11 novembre 2016

The Power of Cheese Redux: Reconsidering Church and State in Early Cinquecento Parma

Maureen Pelta

Iconocrazia 10/2016 - "Arts & Politics. Rhetorical Quests in Cultural Imaging", Saggi

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With the decisive victory of French troops over the Swiss army of Massimiliano Sforza at the battle of Marignano on September 14th, 1515, France—under the leadership of its newly-minted and barely 21-year-old king, Francis I—once again commanded the Duchy of Milan and much of Northern Italy, thwarting papal ambitions in that region as well. The king’s envoy, Ludovico da Canossa, arrived in Rome on September 25th to negotiate the terms of treaty with Pope Leo X. Because Leo wished to be spared the humiliation of surrendering the territories of Parma and Piacenza directly to the king, the articles of peace, initially signed at Viterbo on October 13th, arranged for the withdrawal of papal troops, leaving Parma empty of military force so Francis could lay claim to it. Leo renounced all papal rights to Parma and Piacenza, which were then restored to the Duchy of Milan. Citizens of Parma were cautioned to accept the return of French rule in order to avoid violence.[1]

A note, considered to be a lost fragment of a remarkable contemporary diary written by Leone Smagliati, indicates that Parma’s populace obeyed the admonition and greeted the French monarch with honor when he stopped in Parma the following December en route to Bologna in order to meet with Pope Leo and officially confirm the articles of peace:

1515, the 6th of December: Francis I king of France arrived in Parma and was billeted at the house of m. Giacomo de Cornazzano and the signori Anziani [Parma’s Council of Elders] received him with great honor and reverence, and they made him a great gift, there were 24 torches and 4 bundles of white [bees’] wax, 12 pheasants, 12 braces of fat capons, a cross-pole full of hare and one with live capons, 5 forms of cheese, and 200 bushels of hay and after 2 days he left toward Bologna.[2]

Parma played a crucial role in the geo-political deliberations of the first half of the Cinquecento, culminating in its conversion along with its dreaded rival Piacenza into a single duchy under Pope Paul III in 1545.[3] Yet many historical treatments of this period simply append Parma’s name to long lists of places continually besieged, overrun and conquered as a result of the devastating Italian Wars. Parma was a coveted prize, claimed not only by two French kings and the papacy, but viewed by Emperor Charles V as a vital link in the Hapsburg chain. Not merely useful as a buffer zone due to its strategic geographical position in northern Italy, Parma was desirable for its agricultural riches, reflected in the gifts presented to Francis, as well. [4]

The return of French jurisdiction profoundly influenced Parma’s internal affairs, renewing hostilities between Parma’s political factions as they vied for dominance. The city’s political factions were drawn along ancient Guelph and Ghibelline lines, further shaped by rivalries among its four most prominent families. The powerful Rossiani party, sympathetic to the Guelph position, was dominated by the powerful Rossi family and their supporters. The opposing Tre Parte, as its name implied, embodied the concerns of the other three important families: the Sanvitale, da Correggeschi and Pallavicini. With every change in local government due to foreign invasion during the first three decades of the Cinquecento, each faction endeavored to consolidate its position to extend its sphere of influence.

As elsewhere in Italy, Parma’s monastic communities became aligned with family interests and were a significant part of its intricate urban fabric and political structure. The convent of San Quintino, for example, was closely tied to the Sanvitale, Sant’Uldarico reflected Carissimi interests, and the community of San Paolo was the province of the Bergonzi, a family tied to both political parties. Giovanna da Piacenza, abbess of the venerable monasterio di San Paolo, realized that the resumption of French authority over local politics might leave her convent vulnerable, especially to usurpation of its rights and property.[5] With some acuity, she acted to safeguard her convent from external pressures; by the time Francis I entered Parma, Giovanna had already received assurances from the kings that all privileges and dispensations previously enjoyed by her convent would continue.[6]

