The popes in the 15th cent. and the first half of the 16th cent. were chiefly interested in increasing the temporal power of the papacy, in patronizing the arts and letters, in beautifying the city, and in raising the fortunes of themselves and their relatives. The successor of Nicholas V, Calixtus III (1455-1458), started the fortunes in Rome of the Catalan family of Borgia, with two nephews elected Cardinal, one of them then elected Pope as Alexander VI (1492-1503). Cesare Borgia (1476-1507), son of Alexander VI, was made cardinal when he was 16 years old and was allied to Luis XII of France to fight the feuds in Romagna as head of the Papal army. A firm opposition to the moral tone of the papal court was declared by Girolamo Savonarola in Florence, arrested and killed in 1498.
The same nepotistic approach was pursued by Pius II (1458-1464), and Sixtus IV (1471-1484), with the Della Rovere family: a Sixtus' nephew got the Signoria of Imola and Forlž, a second one Vicariato of Senigallia, and other two nephews was made Cardinals, one of them became Pope as Julius II (1503-1513), who fought against Cesare Borgia, who was obliged to leave Rome. In 1508 the Pope promoted the League of Cambrai against Venice, then the Holy League against Luis XII.
A similar behavior was held by Innocent VIII (1484-1492), who supported (with Genoa and Venice) a revolt in Naples in 1485 to take control of the kingdom, but the plan failed due to the intervention of Milan and Florence. To enforce the relationship with Florence, the Pope made cardinal the son of Lorenzo de' Medici, John (16 years old at that time), then became Pope Leo X (1513-1521); moreover, the daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici was married to the son of Innocent VIII.
During the pontificate of Leo X, the selling of the indulgences required by the expenses for the building of the Saint Peter Basilica caused the rising of the fist thesis related to the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther in 1517.
In 1526, Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) joined the League of Cognac with Francis I of France, Venice, Milan, Florence, and Genoa to fight Charles V, who was able to defeat the Papal States and Rome was stormed in 1527 and subjected to a thorough plundering: the agreement between Clement VII e Charles V in Bologna in 1529 stated the ending of the French influence in Italy and the imperial control over the Northern Italy.
Successors of Clement VII was Paul III (1534-1549), who founded in 1542 the Santo Officio dell'Inquisizione, and Paul IV (1555-1559), who continued the relationships with France and Spain to define the role of the Papal States. In 1563 Pope Pius IV (1559-1565) concluded the Council of Trent (1545-1547, 1551-1552, 1562-1563), that stated a firm opposition to the Reformation (Counter Reformation) and restored dignity and moral power to the papal court.
In Rome the period of the great popes of the Renaissance was one of sensuous splendor. Among the countless artists and architects who served the papal court, Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Domenico Fontana were the chief creators of Rome as it is today. Saint Peter's Church and the frescoed Sistine Chapel in the Vatican are outstanding examples of the artistic resources of Renaissance Rome. The Papal States remained close to the Kingdom of France, politics that allowed to the Church to increase its boundaries including the Duchy of Urbino in 1631 with Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644).
The religious spirit born in the Council of Trent was practiced by Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) and Pope Innocent XI (1676-1689). Rome continued to prosper and to benefit by the influx of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The great creative wave of the Renaissance was largely spent, but the noble baroque monuments (notably those of Bernini) that were erected in the 17th and early 18th cent. added to the grandiose harmony of the city. The splendor of religious ceremonies, as well as the encouragement given by the popes to art, music, classical and archaeological studies, and the restoration of ancient monuments, continued to make Rome a center of world culture.
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