Pietro Barbo, the son of wealthy Venetian merchants intended a career in business when his uncle became Pope Eugene IV (1431 to 1447). Pietro, born in 1418, was thirteen years old at the time and with the support of his mother and his uncle promptly began to pursue an ecclesiastical career. At twenty-three years of age he was made a cardinal deacon and by thirty-three, he was named cardinal priest of St. Marco. His career flourished under Popes Nicholas and Callistus, too.
Upon Pius II’s sudden death, Barbo was elected pope in 1464, on the first ballot. His first challenge was rejecting an attempt by the College of Cardinals to wrestle the absolute authority from the papacy and to place it in the hands of the College of Cardinals. He rejected any attempt to share authority with the cardinals, issuing a bull to that effect which they signed.
Pope Paul delighted in pageantry and games and carnivals replete with lavish banquets for dignitaries. Colorful displays and races marked his papacy. In 1470 he decreed that jubilee years should be held four times in a century rather than twice.
He spent exorbitant sums collecting art objects and jewels and hangings. He built the lavish Palazzo di Venezia in Rome, (pictured to your left) and used it as his residence.
Pope Paul eliminated the college of abbreviators, and replaced them with clergy who became clerics. In fact, the papal historian, Platina (1421 – 1481) who protested the removal, was imprisoned and tortured. He later wrote Lives of the Popes and blackened the reputation and memory of this pope as a result of his treatment.
In some ways, Paul was an enigma: he suppressed the Roman academy and did not permit the teaching of classical poets but surrounded himself with scholars. He restored ancient monuments and collected beautiful art. He installed the first printing press in Rome.
Like his predecessors, the advancing empire of the Turks and the spread of Islam plagued him. He attempted an alliance with a Persian prince in the hope of lessening the power of Sultan Mehment II who had captured Constantinople. However, no political powers were interested in mounting another crusade. His efforts went unheeded.
An untimely death at the age of fifty-four, possibly of a stroke, ended Pope Paul’s attempts to marry Ivan III of Russia to the daughter of the last great Christian emperor in the East. He was unsuccessful in negotiations with Louis XI of France over ongoing struggles, particularly the Pragmatic Sanctions of Bourges which granted certain liberties to the French Church. Other monarchical struggles went unresolved as well.
A pontificate replete with public displays, marked by personal excess but not nepotism, ended abruptly in 1471, after only seven years.
One of the most unusual and valuable items in the Collection is a matrix from the papacy of Paul II.