Pope Urban VIII

Pope Urban VIII (Latin: Urbanus VIII; baptised 5 April 1568 – 29 July 1644) reigned as Pope from 6 August 1623 to his death in 1644. He expanded the papal territory by force of arms and advantageous politicking, and was also a prominent patron of the arts and a reformer of Church missions.

However, the massive debts incurred during his pontificate greatly weakened his successors, who were unable to maintain the papacy's longstanding political and military influence in Europe. Although once friendly towards Galileo he was opposed to Copernican heliocentrism and ordered Galileo's second trial after the publication of Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which Urban's point of view is argued by the character "Simplicio".


Urban VIII
Bishop of Rome
Urban VIII
A portrait of Pope Urban VIII
by Pietro da Cortona (1627)
Papacy began6 August 1623
Papacy ended29 July 1644
PredecessorGregory XV
SuccessorInnocent X
Ordination24 September 1592
Consecration28 October 1604
by Fabio Blondus de Montealto
Created cardinal11 September 1606
by Pope Paul V
Personal details
Birth nameMaffeo Barberini
Born5 April 1568
Florence, Duchy of Florence
Died29 July 1644 (aged 76)
Rome, Lazio, Papal States
ParentsAntonio Barberini & Camilla Barbadoro
Previous post
Coat of armsUrban VIII's coat of arms
Other popes named Urban


Early life

Caravaggio Maffeo Barberini
C. 1598 painting of Maffeo Barberini at age 30 by Caravaggio

He was born Maffeo Barberini in April 1568[1] to Antonio Barberini, a Florentine nobleman, and Camilla Barbadoro. His father died when he was only three years old and his mother took him to Rome, where he was put in the charge of his uncle, Francesco Barberini, an apostolic protonotary.[2] At the age of 16 he became his uncle's heir.[3] He was educated by the Society of Jesus, ("Jesuits") and received a doctorate of law from the University of Pisa in 1589.

In 1601, Barberini, through the influence of his uncle, was able to secure from Pope Clement VIII appointment as a papal legate to the court of King Henry IV of France. In 1604, the same pope appointed him as the Archbishop of Nazareth,[2] an office joined with that of Bishop of the suppressed Dioceses of Canne and Monteverde, with his residence at Barletta. At the death of his uncle, he inherited his riches, with which he bought a palace in Rome which he made into a luxurious Renaissance residence.

Pope Paul V also later employed Barberini in a similar capacity, afterwards raising him, in 1606, to the order of the Cardinal-Priest, with the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio and appointing him as a papal legate of Bologna.[2]


Coin of Urban VIII, dated 1629
Gold quadrupla of Pope Urban VIII, struck at the Avignon mint, dated 1629
Papal styles of
Pope Urban VIII
C o a Urbano VIII
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone

Papal election

Barberini was considered someone who could be elected as pope, though there were those such as Cardinal Ottavio Bandini who worked to prevent Barberini from being elected as pope. Despite this, throughout 29-30 July, the cardinals began an intense series of negotiations to test the numbers as to who could emerge from the conclave as pope, with Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi dismissing Barberini's chances as long as Barberini remained a close ally of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose faction Barberini supported. Ludovisi had discussions with Cardinals Farnese, Medici and Aldobrandini on 30 July about seeing to Barberini's election. The three supported his candidature and went about securing the support of others, which lead to Barberini's election just over a week later.[4] On 6 August 1623, at the papal conclave following the death of Pope Gregory XV, Barberini was chosen as Gregory XV's successor and took the name Urban VIII.

Upon Pope Urban VIII's election, Zeno, the Venetian envoy, wrote the following description of him:[5]

The new Pontiff is 56 years old. His Holiness is tall, dark, with regular features and black hair turning grey. He is exceptionally elegant and refined in all details of his dress; has a graceful and aristocratic bearing and exquisite taste. He is an excellent speaker and debater, writes verses and patronises poets and men of letters.


Urban VIII's papacy covered 21 years of the Thirty Years' War, (1618-1648), and was an eventful one even by the standards of the day. He canonized Elizabeth of Portugal, Andrew Corsini and Conrad of Piacenza, and issued the papal bulls of canonization for Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Society of Jesus,"Jesuits") and Francis Xavier, (also a Jesuit ) who had been canonized by his predecessor, Pope Gregory XV.

