Monday, October 30, 2006

Pius II

Portrait of Pius II by Il Sodoma
within The Palazzo Piccolomini, Pienza

The life of Pius II was full and eventful. Courtier, poet, author, diplomat, politician and statesman.

His biographical details are here and at here .

The main events of his life are depicted in a fresco cycle by Bernadino di Betto, called Pinturicchio, (c.1454 - 1513) within the Piccolomini Library in the Duomo in Siena. The cycle was commissioned as a tribute to his uncle by Pius`s nephew, Francesco Cardinal Piccolomini (later to be the short reigned pontiff, Pope Pius III).

The first fresco shows the birth of Pius II, with his parents, Silvio Piccolomini and Vittoria, in 1405, in Valdorcia, in the district of Corsignano (now called Pienza) and his being called Aeneas.

The second scene represents the missions on which Aeneas was sent by the Council of Basle: to Strasburg thrice, to Trent, Constance, Frankfurt and Savoy.

In the third, Aeneas is sent as ambassador by the anti-Pope Felix to the Emperor Frederick III., who was so much struck by his dexterity, ability, eloquence and grace that he caused him to be crowned with laurel as a poet, after which he is made protonotary, received among his friends, and appointed chief secretary.

The fourth shows him being sent by Frederick to Pope Eugenius IV who made him Bishop of Trieste, and subsequently Aeneas being made Archbishop of Siena by Pope Nicholas V.

In the fifth, the emperor, who is anxious to come to Italy to receive the Imperial crown, sends Aeneas to Telamone, a port of the Sienese, to meet his wife Leonora, who is coming from Portugal.

In the sixth, Aeneas is sent by the emperor to Pope Calixtus IV to persuade him to make war on the Turks; and, as Siena has been harassed by the Count of Pitigliano and others, at the instigation of King Alfonso of Naples, the Pope is sending Aeneas to treat for peace. This done, a war is planned against the Orientals, and, on returning to Rome, Aeneas is created cardinal by the Pope.

The seventh shows the death of Calixtus and the election of Aeneas to be Pope as Pius II.

In the eighth the Pope is going to the council at Mantua for the expedition against the Turks, where the Marquis Ludovico receives him with great pomp and extraordinary magnificence.

In the ninth the Pope is canonising Saint Catherine of Siena.

In the tenth and last the Pope, while preparing a great fleet against the Turks dies at Ancona, and a holy hermit of Camaldoli sees his soul carried to heaven by angels at the moment of his death. The same picture shows the body brought from Ancona to Rome, accompanied by a crowd of lords and prelates weeping for the death of such a man.

This work is full of portraits of the great figures of the time. It is filled with scenes shoiwng the extensive travels of Pius - including once on a secret mission even as far as the wilds of Scotland at the instance of Cardinal Albergati, the Pope`s legate. The colouring is fine and vigorous. It is enriched with gold ornaments, while the ceiling decoration is admirably devised. Under each scene is a Latin inscription describing its nature. The approach is hagiographical. It is designed to impress and fill with wonder. It does.

However it does not tell the whole story of this remarkable man who lived in remarkable times. It would be surprising if it did.

Aeneas was no stranger to love. He fathered at least two children outside of marriage - one in Scotland.

He published romantic novels and poetry such as The Tale of Two Lovers. Piccolomini composed the story in Latin in 1444 but it was soon translated into the vernacular. When as Pope Pius II he later tried to suppress this reminder of his past, it proved impossible. The book had become a best seller. This love story, written at the request of a Sienese friend, is said to be based on the affair that took place between a young married noblewoman of Siena and a visiting German in the service of the emperor Sigismondo. Although the tale is juicy and comic by turns, it cannot be called an incitement to adultery, for it ends with the death of the unhappy woman, abandoned when her lover has to follow the emperor to another town.

He also wrote Eurialus and Lucretia and the recently discovered comedy Chrysis, as well as the following historical works: Libellus dialogorum de generalis concilii auctoritate et gestis Basileensium; Commentarius de rebus Basileae gestis; Historia rerum Frederici III imperatoris; Historia Bohemica.

During his Pontificate, he did not stop his literary output. Two important works of his were either entirely or partly written during this period: his geographical and ethnographical description of Asia and Europe; and his Memoirs, which are the only autobiography left by a pope. They are entitled Pii II Commentarii rerum memorabilium, quae temporibus suis contigerunt.

The Commentaries are written in the third person in Latin. It is not only autobiography but a frank account of his own life and immediate thoughts. His training as a topographer enabled him to express his delight in towns and countryside, and his depiction of individuals and political situations also owed much to his earlier interests. He veils nothing (it seems) of his ambitions and indiscretions, and produces a startling inside picture of the Church. Thanks to this work he is of all Renaissance popes the one who can best be known and, perhaps in part for this reason, is not among those who are most admired.

The Commentaries include:
  • the inside story of the Conclave which elected Aeneas as Pius II;
  • his running battle with Sigismundo Malatesta of Rimini;
  • his attempts to aggrandise his family in the City of Siena and its governance;
  • the idea of the transformation of Corsignano to Pienza and how the idea became reality;
  • the Canonisation of St Catherine of Siena;
  • his attempt to establish peace within the Christian states and start a new Crusade against the Turks;
  • his bringing of the head of St Andrew to the City of Rome after the Fall of Constantinople;
  • his final days trying to lead a Crusade from the city of Ancona.