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Romance of Roman Villas (The Renaissance)   By: (1850-1922)

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[Illustration: Pope Julius II. Viewing the Newly found Statue of the Apollo Belvedere

From the painting by Carl Becker. Permission of the Berlin Photographic Co.]

(The Renaissance)



Author of "Romance of the Italian Villas," "Romance of the Feudal Châteaux," "Romance of the French Abbeys," Etc.


G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1908


In came the cardinal, grave and coldly wise, His scarlet gown and robes of cobweb lace Trailed on the marble floor; with convex glass He bent o'er Guido's shoulder.


Still unrivalled, after the lapse of four centuries the villas of the great cardinals of the Renaissance retain their supremacy over their Italian sisters, not, as once, by reason of their prodigal magnificence but in the appealing charm of their picturesque decay.

The centuries have bestowed a certain pathetic beauty, they have also taken away much, and the sympathy which these ruined pleasure palaces evoke whets our curiosity to know what they were like in their heyday of joyous revelling.

If we run down the list of the nobler villas of Rome we will find that, with few exceptions, they were built by princes of the purple, and that the names they bear are not Roman but those of the ruling families of other Italian cities.

That the sixteenth century should have produced the most palatial residences ever inhabited by prelates was but a natural outcome of the conditions then existing. The society of Rome was a hierarchical aristocracy made up of the younger sons of every powerful and ambitious family of Italy, and the red hat was so greatly desired not for the honour or emoluments of the cardinalcy per se but because it was a step to the papacy.

"To an Italian," says Alfred Austin, "it must seem a reproach never to have had a pope in the family, and you will with difficulty find a villa of any pretension, certainly not in Frascati, where memorial tassels and tiara carven in stone over porch and doorway do not attest pontifical kinship."

The young cardinal's first move in the game which he was to play was at all expense to create an impression, and if, as in the case of Ippolito d'Este, he had no benevolent uncle in St. Peter's chair to guide his career, the parental coffers were drawn upon recklessly and the cadet of the great house led a more extravagant life in his Roman villa than the duke his elder brother in his provincial court. The object of his ambition once attained the new Pope unscrupulously enriched his family, and endeavoured to make his office hereditary by elevating his favourite nephew to the cardinalcy, and endowing this future candidate for the papacy with means from the revenues of the Church to purchase the votes of his rivals. This is the constantly reiterated history of the builders of the palaces and villas of Rome.

Sixtus IV. made the fortunes of his numerous de la Rovere and Riario nephews, one of whom, Pietro, Cardinal of San Sisto, for whom Bramante built the Cancellaria Palace, set the pace for his comrades of the Sacred College by squandering in two years the enormous sum of $2,800,000. Cardinal Raphael Riario of the next generation began the most beautiful of all villas, Lante, which three other cardinals subsequently perfected.

Leo X. after his election as pope, proved to be a greater spendthrift than Sixtus IV., for he not only repaired the broken fortunes of the Medici but eclipsed his father as a patron of art, making the erection of monumental buildings and the collection of objects of art a mania among all men of wealth and culture. Cardinal Giulio (afterwards Clement VII.) in the Villa Madama, and Cardinal Ferdinando in the Villa Medici sustained the family tradition, but Cardinal Alexander Farnese (Pope Paul III... Continue reading book >>

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