Sixtus IV


Sixtus IV
(Francesco della Rovere, 1414-1484; pope from 1471)
   Born near Savona to a merchant family of modest means, Della Ro-vere rose to prominence through the Franciscan order. Unlike most popes of the Renaissance period, who tended to be canon lawyers if they had any university education at all, Della Rovere studied theol-ogy in his order and at the University of Padua, where he received a doctorate. He then became a professor of theology at Pavia and sev-eral other universities. He became minister general of the Franciscan order in 1464 and was made a cardinal in 1467. He was an outsider in the papal election of 1471 but eventually emerged as the candidate whom backers of his rivals were willing to accept.
   Although his career as a friar gave Sixtus a reputation for piety and high principle, his personal piety did not keep him from adopting policies that make his pontificate a significant turning point toward the extreme nepotism and political ambition typical of the Renais-sance papacy. He had promised in the electoral conclave not to ap-point new cardinals without consulting the other cardinals, but he promptly appointed two of his nephews, Pietro Riario and Giulio della Rovere (who later became Pope Julius II). Eventually he named six of his relatives to the Sacred College. In addition, Sixtus based his policy as ruler of the Papal States largely on the goal of promoting his family's interests. His attempt to create a principality for his nephew Girolamo Riario led to bitter conflict with the repub-lic of Florence, and the efforts of Lorenzo de'Medici to block the emergence of a powerful Riario state on the borders of Florence pro-duced the scandalous Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478, a conspiracy be-tween Riario and a group of disgruntled Florentine exiles to murder Lorenzo and his brother. Whether the pope himself was privy to the plot is undocumented, but persons very close to him were the prime movers. The outcome was a protracted and dangerous war between Florence and a coalition led by the pope. In order to finance his aggressive foreign policy and wars, Pope Sixtus also increased the old abuse of selling curial administrative of-fices. Although his private morality seems to have remained beyond reproach, the same cannot be said for many of the relatives whom he advanced to high office, so that his reign as pope marks a period of blatant luxury and moral corruption that gave the Roman Curia a bad reputation throughout Europe.
   The luxury of the papal court did have a positive side. Sixtus reor-ganized and expanded the Vatican Library, constructed a new papal chapel in the Vatican (named the Sistine Chapel after him) and em-ployed some of the century's finest painters (Sandro Botticelli, Bernardino Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pietro Perug-ino, and Luca Signorelli) to decorate it, and rebuilt a number of churches at Rome. Thus he made the papacy a major patron of Re-naissance art.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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