Showing posts with label Pope Sixtus IV. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pope Sixtus IV. Show all posts

28 January 2023

Francesco de’ Pazzi - banker

Medici rival at heart of Pazzi Conspiracy

The moment at which Giuliano de' Medici is killed, imagined by 19th century painter Stefano Ussi.
The moment at which Giuliano de' Medici is killed,
imagined by 19th century painter Stefano Ussi
The banker Francesco de’ Pazzi, a central figure in the Pazzi Conspiracy that sought to overthrow the Medici family as the rulers of Florence, was born on this day in 1444.

De’ Pazzi killed Giuliano de’ Medici, stabbing him to death during mass at the Florence Duomo as the conspirators attempted to seize control.

But Giuliano’s brother, Lorenzo the Magnificent, with whom he was joint ruler, escaped with only minor wounds.

Simultaneously, other conspirators rode into the Piazza della Signoria declaring themselves the liberators of the city. But the people of Florence were loyal to the Medicis and attacked them.

Within hours, despite Lorenzo appealing for calm, an angry mob determined to exact revenge had hunted down and killed more than 30 conspirators or suspected conspirators, including Francesco.

One of nine children born to Antonio de’ Pazzi and Nicolosa, daughter of Alessandro degli Alessandri, Francesco was an important figure in the Pazzi banking business, having been appointed papal treasurer.

Sandro Botticelli's portrait of the ill-fated Giuliano de' Medici
Sandro Botticelli's portrait of the
ill-fated Giuliano de' Medici

This in itself made for a tense relationship between the Medici and the Pazzi, even though they were actually related thanks to the marriage of Guglielmo de' Pazzi and Bianca de' Medici, Lorenzo’s elder sister.

The administration of the papal finances was a coveted prize for any banking family and Pope Sixtus IV’s decision to take responsibility away from the Medici Bank in favour of the Pazzi antagonised Lorenzo in particular.

Sixtus IV, from a poor bacground originally, was determined to enrich both his own Della Rovere family and their cousins, the Riario family. He had designs on the rich Florentine territories for the benefit of his nephews, including the nobleman Girolamo Riario, and also to finance the expensive works undertaken by him in Rome.

The rift between Rome and the Medicis occurred when Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan, changed his mind about selling the town of Imola, which occupied a strategic position on the trade route between Florence and Venice, to Lorenzo de’ Medici in favour of a deal with Sixtus IV, provided that Sixtus agreed to the marriage of his daughter, Caterina Sforza, to Girolamo Riario.

Lorenzo, as Sforza’s banker, refused to finance the deal, not wishing to see an extension of the papal states, at which Sixtus turned to the Pazzis and handed the contract for the papal treasury to them.

There were suspicions that the Pazzi Conspiracy was actually conceived in Rome but the Pazzi had reasons of their own to turn against the Medici, not least the decision of Lorenzo to introduce a law that prevented a considerable sum of money flowing into the Pazzi coffers with the death of Giovanni Borromei, the very wealthy father in law of Giovanni de’ Pazzi, another of Francesco’s brothers.

Da Vinci's drawing of Bandini's hanging
Da Vinci's drawing of
Bandini's hanging
Borromei’s fortune should have passed to Beatrice Borromei, Giovanni de’ Pazzi’s wife. But Lorenzo changed the law so that daughters could not inherit in the absence of any brothers, and that in those circumstances any legacy would pass instead to male cousins.

A further source of friction between Lorenzo and the Pazzi was his appointment of Lorenzo's brother-in-law Rinaldo Orsini as Archbishop of Florence in succession to the late Pietro Riario in 1474. The candidates overlooked included Francesco Salviati, a relative of the Pazzi family and friend of Francesco.

Whatever its origins, it is generally accepted that the chief conspirators in the Pazzi Conspiracy were Girolamo Riario, Francesco de' Pazzi and Francesco Salviati, the trio who attacked Lorenzo and Giuliano in the Florence duomo, the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, on the morning of April 26, 1478.

Giuliano was assassinated by Francesco de' Pazzi together with Bernardo Bandini di Baroncelli, suffering a sword wound to the head as well as being stabbed 19 times.  Lorenzo was attacked by two of Jacopo Pazzi's men, but managed to escape.

