Pope Paul V died in January 1621, two months after the Battle of the White Mountain which marked a very
favourable development for the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic German princes in the Thirty Years' War. His successor, Cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi, who called himself Pope Gregory XV, was aged 67 and in poor health.
His nephew Ludovico Ludovisi was appointed cardinal and given great authority over all State affairs. He was also granted so many benefits that he soon became very rich.
Both the Pope and his nephew protected the Jesuits and in March 1622 Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the order, was canonized. On the same occasion Pope Gregory XV made three other important canonizations: Teresa of Avila, a reformer of the Carmelite order known for her mysticism and her many visions; during one of them she saw a seraph drive the point of a golden arrow through her heart, causing her a pain which was both bodily and spiritual; Philip Neri, the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory and Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuit Order and the pioneer of the Catholic missions in Asia.
These canonizations can be seen as the final moment of the Counter-Reformation process.
Pope Gregory XV financially supported Emperor Ferdinand II in his fight against the German Protestant princes; the Pope is also remembered for giving in 1622 the cardinal's hat to Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, bishop of Lušon, who played a key role in French politics as Prime Minister. Cardinal Richelieu in the following years, notwithstanding his position in the Catholic Church, did not hesitate to make alliances with the Protestants to pursue the interests of his country.
Ludovico Ludovisi was just 25 when he was appointed cardinal, but he showed judgement in assisting his uncle; although the pontificate of Pope Gregory XV lasted only 29 months he acquired such a fortune that in the forthcoming years he was able to assemble a major collection of works of art of both ancient statues and modern paintings and sculptures, in his villa near Porta Pinciana.
The Ludovisi came from Bologna and the Cardinal protected the many artists of that town working in Rome. He also gave the first commissions to Alessandro Algardi,
a young sculptor from Bologna, who became one of the leading artists of Baroque Rome (see his three busts at S. Marcello). Algardi was asked to "complete" ancient statues which were without an arm or a foot; the Cardinal assigned similar commissions to Gian Lorenzo Bernini,
another young, but already famous sculptor. While accepting some commissions from Cardinal Ludovisi, Bernini mainly worked for Cardinal Scipione Borghese and some of his finest statues can be seen in the Cardinal's villa (a detail of a statue of Apollo and Daphne is shown in the image used as background for this page).
The Jesuits had a very large church which was completed before the canonization of Ignatius of Loyola and was therefore dedicated to the order (Chiesa del Ges¨); Cardinal Ludovisi felt the need to dedicate a separate church to the founder of the order: S. Ignazio, the new church, was again a very large building which was completed after the death of the Cardinal in 1632: it was also called Tempio Ludovisi and both Pope Gregory XV and Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi were buried there in an imposing monument.
The wealthiest Roman families contributed to the construction of the many churches which were completed between 1575 and 1650 by buying chapels where they buried the members of the family: this led to the development of several patterns of funerary monuments: that of Giuseppe Bonanni, a rich banker, shows one of these patterns: the dead was portrayed in the act of praying.
The conclave which started after the death of Pope Gregory XV in July 1623 was
marked by the fact that many participants fell sick because of malaria: the cardinals were forced to set aside their
differences and elected pope the relatively young (he was 55) Cardinal Maffeo Barberini who chose to be called Pope Urban VIII; his pontificate was among the longest ones (21 years). He
followed the tradition of his predecessors and appointed cardinals his brother Antonio and his nephews Francesco and Antonio; Carlo, another brother, was appointed
commander of the Papal troops and given the fiefdoms of Monterotondo and
The Pope's conduct during the Thirty Years' War was often influenced more by the desire to expand the Barberini possessions, than by his spiritual mission or the interests of the Catholic states.
The war took a bad turn in 1630 when Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, helped by the Dutch and financed by France came to aid the German Lutherans: in the Battle of Breitenfield he defeated the Imperial troops. Pope Urban VIII in that same period showed that he too was wary of the success of the Holy Roman Emperor and in the war for the succession in the Duchy of Mantua he sided with Cardinal Richelieu in supporting a French candidate against the claims of Emperor Ferdinand II who was married to Eleonore of Gonzaga, sister of the last duke. The war was a catastrophe not only for Mantua, which was sacked by the Imperial army, but for the whole of Northern Italy which was crossed by mercenary troops sent by France and by the Duke of Savoy; this led to spreading one of the worst plagues, which had a severe impact on the economy of the richest Italian region.
