form, and he was an important influence on the composer Claudio Monteverdi.

Born at Coccaglio, a small town near Brescia in 1553, Marenzio was one of seven children belonging to a poor family, but he received some early musical training at Brescia Cathedral where he was a choirboy.

It is believed he went to Mantua with the maestro di cappella from Brescia to serve the Gonzaga family as a singer.

Marenzio was then employed as a singer in Rome by Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo and, after the Cardinal’s death, he served at the court of Cardinal Luigi d’Este.

He travelled to Ferrara with Luigi d’Este and took part in the wedding festivities for Vincenzo Gonzaga and Margherita Farnese.

While he was there he wrote two books of madrigals and dedicated them to Alfonso II and Lucrezia d’Este.

Marenzio's first book of madrigals was published in 1580
Marenzio's first book of madrigals was published in 1580
Marenzio went on to establish an international reputation as a talented composer of madrigals and he was also an expert lutenist. He was much admired in England and his madrigals were printed in N Yonge’s Musica Transalpina, published in 1588, a collection of music that stimulated the composition of English madrigals.

After the death of Luigi d’Este, Marenzio entered the service of Ferdinando I de’ Medici in Florence, where he formed friendships with composers Piero Strozzi and Antonio de Bicci.

On his return to Rome he entered the service of Virginio Orsini, nephew of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and he lived in the Orsini palace. Another important patron was Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini, nephew of the reigning pope, Clement VIII, who assigned him an apartment in the Vatican.

Marenzio then travelled to Poland to be maestro di cappella at the court of Sigismund III Vasa in Warsaw. He wrote and directed sacred music there, which unfortunately has since been lost.

The visit to Poland affected his health and he did not live long after his return to Rome. While his brother was looking after him, he died in the garden at the Villa Medici on August 22, 1599.

Marenzio was buried in the Church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome.

Vineyards near Coccaglio, which is on the edge of the  Franciacorta wine-making area, near Brescia
Vineyards near Coccaglio, which is on the edge of the
Franciacorta wine-making area, near Brescia
Travel tip:

Coccaglio, Marenzio’s birthplace, is a town in Lombardy, about 32km (20 miles) west of Brescia and 35km (22 miles) southeast of Bergamo.  The municipality is located in the southern edge of Franciacorta, the area famous for its sparkling wine of the same name, which is known as the Italian answer to Champagne, being produced using the same method as the classic French bubbly, as opposed to the faster fermentation process used in the popular Prosecco.

The Villa Medici has been the home of the French Academy in Rome since 1803
The Villa Medici has been the home of the
French Academy in Rome since 1803
Travel tip:

The Villa Medici, where Marenzio died, is on the Pincian Hill next to the church of Trinità dei Monti in Rome, at the head of the Spanish Steps. The villa, built in 1554 in the Mannerist style to a design by Bartolomeo Ammanati, has housed the French Academy in Rome since 1803. In ancient times the site of the Villa Medici was part of the gardens of Lucullus. Behind the Villa Medici stretches out the vast park and gardens of the Villa Borghese.

More reading:

The genius of Claudio Monteverdi

Federico II Gonzaga, the ruler of Mantua who spent his childhood as a political hostage

How Eleonora Gonzaga became Holy Roman Empress

Also on this day:

1849: History's first air raid hits Venice

1914: The death of the progressive Bishop Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi

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15 September 2017

The first free public school in Europe

Frascati sees groundbreaking development in education


José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from his native Aragon in 1592
José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from
his native Aragon in 1592
The first free public school in Europe opened its doors to children on this day in 1616 in Frascati, a town in Lazio just a few kilometres from Rome.

The school was founded by a Spanish Catholic priest, José de Calasanz, who was originally from Aragon but who moved to Rome in 1592 at the age of 35.

Calasanz had a passion for education and in particular made it his life’s work to set up schools for children who did not have the benefit of coming from wealthy families.

Previously, schools existed only for the children of noble families or for those studying for the priesthood. Calasanz established Pious Schools and a religious order responsible for running them, who became known as the Piarists.

Calasanz had been a priest for 10 years when he decided to go to Rome in the hope of furthering his ecclesiastical career.  He soon became involved with helping neglected and homeless children via the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

He would gather up poor children on the streets and take them to schools, only to find that the teachers, who were not well paid, would not accept them unless Calasanz provided them with extra money.

Calasanz, who was a well-educated man, responded by setting up the first Pious School in the centre of Rome in 1600, so that homeless, orphaned and neglected children had somewhere to go and could be provided with a basic education.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early education to a Pious School
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early
education to a Pious School
An annual contribution from Pope Clement VIII helped fund the project, which grew so quickly that it was not long before Calasanz was helping around 1,000 of Rome’s most deprived children.

He rented a house nears the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in central Rome, where he founded the Order of the Pious Schools or Piarists. He wrote a document setting out the principles of his educational philosophy, with regulations for teachers and for students.

The Frascati school differed from others he had set up in that it was open to all children, not only those he rescued from poverty on the streets.  It was also open to children who were not orphaned or neglected, but who came from poor families and would not otherwise have had the chance to receive a formal education.