Salviati then took a number of Jacopo Pazzi's men to the Piazza della Signoria hoping to be received by the Florentine populace as liberators. Instead, they were attacked. Along with Francesco de' Pazzi and several others, Salviati was hanged from the windows of the Palazzo Vecchio.

More than 30 suspected conspirators were caught and killed within hours of the attack and over the course of the next eight months some 50 more were captured and executed, including Bandini dei Baroncelli, who had escaped to Constantinople but was arrested and returned, to be hanged from a window of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo while still dressed in Turkish clothing. 

Jacopo de' Pazzi, head of the family, escaped from Florence but was caught and brought back to be tortured and then hanged from the Palazzo della Signoria next to the decomposing corpse of Salviati. 

All other members of the Pazzi family were banished from Florence, and their lands and property confiscated. The family name was erased from public registers, while all buildings and streets carrying it were renamed. Anyone named Pazzi had to take a new name; anyone married to a Pazzi was barred from public office.

The Palazzo Vecchio guards  over Piazza della Signoria
The Palazzo Vecchio guards 
over Piazza della Signoria
Travel tip:

The Piazza della Signoria has been the focal point of the city of Florence since the 14th century. Overlooked by the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, it was the scene of the triumphant return of the Medici family in 1530, three and a half decades after they had been driven from the city by the supporters of the fanatical priest, Girolamo Savonarola. The controversial cleric's famous bonfires of the vanities were built in the middle of the square.  The piazza della Signoria contains several important sculptures and statues, including a copy of Michelangelo's David - the original is in the Galleria dell'Accademia - Baccio Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus, Bartolomeo Ammannati’s Fontana del Nettuno and Benvenuto Cellini’s statue of Perseo holding Medusa's head.

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the  dominant feature of the Florence skyline
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the 
dominant feature of the Florence skyline
Travel tip:

The Florence duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore - with its enormous dome by Filippo Brunelleschi and campanile by Giotto, is one of Italy's most recognisable and most photographed sights, towering above the city and the dominant feature of almost every cityscape. From groundbreaking to consecration, the project took 140 years to complete and involved a series of architects. Arnolfo di Cambio, who also designed the church of Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio, was the original architect.  When he died in 1410, 14 years after the first stone was laid, he was succeeded by Giotto, who himself died in 1337, after which his assistant Andrea Pisano took up the project.  Pisano died in 1348, as the Black Death swept Europe, and a succession of architects followed, culminating in Brunelleschi, who won a competition to build the dome, which remains the largest brick-built dome ever constructed.

Also on this day:

1453: The birth of Renaissance beauty Simonetta Vespucci

1608: The birth of physiologist and physicist Giovanni Alfonso Borelli

1813: The birth of scientist Paolo Gorini

1969: The birth of world champion swimmer Giorgio Lamberti

1978: The birth of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon


20 February 2019

Francesco Maria II della Rovere - the last Duke of Urbino

Last male in famous family line

Francesco II della Rovere, as depicted by the Italian painter Federico Barocci in 1572 (Uffizi Gallery)
Francesco Maria II della Rovere, as depicted by Italian
painter Federico Barocci in 1572 (Uffizi Gallery)
Francesco Maria II della Rovere, the last holder of the title Duke of Urbino and the last surviving male from a famous noble family, was born on this day in 1549 in Pesaro in Le Marche.

Descended from the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Maria II’s only male heir, Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, died without fathering a son, which meant the Duchy reverted to Francesco Maria II, who in turn was convinced he should give it to Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family.

Federico’s daughter, Vittoria della Rovere, had been convinced she would be made Duchess of Urbino but had to be content with the Duchies of Rovere and Montefeltro, as well as an art collection that became the property of Florence after she had married Ferdinando II de’ Medici.

Pope Sixtus IV, best known for building the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official papal residence in Vatican City, had come from a poor family in Savona in Liguria, but once elected pope became wealthy and powerful and set about ensuring that his personal prosperity was used to the betterment of his family.

He soon made his nephews Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II) and Pietro Riario both cardinals and bishops, while appointing four other nephews as cardinals.

Vittoria della Rovere, granddaughter of Francesco Maria II, was the last to carry the family name
Vittoria della Rovere, granddaughter of Francesco
Maria II, was the last to carry the family name 
He made Giovanni Della Rovere - Giuliano’s brother - prefect of Rome, and arranged for him to marry into the da Montefeltro family, dukes of Urbino.