Despite an early friendship and encouragement for his teachings, Urban VIII was responsible for summoning the scientist and astronomer Galileo to Rome in 1633 to recant his work.

Urban VIII practiced nepotism on a grand scale; various members of his family were enormously enriched by him, so that it seemed to contemporaries as if he were establishing a Barberini dynasty.[6] He elevated his brother Antonio Marcello Barberini (Antonio the Elder) and then his nephews Francesco Barberini and Antonio Barberini (Antonio the Younger) to Cardinal. He also bestowed upon their brother, Taddeo Barberini, the titles Prince of Palestrina, Gonfalonier of the Church, Prefect of Rome and Commander of Sant'Angelo. Historian Leopold von Ranke estimated that during his reign, Urban VIII's immediate family amassed 105 million scudi in personal wealth.[7]

Engraving of Pope Urban VIII

Urban VIII was a skilled writer of Latin verse, and a collection of Scriptural paraphrases as well as original hymns of his composition have been frequently reprinted.

The 1638 papal bull Commissum Nobis protected the existence of Jesuit missions in South America by forbidding the enslavement of natives who were at the Jesuit Reductions.[8][9] At the same time, Urban VIII repealed the Jesuit monopoly on missionary work in China and Japan, opening these countries to missionaries of other orders and missionary societies.[10]

Urban VIII issued a 1624 papal bull that made the use of tobacco in holy places punishable by excommunication;[11] Pope Benedict XIII repealed the ban one hundred years later.[12]

Canonizations and beatifications

Urban VIII canonized five saints during his pontificate: Stephen Harding (1623), Elizabeth of Portugal and Conrad of Piacenza (1625), Peter Nolasco (1628), and Andrea Corsini (1629). The pope also beatified 68 individuals including the Martyrs of Nagasaki (1627).


The pope created 74 cardinals in eight consistories throughout his pontificate, and this included his nephews Francesco and Antonio, cousin Lorenzo Magalotti, and the pope's own brother Antonio Marcello. He also created Giovanni Battista Pamphili as a cardinal, with Pamphili becoming his immediate successor Pope Innocent X. The pope also created eight of those cardinals whom he had reserved in pectore.


Urban VIII's military involvement was aimed less at the restoration of Catholicism in Europe than at adjusting the balance of power to favour his own independence in Italy. In 1626, the duchy of Urbino was incorporated into the papal dominions, and, in 1627, when the direct male line of the Gonzagas in Mantua became extinct, he controversially favoured the succession of the Protestant Duke Charles of Nevers against the claims of the Catholic Habsburgs. He also launched the Wars of Castro in 1641 against Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, whom he excommunicated. Castro was destroyed and its duchy incorporated into the Papal States.

Bust of Pope Urban VIII by Bernini
Bust of Urban VIII, Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1637–8

Urban VIII was the last pope to extend the papal territory. He fortified Castelfranco Emilia on the Mantuan frontier and commissioned Vincenzo Maculani to fortify the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. Urban VIII also established an arsenal in the Vatican, an arms factory at Tivoli and fortified the harbour of Civitavecchia.

For the purposes of making cannon and the baldacchino in St Peters, massive bronze girders were pillaged from the portico of the Pantheon leading to the well known lampoon: quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini, "what the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did."[10]

Patron of the arts

Urban VIII and his family patronized art on a grand scale.[1] He expended vast sums bringing polymaths like Athanasius Kircher to Rome and funding various substantial works by the sculptor and architect Bernini, from whom he had already commissioned Boy with a Dragon around 1617 and who was particularly favored during Urban VIII's reign. As well as several portrait busts of Urban, Urban commissioned Bernini to work on the family palace in Rome, the Palazzo Barberini, the College of the Propaganda Fide, the Fontana del Tritone in the Piazza Barberini, the baldacchino and cathedra in St Peter's Basilica and other prominent structures in the city. Numerous members of Barberini's family also had their likeness caught in stone by Bernini, such as his brothers Carlo and Antonio. Urban also had rebuilt the Church of Santa Bibiana and the Church of San Sebastiano al Palatino on the Palatine Hill.

The Barberini patronised painters such as Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. One of the most eulogistic of these artistic works in its celebration of his reign, is the huge Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power painted by Pietro da Cortona on the ceiling of the large salon of the Palazzo Barberini.

