June 11, 2006
Alessandro Farnese, the Womanizing Prelate
Earlier this year, I gave a talk The Cardinal Who Wanted to Be a Prince at Princeton’s 55Plus. People were shocked, but it is true that Alessandro Cardinal Farnese became cardinal at the age of fourteen, and the vice-chancellor of the Roman Catholic Church one year later. An unwilling victim of his grandfather Pope Paul’s dynastic schemes for another Farnese pope, the young man deeply resented the clerical career chosen for him, desiring a royal bride instead. After all, his two younger brothers, Ottavio and Orazio, the sons of Pierluigi Farnese, were lucky to marry the daughters of Emperor Charles V and French King Henry II, even if the dull princesses were born on the wrong side of the blanket!
Papabile three times, Alessandro never made it to St. Peter's throne. The immensely rich man simply wasn’t rich enough to bribe his enemies, the Medicis and Philip II. He never became a prince. But goodness, did he live a splendid life of luxury and contempt, considering the rules of the Church he represented. A fond supporter of the newly-founded order of the Jesuits--he financed their first church in Rome, and in the world--he somehow didn’t understand their motto: poverty, chastity, and obedience. What a farce!
Money didn’t buy Alessandro the desired tiara, but it provided him with a beautiful portrait of his mistress Angela. Portrayed at first as a deliciously reclining erotic nude, the cardinal ordered the grand master Titian to inpaint a few details to change her to Danaë. (I’m sure, dear reader, that you remember about the mythological princess who was locked in a tower, but somehow raped by Zeus who descended on her in a shower of gold!)
How convenient for a man of church of Alessandro’s stature to use his wealth for some good causes. And he kept Danaë, his sensuous nude, in his private chambers almost until the end of life.
Can you image him saying: Well, my friends, it’s the Titian I’m keeping, not this goddess whose sensuality would have knocked off even the Grand Inquisitor off his feet!? And so our womanizing prelate did eat his cake after all. It just lacked a bit of frosting. Povero uomo!
Posted by Eva Siroka at June 11, 2006 11:47 AM