Today, Giovanna da Piacenza is renowned for her artistic judgment as Parma’s earliest patron of Antonio Allegri, or best known as Correggio, the artist who transformed her bedroom—the celebrated camera di San Paolo—with his frescoes. Giovanna da Piacenza’s personality, inferred from a series of events related to the convent during her abbacy as intrinsically stubborn and rebellious, coupled with Correggio’s lively images of mischievously cavorting putti, has led to a commonplace assumption that the abbess pursued personal pleasure at the expense of her abbatial duty. Yet Giovanna’s tenure as abbess, from her election in 1507 until her death in 1524, coincided with some of the most turbulent years in Parma’s history and S. Paolo has rarely been examined in relation to its urban environment. A closer inspection of urban monastic life during the wars waged Lombardy in the first half of the 16th century, as understood through the lens of events that occurred at S. Paolo, can raise provocative new questions about the meaning of monastic reform in the period prior to Council of Trent.

The Benedictine convent of S. Paolo was one of the oldest and wealthiest monastic communities in Parma. Its titular church was erected in 985 by Bishop Sigifredo II (981-1015), who established an institution for women there at the turn of the century. It also remained a highly independent community, thanks to concessions granted to its nuns in the twelfth century.   Under papal decree issued by Gregory VII in 1187, the nuns of San Paolo were made subject solely to the authority of the pope, thereby exempting them from Episcopal supervision and granting them a degree of not only autonomy but also protection, not unusual in this period. Abbesses were elected to their positions for life, and the precept of clausura, or cloistering, was also abrogated.[7] These papal entitlements structured the operation of monastic governance at San Paolo well into the Renaissance, and it may be useful to think of Gregory’s decree as a kind of corporate charter establishing how this “company” of women would conduct their business.

Despite these privileges, or indeed perhaps because of them, the convent was both well-regarded and maintained. It was commended as a model of exemplary behavior by the papacy during the late-quattrocento abbacy of Cecilia Bergonzi, whose autonomy was great. In 1505, when Cecilia abdicated her position as abbess in favor of her niece, Orsina Bergonzi, she reserved for herself certain privileges, including an annual income and the right to reclaim her title in the event that Orsina should step down or die. Orsina, in turn, was charged with the continuation of architectural projects for the convent begun by her aunt.[8] With Orsina’s death just two years later, on April 27, 1507, Giovanna da Piacenza was unanimously nominated to succeed her as titular head of the convent.[9] Giovanna was maternally descended from the Bergonzi, and her name was submitted to Rome for confirmation that was soon granted by Julius II.[10]

Giovanna da Piacenza’s seventeen-year reign as abbess was marked by that unique interaction between spiritual duties and the responsibilities attendant to the daily maintenance of the convent, incumbent upon women in her position. Beyond general duties such as discipline and provisioning, Giovanna was also entrusted with the preservation of S. Paolo’s legal rights and physical property as well as the protection of the convent’s stature within the community. The significance of these latter obligations, essential for the convent’s survival, was demonstrated by a challenge to Giovanna’s authority which followed closely after her elevation as abbess. When an attempt was made to confiscate goods belonging to the convent, Giovanna appealed to Rome for papal intervention on her behalf. Julius II responded with a papal bull, issued on August 28, 1507, condemning all unjust appropriation of the convent’s possessions and threatening the would-be usurpers with the threat of excommunication. Referring to S. Paolo’s holdings, the papal bull specifically protected real property such as fields, vineyards and herds as well as books and legal documents. The list of convent possessions contained within the papal bull underscores the wealth of S. Paolo, and demonstrates that the convent maintained considerable holdings outside the city walls.[11]

Such concerted efforts to share in the wealth of Parma’s convents illuminate aspects of the relationship between monastic institutions and the political and economic life of the city. Monastic institutions often held sizable tracts of real estate, and monastic treasuries, supported by the prosperous families of their members, may have been jealously regarded by civic authorities that were often allowed to levy fines for ecclesiastical infractions.[12] Indeed, one wonders whether the calls for monastic reform that occurred in Parma during the second decade of the Cinquecento were little more than transparently veiled efforts to divert convent revenues to civic coffers and ecclesiastical authority to communal power.