Later life

Urban VIII Bernini Musei Capitolini
Statue of Pope Urban VIII sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his students between 1635 and 1640, and currently on display at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome.

A consequence of these military and artistic endeavours was a massive increase in papal debt. Urban VIII inherited a debt of 16 million scudi, and by 1635 had increased it to 28 million.

According to contemporary John Bargrave, in 1636 members of the Spanish faction of the College of Cardinals were so horrified by the conduct of Pope Urban VIII that they conspired to have him arrested and imprisoned (or killed) so that they could replace him with a new pope; namely Laudivio Zacchia.[13] When Urban VIII travelled to Castel Gandolfo to rest, the members of the Spanish faction met in secret and discussed ways to advance their plan. But they were discovered and the pope raced back to Rome where he immediately held a consistory and demanded to know who the new pope was. To put an end to the conspiracy, the pope decreed that all Cardinal-Bishops should leave Rome and return to their own churches.[13]

With the Spanish plan having failed, by 1640 the debt had reached 35 million scudi, consuming more than 80% of annual papal income in interest repayments.[14]

Death and legacy

Urban VIII's death on 29 July 1644 is said to have been hastened by chagrin at the result of the Wars of Castro. Because of the costs incurred by the city of Rome to finance this war, Urban VIII became immensely unpopular with his subjects.

On his death, the bust of Urban VIII that lay beside the Palace of the Conservators on the Capitoline Hill was rapidly destroyed by an enraged crowd, and only a quick-thinking priest saved the sculpture of the late pope belonging to the Jesuits from a similar fate.[15]

Following his death, international and domestic machinations resulted in the papal conclave not electing Cardinal Giulio Cesare Sacchetti, who was closely associated with some members of the Barberini family. Instead, it elected Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphili, who took the name of Innocent X, as his successor at the papal conclave of 1644.

Private revelation

In the papal bull Sanctissimus Dominus Noster of 13 March 1625, Urban instructed Catholics not to venerate the deceased or represent them in the manner of saints without Church sanction. It required a bishop’s approval for the publication of private revelations. Since the nineteenth century, it has become common for books of popular devotion to carry a disclaimer. One read in part: "In obedience to the decrees of Urban the Eighth, I declare that I have no intention of attributing any other than a purely human authority to the miracles, revelations, favours, and particular cases recorded in this book...."[16][17][18]

Portrayals in fiction

Urban VIII is a recurring character in the Ring of Fire alternative history hypernovel by Eric Flint et al. where he is favorably portrayed. He is especially prominent in 1634: The Galileo Affair (in which he made the fictional Grantville priest, Larry Mazzare, a cardinal), and in 1635: The Cannon Law, 1635: The Papal Stakes, and 1636: The Vatican Sanction.

See also


  1. ^ a b Weech, William Nassau (1905). URBAN VIII: Being the Lothian Prize Essay, 1903. London: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd. pp. 1–128. Retrieved October 31, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Ott, Michael T. (1912). "Pope Urban VIII". The Catholic Encyclopedia. XV. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2007-09-07.
  3. ^ Keyvanian, Carla. "Concerted Efforts: The Quarter of the Barberini Casa Grande in Seventeenth- Century Rome". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 64, no 3 (2005): 294.
  4. ^ "Sede Vacante 1623". 27 September 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  5. ^ The triple crown: an account of the papal conclaves from the fifteenth century to the present day by Valérie Pirie (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1935)
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-21. Retrieved 2012-03-06.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ History of the popes; their church and state (Volume III) by Leopold von Ranke (Wellesley College Library, reprint; 2009)
  8. ^ Mooney, James (June 1910). "Catholic Encyclopedia Volume VII". Robert Appleton Company, New York. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  9. ^ Joel S. Panzer, The Popes and Slavery, Staten Island, New York, Society of St. Paul, 1996, pp.89-91.
  10. ^ a b van Helden, Al (1995). "The Galileo Project". Rice University. Retrieved 2007-09-07.
  11. ^ Gately, Iain (2001). Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-8021-3960-3.
  12. ^ Cutler, Abigail. "The Ashtray of History", The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2007.
  13. ^ a b Pope Alexander the Seventh and the College of Cardinals by John Bargrave, edited by James Craigie Robertson (reprint; 2009)
  14. ^ Duffy, Eamon (1997). Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09165-6.
  15. ^ Ernesta Chinazzi, Sede Vacante per la morte del Papa Urbano VIII Barberini e conclave di Innocenzo X Pamfili, Rome, 1904, 13.
  16. ^ Walsh Pasulka, Diana (2015). Heaven Can Wait: Purgatory in Catholic Devotional and Popular Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 127. ISBN 9780195382020. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  17. ^ Boruchoff, David A. (2014). "Martín de Murúa, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, and the Contested Uses of Saintly Models in Writing Colonial American History". In Kirk, Stephanie; Rivett, Sarah (eds.). Religious Transformations in the Early Modern Americas. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 283.
  18. ^ Windeatt, Mary Fabyan (2013). Saint Benedict: The Story of the Father of the Western Monks. TAN Books. ISBN 9781618904614.

