Team 2: Mauna Edrozo, Katie Saunders, Erik Scheer
In the 15th century the Della Rovere family emerged from general anonymity to take a position of high power within the upper echelons of the city of Rome. Francesco della Rovere (1414-1484) is credited as the first of his family to achieve upwards mobility. The Della Rovere family worked as minor merchants and landowners in Savona, a region in Northwestern Italy, until Francesco brought the family to prominence in Rome. Francesco was groomed from a young age to join the Franciscan order of the Church. As a young adult, Francesco moved to attend the university in Perugia, where he studied theology and philosophy. His religious writings brought him to the attention of Pope Paul II who later appointed Francesco as cardinal of San Pietro in Vincoli, one of the most prestigious and sacred churches of Rome. After Pope Paul II’s death in 1471, Francesco was elected to the papal position and chose to take the name of Sixtus IV.
During his thirteen years as pope, Sixtus IV transformed the papacy, advertised himself as an urban renovator, and revived Rome as a center of art and culture. At the beginning of his papacy Rome was described as a cadaver of its historical glory, but through extensive civic restoration projects Sixtus IV was able to revive Rome’s past and modernize the urban space. Sixtus IV expanded the papal power into areas that were traditionally governed by municipal authorities. He had new roads built and old ones renovated, and he extended the aqueduct system to reach more people. Under his direction new churches were constructed, including the Santa Maria della Pace, the Santa Maria del Popolo, and the Sistine Chapel. He opened the Vatican Library and appointed Platina as the first head librarian. The Ponte Sisto Bridge was built to facilitate pilgrimage traffic and the Santo Spirito Hospital was modernized. He also contributed to the Capitoline Museum, the first public collection of antiquities in all of Europe. Through his papacy Sixtus IV encouraged the sponsorship of artists such as Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Signorelli, and Roselli, creating a Rome that could compete with the burgeoning art scene in Florence.
Despite Pope Sixtus IV’s accomplishments, he was and still is an extremely controversial
character in Roman history. His career as pope is marked by nepotism, murky alliances, and scandals. He used his position as pope to establish a niche for the Della Rovere family within Rome—six of his nephews were awarded prominent political positions, one of whom would later be elected to the papal position as well—and create a legacy of papal authority that would continue well into the future. However, Sixtus IV’s life marked the beginning of a new era in which Rome would rediscover its grandeur as the Eternal City.
The next della Rovere to take on the papal mantle was Julius II. Born Giuliano della Rovere, Pope Julius II came to power in 1503. A Franciscan, he was the son of Sixtus IV’s brother, and had in 1471 become a cardinal thanks to Sixtus, and soon developed an impressive collection of benefices, or paid ecclesiastical offices. He succeeded Pius III, who had only lived for about a month following his succession of Alexander VI. Julius’ election had previously been halted when several Spanish cardinals appointed by Alexander VI, who belonged to the Borgia family, refused to vote in his favor due to their preexisting alliance with the Borgia. Prior to his election, Julius also had to contend with competition from his brother Pietro and his cousin, amongst other family members who had benefited from the nepotism of Sixtus, which was thus a double-edged sword of sorts. He had also engaged in military and diplomatic missions on behalf of the papacy, playing an instrumental role in the entrance of France into Italy to advance his position at the expense of then-pope Alexander VI.
Upon the death of the ailing Pius III, Julius must not have been entirely displeased when he found himself again in line to become pope after so short an interval of time. This time around, he pledged his support for Cesare Borgia, Alexander’s son, as Duke of the Romagna, amongst other concessions limiting papal authority to the benefit of the cardinals. He was elected the next day with the overwhelming support of all the cardinals. He also worked to ensure his victory by distributing his multiple benefices in exchange for support. Seeking to solidify control of the papal states and papal primacy in Italy, he made a dramatic about-face and expelled Cesare Borgia, as well as personally leading a series of military campaigns seeking mostly to undermine the French influence, not just in the papal states but actually throughout Italy. He was famous for his temper, which led to his nickname, “il papa terrible,” which means literally the terrible pope – terrible, however, not in the sense of incompetence or moral depravity, but rather in the sense of inspiring awe. By the end of his time as pope he had become very popular with the people, and massive crowds turned out to mourn his death in 1513.
On the one hand, Julius II’s holding of multiple benefices and his military campaigns, as well as his well-known sexual relationships with various youths and his fathering of illegitimate children could be seen – and were seen by some – as continuing the type of papal corruption that Dante would later decry in his Inferno. On the other hand, however, he was notable for the relatively modest degree to which he favored family members for important positions – the contrast between him and his predecessor Alexander VI when it came to the practice of nepotism led Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt to call him the “saviour of the papacy.” Julius II also heard mass regularly and held it frequently, and helped expand the church in the new world, as well as taking measures to combat various types of corruption in the church, including the practice of simony, or the selling of positions of wealth and influence in the church.
His legacy can be seen today mostly in the large amount of art he commissioned. He commissioned great works by Michelangelo and Rafael, including Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, frescos by Rafael in the Vatican, and Michelangelo’s now-famous ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. He also undertook projects of urban development and ambitious construction projects designed by architects Donato Bramante and Guiliano de Sangallo.
After the death of Julius II, the Della Rovere family continued to be an important force within Rome and the surrounding states despite loosing control over the papacy.
Raffaele Riario Sansoni, a vice chancellor at the time, rose to become the most powerful member of the once glorious family. He had a massive palace attached to the church of San Lorenzo also known as the Cancelleria. Sansoni is also known to have introduced Michelangelo to Rome. However, his power began to fade when wee was discovered to have been involved in a plot against Julius’ successor Leo X de’Medici.
Then the Riario Sforza branch of the family took power in Bologna as nobles and also being dukes in the Kingdom of Naples.
Another branch of the family, the Della Rovere of Urbino, followed the successes of the Riario Sforza and in fact even eclipsed them in fortune. Although Francesco Maria I was unseated from his duchy, he was reinstated and founded a new line of dukes that would last through the next century. Guidobaldo II and Francesco Maria II, son and grandson respectively, administered territories more or less independent of the pope. Furthermore, Francesco Maria II’s grandaughter, Vitorria Feltria della Rovere was engaged to the duke of Tuscany. What they managed to preserve of their family legacy now fills the Pitti and Uffizi galleries.
The family survives even today. Francesco Maria I’s granddaughter married into the Lante family and remain roman nobles to this day. They have even infiltrated a new sector, the film industry, through the work Lucrezia Lante della Rovere, a film star. Additionally, another branch integrated themselves into the nobility of Genoa.