An incident involving the convent of S. Paolo in 1510 illustrates the interaction between convent interests and local politics, as well as the ripple effect of events on the larger political stage in Parma’s internal affairs. When Giovanna named her cognato, Scipione Montino della Rosa to oversee the convent’s financial affairs, she enflamed political rivalries within this highly factionalized city. Scipione was a prominent member of the Tre Parte; the former financial caretakers of S. Paolo had been the Garimberti, members of the opposing Rossi faction. The resultant bickering over this change of financial administration was of sufficient proportion to require an official, public truce between Scipione and the two Garimberti involved achieved on January 28, 1510.[13]

The truce lasted for six months. The tax commissioner Gian Francesco Garimberti was assassinated on the evening of July 22, 1510, and Scipione fled Parma. In an unsuccessful attempt to locate Scipione, instigated by the family of the deceased, the convent of S. Paolo was searched in the middle of the night on July 30, 1510, thus subjecting S. Paolo to the notoriety and humiliation of a raid of its grounds in quest of an alleged assassin.[14] There were, however, larger issues than jealousy over control of S. Paolo’s finances at stake in the assassination of Garimberti. The Corrazzani family of the opposing Tre Parte captured the much-coveted office of tax commissioner.

At the same time, the alliance between Julius II and France that had turned Parma into a garrison town in support of the papal cause in Bologna after 1506 had begun to disintegrate. Smagliati chronicled Parma’s reaction in 1511 to the news that Mirandola had capitulated to papal forces, describing the violent division of opinion among Parma’s populace with regard to the pope’s victory over the French and its local implications. There was not merely disagreement between lay and ecclesiastic populations on the relative merits of the forthcoming institution of papal government in Parma; tremendous dissension arose among the various members of Parma’s clergy, some of whom preached fidelity to the French cause during Sunday sermons in the cathedral while others took to the streets of the city, openly exhorting the populace to continue support of the French king.[15]

This was a time of enormous conflict for Parma’s clergy. Personal loyalties and political sympathies stemming from familial associations clashed head-on with allegiance to a spiritual leader, whose powers of persuasion had already been felt by the papal interdicts that repeatedly fell on Parma after 1505, and who now demanded additional obedience in temporal politics as well. Notwithstanding this dissent, however, Parma and Piacenza were officially separated from the Duchy of Milan and contained within the States of the Church on October 8, 1512.[16]

Unfortunately, Smagliati’s illuminating diary is silent about this interlude of papal government. Diary entries pertaining to this period of Parma’s history are missing—torn out, and intentionally removed. It is clear, however, that the end of French occupation and initiation of papal governance was greeted with ambivalence. To ensure that Parma submitted to the advent of pontifical government, Julius II ordered Francesco Maria Della Rovere to march his troops to Parma in April, and imposed a tax of 20,000 ducats on the city. On September 5th, one month before the official incorporation of Parma into the papal states, Julius ordered the forces of Amoretto dei Bretti to enter Parma and take possession of it in his name. In addition, he gave Gian Matteo Sertori, Archbishop of Santa Severina, the title of apostolicus generalis commissaries when he entered the city as its new governor on June 1st, a post which he maintained only until the news arrived of Julius’ death on Feb. 20, 1513.[17]

It was at this precise moment that the first call for monastic reform was made in Parma: in the autumn of 1512, almost immediately after Parma became incorporated within the papal states, a delegation of ten men led by poet and cancelliere Francesco Maria Grapaldo, traveled to Rome to negotiate civil liberties under papal governance. Grapaldo also petitioned for ecclesiastical reform in Parma, requesting a strict reform of all monasteries in regard to daily observances, the institution of clausura, and the re-institution of Episcopal supervision.[18]