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro adopted Francesco Maria I della Rovere, his sister's child and nephew of Pope Julius II, and named him as heir of the Duchy of Urbino in 1504.

Francesco Maria I inherited the duchy in 1508 thereby starting the line of Rovere Dukes of Urbino. Francesco Maria II della Rovere was his grandson after the third Rovere to hold the title.

As a young man, Francesco Maria II was raised at the court of Philip II of Spain. He would have married a Spanish girl but his father, Guidobaldo II della Rovere, forbade it and demanded he return to Urbino.

Instead, he married Lucrezia d'Este, a daughter of Ercole II d'Este and became Duke of Urbino in 1574, when his father died.

Francesco Maria II inherited considerable debts, however, and was forced to sell the Duchy of Sora and the family’s historic seat in Arce in Lazio.

The Ducal Palace at Pesaro, where Francesco Maria II was born
The Ducal Palace at Pesaro, where
Francesco Maria II was born
His marriage to Lucrezia  remained childless, which was bad news because without an heir his family's would lapse on his death and his entire estate would be acquired, by default, by the Papal States.

It was fortunate, then, that the death of Lucrezia in 1599 allowed him to marry his teenage cousin, Livia della Rovere, who had a male child, Federico Ubaldo, in 1605. He became Duke of Urbino on being married in 1621 but died only two years later, from epilepsy, leaving only a daughter, the aforementioned Vittoria Della Rovere.

The aging Francesco Maria II took up the title of Duke again, but as there was no more hopes of there being a male heir he arranged for his Duchy to be annexed to the Papal States after his death in 1631.

Vittoria inherited the Duke's art collection but after marrying into the Medici family and had it transferred to Florence to the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti, where it remains today.

The Fortezza del Priamar was built by the Genoese to protect the city of Savona in the 16th century
The Fortezza del Priamar was built by the Genoese to
protect the city of Savona in the 16th century
Travel tip:

The third largest city in Liguria after Genoa and La Spezia, Savona, where the Della Rovere family originated, used to be one of the biggest centres of the Italian iron industry, the iron-works and foundries providing materials for shipbuilding and railways among other things. It also has a busy port but as well as industrial areas the city has a charming medieval centre containing architectural gems such as the baroque Cattedrale di Nostra Signora Assunta - behind which is Italy’s other Sistine Chapel, like the Rome version erected by Pope Sixtus IV - and the Fortezza del Priamar, built by the Genoese in 1542 after their conquest of the city and later used a prison. It was there in 1830 that the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini was imprisoned. There is a Palazzo Della Rovere built by Cardinal Giulio della Rovere and designed by Giuliano da Sangallo.

Stay in Savona with

The resort city of Pesaro has a long stretch of sandy  beach that is free for public use
The resort city of Pesaro has a long stretch of sandy
 beach that is free for public use
Travel tip:

Pesaro, where Francesco Maria II was born, is a coastal city and resort in Le Marche about 35km (22 miles) from Urbino. It has a 15th century Ducal Palace, commissioned by Alessandro Sforza. The city has become well known for being the home of the opera composer Gioachino Rossini, who was born there in 1792. There is a Rossini Opera Festival every summer and Pesaro is home to the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Gioachino Rossini, which was founded from a legacy left by the composer. Look out also for the Rocca Costanza, a massive castle built by Costanzo I Sforza. Of the 17th century Mura Roveresche - the Della Rovere Walls - demolished in the early 20th century, only the Porta del Ponte and Porta Rimini gates remain.

1778: The death of Laura Bassi, physics professor who broke new ground for female academics

1816: Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome

1993: The death of car marker Ferruccio Lamborghini

(Picture credits: Ducal Palace by Italtrucker; Savona fortress by Diani Stefano; Pesaro beach by Whiskerdisco; all via Wikimedia Commons)

17 January 2019

Antonio del Pollaiuolo – artist

Paintings of muscular men show knowledge of anatomy

The portrait of Antonio del Pollaiuolo that appeared in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists
The portrait of Antonio del Pollaiuolo that
appeared in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists
Renaissance painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith Antonio del Pollaiuolo was born on this day in 1433 in Florence.

