1527: ‘Misera caput mundi


‘On May 6, 1527, Rome was invaded by the troops of Emperor Charles V of Hapsburg, the final act of a complica-ted and at the same time disastrous political game involving France and the Italian states (Papal, Venice, Duchy of Milan), united in the league of Cognac (1526) with the aim of resisting the overwhelming imperial forces. The coalition proved fragile and the catastrophe became inevitable: Rome was promised as booty. German and Spanish soldiers sacked and pillaged the city with a ferocity comparable to the destruction of Jerusalem. The tragedy was without precedent, because no one, until then, had ever committed, or even dared to commit, such acts of violence against the capital of the Christian world and the brightest centre of European art and learning. Documents of the day record the devastation. The Lutheran mercenaries killed 6.000 men, sacked churches, houses, palaces, burned a large part of the city, occu-pied the Vatican. Pope Clement VII de’ Medici fled to Castel S. Angelo, while the invaders removed the main religious relics from the places of worship. They played football with the head of St. John, kept in the Church of S. Silvestro, with those of St. Peter and Paul in Lateran and St Andrea in St. Peter’s, after stealing the gold wrapping. Whole libraries were devastated and sold (particularly hard hit was the Vatican library founded by Sixtus IV), works of art were sto-len, as were jewels and precious fabrics, to be sold at impro-vised markets set up at Campo de’ Fiori, Borgo and Ponte Sisto. Vengeance was wreaked particularly on the clergy. A burial parody was enacted with victim Cardinal Numonio, taken in a coffin as far as Ara Coeli. A donkey was dressed up in priestly garb and a priest asked to give it communion. He refused and was killed. A mercenary on a white horse, dressed up like the pope, the triple crown on his head, led a mock procession consisting of his companions in precious bishops’ clothes; passing through the city, it stopped in front of Castel S. Angelo, shouting “Vivat Lutherus Pontifex”. Under the eycs of the pope, the papal ritual was thus violently degraded. The sack of the city continued systematically until February 1528. This calamity, both shocking and incredible at the same time, was a tremendous blow for the city’s inhabitants. The serene vision of the world acquired through the great prota-gonists of the Renaissance was shattered, and a sense of untouchability was lost forever. The Sack of Rome left a deep wound which changed the course of history and opened the road to the Counter-Reformation. Today, through the exhibition, “Misera caput mundi”, we shall try to evoke that crucial and terrible moment viewed through the protagonists of the events. Not only will we see the Emperor and pope Clement VII de’ Medici, but also the great Roman families which were invol-ved (from the Colonnas to the Massimos, from the Della Valle to the Cesarini), thereby reviving the greatness and misunderstandings, generosity and suffering, troubles and splendours which marked one of the most significant events in modern Italian history. From the archives of a number of noble Roman families, original documents have been made available bearing the signatures of Clement VII and Charles V, as well as other manuscripts which testify to the talks carried on to prevent the Sack, the damage suffered by Rome, the papal absolution. A number of contemporary woodcuts illustrate the events, while through artifacts which survived the Sack and are now kept in Roman collections (early 16th century bronzes, precious fragments of old bas-reliefs) together with modern portraits of the protagonists, an attempt is made to reconstruct the atmosphere and environment of this great tragedy, the story of which is narrated by a series of panels comprising a rich iconographic collection.’


20 Agosto 1995 - 26 Agosto 1995


Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions