Monday, 18 May 2015

Popes around Rome: the Baroque

--And here's the sequel of our first post about the Papal coats of arms that decorate the city more or less blatantly.
Today we'll talk about the guys who made a name of themselves during another famous period of Roman culture, the Baroque.

Hystorically speaking, even if lacking precise boundaries, the period called "Baroque" is usually considered as spanning from 1600 to 1680: 1600 is the year of the Jubilee announced by Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini, an event that marked a difference from the previous stances of the Counter Reform, expecially when it came to that touch for "show" and "special effects" that characterized this period-- On November 28, 1680, aged 81, Gian Lorenzo Bernini died in Rome: the death of Bernini is usually accepted as the end of this glamorous and charming period, where the city of Rome became once again the artistic center of European culture.

The Borgheses
The Borghese family originates from Siena, where during the Middle Ages they made a name of themselves as wool merchants.
Their coat of arms features an eagle on top of a dragon, that suspiciously resembles that of the House of Boncompagni.

The climax of the family was obviously the election of Camillo Borghese as the uncompromising Pope Paulus V, but rather than for the conflicts with the Republic of Venice, the Stuart of England and Galileo Galilei, we probably remember this family quite well because of the Cardinal-nephew Scipione Borghese, with his huge Villa and Gallery.
Fun fact: when the facade of Saint Peter was finished during his reign, he asked for his name to appear on the pendiment, making sure for it to be staged on a central position. Romans made fun of it, wondering if the Church was dedicated to Paul V rather than to Saint Peter.

The Barberinis
The Barberinis were another family coming from the little nobility of Florence, where they started as merchants.
With the return of the Medici family to the rule, the head of the family Antonio decided to leave for Rome with his brother, where they gained extreme fortunes, granting themselves a place of relevance in the city.
The coat of arms of the Barberini shows three bees: the bees are a symbol of industry and diligence, the virtues that led the family to such heights.
It's actually said that the original surname of the family was "Tafani", so rather than bees their coat of arms featured "horseflies", but that was conveniently changed.

When Maffeo Barberini was elected pope in 1623 as Urbanus VIII, the prominence of the Barberini family in Rome skyrocketed, expecially because Maffeo was a shameless promotor of art, in the form that now we would call propaganda.
Another symbol related to Urbanus VIII besides the bees, is the Sun. The Sun was associated with Apollo, as Urbanus VIII was popular as a poet, too: his intervention on the statue of Apollo and Daphne gave it a subtle morality that made the criticism about the excessive sensuality of the work disappear from the mouths of the censors instantly.
As he was aware of the artists of his time and their worth, he didn't show much respect for the antiquities of his city: his ravaging of marbles and bronze from ancient ruins and buildings created the motto "What the barbarians did not do (a reference to the sack of Rome of 1527), the Barberini did".

The Pamphiljs
The Pamphilj was a noble family from Gubbio.
Their coat of arms features a dove with olive leaves, with some random fleur-de-lis on top. The surname of the family has Greek origins, and it seems to mean "Friends of everyone" ("pan"+"filios"), thus the dove, a global symbol of peace, was picked in their heraldry.

Pope Innocent X is famous for his persecution of the Barberini family for misappropriation of public funds, an event that forced the Barberinis to flee to France for protection. He would later reconcile with them through the marriage of one of his nieces, but by then the Florentine family would have been seriously "resized" in its importance.
Innocent X was a moderate man and a lawyer, thus his good political skills and integrity; unfortunately he wasn't spared by a "bad name" due to the strong influence that the greedy and overall hateful Donna Olimpia had over him, which gave to his pontificate a vibe of oppression and corruption despite the good deeds of the Pontifex.
His jubilee of 1649 was one of the most popular of the age, sporting 700.000 pilgrims, among which many Protestants that converted to Catholicism.

The Chigis
The Chigi were another important family of bankers from Siena: the six little hills of their coat of arms refers to the "Sienese Hills", and the eight-pointed star is a symbol of their excellence ("I shine from above" is their motto).
During the Reinassance, the hyper-rich Agostino Chigi was granted the honor to quarter the coat of arms of the Chigi with that of the Della Rovere due to his job as the personal finance minister of Julius II-- So, together with the "little hills", you may find also oaks and acorns as symbols of the family here and there.

As we saw, the Chigi didn't need a Pope to reach the heights of Roman power.
When Pope Alexander VII was elected, at first it looked like he would avoid the abuse of nepotism, but a few years later, he couldn't help to call his nephew Flavio to assist him.
Alexander VII started his career as an inquisitor in Malta, later he would act as an ambassador for Innocent X, showing some skills despite the political superiority of his rivals, but also some intransigent positions, expecially when it came to eresy and the demands of foreign rulers.
As a Pope he's mostly remembered for his adjustement to the planimetry of city, as an attempt to make it more comfortable for its citizens and pilpgrims rather than just pretty to see, and because Christine of Sweden converted to Catholicism and moved to Rome during his reign.
Another important feat of Alexander VII is the creation of the huge Alexandrine Library at the Palace of La Sapienza University.

In the end, if you would like to know more about the Papal Coats of Arms, their meanings and their location (expecially those that are not included in these short articles of mine), I suggest you to visit this page from the website (in English!) A Rome Art Lover's Webpage.