He was also known as Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo and sometimes as Antonio del Pollaiolo. The last name came from the trade of his father who sold poultry.

Antonio’s brother, Piero, was also an artist and they frequently worked together. Their work showed classical influences and an interest in human anatomy. It was reported that the brothers carried out dissections to improve their knowledge of the subject.

Antonio worked for a time in the Florence workshop of Bartoluccio di Michele where Lorenzo Ghiberti - creator of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery - also received his training.

Some of Antonio’s paintings show brutality, such as his depiction of Saint Sebastian, which he painted for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and presents muscular men in action. His paintings of women show more calmness and display his meticulous attention to fashion details.

Del Pollaiuolo's Hercules and the Hydra was an example of his painting of muscular men
Del Pollaiuolo's Hercules and the Hydra was
an example of his painting of muscular men
Antonio was also successful as a sculptor and a metal worker and although he produced only one engraving, The Battle of the Nude Men, it became one of the most famous prints of the Renaissance.

In 1484 he went to Rome where he was commissioned to build a tomb for Pope Sixtus IV. In 1494 he returned to Florence to put the finishing touches to a work he had already started in the sacristy of the Church of Santo Spirito.

When he died in Rome in 1498, he was a rich man, having just finished a mausoleum for Pope Innocent VIII.

Antonio del Pollaiuolo was buried in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli.

The 14th century Palazzo Vecchio towers over the Piazza della Signoria in Florence
The 14th century Palazzo Vecchio towers
over the Piazza della Signoria in Florence
Travel tip:

Piazza della Signoria in the centre of Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s native Florence is an L-shaped square, important as the location of the 14th century Palazzo Vecchio, the focal point for government in the city. Citizens gathered here for public meetings and the religious leader Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake in the square in 1498. The piazza is a unique outdoor sculpture gallery filled with statues, some of them copies, commemorating major events in the city’s history. The Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence has become famous as the home of Michelangelo’s statue of David. It is the second most visited museum in Italy, after the Uffizi, the main art gallery in Florence. The Galleria dell’Accademia was established in 1784 in Via Ricasoli in Florence.

Inside the beautiful church of San Pietro  in Vincoli in Rome
Inside the beautiful church of San Pietro
 in Vincoli in Rome
Travel tip:

The Church of San Pietro in Vincoli - St Peter in Chains - where Antonio del Pollaiuolo was buried, is near the Colosseum in Rome. The Church is a shrine for the chains that are believed to have bound St Peter during his imprisonment. It is also the home of Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses, which was completed in 1515.

More reading:

Lorenzo Ghiberti, the sculptor and goldsmith who created, in the words of Michelangelo, the 'gates of heaven' in Florence.

When Pope Sixtus IV commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Simonetta Vespucci - Renaissance beauty

Also on this day:

1377: Pope Gregory XI returns the papacy to Rome

1472: The birth of Guidobaldo I, Duke of Urbino

1834: The birth of Antonio Moscheni, painter of chapel frescoes in India


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.

14 April 2017

Girolamo Riario - papal military leader

Assassinated after failed attempt to unseat Medici family

Girolamo Riario
Girolamo Riario
Girolamo Riario, the 15th century governor of Imola and Forlì who was part of a major plot to displace the powerful Medici family as rulers of Florence, was assassinated on this day in 1488.

Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV who had appointed him Captain General of the Church, was unpopular with his subjects as a result of imposing high taxes, but his murder was thought to be an attempt by the noble Orsi family of Forlì to seize control of the city.

Two members of the family, Checco and Ludovico, led a group of assassins armed with swords into government palace, where Riario was set upon.  Despite the presence of guards, Riario was stabbed and slashed repeatedly.  Eventually, his dead body was left in a local piazza, surrounded by a crowd celebrating his demise, as the Orsi brothers and their gang looted the palace.

A decade earlier, Riario, who had been appointed Lord of Imola by Sixtus IV, joined with Francesco Salviati, whose family were the Papal bankers in Florence, and members of the Pazzi family in a plot to assassinate the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and his brother, Giuliano.

he Rocca di Ravaldino, a stronghold of Riario's power
The Rocca di Ravaldino, a stronghold of Riario's power
The Pazzi were another important family in Florence and like many other families were resentful of Lorenzo’s despotic rule. Although Florence flourished, and his patronage of the arts was so important to the Renaissance, he maintained his power largely through bribery, threats and strategic marriages.

