Before they were known for their papal reign, the Pamphili family hailed from Gubbio in Umbria, a region in central Italy. They were descendents of Amanzio Pamphili, a man who arrived in Italy in the ninth century as a follower of Charlemagne. They asserted that their family coat of arms—a dove with an olive branch in its beak, as well as three fleurs-de-lis—was actually granted from Charlemagne himself (Majanlahti 277-278).
The Pamphili family’s ascent to respectable nobility really began with Antonio Pamphili, who was appointed as the fiscal procurator for the Papal States by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere. This position of trust, respect, and significant income was their first real step up the hierarchy of power. Moreover, Antonio Pamphili married a rich Roman noblewoman, which furthered the family’s rise to nobility. Although the Pamphili family continued a long pattern of marrying into powerful members of the aristocracy, they did not achieve world fame and power until one of their very own succeeded the papal throne.
Pope Innocent X
Upon the death of Urban VIII, the conclave gathered to choose a new pope. For some days after Urban VIII's death, the situation in Rome was extremely critical. Crime increased alarmingly within the streets, as always when the papal throne was unoccupied. During this time, a rivalry was brewing between the Spanish and the French factions who could not agree on a successor. It was not until a month later that both parties reached a compromise for Giambattista Pamphili, who was a previous cardinal under Urban VIII (Majanlahti 276). By then, the new pope, renamed Innocent X, was 70 years old.
Giambattista Pamphili was born in Rome on May 1574. As a young man, he entered the service of the church, first as an officer in the papal army and later as a diplomat (Encyclopædia Britannica). Having studied law at the Jesuit Collegio Romano, he worked as an auditor before he was selected as an ambassador to Naples. Under the pontificate of Urban VIII, Pamphili was appointed to become a priest, then bishop, and later cardinal. Although he was generally recognized as an upright man of justice, Innocent also had the reputation for being cross-grained and stern during his pontificate. This is how he is portrayed in his painting in 1650: suspicious, opposing, and morose (refer to the Presentation Handout).
During his career as pope, the influence of the papacy started to wane in European politics. Any attempt at restoring the papal finances, which had become severely depleted at the time of Urban VIII's pontificate, was bound to fail. During times of food shortage, grain prices soared, so the pope started a new penny tax on salt and meat. There were often protests in front of his commissioned monuments, like the Four Rivers Fountain in his Piazza Navona, which were accompanied with pasquinades—satirical rhymes. The common people adamantly stated that they would rather spend their tax money on bread than on obelisks and fountainheads (Morrissey 210). Furthermore, the pope’s relationships with his relatives were questionable, for he was guilty of nepotism, and much of his pontificate was dominated by his greedy sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini.
La Papessa: The “She-Pope”
Olimpia Maidalchini married young to a rich family, but at the early death of her baby and husband, was left a wealthy widow at the age of 21. At this point she was not really educated or powerful, but very intelligent and intent on escaping her home in Viterbese. In order to escape, she needed political power, and used the most common methods of the time: gaining status in the church, or marrying into a rich family. Olimpia pursued both tracks, and in 1612 married Pamphilio Pamphili, the elder brother of the future Pope Innocent X (Magnuson). Their marriage was based upon his need for her wealth, and her desire for his power.
Combining that wealth and power, she gained influence over the future Pope Innocent X by supporting him financially in the early years of his diplomatic career. The cardinals that finally elected Innocent knew this, and warned the new pope not to let his sister-in-law have too much control. This, however, did nothing to lessen Olimpia’s influence. A few examples of Olimpia’s excessive power are as follows: she made many of the decisions in the construction of Palazzo Pamphili; arranged marriages to secure her family in political power; and plotted to have her son Camillo in command of the papal armies. She was, however, thwarted in this scheme, and instead of a general, Camillo Pamphili was made into the cardinal nephew. He was much loved in this position, but grew tired of it when he realized he had very little influence over Pope Innocent X in comparison to his mother Olimpia. In addition to this dissatisfaction, he fell in love with Olimpia Aldobrandini, a wealthy widow of Paolo Borghese. Thus, Camillo left both the cardinalate and his uncle Innocent to the mercy of Olimpia.
By about 1647, Olimpia was the only person close to the temperamental pope who could advise him (Magnuson). Anyone who wanted anything from the pope would first have to turn to Olimpia; meaning, they would first have to pay her off. She loved bribes and monetary gain, and was known as di nauseante ingordigia, or “disgustingly greedy.” The pope rarely did anything without first asking Olimpia. Aside from her company, the pope spent his final years alone.