Pope Urban VIII was worried about the defence of Rome and he built new imposing walls between Porta Portese and Porta Cavalleggeri and a round bastion at Palazzo del Quirinale, similar to what he did at Castelgandolfo in a palace which the popes still use in summer.
In 1622 Pope Gregory XV founded Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide
(Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith),
but it was Pope Urban VIII who made it an institution which played an
important role in the diffusion of Catholicism in Asia, Africa and the Americas:
the building where the institution is housed was built in part by Gian Lorenzo Bernini during the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII and in part by Francesco Borromini after 1646; Borromini, a nephew of Carlo Maderno, the architect of many buildings for Pope Paul V, including the fašade of S. Pietro,
started his career assisting Bernini in the completion of Palazzo Barberini and in the design of the Baldachin of S. Pietro: he then became a rival of Bernini, whom he thought was lacking
the technical skills of a professional architect.
Cardinal Antonio Barberini built Collegio de' Neofiti to house those who decided (or were forced) to convert; another reminder of the evangelization effort is the 1629 monument to Antonio Emanuele Ne Vunda called il Nigrita. He was sent to Rome in July 1604 by Alvaro II, King of Congo as his ambassador: the journey through Brazil and Spain lasted more than three years and the ambassador reached Rome only on January 3, 1608: he was very ill and he passed away just two days later. His monument shows another feature of Baroque sculpture: the use of different stones to achieve a colour effect.
Museo di Palazzo Barberini: portrait and bust of Pope Urban VIII by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (ca 1632)
Bernini started his career as an architect at the request of Pope Urban VIII, who regarded him very highly and protected him in the early stage of his career: it is said that the Pope, while talking with Bernini about his election, said to him: "You are lucky to see Maffeo Barberini become pope, but we (plural majestatis) are even luckier because Bernini lives at the time of our pontificate".
Victoria and Albert Museum in London: bust of Thomas Baker by Bernini and assistants and on the left upper corner a copy of a triple portrait of King Charles I by Anton Van Dyck (see the original in another window)
The war for the succession of Mantua had a collateral effect, which showed that Italy was losing importance in the new European context from a political and economic viewpoint and in addition was also starting to lose some of its artistic treasures. King Charles I of England bought in 1627 the whole Gonzaga collection of works of art: by this acquisition the king, a great admirer of Italian paintings, built up an extraordinary collection of Italian masters: it was partially sold during the Commonwealth of England (1649-60), but many paintings were bought back by King Charles II who further enriched the collection. King Charles I was advised by the Flemish painter Anton Van Dyck, who knew Italian art well having spent six years studying the Italian masters; he suggested to the king to commission a bust to Bernini; he then painted a famous triple portrait to allow Bernini to execute the sculpture. The bust is lost (perhaps destroyed by a fire in the Palace of Whitehall in 1698), but Bernini executed also a bust of Thomas Baker, an English courtier who most likely carried the portrait of the King to Rome. A few years later also Cardinal Richelieu commissioned a bust to Bernini.
Pope Urban VIII was determined to restore direct papal rule on some territories of the state
which were controlled by local dynasties; his first target was Urbino which was ruled by the della Rovere, the family of Pope Sixtus IV and Pope Julius II;
the sudden death of the heir to the Duchy in 1623 allowed the Pope to convince the old duke to bequeath his possessions to the Papal State. In the northern part of Latium the Farnese,
the family of Pope Paul III, had several possessions: some of them were grouped in the
Duchy of Castro under the rule of Odoardo Farnese who was also Duke of Parma. Pope Urban VIII tried to arrange a
marriage between Odoardo's heir and a Barberini: this plan having failed, the Pope decided to economically boycott the Duchy of Castro: this soon led to a military confrontation and the papal troops occupied Castro. Odoardo Farnese however with the indirect support of France and with the help of the Republic of Venice and of
the Grand Duchy of Tuscany invaded the papal possessions in Romagna so that the Pope was forced to ask for a truce and eventually had to sign the 1644 Peace of Ferrara which returned the Duchy of Castro to the Farnese.
During the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII the Thirty Years' War which had begun as a German war of religion turned into a general European conflict about national supremacy on the continent; this was caused by the direct intervention of France in the war on the side of the Protestants and in the consequent war with Spain: the Pope had little authority over the two Catholic nations at war and was unable to bring peace between them.
The Pope hoped to see England return to Catholicism: he relied on the influence which the Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria had on her husband: the Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed by King Charles I, introduced changes in the liturgy of the Church of England which made it very close to the Catholic one. The reaction of Parliament led to a civil war which ended in defeat for Charles.
Galleria Spada: details of a celestial globe (ca 1620) by Willem Blaeu, a Dutch cartographer, best known as a maufacturer of world globes; it was part of the collection of astronomical instruments of Monsignor Virgilio Spada; the image shows the constellations Delphinus (left) and Bootes (right)
Overall the long pontificate of Pope Urban VIII weakened the papal role in Europe; it also marked a divorce between the Roman Church and scientific developments which had long lasting effects on how Catholicism was perceived in the following centuries. The heliocentric theories supported by Copernicus were condemned in 1616 by the Inquisition: it is debated whether on that occasion Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, a member of the Inquisition panel who belonged to the Jesuit order, warned Galileo Galilei, a prominent Tuscan scientist, against supporting the theory that the Sun stands still and the planets move around it. Galilei was on friendly terms with both the Pope and Ferdinand II, Grand Duke of Tuscany; he decided to revive the scientific debate by publishing in 1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems where the two theories were discussed in the form of a dialogue between advocates of the two systems. The book however was regarded by the Inquisition as ridiculing the geocentric theory and in 1633 Galilei was summoned to Rome. Under the threat of torture, the seventy-year-old scientist offered to rewrite some chapters of the book; the sentence was issued in Convento della Minerva: Galilei was ordered to publicly abjure his beliefs, his book was declared heretical and banned and he was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment. This part of the punishment was turned into a sort of house arrest in his villa at Arcetri, near Florence. Galilei was formally rehabilitated by the Church in 1741 when the ban on his books was lifted and in 1992 Pope John Paul II expressed regret at how his trial was handled.
(left) Inscription celebrating the improvements made by Cardinal Antonio Barberini to the street linking Via Urbana to
S. Maria Maggiore; (right) S. Maria sopra Minerva: monument to Ottaviano Ubaldini
della Gherardesca by Giovan Battista Calandra
Pope Urban VIII's association with Bernini
lasted throughout the whole pontificate: it did not have an impact on the design of the streets of Rome
(the Pope's brother improved the access to S. Maria Maggiore and to Bernini's
first workshop near
Palazzo Imperiali Borromeo), because its focus was on the decoration of the interior of S. Pietro: Bernini was appointed head of Fabbrica di S. Pietro and he took care (in addition to the baldachin) of the design and decoration of the central
octagon: he became a manager who had to
coordinate the work of a large group of artists, an aspect which will characterize the rest of his career:
this explains the title given to this page because Bernini had ample decision making authority.
In 1624 the bodies of Sts. Bibiana, Dafrosa and Demetria were found by chance under the altar of an old church which was falling apart. It was an event similar to that which occurred during the pontificate of Pope Clement VIII in S. Cecilia; Pope Urban VIII immediately thought to celebrate it by commissioning a statue of St. Bibiana (Vivian) to Bernini; he then widened the scope of the commission by asking Bernini to rebuild the old church: so S. Bibiana was the first church designed by Bernini. It was also the church where Pietro da Cortona, another key artist of that period, started his Roman career by painting episodes of St. Bibiana's life. In the same way that Bernini was "discovered" by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, Cortona was "discovered" by his nephew Cardinal Francesco Barberini.
Pope Urban VIII took care of restoring several old churches and of building a few new ones: S. Sebastiano al Palatino, S. Anastasia, S. Maria ad Martyres (Pantheon), Battisterio Lateranense and S. Giacomo alla Lungara, all show a reference to the bees and the sun, his heraldic symbols.
Cardinal Antonio Barberini financed the construction of Chiesa dei Cappuccini near the family palace: between the two buildings Bernini placed Fontana del Tritone and Fontana delle Api (a fountain designed by Bernini's father - la Barcaccia - was placed in Piazza di Spagna).