External links

Information about Barbernini's membership of Italian academies, and of his links with other intellectuals of his time can be found on the British Library's database of Italian Academies and their members

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Gregory XV
6 August 1623 – 29 July 1644
Succeeded by
Innocent X
Alessandro Cesarini (iuniore)

Alessandro Cesarini, iuniore (1592 – 25 January, 1644) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Cardinal-Deacon of Sant'Eustachio (1638–1644), Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (1637–1638), Bishop of Viterbo e Tuscania (1636–1638), Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano (1632–1637), and Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica (1627–1632).

Alessandro Crescenzi (cardinal)

Alessandro Crescenzi, C.R.S. (1607 – 8 May 1688) was a Roman Catholic cardinal who served as Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals (1685–1688), Archbishop (Personal Title) of Recanati e Loreto (1676–1682), Titular Patriarch of Alexandria (1671–1676), Bishop of Bitonto (1652–1668), Bishop of Ortona a Mare e Campli (1644–1652), and Bishop of Termoli (1643–1644).

Barberini family

The Barberini are a family of the Italian nobility that rose to prominence in 17th century Rome. Their influence peaked with the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to the papal throne in 1623, as Pope Urban VIII. Their urban palace, the Palazzo Barberini, (completed in 1633 by Bernini), today houses Italy's Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (National Gallery of Ancient Art).

Bernardino de Almansa Carrión

Bernardino de Almansa Carrión (July 6, 1579 – September 26, 1633) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as the Archbishop of Santafé en Nueva Granada (1631–1633) and Archbishop of Santo Domingo (1629–1631).

Boy with a Dragon

Boy with a Dragon is a c.1617 white marble sculpture, now in the Getty Museum, which has owned it since 1987. It draws on the myth of the infant Hercules strangling serpents sent to kill him.

It was carved by Pietro Bernini and his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII). In 1702 Urban's grand-nephew Carlo Barberini presented the work to Philip V of Spain on the latter's entry into Naples.

Bust of Antonio Barberini (Bernini)

The Bust of Antonio Barberini is a portrait sculpture by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The figure is Cardinal Antonio Barberini, the younger brother of the Pope Urban VIII. It was executed some time in the 1620s.

Bust of Camilla Barbadoni

The Bust of Camilla Barbadoni is a marble sculpture by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Executed in 1619, it portrays the (deceased) mother of the Maffeo Barberini. Camilla had died in 1609. Barberini would become Pope Urban VIII in 1623.

Bust of Francesco Barberini

The Bust of Francesco Barberini is a marble sculpture by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. It was executed in 1626. It was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII, who was nephew of Francesco Barberini, an apostolic protonotary. Francesco had actually died in 1600 so Bernini created the bust from an existing painted portrait. The painted portrait is in Corsini Collection in Florence; Bernini made close use of the design, although the painting was a three quarter portrait as opposed to a bust of head, shoulders and upper body.

Busts of Pope Urban VIII

Several sculpted busts of Pope Urban VIII were created by the Italian artist Gianlorenzo Bernini, with varying amounts of assistance from other artists in his workshop:

Palazzo Barberini, Rome, 1623-4. Marble.

San Lorenzo in Fonte, 1626. Marble. Assistance by Giuliano Finelli.

Galleria Nazionale di Arte, Palazzo Barberini, Rome, 1637-8. Marble.

Galleria Nazionale di Arte, Palazzo Barberini, Rome. Early 1640s. Marble. Largely the work of an assistant.