A lot of the misfortunate things that Pope Innocent did were blamed on Olimpia. The mark of the Italians’ hatred for her is seen long after her reign. For example, Olimpia was a common pseudonym for prostitutes for hundreds of years. As a lasting tribute, Donna Olimpia was remembered through ghost stories. In one of tales, she can be found under the full moon in a black carriage—pulled by a black horse with flaming eyes—as she rides from the Ponte Sisto to Piazza Navona, and finally into the gates of Palazzo Pamphili.
The Property of the Pamphili
While the Pamphili family used both the arrangement of strategic marriages as well as the church in their attempts to improve their social status in Rome, they also asserted their prominence through the real estate market and the development of their properties. Although the Pamphili family had previously resided in an aristocratic neighborhood in Gubbio, their old status meant nothing in Rome, and they had to start from scratch (Majanlahti 287). This is why Antonio Pamphili wanted to establish an impressive family house in a prominent area of Rome. This ambition eventually led to the purchase of property in the neighborhood of Rione Parione in 1470—which then stretched from the southern part of what is now Piazza Navona to Campo di’ Fiori (Leone 3). Over the years, he was able to expand his property by purchasing surrounding houses and incorporating them into the Pamphili estate. The generations following Antonio continued this campaign to expand the Pamphili property—a trend that reflected the family’s continual attempts to assert their importance in a central area of Rome (Leone 9). At that time, Rione Parione was a fairly prestigious and heavily populated neighborhood as its popularity increased even more after Sixtus IV’s campaign to improve the streets of Rome.
The Pamphili’s property ambitions were also aided by the decision of Julius III to align dell’Anima and Palazzo Pasquina. Although part of the Pamphili property had to be torn down in order to achieve the pope’s goal, they were heavily compensated and benefited significantly from the situation. They received two new houses in return for the damages, and were then able to expand up to piazza Navona—the neighborhood in which many of the most important families of the time resided (Leone 9). However, this meant that to live up to the status and grandness of the families that surrounded them, the Pamphili needed to construct a more elaborate Palazzo (Leone-Palazzo 3). This sparked an intense campaign by the Pamphili to renovate their family casa, especially after Giambattista was elected into the Sacred College and awarded the cardinal’s hat in 1630. With the trend of building an elaborate Palace after reaching the status of cardinal having long been established—as with Maffeo Barberini —there was more pressure to build a more socially acceptable family residence. In 1636 Giambattista commissioned Peperelli to go about the task of collectively joining the Pamphili properties into one coherent structure. The Palazzo was built from 1636 to 1638, and was constructed in order to live up to the contemporary social code that regulated how best to set up a proper family Palazzo—spelled out in a popular etiquette book (Leone 23).
By the time Giambattista became Pope Innocent X in 1644, six years after the Palazzo was finished, it was again thought to be inadequate considering the Pamphili’s new elevated status. This second campaign eventually led to the renovations that shaped the current structure evident in Piazza Navona today. The Pamphili had established themselves in this central area of Rome for over 150 years by the time Giambattista became pope—having successfully implanted their family into the social hierarchy of Rome.
Death and Legacy
Eventually the male line of the Pamphili died out, and only continued on through Camillo’s daughter Anna Pamphili. Anna married into the Cenoese family of the Doria Landi. During his lifetime, Camillo Pamphili had been a huge supporter and commissioner of the arts, and had managed to acquire a very impressive art collection. This collection cannot be separated from Camillo’s estate, and is currently maintained by the Doria Landi in Palazzo Doria-Pamphili (Majanlahti 288). The Pamphili family’s property campaign is still evident in Rome to this very day due to their influential presence and history in Piazza Navona, as well as their expansive and influential art collection.
Critical Questions for the Audience
1. What Latin expression refers to the vacancy of the Pope or the Episcopal See?
(Answer: sede vacante)
2. What were the main ways to gain power in Rome during this time period?
(Answer:  marriage to powerful families,  promotion within the church)
3. Besides strategic marriages and associations with the Pope, what additional ways could families could assert their prominence in Roman society?
(Answer: through the acquisition of property)
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Modern Rome. Harvey Miller Publishers, 2008.
Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini: From the Election of Innocent X to the Death of
Innocent XI v. 2. New Jersey: Humanities, 1987. Print.
Majanlahti, Anthony, “The Pamphili,” selection from Chapter 7 in The Families Who Made
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Morrissey, Jake. The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini, and the Rivalry that
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