If you take a close look to the details, though, you may notice that all of them were more or less sponsored by coats of arms featuring obscure symbols-- Those belong to Popes, that pretty much ruled our precious city with the might of princes and, in some lucky cases, with the tastes of the philantropists.
Those pretty things must be interpreted as pure acts of propaganda, to show the strenght and power, not just of the individual, but of the family behind the Papacy.
Starting 1400s Italy can show its basic difference from the rest of Europe, because it developed some very modern attitude, concerning politics, art and war: what is now called the "Reinassance", the Rinascimento.
As the rest of the continernt was pretty much led by Emperors and Kings, sticking to the feudalism, Italy started to develop its very independent kind of government based on the city.
Cities developed government, treaties and laws of their own, and if it exasperated the fragmentation of the land, erupting in a galore of extremely violent domestic wars, it also contributed to the birth of an extremely modern society, what could be considered an ante litteram Capitalism.
The cities that enjoyed the most this complicated -yet new system were those with strong monetary and commercial inputs, Florence and Venice, for example. This contributed to the rise of extremely influential families, expecially those that enriched themselves with commercial or banking activities.
During this period, Rome was quite messed up by its continuos power struggles with the authority of the Emperor, the Western Schism and the sempiternal domestic fights among the Roman noble families.
The return of the papacy in Rome in 1417 with Martino V Colonna marked a moment of relative political calm, where the Popes could finally focus on the Eternal City, so to turn it into a competitive core of authority and power --The bad side of the deal was that the papacy started to attract influential families and that these families grew more and more focused on "family business" rather than the destiny of Rome!
But let's start to take a tour to get to know these guys better.
The Della Roveres
The Della Roveres were a noble family hailing from Savona and their coat of arms represents the typical "Oak Tree" of their name:
He's one of the first Popes who become "infamous" for his massive nepotism, the struggles of power with Florence and Urbino and the approval of the Spanish Inquisition but he's also the guy who commissioned the most important artists of the time with the beautiful Sistine Chapel, and he also presented to the city the first public museum of Europe, the Capitoline Museum.
Another interesting Pope hailing from this family is Julius II: he's nicknamed "The Fearsome Pope" and "The Warrior Pope" because he spent the most of his life fighting everyone around Rome to follow his dream of an independent Italian Kingdom and he's famous for his harsh rivality with the Borgias.
He was also a friend of Bramant and Raphael, he was the one who started the reconstruction of Saint Peter's and commissioned his favourite Michelangelo with the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Both Sixtus VI and Julius II both belonged to the Franciscan order.
Who doesn't know about the Medicis?! They were a powerful family from Florence, where they reached immense power due to their activity as bankers.
The palline ("little balls") on their coat of arms are frequently interpreted as Bezants, an ancient coin of the Byzanthine Empire, related to the Arte del Cambio of which the Medicis belonged.
The first of them was Leo X, elected in 1513.
He's the pope who got famous for the sale of indulgences, and he's the one who had to face the buds of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, when Martin Luther showed off his 95 theses.
He was famous for his eccentric tastes, he owned a white elephant called Hanno, a present from a Portuguese king-- But he was also a famous patron of the arts and literature. He's the one who reformed the University of Rome (founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII) and commissioned the Stanze to Raphael and his crew.
The second pope of the Reinassance period from this family is another guy with a troubled curriculum, Clement VII.
He's the Pope who allowed the Sack of Rome in 1527 with his idle politics and the Independence of the Church of England in 1534.
Clement VII was the one who commissioned Michelangelo with The Last Judgement, that he managed to see completed right a few months before his death.
Leo X was destined to the clerical career since birth, as he was the second male son of a noble family, and was promoted to the rank of Cardinal when he was just 14 years old.
Clement VII followed a similar destiny, as he was the nephew of Lorenzo. Leo X was his cousin, who promoted him as Cardinal as soon as he was elected Pope.
The Borgias were a family of Valencian descent, and they gained immense strenght and importance after the election of their first Pope, Callixtsu III on 1455. As he wasn't from noble descent, a coat of arms was produced right for him. It featured a "Bull", a humble animal picked as a symbol of the original farming activity of his family.
According to heraldry, the "Walking Bull" of the Borgias is a symbol of hardworking, rather than that of "an untamed soul", as people likes to believe.
He celebrated the Jubilee of 1500, where he started the tradition of opening the gates of the four Major Basilicas simultaneously.
He's not famous for many important artistic deeds but the decoration of the Borgias Apartments by Pinturicchio, but he was indeed a patron of arts and education: he approved the founding of the King's College of Aberdeen and of the University of Valencia.
The Farneses hailed from the fields of the Central Italy, but during the Reinassance they were famous as Dukes of the Northern cities of Parma and Piacenza.
Their surname refers to an "oak woods", but their coat of arms features the "Fleur-de-lis" made popular by French heraldry-- It's a coincidence, though, as the fortune of the Farneses had nothing to do with the French royalties.
The "family Pope" was elected on 1519 as Julius III.
He's the pope who had to deal with the aftermaths of the tragedy of the Sack of Rome on 1527, the promoter of the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation.
He favoured his relatives shamelessly and fathered a good number of heirs when a cleric, but he's still regarded as one of the best pontifex of the Reinassance, as his patronism of the arts was followed by a proper reform of the Catholic Church and a generally balanced political situation, expecially thanks to the intervention of his favourite grandsons, Cardinal Alessandro and Ottavio, both of them quite the decent guys: Alessandro was a skilled diplomat besides a patron of the arts who enriched the city of Rome greatly, as Ottavio was a strong-willed warrior and composed governor.
The sister of Paulus III was the beautiful Giulia, a favourite of Alexander VI, whom influence over the Pope granted him a huge deal of support for his election.
Paul III is the one who commissioned Michelangelo with the Pauline Chapel in Vatican, famous for the enraged look of Saint Peter towards the watcher (= the Pope himself, as it's still strictly for the private use of the pontifex) during his crucifixion.
And here I talk about my favourite Pope of the lot, the caustic Sixtus V!
Felice Peretti came from a poor family without any power of sort, so, as the Borgias, his coat of arms was created once he was elected 227th Pope of Rome.
It represents a lion holding some pears in its paw, a simple reference to his family name.
Sixtus wasn't a fan of classicity or a collector as his predecessors, as a practical guy he made sure to redesign the whole city and contribute to its urbanistic development: a good number of the huge streets, bridges, fountains and aqueducts, without mentioning the engineering deal involving the re-erection of most of the obelisks that you see around, all of them are his deeds.
Even today, he's not held in great consideration by the locals, but to me he was the perfect kind of guy to close adequately an era-- And this post!