Leo X

March 11, 1513 - December 1, 1521





Pope Leo X was born Giovanni de' Medici in Florence in 1475.  He was the middle son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and a great grandson of Cosimo de' Medici.


Appointments during Childhood

Giovanni's career in the church was initiated by his father, who arranged for him to be accepted into the clergy when he was seven, to be assigned benefices when he was eight, and to be given provisional status as a cardinal when he was fourteen.


In view of his age, he was not permitted to display the insignia of the office of cardinal for three years, which were to be spent studying theology and canon law.


Years as a Cardinal

After being invested as a full-fledged cardinal in 1492, Giovanni went to Rome.  Following the deaths of his father and Pope Innocent VIII and the election of his rival Cardinal Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, Giovanni's career slowed, and he returned to Florence.


After the Medici were exiled from Florence following the 1494 invasion by the French, Giovanni traveled in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  He returned to Rome in 1500.


In the years before his own election as pope, he pursued worldly pleasures and indulged his passion for the arts, especially painting, literature, and music.


With the election of Julius II in 1503, Giovanni's political prospects improved, and in 1511, he was made legate (papal representative) to Bologna and put in charge of the papal army.


Reinstatement of Medici in Florence

In 1512, Pope Julius II reinstated the Medici family as the rulers of Florence.


Julius' decision was partly motivated by a desire to punish the city.  In 1511, while briefly free of Medici rule, the republican government had decided to support the cardinals who had called for the pope's deposition during a council in Pisa.


After the fall of the republic, traditional Florentine governmental bodies, such as the balia, a governing body of citizens were reinstated.  Real power, however, remained with the four main members of the Medici family:  Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, his brother Giuliano, his cousin Giulio, and his nephew Lorenzo.


The principal head of the family in Florence was Giuliano, but it was Cardinal Giovanni who wielded the most power and influence from his seat in Bologna.


Election as Pope

Although much had been promised to the cardinal electors beforehand by Giovanni's private secretary, Julius II's bull outlawing vote-selling in papal elections prevented Giovanni's election from being determined by outright bribery.


Although he was only 37, Giovanni's health was poor, and he suffered from a painful fistula.  Lancing by a doctor during the conclave temporarily relieved the situation, but Giovanni pretended to be sicker than he was to gain the support of Cardinal Riario (a member of the della Rovere family) and others who saw some advantages for themselves in having a short-lived pope.





Status with France in 1513

In 1512, the year before Giovanni came to power as Pope Leo X, France was defeated by the Holy League.  Consequently, French-controlled cities, including those held by Ferrara, were divided by the conquering allies of the League (Venice, Spain, Switzerland, England, and the papacy).


Pope Leo joined forces with Emperor Maximilian to prevent the French, who had formed an alliance with the Venetians, from recapturing Milan.


Francis I Becomes King and Retakes Milan

In 1515, King Louis XII of France was succeeded by Francis I, who defeated the pope and his allies at Marignano.  Francis installed himself as Duke of Milan, replacing Massimiliano Sforza, who had been a puppet of the Swiss.


Pope Leo X was forced to surrender control of Parma and Piacenza, two of the cities allocated to Julius after the Holy League's victories over the French in 1512.


Concordat with Francis in Bologna

To settle their ongoing dispute over papal control of the church in France, Pope Leo X met King Francis I in Bologna in 1516.  Each of its two principal resolutions provided a major benefit to one of the two parties.


=Revoking Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. The Church welcomed the dissolution of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges because the institution of this policy had been a major point of contention between the papacy and the French monarchy since its creation.  The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges was a proclamation by King Charles VII of France in 1438 that affirmed the authority of an ecumenical council over the pope, called for regular meetings of such a council, and restricted the pope's authority to make decisions affecting the French branch of the Roman Catholic Church or to demand revenues from the French church.


=French control over high church offices. Pope Leo X conceded his right to appoint candidates to high offices of the church in France.  These offices produced considerable income for their holders, and without control over who held them, the pope lost the ability to ensure that those funds flowed back to Rome and the Italian peninsula.  The cardinals and other interested parties criticized Leo for having given up too much to the French.





Leo X's Deposition of della Rovere Duke

In 1516, Pope Leo X deposed Francesco Maria della Rovere as Duke of Urbino because the duke had not joined the papal forces in 1515 when they fought to keep the French from invading northern Italy.  Francesco resisted but the papal forces won out.  Although Francesco retook and briefly held Urbino in 1517, he did not regain power until Pope Leo's death in 1521.


Installation of Nephew as Duke

The pope installed his nephew Lorenzo de' Medici as the new Duke of Urbino.


Financial Toll

The pope's wars with Urbino over control of the duchy came at a high price.  The war created huge debt and drained the papal treasury.