The proposed reforms would have extended the ability of Parma’s civic authorities to fine conventuals for ecclesiastical infractions while restricting contact between Parma’s lay and ecclesiastical communities.  In addition, the reforms would have limited direct cenobitic access to papal authorities in Rome. Because these reforms would have had the dual effects of enhancing the power of civic authority and its treasury, it seems likely that Grapaldo’s delegation was not simply concerned with the spiritual welfare of Parma’s ecclesiastical community. This is confirmed by an entry in the diary of Paris de Grassis, which recorded the bitter partisan quarreling, divided along party lines, which occurred among the petitioners.  In reality, the proposed reforms represented a loss of privilege for reasons of political expediency; cloistered monastics would have been unable to move through town soliciting support for the French cause and king.[19]

The issue of Episcopal supervision also had significant political dimension.  During the Lateran Council convening in Rome at precisely this time, bishops were themselves petitioning the Pope to form their own college. The re-institution of Episcopal supervision would have extended the authority of bishops and one wonders if the request of Grapaldo’s delegation for monastic reform was the result of a negotiation for mutual support.

Issues of curial governance were often indistinguishable from secular political maneuverings during this period.[20] While sanctioning Grapaldo’s petition, the Pope’s desire for support among his new subjects prompted him to grant special concessions to Parma’s clergy, which for all practical purposes nullified some of the reform pledges made to Grapaldo. Julius’ successor, Leo X, was asked to reconfirm the same civic rights and religious reforms requested by Grapaldo and granted by Julius, which he did on March 16, 1514. But the death of Louis XII of France, followed almost immediately by the resumption of military action in the Po valley in the winter of 1515 under the leadership of a new king, Francis I, placed Parma in a precarious position once again. By the end of the summer of 1515, the situation in Parma was alarmingly familiar in its similarity to 1511: the French stood ready at the gates of Milan while the pope held Bologna. Now, however, the Swiss army that had triumphed over the French on behalf of the Sforza duke at Novara was itself defeated by the French at Marignano.

The calls for monastic reform in Parma during the period from 1512-1515 might be best understood as part of a highly political process. The two, most highly desired goals of monastic reform: the institution of clausura and the re-institution of Episcopal supervision can be interpreted as a desire to control civic tensions in a politically strategic hot spot, and an opportunity to tap into the considerable wealth of the region via control over church property. The initial request for religious reform followed closely after the advent of papal government by in 1512, when Parma’s still adamantly Guelph faction, the Rossiani, was restored to local political power. The second petition for the same reforms made to Leo X on March 16th, 1514, was similarly intended to consolidate Rossi influence on local politics.

During Leo X’s pontificate, Parma would be held, lost and won, again. His appointment of Francesco Guicciardini as apostolic governor of Modena, Reggio, and Parma successively from 1516-19 was a brilliant stroke of luck for both the papal cause in Parma, and contemporary scholars who wish to study it.[21] After yet another siege of Parma by papal and Spanish troops under Emperor Charles V on August 29th, 1521, the French retreated and Guicciardini took possession of Parma as “commissario e govenatore apostolico,” in the name of Leo X on September 1st. In the confusion which followed Leo’s death on December 1st, 1521; he rallied the populace to resist a siege, this time by French and Venetian forces, and distinguished himself in defending the city on December 21st. Guicciardini continued to govern the Romagna when Cardinal Giovanni de Medici became Pope Clement VII.[22]

Within three months of his elevation as pope, Clement VII issued stringent reforms for all of Parma’s monastic clergy. Foremost among these were strictures regarding clausura and the re-institution of Episcopal supervision: all of Parma’s monasteries were ordered to be cloistered, and institutions previously allowed direct access to papal authority in Rome were made to work through the Episcopal channels of the bishop and his local delegates. As Clement VII began his reign, the political benefits gained from religious reform must have appeared more urgently attractive than ever, given the presence of a flamboyant and not entirely unpopular French king, a new and increasingly powerful emperor and the religious turmoil unleashed by Martin Luther in Germany. Clement’s decree, like those of his predecessors Julius and Leo, was designed to expedite and strengthen the authority of papal government in Parma, and Clement’s reforms of February of 1524 may have resulted from troubling political concerns geographically focused further north than Parma.

