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Reginald Pole in Viterbo


You may have forgotten Reginald Pole. I think he is one of the most interesting characters in Italian history. English history, you remark? Well, yes, that too. This is the fellow who enticed his queen, Mary, to lob off a few heads while he served as the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. Think that through next time you order a Bloody Mary!

Reginald is one of the last of the royal Plantagenet lineage and should have been England's king. Leverage following the English War of Roses permitted Tudor Henry VII to assert power sufficient to become king once Reginald announced his intention to join the clergy. His cousin, bombastic Henry VIII clearly loved women and, unfortunately for him he also had a wife or two, or three. By 1533, Reginald had arrived at a high position of power within the Catholic Church. Henry thought, wrongly, that he could cajol his man to permit a little divorce (god knows that other high ups in the Church had annulled marriages, even after issue, for "non-consumation"). The pope said no and Reginald said no and in 1536 Pole wrote, Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione Defense of the Unity of the Church. Henry was politely, but firmly told no and all his errors were made public. Henry now wanted his favorite cousin killed. Assassinated.

Picture13Palladio21 August 1541, Pole was named papal legate of Viterbo, a walled fortress city approximately 115 km north of Rome. Here, for a few years, Pole would find himself surrounded by an fascinating collection of glitterati: Vittoria Colonna, Michelangelo, Alvise Priuli, Jacopo Sadoleto, Gasparo Contarini, Giovanni Morone, Pietro Bembo, and Marcantonio Flaminio, talented Latinist, all are on the A-list.

Henry, still reeling, kills Pole's sweet mother, Aunt Margaret, and yet kicking, sent killers to Viterbo. Henry had sent killers across Europe to remove his cousin and now, again, to Viterbo, causing Pole to go into hiding just before his papal appointment in the walled city.  They were intercepted.  The killers, you ask?  Sent to the galley ships . . . seems that intelligence is at about the same place today as it was in the mid-1500s.  Pole was kind as the two assissins spent little time rowing.  By 1545, Pole was en route to Trent to finally open a reform council on Church affairs.

Pole is fascinating. At the 1549-1550 conclave, following the death of Paul III, who had been born Alessandro Farnese, Pole nearly captures the papacy voting. At one of the balloting sessions, the votes came in one vote short of the two-thirds requirement: his for he did not vote for himself.  Fumata nera.  Interim Del Monte was chosen and he took the name, Pope Giulio III: Julius III. Fumata bianca. The two-month filibuster by the French political faction, backing Gianpietro Carafa, the longest conclave ever, was finally over.  Pole will shortly depart for England at the death of Henry VIII.

So why the picture of Viterbo's Palazzo Farnese? In part, we look to 1541 and Pole's B-list including Pietro Carnesecchi, investigated, tortured, hung and burned by the Inquisition (wanted to make sure this one did not get away) and Gian Giorgio Trissino, permitted by Pope Clement VII in 1530 to carry Charles V's imperial robe-train at the coronation in Bologna as count palatine.

Trissino knew popes. He was a close friend to Farnese and he questioned the Roman pope-cum-prince problem that arose with Alessandro VI Borgia the year Columbus discovered America. Now, in 1541, the very summer Pole is invested as Viterbo's legate, Trissino is traveling to Rome with some friends, including a young stonemason whom we know as Andrea Palladio. The easier return route would have been to retake the via Flaminia, the route chosen to descend from Venice to Rome. But in the scant notes remaining, the troupe chose to visit Viterbo. Viterbo? Trissano and Palladio were in Viterbo exactly when Pole was invested. So what's the big deal?

The burning question of the day: justification by faith. A pamphlet, the Beneficio di Cristo was an amalgam of Benedictine piety, Luther, Calvin and a heavy dose of Juan de Valdés. I suspect the teaching of the mercurial Bernardino Ochino was stirred into this mix somehow. The printing showered over 40,000 copies in Venice alone. One can guess how many fluttered over the Italian peninsula's various duchies and states. They could not keep this thing on the shelf. Most likely, Marcantonio Flamino cleaned the writings to a high level, making it of more interest to the scholarly set while the words of Pole himself ring across the entire tract.

Trissano and Palladio are lodged at Bagnaia in the villa of Cardinal Nicolò Ridolfi (Bishop of Vicenza). Near-by, in pageant-filled Viterbo, these spirituali, these philo-protestants, anti-papal, anti-nepotistic, no shenanigans seekers, looking for change kind-of-folk were the reform circle about Pole.  We today call them humanists.

Before six months elapse, in 1542, Carafa is named to head the Roman Inquisition. On his list are every single one of the Viterbo reformers. But Palladio's name is not here. Did that mean Palladio was not a reformer? There are clues, and a set is on this tome. Look at the two buildings. Look closely. Look as though you were an Inquisitor hoping to find something on one of the most influential architects ever. Do you see it? Perhaps. Perhaps not.


As the Roman Inquisition deepened, the Republic of Venice and her landed cities, like Vicenza, were somewhat immunized from searches and seizures (the same searches and seizures the American Constitution was so adamant about). Reformers, which means simple folk reading a common language Bible together, needed a safe place to gather and worship. This had to be in plain sight. Look at the palazzo above, Palazzo Thiene in Viecenza. Count the big windows. Left side, far left window with a pediment does not open into a room but, as with the Palazzo Farnese in Viterbo, to an upper loggia. There are five windows, but the occupant could honestly say, when five fell out of favor and became a lethal number, should the Inquisition have asked, and they did ask, the response is there are really four windows for the house (one for each Gospel writer), in keeping with the Spirit of God.

Palladio knew how to take great notes and keep his head down



.Palladio floor plans  Floor plans, as shown in Amtal's Architectural Salad collection (WP15 Palladio) comparing Villa la Volte to  Villa Chigi (today's Villa Farnesinia), then following the 1541 visit to Rome via Viterbo plan C is by Palladio, his drawing made on horseback along the return journey eventually becoming the plan for Villa Pisani.  England's Inigo Jones would be inspired by Andrea Palladio's drawings, now in London at the court of King James, permitting the construction of Raynham Hall.  It's in the plan, not so much the visual aspect of the external structure forit is the plan that can remain hidden in plain sight.


For further:
Meyer, Thomas F. Reginald Pole: Prince and Prophet Cambridge 2000 Cambridge
Randall, Catherine Building Codes: The Aesthetics of Calvinism in Early Modern Europe University of Pennsylvania 1999 Philadelphia
Zorzi, Giangiorgio I Disegni delle Antichità di Andrea Palladio Neri Pozza 1958 Venezia

Bottom photograph: Google

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