It is therefore recognised as the first free public primary school in Europe.

The Piarists spread the concept of free primary education and as well as setting up many more schools across Europe encouraged many states to follow their lead.

Francisco Goya, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Gregor Mendel and Victor Hugo all owed their early education to Piarist Schools.

The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
Calasanz died in 1648 at the age of 90, his legacy tarnished, unfortunately, by clashes with powerful senior figures in the Catholic Church over his support for the heliocentric theories that landed Galileo Galilei in trouble, and also over the behaviour of some clerics involved in the Piarist Schools.  As a result, Calasanz was removed as senior general of the Order.

However, eight years after his death, Pope Alexander VII cleared his name and that of the Pious Schools.  In 1748 he was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV and canonised by Pope Clement XIII in 1767.

In 1948, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Joseph of Calasanz the patron of Christian popular schools.

A number of churches have been dedicated to Saint Joseph, including the modern Chiesa di San Giuseppe Calasanzio in via Don Carlo Gnocchi, in the San Siro district of Milan, which was designed by the architect Carlo Bevilacqua and completed in 1965.

The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
Travel tip:

Situated just 21km (13 miles) from the centre of Rome, Frascati offers visitors to the region an alternative to staying in the capital that is more peaceful and relaxed.  One of the towns that make up the Castelli Romani, it is perched on a hill to the southeast of Rome, offering fine views across the city as well as cleaner air. It was popular with the wealthy from Roman times to the Renaissance, and remains a draw for Romans today, although thankfully with bars and restaurants to suit all pockets.  In its heyday there were many grand villas and it was unfortunate that the town’s strategic position made it a target for bombing during the Second World War, with many buildings destroyed. The Villa Aldobrandi, which overlooks one of the main piazzas, is one that remains, with extensive gardens open to the public.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, situated in the heart of historic Rome where Corso del Rinascimento meets Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, is as famous for having been an important setting in the Puccini opera Tosca as it is for its baroque art and architecture. The first act is set inside the 17th-century baroque church, whose dome is the third largest in the city after the Pantheon and St. Peter's. Like the façade, the dome was designed by Carlo Maderno.  The humanist popes from Siena, Pius II and Pius III, are both buried inside.






6 February 2017

Beatrice Cenci - Roman heroine

Aristocrat's daughter executed for murder of abusive father



Guido Reni's portrait of Beatrice, in prison clothes, is thought to have been painted in 1662
Guido Reni's portrait of Beatrice, in prison
clothes, is thought to have been painted in 1662
Beatrice Cenci, the daughter of an aristocrat whose execution for the murder of her abusive father became a legendary story in Roman history, was born on this day in 1577 in the family's palace off the Via Arenula, not far from what is now the Ponte Garibaldi in the Regola district.

Cenci's short life ended with her beheading in front of Castel Sant'Angelo on 11 September 1599, with most of the onlookers convinced that an injustice had taken place.

Her father, Francesco Cenci, had a reputation for violent and immoral behaviour that was widely known and had often been found guilty of serious crimes in the papal court. Yet where ordinary citizens were routinely sentenced to death for similar or even lesser offences, he was invariably given only a short prison sentence and frequently bought his way out of jail.

Romans appalled at this two-tier system of justice turned Beatrice into a symbol of resistance against the arrogance of the aristocracy and her story has been preserved not only in local legend but in many works of literature.

In the early 19th century, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was living in Italy, was so moved by her story that he turned it into a drama in verse entitled The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

Subsequently, the story has been the subject of at least a dozen plays and short stories, including works by Stendhal, Alexandre Dumas, Antonin Arnaud, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Alberto Moravia. It has also inspired at least two full-length novels and five operas or musical dramas.

The Palazzo dei Cenci, off Via Arenula, was the Cenci family's palatial home in the 16th century
The Palazzo dei Cenci, off Via Arenula, was the Cenci
family's palatial home in the 16th century
The Mannerist painter Guido Reni painted a portrait of Cenci that is on display at the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica  in Palazzo Barberini. A sculpture of her carved by the American sculptor Harriet Goodhue Hosmer in 1857 can be found at the University of Missouri-St Louis.  The Italian director, Lucio Fulci, made a film of her life in 1969.

According to the legend, Francesco Cenci, one of the wealthiest men in Rome, abused his first wife Ersilia Santacroce and his sons and repeatedly raped Beatrice while living in the Palazzo Cenci. He was jailed for incest among other crimes but always freed early.

Beatrice's elder sister, Antonina, escaped when she was granted permission by the papal authorities to marry without her father's consent. But Beatrice was sent away, along with Cenci's second wife, Lucrezia, to live in the family's country castle at La Petrella del Salto in the Abruzzi mountains, together with his son by his second marriage, Bernardo.

There the abuse continued, leading Beatrice to write to her brother, Giacomo, in desperation.  When he joined them at the castle, in 1598, they devised a plot to kill Francesco.