Giovanna da Piacenza accepted clausura as well as Clement’s other reforms on August 28th, 1524. Contrary to prevailing scholarship, it is important to realize that Giovanna was among the first to inaugurate ecclesiastical reform, while monastic women elsewhere throughout Parma continued to resist their loss of privileges.[23] The monastery of S. Paolo needs to be understood not only within its urban environment but also within the context of Parma’s plight during the 1st quarter of the 16th century. By examining the issues of daily urban life during wars waged throughout Lombardy in the first half of the 16th century, we can ask provocative new questions about the relationship of monastic reform to international politics prior to Council of Trent.



[1] Ferdinando Bernini, Storia di Parma, Luigi Battei, Parma, 1979, p. 100, and Lauro Martines, Power and Imagination City States in Renaissance Italy, New York, Alfred Knopf, 1979, pp. 294-296. Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes, J. Hodges, London, 3rd edition, 1923, pp. 125-126.

[2] “1515, li 6 decembre: Arrivo in Parma, Francesco I re di Francia, e fu alloggiato nella casa di m. Giacomo de Cornazzano e gli signori anziani della citta lo riceverono con grand’ onore e riverenza, e gli fecero un gran regalo, fu di torcie 24, e 4 mazzi di cera Bianca, dodici fagiani, dodici paja di capponi grassi, una stanga piena di lepri, una di capponi vivi, cinque forme di fromaggio e 200 stara di biade e dopo due giorni parti verso Bologna” (Leone Smagliati, Cronaca Parmense, ed. Sergio di Noto, Presso la Deputazione di storia patria per le province parmensi, 1970, p.44); Smagliati’s diary covers the period from 1494-1518, with the exception of the period of papal government, from 1513-15.

[3] Pope Paul III had a long-term interest in Parma. Born Alessandro Farnese in 1468, he became a cardinal-deacon under Alexander IV, receiving the bishopric of Parma under Julius II in 1509, before his election as pope in 1534; “Paul III (1468–1549).” The Renaissance. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (September 6, 2016), http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3205500240.html. Also Martines, op. cit., ibidem, Bernini, op. cit., ibidem, and J.R. Hale, Florence and the Medici, Thames and Hudson, LTD., London, 1977, p. 100. These scholars note that Leo X was ultimately interested in creating a state comprised of Modena, Reggio, Parma and Piacenza for his younger brother, Giuliano de Medici (Duke of Nemours) to create Medici stronghold in northern Italy, and provide Florence with a buffer against invasion from the north, thus anticipating Farnese ambitions later in the century.

[4] After two brief years as a free republic, Parma had become a possession of the Duchy of Milan in 1449; when Milan fell to the French under Louis XII after 1499, so did Parma. The papacy concurrently claimed Parma by virtue of agreements originating in the eighth century; see Georges Peyronnet, “The Distant Origins of the Italian Wars: political relations between France and Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries,” in David Abulafia, ed., The French descent into Renaissance Italy, 1494-5: antecedents and effects, Aldershot, Variorum, 1995, p. 31.

[5] Although all Benedictine monastic communities are designated as monasteries, I defer here to American English usage that differentiates monastic institutions for women as “convents.”

[6] Archivio di Stato, Inventorio di s. Paolo, IX, IV, n. 12, and Umberto Benassi, Storia di Parma, 5 Vols.,Tip. Sociale Operaia – Tip. Luigi Battei, Parma, 1899, III, p. 12, n. 3.

[7] Felice Da Mareto, Chiese e Conventi di Parma, Parma, 1979, pp. 170-171, and Padre Ireneo Affò, Ragionamento del Padre Ireneo Affò sopra una Stanza Dipinta dal Celeberrimo Antonio Allegri da Correggio nel Monistero di S.Paolo in Parma, Parma, 1794, p. 24, although lifelong tenancy was not uncommon among Benedictine abbesses.

