which followed the death of Pope Alexander VIII on February 11, 1691
was the longest one of the century; not so much because of the interference of the great powers of the time (France, Spain and the Austrian Empire), but because of the
divisions among the Italian cardinals; a large group of them, called
gli zelanti (the zealous ones), favoured the election of a cardinal who would follow
the rigorous lifestyle introduced by Pope Innocent XI; they were opposed by cardinals supported by the Ottoboni
and Altieri families, who feared losing the benefits they acquired during the pontificates of Pope Alexander VIII and of Pope Clement X. Although gli zelanti had to give up
their first candidate they eventually managed to elect
Cardinal Antonio Pignatelli who, by choosing to be called Pope Innocent XII, indicated he was
determined to complete the transition of the papal court towards a pattern which was more suited to its religious role.
The new pope formally abolished the role of cardinal nepote, the nephew to whom most popes had given the supervision of state affairs; this responsibility was assigned to a senior cardinal (Cardinal Segretario di Stato), a practice which is still followed nowadays. The papal court lost its most mundane aspects and the whole society was pervaded by a greater compliance with moral standards.
Pope Innocent XII reached an agreement with King Louis XIV on the many issues which had led the French church very close to a schism during the pontificates of the previous popes.
In June 1695 the region between Viterbo and Acquapendente was greatly damaged by an earthquake; in that same year the Tiber flooded Rome and the event was followed by a pestilence. Pope Innocent XII made use of public funds to help those affected by these calamities and thus earned a reputation for his charity and his care.
S. Ignazio - altar to S. Luigi Gonzaga: (left) relief by Pierre Legros; (right) ceiling by Andrea Pozzo
Pope Innocent XII was a very pious man, yet he did not promote the
construction or the embellishment of churches. Rather, he cared about
providing Rome with better facilities: he completed Palazzo di Montecitorio with the aim of relocating there the
various tribunals which existed in Rome, he started to build Ospizio di S. Michele,
a gigantic orphanage which served also as an alternative to prison for young offenders,
he improved control over the payment of customs duties by creating a central office (Dogana di Terra)
in Piazza di Pietra,
he opened a new road (Via Appia Pignatelli) linking
Porta S. Sebastiano with the new Appian way and he built harbour facilities at
Anzio to improve supply routes to Rome.
His name is also associated with some minor initiatives: a restoration of the fountain in Piazza S. Maria in Trastevere, the fine loggia at Palazzo del Quirinale and a small monument in the street leading to Piazza del Campidoglio.
The architect Carlo Fontana designed the square in front of Palazzo di Montecitorio; the initial plan provided for the relocation to the square of both Colonna Antonina and Colonna Traiana; this project was abandoned because it was too expensive, but it influenced the Austrian architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach who designed Karlskirche in Vienna a few years later.
The most important works of art during the pontificate of Pope Innocent XII were due to the Jesuits, who lavishly decorated S. Ignazio; Andrea Pozzo, after having painted the ceiling of the nave, designed a grand altar dedicated to S. Luigi Gonzaga; he also took care of the ceiling above the altar where he showed his mastering of illusionistic painting.
The image used as background for this page shows Justice, a relief by Antonio Raggi junior on the fašade of Palazzo di Montecitorio.
The cardinals who met in conclave in October 1700 after the death of Pope Innocent XII soon received great news: on November 1, King Charles II of Spain
died: he had no direct heirs: he had indicated as the new king Philippe de Bourbon,
a distant relative who was the grandson of King Louis XIV of France;
he had also named as alternate successor the Austrian prince Charles, the emperor's brother.
The French cardinals succeeded in promoting the election of Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Albani
who, as advisor to the previous pope, had given a favourable opinion on the rights of Philippe de Bourbon.
The new pope (who chose the name of Clement XI) had soon to face the worst possible scenario: he was caught in the middle of a war among the Catholic powers which lasted eleven years and during which he was unable to assert his spiritual authority to impose a peace; he was directly involved in the war when the Austrians occupied Comacchio, a town near Ferrara and threatened to invade the whole country; the pope was forced to declare the right of the Austrian candidate to the Spanish throne: he ended by displeasing all the parties involved in the war.
The Papal State was not asked to take part in the negotiations which led to the Peace of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714) which put an end to the war: the historical rights the papacy claimed on southern Italy and Sicily were ignored: Philippe de Bourbon was confirmed King of Spain, but Charles (who in the meantime had become Emperor Charles VI) was given the Kingdom of Naples, Sardinia and most of the Duchy of Milan; the Duke of Savoy obtained Sicily (and the title of king) and part of the Duchy of Milan. The Spanish supremacy in Italy was replaced by the Austrian one.