Louvre, Paris. 1640. Bronze.

Cathedral of Spoleto, 1642. Bronze.

Collection Principe Enrico Barberini. Early 1640s. Porphyry. Adapted from existing antique statue, largely by assistants.

Fontana della Barcaccia

The Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Boat; Italian pronunciation: [barˈkattʃa]) is a Baroque-style fountain found at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome's Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square). Pope Urban VIII commissioned Pietro Bernini in 1623 to build the fountain as part of a prior Papal project to erect a fountain in every major piazza in Rome. The fountain was completed between 1627 and 1629 by Pietro possibly along with the help of his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini, especially after his father's death in August 29, 1629.

The sculptural fountain is made into the shape of a half-sunken ship with water overflowing its sides into a small basin. The source of the water comes from the Acqua Vergine, an aqueduct from 19 BCE. Bernini built this fountain to be slightly below street level due to the low water pressure from the aqueduct. Water flows from seven points of fountain: the center baluster; two inside the boat from sun-shaped human faces; and four outside the boat.

According to legend, as the River Tiber flooded in 1598, water carried a small boat into the Piazza di Spagna. When the water receded, a boat was deposited in the center of the square, and it was this event that inspired Bernini's creation. The fountain is decorated with the papal coat of arms of the Barberini family as a reminder of Pope Urban VIII's ancestry.

Hernando de Arias y Ugarte

Hernando de Arias y Ugarte (September 9, 1561 – January 27, 1638) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Archbishop of Lima (1628–1638), Archbishop of La Plata o Charcas (1624–1628), Archbishop of Santafé en Nueva Granada (1616–1625), and Bishop of Quito (1613–1616).

Memorial to Ippolito Merenda

The Memorial to Ippolito Merenda is a funerary monument designed by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1636 and 1638. Along with the similar monument for Alessandro Valtrini, this artwork was a startling new approach to funerary monuments, incorporating dynamic, flowing inscriptions being dragged by a moving figure of death. It is in the church of San Giacomo alla Lungara in Rome.

Merenda was from Cesena in Emilia Romagna. He left a bequest to San Giacomo della Lungara (of 20,000 Roman scudi) on his death in 1636. One of the nephews of the then pope Urban VIII, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, then commissioned the monument from Bernini in recognition of Merenda's contribution.

Patrizio Donati

Patrizio Donati (1588 – 31 August, 1666) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Minori (1639–1648).

Ranuccio Scotti Douglas

Ranuccio Scotti Douglas or Ranuzio Scotti Douglas (19 July, 1597 – 10 May, 1659) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Borgo San Donnino (1627–1650), Apostolic Nuncio to Switzerland (1630-1639), and Apostolic Nuncio to France (1639–1641).

Statue of Carlo Barberini

The Statue of Carlo Barberini was a large statue of the brother of Pope Urban VIII, Carlo Barberini, erected in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome, following his death in 1630. The statue made use of an existing antique statue of Julius Caesar. The Roman authorities then commissioned the two most renowned sculptures of the day, Gianlorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, to add to the torso; Bernini worked on the head and Algardi on the limbs.

Statue of Pope Urban VIII

The Statue of Urban VIII is a large statue from the late 1630s, of the then pope Urban VIII. It was executed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his workshop. The work was commissioned in 1635 and took five years to complete. The piece sits in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. A print of the statue exists in the National Library of Austria.

Taddeo Barberini

Taddeo Barberini (1603–1647) was an Italian nobleman of the House of Barberini who became Prince of Palestrina and Gonfalonier of the Church; commander of the Papal Army. He was a nephew of Pope Urban VIII and brother of Cardinals Francesco Barberini and Antonio Barberini. Thanks to their uncle's famous nepotism, the brothers shaped 17th-century Italian politics, religion, art, music and architecture.

Tomb of Countess Matilda of Tuscany

The Tomb of Countess Matilda of Tuscany is a large sculptural memorial designed by the Italian artist Gianlorenzo Bernini and executed by Bernini and various other sculptors. It was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1633 and was destined for St. Peter's, Rome, where it still sits now. The final parts were completed in 1644.

Tommaso Carafa

Tommaso Carafa (1588 – 7 December 1664) was a Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Capaccio (1639–1664) and Bishop of Vulturara e Montecorvino (1623–1637).

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