Pius II

August 19, 1458 - August 15, 1464




Family and Birthplace

Pope Pius II, was born Aeneas Silvio Piccolomini in 1405 in Corsignano, near Siena.  He later renamed the town Pienza, a name derived from Pius.



At the university in Siena, Aeneas studied classics and law, subjects that prepared him for his literary and political career.


Pre-Papal Employment

Both before taking orders and afterward, Aeneas worked as a secretary and diplomat for a number of important groups and individuals, and in this capacity, he traveled in many parts of Europe.  He worked for Frederick III, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and for Popes Eugene IV, Nicholas V, and Callistus III.  



Aeneas was ordained in 1446, appointed Bishop of Trieste in 1447, appointed Bishop of Siena in 1450, and made a cardinal by Callistus III in 1456.





Supported Spanish Claim to Naples

Pius supported the Spanish claim to the Kingdom of Naples, which led to his poor relationship with the French, who were unwilling to support his efforts to raise a crusade.


Condemned Slavery and Human Cruelty

In 1462 the pope condemned slavery, which in fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy involved the purchase of Tartars, Circassians, and Russians, as well as black Africans.  Pius was also compassionate towards Jews.


Died Attempting to Lead a Crusade

Pope Pius II repeatedly called for a crusade to take back Constantinople and other formerly Christian territories in the eastern Mediterranean region that had been conquered by the Turks.  Because he encountered resistance from European leaders, the pope decided to lead a mercenary force himself.  In 1464, while waiting for troops and ships to arrive at Ancona, a port across the Adriatic Sea from Dalmatia, Pius II died of a fever.






Before taking Holy Orders at age 41, Aeneas had an active career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, all in Latin.  He wrote a novel, The tale of two lovers, a play, Chrysis, and books and essays on many topics such as the lives of important men of his day, topography, historical geography, and the education of boys.


His memoirs, which are filled with astute observations of his contemporaries' thoughts and actions, are of great cultural and literary significance.  Although written in the third person, they express a candor that was unrivaled until the advent of Cellini's accounts of jealousy and intrigue in the next century.


Manuscript Collecting

Pius amassed an outstanding collection of illuminated manuscripts.  After his death, Pius' nephew Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, who Pius II had named Archbishop of Siena, built a library to the left of the nave of Siena's Cathedral to house his uncle's collection of manuscripts and papers.



Pius' antiquarian interests are demonstrated in his bull (document bearing the pope's seal) forbidding the destruction of ancient buildings.  He was also the subject of the dedication of Roma triumphans by his secretary, Flavio Biondo.


Friendship with Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa

Pius maintained an intimate friendship with Nicholas of Cusa, a German cardinal who was an outspoken exponent of Church reform in Germany.  Like Pope Pius, Cardinal Cusa had a wide range of interests and abilities that included Classical literature and the sciences.


Cardinal Cusa's theorized that both the earth and the heavens moved and that the universe was infinite.  His cosmological theories pre-dated those of Copernicus by a century, and it is uncertain whether his work had a direct influence on later thinkers.





Pienza and Its Buildings

Pope Pius II commissioned Bernardo Rossellino to build a new city center in Corsignano, which was renamed Pienza.  Its main buildings were the cathedral, the Piccolomini palace, the Episcopal palace, and the civic palace.  Pope Pius, who had written on the subjects of topography and geography, had definite opinions about how the piazza and its buildings should be oriented to the site, which overlooked the Orcia Valley.


Piazza of Pienza. The placement of the buildings forms a trapezoid shape.  The construction of Pienza's town center marks the first time in the Renaissance that an ideal scheme of town-planning was actually carried out.  The piazza is notable in that it is surrounded by ecclesiastical and secular architecture. This approach to an ideal city center was recommended by Alberti in his De re aedificatoria, which influenced Pius II and Rossellino.


Pienza Cathedral, Pienza, 1459-62. Pienza Cathedral is unusual for Italy as the pope specified that it be based on a Gothic church he had particularly admired when traveling in Austria.  Although some of the façade's individual members are classical, their arrangement is not.  The rib vaulting and cluster columns on the inside are not part of the vocabulary of Renaissance design.  


Palazzo Piccolomini, Pienza, 1459-62. Pope Pius II commissioned the Palazzo Piccolomini for his sister.  This building has a similar appearance to the slightly earlier Palazzo Rucellai by Alberti.  Rossellino's supervision of the construction of the Palazzo Piccolomini is certain,  but the extent to which Alberti played a role is still a matter of debate. 


Improvements at Old St. Peter's

Pope Pius cleared more space near the entrance to Old St. Peter's and made several improvements in preparation for a ceremonial procession to install an important Christian relic, the head of St. Andrew.  Andrew was a disciple of Jesus Christ,  who traveled through the eastern Mediterranean and was crucified by the Romans.  The head was brought from Patras, a port city in Greece that was in danger of being taken over by the Turks.


Chapel of St. Andrew. A chapel was built in Old St. Peter's to house the head of St. Andrew, which was contained in a silver-gilt reliquary that the pope commissioned.  The reliquary stood within a tabernacle.  


Constantinian steps (rebuilding). In 1460, Pius commissioned the rebuilding of the Constantinian steps outside the entrance to Old St. Peter's.


Benediction Loggia. In 1462, Pius initiated the building of the Benediction Loggia, which rose from the upper landing of the steps.


Statues of Apostles. Pius commissioned Paolo Romano to make colossal statues of several of the Apostles, including St. Peter and St. Paul, which were placed at the foot of the Constantinian steps.  A statue of St. Andrew was placed on the Ponte Milvio, the bridge over which the saint's head was brought into Rome. 















Renaissance Popes 3 of 20