Rome: Renaissance and Modern Rome

A last effort at restoring the Roman republic failed utterly in 1453. The history of Rome became more than ever that of the papacy. The successors of Martin V 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 moral tone of the papal court was a scandal to Christendom and contributed to the success of the Reformation.

The period of the great popes of the Renaissance—Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, and Paul III—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 popes also played a leading part in the Italian Wars of the 16th cent. As a result of Clement VII's alliance with Francis I of France, Rome was stormed (1527) by the army of Emperor Charles V and subjected to a thorough plundering.

The triumph of the Counter Reformation in the late 16th cent. restored dignity and moral power to the papal court and gave the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) great influence. Although the power of the pope was established as absolute, more religious tolerance (particularly toward the Jews) could be found at Rome than in many other capitals of Europe. The city continued to prosper and to benefit by the influx of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims (see jubilee). 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.

When, in 1796, French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the Papal States, a truce was bought by Pope Pius VI, and many art treasures passed into French possession. In 1798 the French occupied Rome, deported the pope, and proclaimed Rome a republic. Pius VII reentered Rome in 1800, but in 1808 Napoleon reoccupied the city and in 1809 annexed it to France. Papal rule was restored in 1814.

Pope Pius IX, who ruled during a crucial period (1846–78), yielded to liberal demands and granted a constitution. However, disorders in 1848 caused his flight to Gaeta, and once more Rome became a republic, under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini. French troops intervened, defeated the republican forces under Giuseppe Garibaldi, and restored Pius IX, who made no further attempts at liberalism.

The Italian kingdom, proclaimed in 1862, included most of the former Papal States but not Rome, which remained under papal rule as a virtual protectorate of Napoleon III. Napoleon's fall in 1870 made possible the occupation of Rome by Italian troops, and, in 1871, Rome became the capital of Italy. Pius IX and his successors, however, did not recognize their loss of temporal sovereignty. The conflict between pope and king—or Vatican and Quirinal, as the antagonists were designated because of the location of their palaces—was not solved until the conclusion (1929) of the Lateran Treaty, which gave the pope sovereignty over Vatican City.

With the Fascist march on Rome (1922) Benito Mussolini came to power. In World War II, Rome fell to the Allies on June 4, 1944. The postwar years were marked by a vigorous economic, artistic, and intellectual revival. The year 1950 was designated a holy year by Pope Pius XII, and Rome, more than ever the spiritual capital of Catholicism, was host to many thousands of pilgrims. In 1960 the Olympics were held in Rome.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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