The Plot

In 1517, a plot to assassinate the pope was discovered when a letter between conspirators was intercepted.


The plan involved bribing a doctor to poison bandages applied to a persistent fistula suffered by the pope.


The Conspirators and Their Executions

The leader of the plot, known as the "Petrucci plot," was Cardinal Alfonso Petrucci, who was angry with the pope for having removed his brother Borghese from power in Siena.  Cardinal Petrucci was executed by strangling, and his secretary and the doctor were drawn and quartered.


Fining of Four Lesser-Involved Cardinals

Four others, Cardinals Sauli, Volterrano, Castellanese, and Riario, were aware of the plot if not complicit in it.  They were able to maintain their cardinalates and allowed to avoid imprisonment or execution by paying enormous fines.


One result of this assessment was that the block-size palace built by Cardinal Riario passed to the church for use by the Chancellery, hence the palace's name, the Palazzo della Cancelleria.


Packing the College of Cardinals

To counteract the antagonism toward him that was evident in the involvement of so many cardinals in the plot on his life, Pope Leo X created 31 new cardinals.





Establishment of Lateran V Council

As part of his oath upon becoming pope, Leo X agreed to continue the meetings of the Fifth Lateran Council, which had been opened by his predecessor, Julius II.  From 1512 through 1517, the Council met in twelve sessions.



The Council issued resolutions on a number of topics.


=Condemnation of Pisan Cardinals. The Council condemned the actions of the cardinals who met at Pisa in 1511 to call for Pope Julius II's deposition.


=Affirmation of the Concordat with Francis I. The Council affirmed Pope Leo's 1516 Concordat with King Francis I, especially the abolition of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, which the Council had previously condemned.


=Requiring approval for printing books. The Council forbade printing books that had not been approved by Church officials.


=Institution of Europe-wide Crusade. The Council resolved to unify Christendom in a Crusade against the Turks in the Eastern Mediterranean region.


=Reforms of abuses. The Council outlined and recognized many abusive and corrupt practices within the church.  However, without leadership from Pope Leo X, it was not able to establish a mechanism or plan for instituting reforms.


Closing the Fifth Lateran Council

In 1517, Pope Leo X closed the Fifth Lateran Council without initiating a program of reforms.  





Luther's 95 Theses

In 1517, Martin Luther posted his famous 95 Theses on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg.  This document enunciated the Church's abusive practices.


Events Precipitating Luther's Posting

Two events precipitated Martin Luther's decision to post the 95 theses.


1)Closing Lateran V Council without instituting reforms. When the pope closed the Lateran V Council without instituting a process of real reform, Luther was left with little hope that abuses in the church would be corrected.


2)Accelerating the selling of indulgences. The pope authorized a more aggressive campaign for the sale of indulgences to finance the building of a new St. Peter's.  In Germany, the Dominican Giovanni Tetzel went so far as to claim that indulgences could free deceased relatives from Purgatory.


Dueling Decrees and Burnings

In a bull, the pope commanded Luther to submit to questioning in Rome, but he did not come.


In 1520, the pope issued a bull condemning Luther's preaching on "free conscience" and excommunicating him.


Luther burned this bull in the main square of Wittenberg.


In 1521, the pope definitively excommunicated Luther in another bull, and again, Luther publicly burned it.


The Diet at Worms

The pope asked Emperor Charles V to question Luther, who was called before a German legislature (called a Diet) in Worms, Germany in 1521.  The emperor condemned his views, but Luther avoided arrest by seeking the protection of the Elector of Saxony.


Other Matters Distracting the Pope

Besides his usual interests in the arts and lavish living, the issues distracting Pope Leo X from checking Luther's growing, disruptive influence were the election of a new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the territorial politics arising from foreign claims in Italy.





Maximilian's Death

The Hapsburg emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire died in 1519.  Maximilian nominated his grandson Charles to succeed him.


Opposition to Charles V

King Francis of France and the pope were both opposed to the title of emperor going to someone who was already especially powerful like Charles V.  He inherited Aragon from his maternal grandfather, King Ferdinand II; Castile from his maternal grandmother, Queen Isabella; Burgundy from his father, Philip the Handsome; and much of central Europe (Hapsburg Possessions) from his paternal grandfather.  The pope and king feared that the additional strength of an imperial title would place too much power in his hands.


Bribery Influencing the Election

The Princes of Europe served as Electors.


The election of Maximilian's successor, like so many other elections of the era, was influenced by bribery, and Charles' supporters were more successful than their opposition in bribing the electors.





Alliances with Francis I and Charles V

Pope Leo X, like his predecessors Alexander VI and Julius II, was concerned with eliminating or minimizing foreign control in Italy.  Leo made alliances with each of these forces against the others, which gained him the mistrust of both.


The pope first entered into an alliance with Francis in 1519.  Then, he formed an alliance with Charles V in 1521, which enabled him to drive the French out of Milan and re-take Parma and Piacenza for the Papal States.


Northern Italy's Value to Its Neighbors

Northwestern Italy, especially the duchy of Milan, was fought over many times in the early decades of the sixteenth century because it was of such strategic value to its northern neighbors.


=Value to Francis I. Francis I wanted northern Italy as both a buffer against neighbors and an extension of French territory.  (Like the Sforza family, who ruled Milan from the mid-fifteenth century, Francis claimed Milan through his relationship to the Visconti line.  Francis was the great grandson of Valentina Visconti, who was a legitimate daughter of Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti.  The Sforza family claim is based on Francesco Sforza's having married Bianca Maria Visconti, who was an illegitimate daughter of Giangaleazzo Visconti's son by his second wife.)


=Value to Charles V. Milan was strategically located between Charles' principal possessions, Spain and central Europe.


Awarding Titles of "Defender of the Faith"

In 1521, Pope Leo conferred the title of "Defender of the Faith" on two monarchs who spoke out against Martin Luther's views.


King Henry VIII of England. The pope awarded the title to King Henry VIII of England for writing a treatise defending the Seven Sacraments, which Luther had challenged.  


Emperor Charles V. The pope awarded the title to Emperor Charles V for calling Luther to testify at the Diet of Worms and condemning the views he expressed there.  


Sudden Death of Pope Leo X

In December of 1521, Pope Leo died suddenly of malaria, leaving the Church in debt and under attack from much of Europe.





Conduct Promoting Medici Interests

Much of Pope Leo X's behavior as pope favored his family's interests by expanding both their territory in Italy and their influence within the Church.


Pro-French Policy. To preserve Medici control of Florence, Leo X acquiesced to France's occupation of Milan and other parts of northern Italy and allowed the French to fill high offices in the French church hierarchy.  He also commissioned extravagant gifts for the French kings such as two altarpieces by Raphael and a full-size copy of the Laocoön.  (This work had not been finished when Leo X died, and it was not sent by his successors).


War with Urbino. Pope Leo X spent heavily to topple Francesco Maria della Rovere from power in Urbino so that he could pass the duchy on to his nephew Lorenzo the Younger de' Medici.  


Nepotism. Like many popes, Leo X promoted his relatives' careers through titles and donations of land or through appointments in the Church.  He promoted six relatives to the rank of cardinal. 


Failure to Institute Reforms

It is difficult to know if any action taken by the pope would have prevented the Reformation once Luther had brought his challenge to the public forum.  In any case, it is clear that Leo X failed to grasp the seriousness of the dissatisfaction with the Church in the countries of northern Europe.  Leo's misguided response was directed at Luther himself rather than at the issues he raised.


Irresponsible Financial Management

Pope Leo X spent a great deal on lavish living.  He arranged numerous festivals, processions, and theatrical performances.  His feasts consisted of dozens of courses and included such delicacies as peacocks' tongues.


Although the papal treasury was full at the end of Julius II's pontificate, it was empty in a few short years following Leo X's election, and by the time of his death, a staggering debt had taken its place.  Rare articles of papal jewelry and the tapestries designed by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel were among the articles that Leo borrowed money against.


Legacy of Patronage

Although Leo X expected his patronage to be his legacy, the inadequacy of his stewardship in the period leading up to and following Luther's all-important stand against the Roman Catholic Church overshadows his artistic achievements, which in many cases were continuations of projects conceived by Julius II.  After the death of Bramante in 1514, Leo X appointed his protégé Raphael to take his place as his architect in Rome and at the Vatican.





Mapping and Excavating Antiquities.  The pope created the position of chief antiquarian and named Raphael to the post.  In a now-famous letter to Leo X, Raphael urged the conservation of ancient sites.  He produced an archaeological map of Rome's antiquities and a description of sites and called for a record to be made of every ancient building that remained by a plan, a section, and an elevation.  Raphael oversaw the excavation of ancient sites and the establishment of an antiquities museum at the Belvedere Court.  


Building new streets. Pope Leo laid out three new streets that led southward from Rome's northern city gate, the Porta del Popolo.  The streets are the Via Babuino (easternmost), the Via del Corso (middle), and the Via Leonina (westernmost), which is now called the Ripetta.  (In 1589, Pope Sixtus V enlarged the area inside the gate, creating the nucleus of the present Piazza del Popolo.)


Building and Repairing Churches. Leo X sponsored the construction of several new churches.  He also restored many church buildings in need of repair such as the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Laterano, which was believed to date back to Constantine, the first Christian emperor.


Beginning Villa Madama. Through his cousin Giulio, Leo X commissioned the Villa Madama, which imitated imperial villas of ancient Rome in its huge scale and selection of features.  






Many of Leo X's commissions at the Vatican were continuations of projects designed by Bramante for Pope Julius II.  Leo X set up a fabbrica, a committee to manage the construction of projects, and appointed an agent to be a liaison between the architect and the committee.  This ultimately reduced the authority of the architect.


Continuing St. Peter's. Leo X continued funding the construction of new St. Peter's, and after Bramante's death, Raphael and Fra Giocondo were named as the chief architects and Giuliano da Sangallo as the administrative liaison.  Raphael's design for St. Peter's involved the addition of a five-bay nave to Bramante's central-plan design, but this plan and the modifications designed by Raphael's successor, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, were swept away by Michelangelo after 1546.  


Continuing Belvedere Court. Leo X continued construction of the Belvedere Court, which Bramante had begun under Julius II.


Continuing façade and adding 4th story. Leo X continued building the entrance façade of the Vatican Palace and expanded the project with a fourth story designed by Raphael.  Raphael's addition resembles the other three stories in being a loggia but differs from them in being a colonnade instead of an arcade.



Many commissions addressed the decoration of previously built parts of the Vatican Palace.


Painting two rooms of Stanze. Leo commissioned Raphael to continue decorating the rooms on the third story of the Nicholas V wing.  Under Leo, Raphael completed the Stanza d'Eliodoro and began and completed the Stanza dell' Incendio.  The decoration of the Stanza dell' Incendio, which served as Leo X's dining room, included scenes featuring two of his namesake popes, Leo III and Leo IV, who are portrayed with Leo X's features.  The depiction of architecture in the Fire in the Borgo demonstrates Raphael's knowledge of ancient architectural forms and provides valuable visual evidence regarding the appearance of Old St. Peter's.  


Fabrication of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. In 1515 Leo X commissioned Raphael to paint cartoons for a set of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.  The tapestries depict scenes from the lives of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.  Raphael's cartoons were sent to tapestry workshops in Brussels to be woven of silk laced with gold and silver.  The borders framing these scenes boldly referred to Leo X by illustrating not only Medici family emblems but also the scenes from the family's history, including Leo's own life.


Painting of "Raphael Bible" in loggia. In 1518-19 Raphael oversaw the decoration of the third-story loggia of the Vatican Palace's entrance façade, which joined Leo's apartments, the Stanze, at a right angle on the palace's northeast corner.  The loggia's 13 square vaults were painted with 52 scenes (four per vault) from the Bible, which led to the loggia's popular name, "the Raphael Bible."  Twelve of the scenes are from the Old Testament, and many are subjects that Michelangelo had recently painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The scenes are set in a framework of grotesques and other designs based on the decoration in the recently discovered Domus Aurea.  Raphael's assistants included Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Giovanni Penni, and Perin del Vaga.  These artists played a major part in carrying out the decoration, which was executed in a combination of fresco and stucco.  


Painting Transfiguration. The Transfiguration was commissioned by Giulio de' Medici.  The painting, which represented a major change in style for Raphael, was essentially complete when Raphael died.  Although it had been commissioned for the Cathedral at Narbonne in France, Giulio had it installed in San Pietro in Montorio in 1523 because he was unwilling to part with it.  The painting was taken to France by Napoleon in 1797 but returned to Italy to become part of the Vatican collection in the 19th century.  






Through his cousin Giulio, who governed Florence after 1519, Leo X commissioned Michelangelo to work on several projects there.  Two of the projects were additions to the Medici family church of San Lorenzo, and the third was a change to their family palace.


Windows in arches of Medici Palace. In 1516, the open arches on the ground story of the Palazzo Medici were filled in for security reasons, and Michelangelo was commissioned to design windows to be built into the new masonry.  


Façade for San Lorenzo (not constructed), 1516-20.  On behalf of his cousin Pope Leo X, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici invited several architects including Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo to submit designs for a façade of San Lorenzo.  Ultimately Michelangelo was awarded the commission.  Although he had the stone quarried for the façade, the project grew to be too elaborate to execute and eventually, he was asked to work on a different project, the design of a tomb for two members of the Medici family who had died recently.  


Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo, begun 1520.  Following the deaths in 1516 of his brother Giuliano de' Medici and in 1519 of his nephew Lorenzo the Younger de' Medici, Pope Leo X decided to build a family funeral chapel for their tombs that would serve as a second sacristy at San Lorenzo.  Michelangelo was commissioned to design and build it by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, who became Florence's governor after the premature deaths of Giuliano and Lorenzo, the last two governors.












Renaissance Popes 10 of 20





Raphael's Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi, 1517-18