- Ave Papa Ave Papabile: The Sacchetti Family, Their Art Patronage, and Political Aspirations
Giovanni Battista Sacchetti, a member of an illustrious Tuscan family, settled in Rome at the end of the sixteenth century. By 1573 he had opened a bank in the Ponte district, not far from the church of the Florentine community, San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. In 1579 he married a member of the powerful Altoviti family, solidifying his social and economic position. When Giovanni died in 1620, his eldest surviving son, Marcello, became the head of the household and custodian of the family fortune. Marcello was a close friend and confidant of Maffeo Barberini, with whom he shared an appetite for literature and art, and so, when Maffeo [End Page 159] became Pope Urban VIII in 1623, the Sacchetti family flourished. Marcello was given important positions in the papal bureaucracy, and in 1626 was granted a monopoly over the lucrative alum mines at Tolfa. Marcello's brother Giulio, who was pursuing an ecclesiastical career, was made a cardinal, and their two other brothers, Alessandro and Giovanni Francesco, became officers in the papal army. Lilian Zirpolo's recent book, Ave Papa Ave Papabile, traces the relationship between the Sachetti's art patronage and their political ambitions and fortunes during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
In the first chapter Zirpolo examines the history and decoration of the Sacchetti chapel in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. She interprets this project as motivated not only by piety, but also by a desire to promote the family's political and intellectual prestige. The prominently placed chapel, which was destined to serve as the burial site for Giovanni Battista and his wife, Francesca, was decorated in two campaigns. The first of these, undertaken immediately following construction of the chapel, consisted of a cycle of Passion scenes painted between 1621 and 1624 by Giovanni Lanfranco. Zirpolo discusses the iconography and style of the frescoes and easel paintings, as well as the ramifications of employing the Parmese painter. She notes that the arrangement of the Passion scenes in the chapel is not chronological and that Lanfranco executed them in two different styles, one of which is relatively dramatic and Caravaggistic, the other closer to the classicism of the Carracci. Zirpolo suggests that the narrative deviations and stylistic differences may allude to the vita activa and vita contemplativa, exemplified by the careers of Marcello and Giulio. If Zirpolo is correct, Lanfranco's paintings represent a striking illustration of how an artist could consciously manipulate style for programmatic ends. The second campaign consisted of a series of stucco decorations illustrating a rather more mundane program of Old and New Testament scenes. These reliefs are attributed to Francesco Aprile and dated to the late 1670s or early 1680s. The choice of Aprile, a lesser artist than Lanfranco, is associated with declining family fortunes.
In the second chapter Zirpolo examines Marcello's role as a talent scout for Urban VIII. In this context she discusses the Sacchetti family's patronage of Pietro da Cortona, Andrea Sacchi, Nicolas Poussin, and Simon Vouet, all of whom were subsequently employed by the Barberini. In addition to considering the iconography and style of individual Sacchetti commissions, Zirpolo reconstructs the ways in which Marcello and Giulio might have become acquainted with these artists and how their artwork reflected Marcello's taste for a neo-Venetian style.
The third chapter begins with a discussion of Cardinal Giulio's papal ambitions, which Zirpolo sees as a major influence on Sacchetti patronage and iconography in the second and third quarters of the seventeenth century. Most of this chapter concerns the frescoes which adorn the family villa at Castelfusano near Ostia. In Zirpolo's view, these paintings, done around 1628-29 by Cortona, Sacchi, and Andrea Camassei for the villa's gallery, chapel, and apartments, display an idyllic tone and iconographic complexity appropriate to the setting, patron, and intended audience. She proposes Marcello as the...