Cardinal Francesco Barberini commissioned Francesco Borromini the small church of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane where the architect first showed his innovative talent. He also asked Pietro da Cortona to test his skill as an architect by designing SS. Luca e Martina and he rebuilt Domine Quo Vadis.
Bernini, in addition to taking care of the Pope's monument in S. Pietro (with a dramatic reminder of Death), was involved in the design of many smaller funerary monuments: it is worth mentioning Cappella Raimondi and the monuments to Maria Raggi and Agostino Chigi which both show the portrait of the dead inside a medallion, a characteristic of many other Baroque monuments.
Finally the icon of the updates of this website is based on a stucco work by Bernini which celebrated Pope Urban VIII in S. Maria in Aracoeli.
The long pontificate of Pope Urban VIII was followed by a conclave during which the two Barberini cardinals were unable to obtain the election of their
candidate because of the hostility of Spain; eventually an agreement was reached for
electing a "pope of transition" i.e. a pope who because of his age was expected to lead
the Church for a relatively short period of time.
The choice fell on Cardinal Giovan Battista Pamphilj (aged 70),
who owed his career to the Barberini and was well accepted by Spain where he had been nuncio. The veto on his name by French Cardinal Jules Mazarin arrived too late. Cardinal Mazarin (of Italian origin, he was born at Pescina in Abruzzo) after the death of Cardinal Richelieu in 1642
replaced him as Prime Minister (King Louis XIV - was only a child).
The new pope, who called himself Pope Innocent X, immediately charged the Barberini with misappropriation of funds and the two cardinals fled to France, where Cardinal Mazarin granted them protection; the Pope however needed the help of Mazarin to ensure the Church had a say in the peace agreements which ended the Thirty Years' War. The Barberini were allowed to return to Rome and they were given back their benefits; in addition the Pope gave the cardinal's hat to Mazarin's brother.
The Peace of Westphalia which in 1648 put an end to the war saw the birth of the modern European sovereign-states: it confirmed that each prince would have the right to determine the religion (Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism) of his own state (cuius religio, eius religio, a principle stated in 1555 at the Peace of Augsburg), but it allowed those who practiced a faith different from the chosen one to do this in private and to some extent in public. This meant that the European states were moving in the direction of becoming impartial towards their subjects' beliefs, something which in Europe was new after Emperor Theodosius declared in 392 the Christian faith (in its Nicene creed) the sole religion of the Roman Empire.
The outcome of the Peace of Westphalia was very disappointing for the Pope who vainly condemned the parts of the agreements which stated the end of the universal role of the Church.
In 1645, profiting by the conflict among the European powers, Sultan Ibrahim sent an army to invade Crete: the Ottomans rapidly occupied most of the island and in 1647 they laid siege to Candia, its capital, which was protected by imposing walls. Venice was left alone in the fight to retain its possession.
Bernini was so closely associated with Pope Urban VIII and in general to the Barberini,
that he fell into disgrace with the new pope: the way he had managed the construction of the first of two
bell towers in S. Pietro was the cause of his removal from being the head of Fabbrica di S. Pietro. The construction of the bell tower had to be stopped due to subsidence of the
ground: Bernini was charged with lack of technical skills and he had to pay the
The favour of the Pope fell on Francesco Borromini and Alessandro Algardi: the former decorated S. Ivo alla Sapienza with the dove, the heraldic symbol of the Pamphilj (but the very unusual dome and spire of the church are said to represent the lower part and the sting of a gigantic Barberini bee), the latter was entrusted with the design of Villa Pamphilj.
Bernini turned to private commissions and he designed Cappella Cornaro, where he personally portrayed St. Teresa in her most dramatic vision.
Cardinal Mazarin commissioned a new fašade for SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio, where he wanted his gigantic coat of arms to be placed, as if to highlight his power.
In 1649 King Philip IV of Spain sent Diego Velazquez, his court painter, to Italy to buy works by the Italian masters: after travelling through Genova, Venice, Milan and Modena Velazquez arrived in Rome where the Pope commissioned him a portrait which is regarded as the masterpiece of the Doria-Pamphilj collection.
As a reaction to the disappointing results of the Peace of Westphalia, Pope Innocent X decided to at least fully restore papal
authority in his own state: he reopened the confrontation with the Farnese and sent an army to
occupy the Duchy of Castro: to cancel even its memory the town of Castro was levelled to the ground: this time the
Farnese did not find support from France or from the other Italian states and they had to
give up their rights on the Duchy.