With the help of two servants - one of whom, Olimpio, was thought to have been Beatrice's lover - they drugged Francesco and then bludgeoned him to death with a hammer, before throwing him off a balcony in the hope it would look like an accident.

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer's sculpture of Beatrice Cenci at the University of Missuori-St Louis
Harriet Goodhue Hosmer's sculpture of Beatrice Cenci
at the University of Missuori-St Louis
However, the papal police decided to investigate what had happened, found blood in Francesco's bed and placed the family and Olimpio, under house arrest, where they were subjected to interrogation and torture.

Olimpio died without revealing that Beatrice was the mastermind but the others confessed one by one. All were sentenced to death with the exception of Bernardo, who was told he would witness the executions, serve a prison sentence and then live his life as a galley slave, although in the event he was released from prison after a year.

A protest on the streets of Rome by people who knew the circumstances behind the murder gained a short postponement of the execution. Yet Pope Clement VIII, anxious not to legitimise familial murders, showed no mercy.

Following the executions, Beatrice was buried in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, on Gianicolo hill in Trastevere.  The legend has it that every year on the night before the anniversary of her death, she comes back to the bridge where she was executed, carrying her severed head.


The plaque commemorating Beatrice Cenci on Via di Monserrato in Rome
The plaque commemorating Beatrice Cenci on
Via di Monserrato in Rome
Travel tip:

Evidence of how much the story of Beatrice Cenci means to Rome can be found on Via di Monserrato, along the route the Cenci family members took on the morning of their executions, from the Corte Savella prison to Castel Sant'Angelo, accompanied by members of the Brotherhood of St. John the Decapitated. On the 500th anniversary of her death, the city put up a plaque, bearing the inscription: "From here, where once stood the prison of Corte Savella, on September 11, 1599 Beatrice Cenci was taken to the gallows, an exemplary victim of unfair justice."


Travel tip:

Some of the relics of the day of the execution have made their way to the Museo Criminologico in Via del Gonfalone, off the Lungotevere dei Sangallo. These include the so-called “sword of justice” that killed Lucrezia and Beatrice, as well as clothes worn by the monks who accompanied them. There is also a replica of a stripped man being drawn and quartered, which was the fate of Giacomo.


More reading:

How a dramatic storm took the life of the poet Shelley

The tragic nun whose funeral brought Rome to a standstill

The work that turned Alberto Moravia into a major literary figure

Also on this day:

1778: The birth of the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo

1908: The birth of six-times Italian prime minister Amintore Fanfani

(Picture credits: sculpture by Quartermaster; plaque by Lalupa; via Wikimedia Commons)


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22 July 2016

St Lawrence of Brindisi

Talented linguist who converted Jews and Protestants


A statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of Capuchin Friars in Rovigo, in the Veneto
A statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of
Capuchin Friars in Rovigo, in the Veneto
St Lawrence of Brindisi was born Giulio Cesare Russo on this day in 1559 in Brindisi.

He became a Roman Catholic priest and joined the Capuchin friars, taking the name Brother Lawrence.

He was made St Lawrence in 1881, remembered for his bravery leading an army against the Turks armed only with a crucifix.

Lawrence was born into a family of Venetian merchants and was sent to Venice to be educated. He joined the Capuchin order in Verona when he was 16 and received tuition in theology, philosophy and foreign languages from the University of Padua. He progressed to be able to speak many European and Semitic languages fluently.

Pope Clement VIII gave Lawrence the task of converting Jews living in Rome to Catholicism because of his excellent command of Hebrew. Lawrence also established Capuchin monasteries in Germany and Austria and brought many Protestants back to Catholicism.

The Palazzo Bo at the University of Padua, where Lawrence acquired his command of languages
The Palazzo Bo at the University of Padua, where
Lawrence acquired his command of languages
While serving as the imperial chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II, he led an army against the Ottoman Turks threatening to conquer Hungary armed only with a crucifix and many people attributed the subsequent victory to his leadership.

He was later sent to be papal nuncio to Bavaria and then to Spain. Lawrence eventually retired to live in a monastery in Spain but was recalled to be a special envoy to the King of Spain in order to intercede on behalf of the rulers of the Kingdom of Naples.

His mission, made in the sweltering summer heat, exhausted him and he died on 22 July 1619, his 60th birthday, in Lisbon.

Lawrence was beatified in 1783 by Pope Pius VI and canonised in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII. He was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

The feast day of St Lawrence is celebrated on 21 July each year.

A feature in Brindisi, birthplace of St Lawrence, are the remains of two columns marking the end of the Appian Way
A feature in Brindisi, birthplace of St Lawrence, are the
remains of two columns marking the end of the Appian Way
Travel tip:

Brindisi, the birthplace of St Lawrence, is a coastal city in Apulia in southern Italy. Its port is still important today for trade with Greece and the Middle East. The city has two Roman columns, thought to have once marked the end of the Appian Way from Rome, which were used as a port reference for sailors out at sea centuries ago.

Travel tip:

The University of Padua, where St Lawrence became proficient in languages, was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

(Photo of St Lawrence statue in Brindisi by Threecharlie CC BY-SA 3.0)

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