In addition to a difficult political situation Pope Clement XI had to face a significant financial crisis; the feudal rights and the related revenues the pope had in several European countries were challenged and in many cases abolished by national governments; in 1703 an earthquake caused major damage including the fall of part of the Colosseo; the pope was forced to reintroduce the Lotto (a popular lottery) and in 1708 he imposed a special one time taxation on the Roman guilds. The documentation attached to the bull provides a lot of information on how the Roman economy was organized; the professions associated with the Law by far outnumbered the other ones (doctors, teachers, musicians, architects, painters, etc.); the guilds were too fragmented (manufacturers of playing cards: 4 members; manufacturers of lute strings: 9 members) and they did not have the size to develop large scale businesses.
Pope Clement XI, maybe to emphasize the role of the Church during a difficult
period, added in 1702
fifty statues of saints to
Piazza S. Pietro;
a few years later he completed the decoration of the main nave of S.
Giovanni in Laterano by placing twelve large statues in the niches designed by Francesco Borromini in 1650; in Piazza della Rotonda he put an obelisk on top of an existing fountain. He also erected a statue to Charlemagne opposite that of Constantine by Bernini.
He justified the costs of these initiatives by saying: E' tutta beneficenza! (It's all a charity!); this approach can explain why notwithstanding budget limitations he built Porto di Ripetta, a harbour on the river for the commodities coming from the Tiber valley, a new granary and an arsenal at Porto di Ripa Grande.
He also promoted extensive restorations at many churches: S. Maria in Cosmedin (opposite which he built a nice fountain), SS. Apostoli (where he placed a gigantic coat of arms), S. Clemente, S. Eusebio, S. Maria ad Martyres (Pantheon), S. Teodoro, S. Maria in Trastevere (the portico), S. Maria in Monticelli, S. Brigida and SS. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti.
Pope Clement XI was very fond of archaeology and aware of the need to protect the cultural heritage of Rome.
In 1702 he issued more stringent laws to regulate this matter and submitted the trade of antiquities to authorizations. In 1714 the architect and engraver
Alessandro Specchi was asked to compile a catalogue of ancient buildings and works of art.
The pope was also a protector of scientific developments: his personal doctor Giovanni Maria Lancisi, with the support of the pope, founded a medical library in Spedale di S. Spirito; the scientist Francesco Bianchini built for the pope a sundial inside S. Maria degli Angeli and supervised excavations on the Palatine.
Pope Clement XI offered refuge to James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, after the unsuccessful 1715 Scottish uprising, known as the First Jacobite Rebellion (an attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne). At Montefiascone James Stuart married Maria Clementina Sobieska, a granddaughter of John Sobieski, King of Poland. The pope provided the royal couple with a papal guard of troops, gave them Palazzo Muti and an annual allowance out of the papal treasury.
The pontificate of Pope Clement XI lasted more than twenty years and many
towns of the Papal State have buildings of that period:
the town where the pope was born, was particularly favoured, but also Ascoli,
Soriano and Montalto have monuments showing the coat of arms of the pope.
Italian nouns can be characterized by the addition of a suffix; so:
-ino means small: ragazzino small boy
-one big: ragazzone big boy
-accio bad: ragazzaccio bad boy
-etto nice/fine (and small): ragazzetto nice boy.
So Barocchetto, the name given by art historians to the Roman architecture of the first half of the XVIIIth century, stands for a gentler, lighter development of the Great Baroque architecture of the previous century. A general lack of resources and materials (there were no longer so many columns and marbles to be taken from the ancient buildings) led the architects to make a wide use of stucco for moulding very elaborate details; in a way they looked at the works by Borromini and in particular at S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, where this architect showed how stuccoes could be used to achieve stunning effects.
The conclave which followed the death of Pope Clement XI in March 1721
was marked by the veto of the Austrian Emperor on a candidate who was regarded as too close to France;
eventually the cardinals preferred to choose Cardinal Michelangelo Conti di Segni,
whose background did not indicate a preference for one country or another. He
belonged to the same noble family of
Pope Innocent III
who in the XIIIth century affirmed the supremacy of the Church, so he chose to be called
Pope Innocent XIII.
The new pope was in poor health and his short pontificate, unlike that of his great ancestor, was not marked by notable events. He recognized the rights of the Austrian Emperor on southern Italy and Sicily (which Savoy had ceded to Austria in return of Sardinia), but was unable to regain Comacchio.