Pope Innocent X favoured his relatives, but he did not find among them the person who could help him in running the state: he ended up by relying on the advice of Olimpia Maidalchini, widow of one of his brothers (see her in a bust by Algardi). Her son Camillo was appointed cardinal, but he was not prepared to lead an ecclesiastical life and he asked his uncle to allow him to return to lay status: he then married Olimpia Aldobrandini, the sole heiress of Pope Clement VIII's family fortune. The two Olimpias did not get along and the Pope had to intervene to stop their quarrels: it was because of a quarrel with the Pope that Olimpia Maidalchini retired for a while to S. Martino al Cimino, a small town she entirely renovated. She became the subject of many satires posted on the talking statues of Rome.
According to tradition she was so greedy that at the death of the Pope on January 7, 1655 she was so busy plundering the papal apartment of its treasures that she did not care to arrange his burial.
The 1625 Jubilee was a low key event because of the Thirty Years' War; Pope Innocent X was determined to take advantage of the restored peace to ensure the
success of the 1650 Jubilee: he therefore asked Francesco Borromini to restore the interior of
S. Giovanni in Laterano, while Carlo Rainaldi, a young architect who played a major role in the second half of the XVIIth century, completed Michelangelo's design for Piazza del Campidoglio.
The Pope combined the objective of embellishing Rome for the Jubilee with his family's interest. The Pamphilj owned most of the buildings surrounding Piazza Navona, the site of the fruit and vegetable market: the Pope planned the redesign of the whole area: Borromini was involved in the renovation of the existing church and of the family palace. During the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) Piazza Navona was provided with three fountains for the needs of the market; their design was very simple and Pope Innocent X wanted something more imposing for the new piazza. Bernini was not invited to submit a project, but he managed to have a silver model shown to Olimpia Maidalchini, who in turn showed it to the Pope who immediately approved it. The fountain is now known as Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi; Bernini thought to add three dolphins in one of the other fountains, but Donna Olimpia (as she was usually called) wanted them for her villa and Bernini replaced them with a very dramatic statue portraying il Moro (the Moor), a sort of African Neptune. Bernini was also commissioned by the Pope a palace for his niece who had married a Ludovisi: the palace, which was completed many years later by Carlo Fontana, is now known as Palazzo di Montecitorio.
Pope Innocent X provided Rome with a very modern prison: Carceri Nuove replaced the infamous prison of Tor di Nona, near Piazza di Ponte. During his pontificate Francesco Borromini worked also at Oratorio dei Filippini, Palazzo Falconieri and S. Maria dei Sette Dolori.
(left/centre) S. Agnese in Agone: dome and bell tower;
(right) S. Andrea delle Fratte: tip of the bell tower. They were both designed by Francesco Borromini during the pontificate of Pope Innocent X, but they were completed after the Pope's death
The following links show works of art portraying characters and events
mentioned in this page; they open in another window:
Galileo Galilei sketch by Guido Reni (1575-1642).
Galileo Galilei at the Inquisition tribunal by Nicol˛ Barabino (1832-91) - Palazzo Celesia- Genoa.
Cardinal Mazarin by Philippe de Champagne (1602-74).
Study from Velazquez' portrait of Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon (1961).
Next page: Part III: Modern Rome
VII - The Loss of the Leadership in the Arts
Previous pages: Part I: Ancient Rome:
I - The Foundation and the Early Days of Rome
II - The Early Republican Period
III - The Romans Meet the Elephants
IV - Expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
V - Pompey and Caesar
VI - Augustus
VII - From Tiberius to Nero
VIII - The Flavian Dynasty
IX - From Nerva to Marcus Aurelius
X - A Century of Turmoil (180-285)
XI - From Diocletian to Constantine
XII - The End of Ancient Rome
Part II: Medieval Rome:
I - Byzantine Rome
II - The Iron Age of Rome
III - The Investiture Controversy
IV - The Rise and Fall of Theocratic Power
V - The Popes Leave Rome
VI - From Chaos to Recovery
Part III: Modern Rome:
I - Rome's Early Renaissance
II - Splendour and Crisis
III - A Period of Change
IV - The Counter-Reformation
V - Early Baroque Rome