Friday, July 30, 2010

The Chigi Family

Team 7: Sarah Boone, Maggie Liu, Carmen Kwan, Kate Bridges-Lyman

The Rise of the Chigi and the Connections with the Della Rovere Papacy

The Chigi family was one of the most influential noble families in Rome during two distinct time frames: the renaissance and baroque periods. Before the Chigi family rose within the aristocratic ranks of Roman society, they were a prominent family in Siena. Originally the family had made some advances in wealth through the alum mining industry, hence the six mounds of the Chigi crest. As the family became involved in politics and continued to amass their wealth, they attained the status of nobility in Siena, each generation seeing increases in the family status.
The first peak of the Chigi followed the life of Agostino Chigi, born in 1466. Agostino was an incredibly successful banker who did more than any other toward filling the family coffers, and establishing the Chigi presence in Rome. At the time when Agostino moved to Rome he aided Pope Julius II, financing his papal campaign. After election, Julius II gave the papal banking commission to Agostino, and in thanks for his generous funding, allowed Chigi to formally integrate into the Della Rovere papal family. From this point on, the Chigi coat of arms would be quartered with the Della Rovere oak. Agostino’s relationship to Julius II also included his financing of several military operations, on which the banker travelled personally alongside the pontiff. This was just one example of his high regard.

In very little time, Agostino was Rome’s wealthiest man, which made him an important ally for the papacy. Julius II loved to commission grand artworks (we may recall here the plans for his personal tomb) and so required many loans from his friend Chigi. It is said that at one time, Agostino even held the papal tiara as collateral to assure repayment of some large loans.
The connection of the Chigi with the Della Rovere is an incredibly important political turn of events, as it provided the Chigi with a way to establish themselves permanently in Rome. By building family chapels in both the Santa Maria Del Popolo and the Santa Maria Della Pace, both of which were prominent Della Rovere institutions, the Chigi family would be sure to live on in Roman memory.

Il Magnifico: Agostino Chigi

Agostino Chigi, later known as “Il Magnifico,” was born on November 29, 1466 in Siena. When he was young, he began his studies in the family business of… business. Unlike his younger brothers or most other merchants of the time, Agostino did not take to learning literature or languages. Ironically, he barely understood Latin, the main language of business contracts at the time. However, Chigi learned his trade shrewdly and at a young age was able to establish himself as an influential merchant and banker in Rome. He had his own bank, port, and fleet of ships. Chigi quickly amassed a large amount of wealth and clout in Rome.
The main source of this power was the connection he built with the Vatican. By 1501, Agostino obtained control of the Vatican’s alum mines in Tolfa. Alum, a sulphate, was important in the cloth industry. In a prime display of Agostino’s ambition, after a year he managed to effectively control the rest of the alum mines in Italy. His next goal was to have a monopoly on the entire alum industry in Europe, and although he never achieved this, he still created a great fortune for himself and his family.

Unlike cardinal nephews, tossed out of favor by the death of the current pope, Agostino was shielded in his role as papal banker. He served a succession of popes, including Alexander VI, Julius II and Leo X. In particular he was great friends with Julius II. Agostino stayed by Julius when he was sick and helped to finance his wars (e.g. against Venice). In return, the pope excommunicated Chigi’s enemies, and actually adopted both Agostino and his younger brother into the della Rovere family in 1509. Julius also made Agostino the treasurer of the Curia.
Chigi was able to stay in favor under so many different popes in part because of his amassed wealth and reputation, and in part because of his patronage of the arts. Agostino loved to display his wealth and status, and he brought many famous artists from his hometown of Siena to Rome, including Peruzzi and Sodoma. Peruzzi designed and helped to decorate Agostino’s Villa Chigi (now the Villa Farnesina) from 1506 to 1511.

Agostino Chigi died in 1520, leaving the world the works he commissioned, four illegitimate children (who had been ‘legitimized’) he had had with Francesca Ordeaschi, and an impressive business reputation. Among his legacy were also the various poems written for him by admiring poets during his life; many made connections between Chigi and Caesar Augustus, adding to Il Magnifico’s legacy of magnificence. Eventually, Agostino’s successors were able to raise the family fortunes again, but many things had to be sold first, including his famous villa.

