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social sciences

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Paul III (Alessandro Farnese, 1468-1549; reigned 1534-49) protected his son, Pier Luigi Farnese (1503-47), whom he legitimized after his election to the papacy. Recently discovered documents lend credibility to widespread rumors about Pier Luigi's homosexual acts. For instance, in a letter of October 17, 1535, Paul III chastised his son for having taken his male lovers with him on an official mission to the Holy Roman Empire. Documents in Vatican archives support the assertions of a letter, written by the Florentine ambassador at the papal court on January 14, 1540, which maintained that Pier Luigi had ordered the Roman police to track down a young man who spurned his advances.

Near the beginning of his reign, Paul III made his son the head of the papal military forces. In 1537, there was widespread scandal following the siege of Fano, when Pier Luigi Farnese was supposed to have raped the bishop of the city, Cosimo Gheri (1513-37), and several other clerics. Nevertheless, Paul III continued to bestow honors on his son throughout the rest of his reign. Thus, in 1545, he separated Piacenza and Parma from the Papal States and converted them into a hereditary duchy for his son.

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The case of Carlo Carafa (1517-1566) reveals that popes did not always extend to their relations the sort of toleration that Pier Luigi Farnese received. Shortly after his election, Paul IV (Giovanni Pietro Carrafa, 1476-1559; reigned 1555-59) appointed Carlo Carafa as Cardinal Nephew, an official post, equivalent to Secretary of State (until abolished in 1692). Thus, Carafa played an important role in the complex political maneuverings of the Papal States with other European powers.

Throughout much of his reign, Paul IV denied the widespread rumors about Carlo's homosexual liaisons, but, finally convinced of their accuracy, he exiled him from Rome in January 1559. Returning to Rome shortly after his uncle's death, Carafa was immediately arrested for a range of crimes, including not only sodomy but also murder and promotion of Protestantism. His execution in 1566 was considered at the time to have been motivated primarily by such political factors as his anti-Spanish policies, rather than by his homosexual liaisons.

Shortly after his election, Paul V (Camillo Borghese, 1550-1621; reigned 1605-21) exiled Stefano Pignatelli (1578-1623) from Rome in response to rumors about Pignatelli's homosexual relationship with his Cardinal Nephew, Scipione Caffarelli Borghese (1576/9-1633). However, Paul V quickly relented and allowed Pignatelli to return to Rome, supposedly because his nephew was so deeply distressed by the enforced separation. Subsequently, Pignatelli lived for various extended periods in the Borghese Palace; Scipione gave him various ecclesiastical honors and even arranged for him to be appointed Cardinal shortly before his uncle's death.

Paul V indulged his nephew's lifestyle in other ways. For example, on July 31, 1607, he ordered 105 pictures confiscated from the artist Cavaliere d'Arpino (for tax arrears) and delivered to his nephew. Among the pictures that Scipione acquired through this seizure were two important early explicitly works by Caravaggio (both 1593, still in Galleria Borghese): a probable self-portrait, usually called Sick Bacchus and A Boy with a Basket of Fruit.

At his nephew's urging, Paul also gave important commissions to Caravaggio (1571-1610), who boldly fused homoeroticism with spirituality in his altarpieces. The pope allowed Scipione to appropriate for his collection the Madonna and Child with St. Anne, a large altarpiece commissioned in 1605 for a chapel in Saint Peter's. However, Paul publicly expressed his intention of placing Caravaggio in charge of the decoration of this recently completed church building. This plan was never put into effect because Caravaggio fled Rome shortly after murdering Rannuncio Tommasoni on May 28, 1606. Yet, it is tempting to speculate what the basilica might be like had it been filled with narrative paintings created from a perspective.

In 1655, Pope Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi, 1599-1667; reigned, 1655-67) wholeheartedly welcomed Christina, Queen of Sweden (1626-89), to Rome. Shortly after her abdication, Christina converted to Catholicism and resolved to move to the spiritual capital of her new faith. Throughout his reign, Alexander praised her conversion and otherwise paid homage to Christina in public ceremonies.

Nevertheless, her "indecorous" behavior restricted his efforts to exploit her as an inspirational model of pious behavior. Christina seems to have enjoyed the many rumors circulating about her sexual affairs with both women and men. Furthermore, she decorated her Roman residence, the Palazzo Riario, with erotic paintings of female nudes. Yet, despite her breaches of pervasive social conventions, Christina as a famous Protestant convert was granted protection and even occasional financial support by the papacy.

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