Riario’s involvement was essentially on behalf of his uncle, Sixtus IV, who saw Lorenzo – also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent – as a threat to the Papal States.

It was Lorenzo’s attempt to buy Imola – a small town but important as a stronghold on the border between the Tuscan empire and the Papal States – from its owners, the Sforza family of Milan, that led to Riario being installed as governer.  Lorenzo had offered the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a sizeable sum for but Sixtus IV gazumped him, offering a deal by which Caterina Sforza, the Duke’s illegitimate daughter, would marry Riario, thus forming a strategic alliance.  The Pazzi family had financed the purchase.

The assignation attempt took place in Florence’s Duomo on April 26, 1478, during High Mass.  Giuliano was killed but Lorenzo escaped with only minor injuries. A simultaneous attempt to seize key government buildings in Florence was foiled and most of the key figures in the plot were captured and killed.  Riario, who would have been placed in charge of a new government in Florence had the plot succeeded, managed to get away. Salviati was not so lucky and was hung within an hour of his capture.

Pope Sixtus IV
Pope Sixtus IV
Nonetheless, Riario continued to climb the ladders of power. In 1480, the pope made him Count of Forlì. He built the fortress of Rocca di Ravaldino, one of the strategically most important strongholds of the Romagna, and at the same time rebuilt much of Imola.

While his uncle remained pope, Riario and Caterina lived for the most part in Rome. As commander of the papal army, Riario wielded much power, although his wife had an increasingly strong influence over what he did. When Sixtus IV died, it was Caterina who ordered his troops to seize Castel Sant' Angelo to put pressure on the cardinals to elect a candidate who would work in accordance with the Riario interests. After 10 days of chaos in Rome, she had to be persuaded by Riario to withdraw in order for the conclave to begin.

However, the cardinals did not elect a new pope sympathetic to the Riarios, quite the contrary, going for Giovanni Battista Cybo, an old opponent, who became Pope Innocent VIII. He recognised Girolamo as Lord of Imola and Forlì and Captain-General of the papal forces but effectively allowed him no power.  It was his illegitimate son, Franceschetto, whom the Orsi family wanted to replace him.

After Girolamo’s death, Caterina was locked up, along with her children, but tricked her way out, promising to persuade the castellan, Tommaso Feo, to give up his defence of the Rocca di Ravaldino, which the Orsis had been unable to storm.

The Orsis had her children as hostages but Caterina reneged on their deal nonetheless.  From within the Rocca, she threatened dire consequences for the Orsi attackers if they dared touch the children and they fled, after which Girolamo’s son, Ottaviano, was made Lord of Forli with Caterina as his regent.

Imola's Rocca Sforzesca
Imola's Rocca Sforzesca

Travel tip:

The city of Imola of today is part of the large metropolitan area of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region. The castle, the Rocca Sforzesca, is well preserved, and is nowadays the home of an internationally respected piano academy and the Cinema d’Este, which shows films in July and August. The city is best known today for its motor racing circuit, which used to host the Grand Prix of San Marino on behalf of the nearby independent republic.

The Abbey of San Mercuriale in Forlì
The Abbey of San Mercuriale in Forlì

Travel tip:

With a population of almost 120,000, Forlì is a prosperous agricultural and industrial city with a beautiful central square, Piazza Saffi, which is named after Aurelio Saffi, a radical republican who was a prominent figure in the Risorgimento. Its major attractions include the Abbey of San Mercuriale and the Rocca di Ravaldino, the strategic fortress built by Girolamo Riario and sometimes known as the Rocca di Caterina Sforza.

More reading:

How Caterina's son, Giovanni, became the last of the great condottieri

Cosimo - the Florentine banker who founded the Medici dynasty

Priest Girolamo Savonarola's war on Renaissance 'excesses'

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of Lamberto dalla Costa, Italy's first Olympic bobsleigh champion

(Picture credits: Rocca di Ravaldino by AC2BR3L; Rocca Sforzesca by Ruben alexander; Abbey of San Mercuriale by Perkele; all via Wikimedia Commons)