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social sciences

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Papacy  
 
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Queer Popes

There is sufficient documentary evidence to suggest that at least four popes probably enjoyed close physical relationships with other men. As is the case with many historical figures, most of the available sources characterize homosexual liaisons in a very negative fashion and intend their assertions to discredit their subjects. However, in all four cases, statements are presented in various types of documents, including diaries and letters of papal courtiers and of other ecclesiastics based in Rome and reports by ambassadors from Catholic countries.

Both within Catholic and Protestant circles, there were widely spread rumors about the homosexual liaisons of Sixtus IV (Francesco Della Rovere, 1414-84; reigned 1471-84); many of these were recorded by the chronicler Stefano Infessura (c. 1440-1500). Among the young men whom Sixtus is supposed to have favored is Giovanni Sclafenato (d. 1497), whom he appointed Cardinal and bishop of Parma. The inscription on Sclafenato's tomb in Parma Cathedral--declaring that he was appointed Cardinal because of "his loyalty, industry, and other gifts of the spirit and the body"--lends support to allegations that his physical endowments helped to inspired the favors that the Pope extended to him.

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Despite the scandalous rumors spread about his personal conduct, Sixtus was an effective leader, and he succeeded both in strengthening the temporal power of the Catholic Church and in halting temporarily the advances of Protestantism. He is responsible for establishing as dogma several fundamental aspects of Catholic belief, including the sanctity of Christ before the Resurrection.

Today, he is perhaps best remembered as an outstanding patron of the arts; he was responsible for initiating the physical rehabilitation of the city of Rome, which was continued by pontiffs in the early sixteenth century. He undertook the construction of the Sistine Chapel (1471-80) and the decoration of its walls (1481-2) with frescoes of biblical scenes by leading artists of the day, including Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Cosimo Rosselli.

Rumors that Pope Julius II (Giuliano Della Rovere, 1443-1513; reigned 1503-13) was involved in numerous homosexual liaisons are reported both in Protestant polemical tracts and in official reports submitted by ambassadors from friendly Catholic powers. Although the Protestant sources must be regarded as inherently biased, the frequency of these accounts suggests that they may be accurate. Julius's enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo's homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.

Appointed Cardinal in 1471 by his uncle, Sixtus IV, Della Rovere revealed great diplomatic skill in his negotiations with various European powers. As Pope, Julius acted as a very effective general for the papal armies, and, by 1508, he recaptured the Italian region of Romagna for the Papal States. Through his patronage of various artistic projects, Julius hoped that Catholic Rome would regain and even surpass the splendor of the city at the height of the Roman Empire.

As part of his renovation of the fabric of the city, Julius ordered in 1506 that the Early Christian Basilica of Saint Peter's be demolished and replaced by a new structure, designed by Donato Bramante (1444-1516), who was the first Renaissance architect to create structures with the sense of weight and strong physical presence of ancient Roman monuments. Bramante's Tempietto (1502, Rome) had been the first Renaissance structure to employ ancient architectural orders in a correct fashion. For Saint Peter's, Bramante envisioned an immense centralized structure with a Greek cross plan. Among the elements based on ancient prototypes was the saucer dome, inspired by the Pantheon, Rome (118-25).

When he undertook the construction of the New Saint Peter's, Julius resolved that his tomb would be placed directly underneath the central dome. Michelangelo (1475-1564) envisioned a monumental funerary structure with three stories, decorated with forty-seven life-size statues. Constant changes in plans, required first by Julius and subsequently by his heirs as well as by successive popes who did not want his monument to detract from theirs, were among the many factors that inhibited the realization of the original plans. However, Michelangelo had begun by 1513 the heroic, muscular figure of Moses, which was incorporated into the truncated version of the monument assembled in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, in 1545. Of uncertain meaning, sensuous nude figures, the Rebellious Captive and Dying Captive (1513-19, both Louvre, Paris), also were created for the tomb.

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