Pope Alexander VII (born Fabio Chigi) reigned 1655-1667

After the fall of the first important member of the Chigi family, the great grandnephew of Agostino, Fabio Chigi, brought the resurgence of the Chigi family in the Baroque period of the 17th century. He graduated from the University of Siena in 1626 with degrees in law, theology and philosophy. Fabio pursued an ecclesiastical career and quickly moved up the hierarchy. As he was deeply involved in the interests of the Catholic Church he desperately tried to change the terms of the Treaty at Wesphalia, which ended the 40 Years War, but was unsuccessful. Eventually in 1656 he became a cardinal. After the death of Pope Innocent X, who was notorious for rampant nepotism, the committee was in search of a candidate of good moral standing. After an exhausting four months of political stunts by the French and Spanish, Fabio Chigi was unanimously voted in as the next Pope, renamed Alexander VII.

Pope Alexander VII did his best to stop nepotism within the Church. He was known to have said that, “as Fabio Chigi, I had a family. As Alexander VII I have none” (Chadwick, 304). For one year Pope Alexander forbade his family to come to Rome, in fear of being accused of favoring family members. However after an agreement with the cardinals, it was decided that nepotism would be allowed as long as there was a limit placed on the amount of property and titles Alexander’s family could inherit. Pope Alexander VII’s brother and nephews were then invited to Rome and given titles.

In reality Pope Alexander VII was known to have cared more about architecture and the urban aesthetics. He had a wooden model of Rome in his apartments, and was always thinking of new ways to widen streets, straighten buildings, and commission new renovations and reconstructions. Pope Alexander VII’s favorite artist to commission was Bernini, who designed the famous and very unique Piazza San Pietro. On the other hand all the construction throughout Rome meant high taxes, and the people were not pleased with the amount of money spent.

Alexander VII’s Religious Role

In looking back on his pontificate, Alexander VII’s impact on religious life and the Catholic Church is often understated. Although Alexander VII was technically Pope after the official Counter-Reformation, he made efforts towards reform of the Catholic Church in the same areas: ecclesiastical and structural reconfiguration, religious orders, spiritual moments, political dimensions. Alexander VII was initially well known for his piety, which helped him get elected, in that he claimed not to involve himself with nepotistic practices. He stressed the importance of his own family’s morality and even dismissed officials because of improper behavior. In addition, Alexander VII made more regulations and requirements for entering positions in the Church hierarchy.

In regard to theological interpretation, Alexander VII stressed a kind of middle-ground theology. Alexander VII was greatly influenced by the French writer Fran├žois de Sales who applied the Renaissance ideals of equality to Catholic theology, particularly in his more liberal stance towards salvation and the possibility of achieving grace. This school of thought contrasted the other major strain of Catholic thought represented by the Jansenists in France. Alexander VII did not agree with the Jansenists’ harsh interpretation of St. Augustine, which caused a rift between the Jansenists and the Catholic Church (which continued until his death). Alexander VII generally favored the Jesuits, however, by supporting their missionary activities around the world. Nevertheless, he found some of their theology to be too morally lax and encouraged internal reform within the Jesuit Order.

Alexander VII also took an interest in the spiritual lives of the common people and regularly visited the churches of Rome, as he saw the communities were ripe for reform. Finally, Alexander VII signed a papal bull that finalized the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, or the belief that the Virgin Mary was without Original Sin since her conception in her mother’s womb, that she was an exception by Divine Will to be an adequate vessel for Jesus, the Son of God (meaning, her Original Sin could not taint the body of Jesus).

Fall of The Chigi Family

Pope Alexander VII’s nephew Agostino became Captain of Castel Sant’ Angelo, and married a Borghese which increased the family fortune by 200,000 scudi. Through various other marriages within the family, the Chigi family became even more powerful by aligning themselves with the Aldrobranini, the Pamphili, and the Borghese.
With this wealth the Chigi family showed their power by purchasing more property, such as the town of Farnese. However with the crash of the Bank of Italy in 1891, the Chigi family had to sell a significant amount of their property to the government. Today the Chigi Palace along Via del Corso belongs to the Italian government, and the family lives in Rome at the Villa Castelfusano, with less money than before.


Bigot, Charles. Raphael and the Villa Farnesina. London: 1884. Print.

Chadwick, Owen. The Popes and European Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981. Print.

Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini. New Jersey: Humanities, 1987. Print.

Majanlahti, Anthony. “The Chigi,” selections from The Families Who Made Rome. London, 2005. Print.

Rowland, Ingrid D. “Render Unto Caesar the Things Which are Caesar's: Humanism and the Arts in the Patronage of Agostino Chigi.” Renaissance Quarterly, 39 (1986): 673-730.

Rowland, Ingrid D. “Some Panegyrics to Agostino Chigi.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 47 (1984): 194-199.

No comments:

Post a Comment