Scalinata di TrinitÓ dei Monti (Spanish Steps) was completed during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XIII and
it soon became popular among XVIIIth century travellers as a place where to spend some leisure moments
The French monks of SS. TrinitÓ dei Monti, supported by their country, asked for a
long time that their monastery be given an easier approach to Via dei Condotti and
the city centre; Cardinal Jules Mazarin invited Bernini and other architects to submit projects, but it was only in 1717 that
Pope Clement XI announced a competition for designing steps leading to the monastery.
Work started during the pontificate of Pope Innocent XIII; the project was financed by France, but the chequered eagle of the pope was placed on the globes at the foot of the steps. The area of Via dei Condotti was very popular with foreigners visiting Rome and the steps soon became a landmark of the modern city. Notwithstanding the inscription celebrating King Louis XV of France and the many fleurs-de-lys placed here and there to indicate that French money paid for the steps, English travellers called them the Spanish steps.
Pope Innocent XIII is associated with very few initiatives: a check on the stability of the obelisk of Piazza S. Pietro, some restorations at S. Agnese, a fountain at Corneto (Tarquinia), other fountains at Villa Torlonia (Conti) at Frascati and the papal nunciature in Madrid.
The conclave which followed the death of Pope Innocent XIII lasted only a few days: the Austrian ambassador vetoed a candidate, but there was no other external interference and the conclave soon
ended with the election of Cardinal Pier Francesco Orsini, aged 75,
who had spent most of his life in Benevento, a town belonging to the
Papal State but surrounded by the Kingdom of Naples.
The new pope was a very pious man, but he had no experience in managing a large organization
or dealing with foreign affairs. He chose to be called Pope Benedict XIII, a name which had not been chosen for centuries.
He devoted himself to reducing the temptations the Romans were exposed to: he abolished the Lotto, he severely punished the prostitutes who did not give up their trade, he limited the use of wigs and luxury suits.
He left the management of state affairs and appointments to Niccolo Coscia, an assistant he had in Benevento; unfortunately the man he trusted was a scoundrel who was only interested in profiting from his position.
Corruption and simony impoverished the Papal State and diminished the authority of the pope at a time when the great European countries were moving towards more effective and just administration practices.
Pasquino was not so gentle with Pope Benedict XIII: Pi¨ che amator di santi/protettor di briganti (more than lover of saints/(he was a) protector of brigands). At the pope's death in February 1730 the Romans tried to apprehend Coscia, but he had already fled the city and returned to Benevento.
Many talented artists left Rome in the first quarter of the
XVIIIth century due to the lack of commissions:
Filippo Juvarra went to Turin where he designed the imposing Basilica of Superga for the King of Sardinia (the new title of the Duke of Savoy); Andrea Pozzo went to Vienna where he designed Jesuitenkirche;
those who remained in Rome did so in the hope that the 1725 Jubilee would provide
They were highly disappointed by Pope Benedict XIII: he concentrated on the religious aspects of the event and in particular on the penitential ones: that discouraged (rather than attracting) the pilgrims; they came in very small numbers and also the rich families refrained from embellishing their properties not to upset the pope. To make things worse, Pope Benedict XIII assigned almost all commissions to Filippo Raguzzini, an architect from Benevento; he restored many small churches, mainly belonging to the Dominicans (the order the pope joined at the beginning of his ecclesiastical career); S. Sisto Vecchio, S. Maria del Rosario, S. Maria delle Fornaci and Spedale di S. Gallicano are among the buildings he designed for the pope: because he was the architect of the pope he got also private commissions: S. Maria de' Macellari and Case di S. Ignazio, three blocks of flats which are regarded as his best work. After the pope's death he soon fell into disgrace and returned to Benevento.
The cultural decline of Rome affected also the musical field: some Roman cardinals were very fond of music and in the early XVIIIth century George Friedrich Handel composed for them several psalms and motets; in the 1720s Antonio Vivaldi did the same, but overall Rome lost the role it had in the previous centuries in the development of new musical compositions.
The provincial conformism which prevailed during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XIII was depicted in a series of caricatures by Pier Leone Ghezzi, a painter who tried in his works to escape the boring mood of those years.
The following links show works of art portraying characters and events
mentioned in this page:
Pope Clement XI drawing by Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755).
Allegory of the Peace of Utrecht by Antoine Rivalz (1667-1735) - Metropolitan Museum - New York.
Antonio Vivaldi drawing by Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755).
The access to TrinitÓ dei Monti before the Spanish Steps 1661 etching - Museo di Roma - Rome.
Pope Benedict XIII by Pietro Bracci (1700-73) - Museo di Palazzo Venezia - Rome.
Next page: Part III: Modern Rome
IX - Grand Tour Rome
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
VI - The Age of Bernini
VII - The Loss of the Leadership in the Arts