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Alessandro Farnese (5 October 15202 March 1589), an Italian cardinal and diplomat and a great collector and patron of the arts, was the grandson of Pope Paul III (who also bore the name Alessandro Farnese), and the son of Pier Luigi Farnese, Duke of Parma, who was murdered in 1547.


Born at Valentanomarker (current province of Viterbo), he studied at Bolognamarker, and was appointed administrator of the Diocese of Parma.

On 18 December 1534, at the age of 14, he was appointed Cardinal Deacon of the Title of Sant'Angelo by Paul III, his grandfather, who had been elected to the papacy two months previously.

The Gran Cardinale received many other offices and benefices, becoming Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, Governor of Tivoli, Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilicamarker, Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilicamarker, Administrator of Jaen, Spainmarker, of Vizeu, Portugalmarker, of Würzburg , Germanymarker and of Avignon, Francemarker. In 1536 he became Bishop of Monreale, Sicily; after he interited estate after the murder of his father (1547), in 1552 he founded a Jesuit college there.

He became Bishop of Massa in 1538, Archbishop of Tours in 1553, and Bishop of Cahors; Archbishop of Benevento, and Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia and Velletri and Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1580.
He also became a Papal Legate, arranging peace between the perpetually warring Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Francis I of France. In 1546 he accompanied the troops sent by the pope to the aid of Charles V against the Schmalkaldic League. In 1580, he was the unsuccessful candidate for the papacy. Among the buildings that Cardinal Farnese built or restored are the Church of the Gesùmarker in Rome, the Villa Farnesemarker at Caprarola, and the Farnese palace near Lake Braccianomarker, and the monastery Tre Fontanemarker.

Alessandro Farnese is remembered for assembling the greatest collection of Roman sculpture assembled in private hands since Antiquity, now mostly in Naples, after passing by inheritance to the Bourbon-Parma kings. His generosity towards artists made a virtual academy at the power house he built at Caprarolamarker and in his lodgings at Palazzo della Cancellariamarker and, after his brother Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese died in 1565, at the Palazzo Farnese. In the Palazzo Farnese the best sculptors worked under his eye, to restore fragments of antiquities as complete sculptures, with great scholarly care. He was also a great patron of living artists. Under the direction of his curator and librarian, the antiquarian iconographer Fulvio Orsini, the Farnese collections were enlarged and systematised. Farnese collected ancient coins and commissioned modern medals. He had paintings by Titian, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and an important collection of drawings. He commissioned the masterpiece of Giulio Clovio, arguably the last major illuminated manuscript, the Farnese Hours, which was completed in 1546 after being nine years in the making (now Morgan Librarymarker, New York). The studiolo built to house this collection appears to be the one reerected at the Musée de la Renaissance, Ecouen.

In 1550, Farnese acquired a northern portion of Palatine hillmarker in Rome and had Roman ruins from the time of Tiberius at the northwest end filled in, and converted to a summer home and formal gardens. The Farnese Gardens became the one of the first botanical gardens in Europe. From these gardens are derived the names of Acacia farnesiana and from its floral essence, the important biochemical farnesol.

The Cardinal's only daughter, Clelia, married firstly Giangiorgio Cesarini, marchese of Civitanova, and secondly Marco Pio di Savoia, Lord of Sassuolo.

Farnese was buried before the high altar in the Church of Gesù.

See also


  1. Giovanna R. Solari and Frederic Tuten, The House of Farnese (New York: Doubleday) 1968; Clare Robertson, "Il Gran Cardinale": Alessandro Farnese, Patron of the Arts (New Haven: Yale University Press) 1992
  2. It ranked with the papal collections, in the Cortile del Belvedere and the city's collection housed at the Campidoglio.
  3. Christina Riebesell, Die Sammlung des Kardinal Farnese: ein "studio" fur Kunstler und Gelehrte (Weinheim:VCH, Acta Humaniora) 1989
  4. The identification was convincingly made by Riebesell 1989.
  5. History of Palatine Hill.

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