[8] Archivio di Stato, Parma, Fondo Diplomatico, cass. n. 16, doc. n. 310, and Giuseppa Zanichelli, Iconologia della camera di Alessandro Araldi nel Monastero di S. Paolo in Parma, Università di Parma, Parma, 1979, p. 22.

[9] Smagliati, op. cit., p. 93: the unanimity of Giovanna’s election was in itself somewhat unusual since abbatial selections in Parma were known to involve the entire community in often-acrimonious debate.

[10] Benassi, op. cit., pp. 150-151.

[11] Archivio di Stato, Parma: Fondo Diplomatico, cass. n. 17, doc. n. 315. Zanichelli, op. cit., p. 63, n. 36 offers an abbreviated version of this document.

[12] Benassi, op. cit., V, pp. 274-275.

[13] Smagliati, op. cit., p. 140.

[14] Smagliati, op. cit., ibidem, and pp. 37, 149. Giovanna’s financial advisor and kinsman, Scipione, and her brother Cesare, were sought for the slaying. The search proved fruitless, and neither Giovanna nor her convent appear to have suffered any further repercussions as a result of the incident. Although Scipione, Cesare, and two other conspirators were banished from Parma, all eventually were allowed to return.

[15] Smagliati, op. cit., pp. 36-37, 149, 160.

[16] Smagliati, op. cit., pp. 37, 149, pp. 36, 160, and Pastor, op. cit., VI, p. 74, who also notes that the appropriation of Parma, Piacenza and Reggio by the Holy See was felt as a blow at the Imperial Court of Maximillian.

[17] Smagliati, op. cit., p. 42, Pastor, op. cit., VII, pp. 48-49, 52 and Henry Lucas, The Renaissance and the Reformation, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1934, p. 298.

[18] Zanichelli, op. cit., pp. 24, 65, n. 52. According to Benassi, op. cit., II, p. 31, the commune was still awaiting these reforms three years later under Francis I.

[19] Benassi, op. cit., II, pp. 20-21.

[20] The Duke of Milan, Massimiliano Sforza, was a weak ruler, allowing the French to linger in Italy, while Parma’s papal governor, Gian Matteo Sertori, was only able to maintain his post until the news of Julius’ death on Feb. 20, 1513, arrived in Parma. Cardona, viceroy of Naples and the same general who had engaged Louis XII’s troops on behalf of the Holy League at Ravenna in 1512, took possession of Parma and Piacenza in the name of Milan (Di Noto in Smagliati, op. cit., pp. 42-43). In another bid to seize control of Parma, Francesco Sforza, was briefly restored as governor in March, until June 1st when the newly elected Pope Leo X—the former Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, who, as papal legate to Bologna, Romagna and the papal armies since Oct. 1511, was no stranger to the tensions in the north—named Giovanni Gozzadini as papal governor. At the same time, Girolamo Morone who was the Milanese envoy to the newly Leo X, warned that Parma and Piacenza would fall to the French if Duke Massimiliano was not supported in Milan. Swiss troops, which had remained loyal to the Sforza, defeated the French at Novara on June 16, 1513.

[21] Francesco Guicciardini, Storia dItalia, ed. Costantino Panigada, vol. IV, books XIII-XVI, Gius. Laterza & Figli, Bari, 1929, pp. 133-38.

[22] Bernini, op. cit., 101, Lucas, op. cit., pp. 385, 463, Pastor, op. cit., VIII, p. 49. Although Leo did not relish the thought of Charles’ potential for interference in Italian affairs via dual strongholds in Naples and Lombardy, he could not allow the political ambitions of the papacy to stand in the way of its spiritual mission. In order to block the spread of heresy, Leo needed the assistance offered by a traditional alliance of Church and Empire. It seems ironic that, just as Leo learned that Parma and Piacenza had finally been secured and that his dream of six long years had crystallized into victorious reality, he died at midnight, December 1, 1521—the same day the news arrived.

[23] Pelta, op.cit., 67-70.

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