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Francesco Barberini in 1624, shortly after his uncle, Pope Urban VIII, made him a cardinal.

Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597–1679) was the nephew of Pope Urban VIII (reigned 1623-1644) and benefited immensely from the nepotism practiced by his uncle. He was given various roles within the Vatican administration but his personal cultural interests, particularly in literature and the arts, meant that he became a highly significant patron. His secretary was the antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo who was also a discerning patron of the arts. Francesco was the elder brother of Cardinal Antonio Barberini and Taddeo Barberini who became Prince of Palestrina.



Francesco was born in Florence to Carlo Barberini and Costanza Magalotti, and studied at the University of Pisa, graduating in canon and civil law in 1623. On October 2 of the same year, his uncle, Maffeo Barberini, newly elected as Pope Urban VIII, made him a cardinal, state secretary and papal legate to Avignon when he was twenty six years old. He held the latter position until 1633. In 1625, he went to Paris as special legate and from March to September, undertook various negotiations with Cardinal Richelieu [1]. Overall, the negotiations were not a political success for the papacy but as a ‘sweetener’ he received a gift of six tapestries from King Louis XVIII, designed by Peter Paul Rubens. [2] In 1625 he travelled to Spain as papal legate and this mission was also unsuccessful. He returned to Rome the following year. From 1628 he effectively led the foreign diplomacy of the Papal States, showing a clear stance favoring France in the war of succession for Monferrato and during the Thirty Years' War. In 1632 he was appointed papal Vice-Chancellor.

As the Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Inquisition, a post he held from 1633 until his death, he was part of the Inquisition tribunal investigating Galileo; he was one of three members of the tribunal who refused to condemn Galileo[3].

Hostilities between the papacy and the Farnese Duchy of Parma and Piacenza resulted in the War of Castro in 1641, from which the papacy did not emerge well, and peace was only concluded months before the death of Urban in 1644. Once it had become clear that the Barberini candidate for his successor, Cardinal Giulio Sacchetti, was not going to be elected by the papal conclave, Francesco and Antonio Barberini switched their vote to support Giovanni Battista Pamphili in the hope that he might look more favorably upon them. They were wrong. Pamphili, who took the name of Innocent X (1644- 1655) instigated investigation into their handling of the finances in the War of Castro forcing first Antonio to flee to Paris in 1645, to be followed by Francesco and his brother Taddeo in 1646. [4] Here they remained under the protection of Cardinal Mazarin. Two years later, Francesco was pardoned by the pope who restored confiscated properties to him. [5]

On his return to Rome, Francesco resumed his role as a patron of arts although on a reduced scale. In 1666 he became Dean of the College of Cardinals, taking part in the conclaves of 1667, 1669-1670 and 1676. He died in Rome in 1679 at the age of eighty two.

Patronage and Cultural Interests

Francesco Barberini was active as a patron of the arts both as a private patron and within broader spheres. In 1623 he became a member of the Conregazione della Reverenda Fabbrica di San Pietro and was able to secure altarpiece commissions for St Peter’s by artists such as Giovanni Lanfranco, Andrea Sacchi, Pietro da Cortona, Nicholas Poussin, Simon Vouet and Valentin. Privately, he bought several paintings by Poussin during the artist's early years in Rome.

In 1625, he acquired the Sforza palace on the Quirinal Hill in Rome and a year later gave it to his brother Taddeo. After buying further land around the palace, the architect Carlo Maderno was engaged to transform the site into a much larger and grander palace which became the Palazzo Barberini and effectively the family palace with Taddeo and his family living in one wing and Francesco in the other. Francesco and Urban were on hand to advise on its decoration. An iconographic programme celebrating the Barberini family, devised by the Tuscan poet Francesco Bracciolini for the vast coved vault of the main salone, was carried out by Pietro da Cortona in an exuberant display of illusionism, colour, movement and ornamentation that marked a new departure for secular Baroque interior decoration.

Also at the Palazzo Barberini, Francesco established the Arazzia Barberini or Barberini Tapestry works in 1627 which remained open until 1638, Its production included six tapestries designed by Cortona on the theme of the ‘Story of Constantine’ to complement those the Cardinal had received from the French king in 1625, designed by Rubens. [6] With Cortona busy with the Barberini vault, Francesco began to engage Cortona’s pupil Giovan Francesco Romanelli to carry out other paintings and altarpieces, and also made him Supervisor of the Tapestry works [7]

He founded a rich library at the Palazzo Barberini which included ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, and he supported numerous European intellectuals, scholars, scientists and artists, including Jean Morin, Gabriel Naudé, Gerhard Johann Vossius, Heinsius and John Milton.[8] Also at the Palazzo Barberini, he initiated a small natural science museum and botanical garden and his collections attested to his interests in ancient sculpture, numismatics and inscriptions. [9]

Cardinal Francesco Barberini contributed financially to churches in Rome. As protector of the Academy of Saint Luke, the artists guild in Rome, he dedicated funds for the construction of the Academy's church of Santi Luca e Martina, designed by Cortona. He built the church of San Bonaventura al Palatino, rebuilt San Giacomo alla Lungara and San Salvatore in Campo, restored the church of Santa Maria in Palmis (also called Domine Quo Vadis) and San Sebasiano al Palatino, had the choir of San Lorenzo in Damaso remodelled, and paid for the wooden ceiling of Sant'Agata dei Goti. [10] Although initially he made funds available for the construction of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane designed by Francesco Borromini, these were not sustained. He also commissioned various monuments for church interiors, including ones to G. Aleandro and B. Guglielmi who had been his teachers, in San Lorenzo fuori le Mura and designed by Cortona).


  1. ^ such as the dispute about Valtellina with Spain
  2. ^ Haskell, Francis. Patrons and Painters, Yale University Press, 1980, p. 44
  3. ^ The other two were Cardinals Laudivio Zacchia and Gaspare Borgia (S. Miranda: Cardinal L. Zacchia
  4. ^ Haskell, 1980, p. 59
  5. ^ In 1645 he became bishop of Sabina
  6. ^ ‘Barberini Tapestry Workshop’, Oxford Art Online
  7. ^ Haskell, 1980, p. 53
  8. ^ In 1902, the large Biblioteca Barberina was purchased by Pope Leo XIII and became part of the Vatican holdings. Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini, volume 1, Stockholm, 1982, p.239
  9. ^ Magnuson, 1982, p.238-9
  10. ^ Blunt, Anthony. Guide to Baroque Rome, Granada, 1982
  • Combaluzier, F. "Sacres épiscopaux à Rome de 1565 à 1662. Analyse intégrale du Ms. «Miscellanea XIII, 33» des Archives Vaticanes" Sacris Eruduri, XVIII (1967-1968), p.229.

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