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FARNESE, Alessandro Cardinal (1520-89)



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Italian cardinal; member of the distinguished House of Farnese (Viterbo and Parma). Created a cardinal at the age of 14. Alessandro’s father Pier Luigi was the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III. One of his brothers, associated with this letter, was Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese, O.S.Io. Hieros (Alessandro also had an illegitimate daughter, Clelia). He should not be confused with his nephew, Alessandro Farnese, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, grandson of Emperor Charles V and great-grandson of Pope Paul III.

LS – Letter Signed, one page with integral address panel, 1564. Written to the leadership of the (Ospizio) Hospice of Santa Maria del Pieta in Bologna, a home for the indigent and sick.  He acknowledges and accepts the role of protector of the hospice. At the time, Alessandro’s brother had been temporary administrator of Bologna and protector of the Hospice, the successor to Archbishop Paleotti in 1565.  Owing to Ranuccio’s age and state of health, it is was necessary for Alessandro to assume this role. Ranuccio was a member of the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.

Alessandro held numerous important posts within the Curia as well as being a papal legate. For exxample, he was named legate a latere before Emperor Charles V to reestablish the pace between him and King Francis I of France; to finish the alliance with England; and to plan for a general council.  He also was legate perpetuus of Avignon.

Alessandro also was a big league hitter in the worlds of art and science.  The buildings that Farnese built or restored include the Church of the Gesu in Rome, the Villa Farnese at Caparaola, and the Farnese palace near Lake Bracciano, and the monastery The Fontane. He is remembered for gathering the greatest collection of Roman sculpture assembled in private hands since antiquity, now mostly in Naples, after passing by inheritance to the Bourpon-Parma kings.  His generosity toward artists made a virtual academy at the house he built at Caprarola and in his lodgings at Palazza della Cancelleria and, after his brother Ranuccio died in 1965, at the Palazzo Farnese. In the Palazzo the best sculptors worked under his eye to restore fragments of antiquities as complete sculptures with great scholarly care.

Alessandro also was a great patron of living artists including, most notably, El Greco.  Under the director of his curator and librarian, the antiquarian iconographer Fulvio Orsini, the Farnese collections were enlarged and sytematized. Farnese collected ancient coins and commissioned modern medals.  He ha paintings by Titan, 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 in the J.P. Morgan Library, Manhattan). The studiolo built to house this collection appears to be the one reerected at the Musee de la Renaissance, Ecouen.

In 1550, Alessandro acquired a northern portion of the Palatine Hill in Rome and had Roman ruins from the palace built by the Roman Emperor Tiberius at the northwest end filled in, and converted to a summer home and formal gardens. The Farnese Gardens became 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.

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