Alessandro Albani  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Alessandro Albani (October 15, 1692 – December 11, 1779) was an Italian aristocrat and cardinal, and a collector and patron of the arts.


Albani was born in Urbino. His education at La Sapienza University in Rome was towards a degree in jurisprudence. Early in life he also studied for a military career. He was made an honorary member of the military brotherhood of justice of the Knights of St. John, Rome, on August 26, 1701, at the age of nine, and a colonel of a regiment of dragoons in the pontifical troops, in 1707.

Alessandro Albani descended from the Albani family (branch of Urbino), which originated from into the Albani (family) that had established itself there from northern Albania in the 15th century. Alessandro himself was the nephew of Pope Clement XI Albani, who convinced him to set aside his budding military career, for which the weakness of his eyesight, that led to blindness in his advanced age, did not recommend him, and become a cardinal, an elevation effected on July 16, 1721, for which he required numerous special dispensations, not least because his brother Annibale Albani had been made a cardinal in 1711 and still sat in the Sacred College

Albani developed into one of the most astute antiquarians of his day, an arbiter of taste in the appreciation of Roman sculpture, and "a powerful and enterprising collector of Roman antiquities and patron of the arts... He used both ancient and modern art as a form of cultural capital," Seymour Howard observed, "giving away acquisitions as favours and selling them for perpetually needed funds or when they lost efficacy for him." His first apprenticeship in this area was served under the papal antiquary and curator Marcantonio Sabatini.

He was the formal protector of Rome's artists as patron of the Accademia di San Luca and was a powerful advocate for his favourites. Among the works of modern artists that passed through his hands was the album of drawings by Carlo Maratti that was sold in 1763 to George III and is conserved in the Royal Collection.

His worldly and undisciplined customs, and his sympathy with the Hanoverian party in Great Britain —whereas Clement kept the Stuart pretender as his perennial guest in Rome— exemplified by his friendship with Baron Philipp von Stosch, who shared many of Cardinal Albani's interests, and his correspondence with Sir Horace Mann, the British envoy at Florence, caused Clement many occasions of concern. Named papal envoy, with his brother Cardinal Carlo, to Bologna to welcome King Frederick IV of Denmark, he was sent in 1720 to Vienna to uphold papal rights in the duchy of Parma and Piacenza, recently awarded to Charles de Bourbon, and to conclude the negotiations for the restitution of Comacchio, in the possession of Habsburg troops since 1707.

His accommodating manner suited him for diplomatic tasks, such as the successful negotiations with Vittorio Amedeo II over conflicting rights of nomination and investiture, aggravated by the acquisition by the House of Savoy of Sardinia, over which the papacy had long-standing feudal pretensions. Accords were finalized in 1727, for which Vittorio Amedeo thanked him with a rich abbacy and the title of "Protector of the Kingdom". Within the Curia, however, the party of the zelanti considered the accords too generous in their terms. Tensions increased with the pontificate of Clement XII, unsympathetic to Savoia. When a new concordat was arrived at in 1741, Albani signed on the part of Savoia.

As a cardinal he participated in the conclaves of 1724, 1730, 1740, 1758, 1769, and 1774-1775. He announced the elections of Pope Clement XIII (1758), Pope Clement XIV (1769) and Pope Pius VI (1775). His consistent stand against French interests brought him closer to those of the Habsburgs; Cardinal Albani represented Habsburg Austria at the Holy See, from 1756 until his death. He was appointed Librarian of the Holy Roman Church on August 12, 1761.

From the time of the pontificate of Pope Clement XIV he realigned himself with the zelanti against the interference of the European monarchs in the diplomacy that surrounded the eventual expulsion and Suppression of the Jesuits from most Catholic countries.

He was buried in the Observant Franciscan Church of San Pietro in Urbino, Marche, Italy

Villa Albani

He is famous as the commissioner of the Villa Albani in Rome, projected in 1745. begun in 1751 according to Giuseppe Vasi and celebrated as complete in 1763, to house his evolving, constantly changing, sold, replaced and continually renewed series of collections of antiquities and Roman sculpture, which soon filled the casino that faced the Villa down a series of formal parterres. Albani's life-long friend Carlo Marchionni was the architect in charge, at the Villa and perhaps also for the two temples in the park, an Ionic temple of Diana and a sham ruin. The Albani antiquities were catalogued by the Cardinal's secretary, the first professional art historian, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who was supported by Albani from the time the Seven Years' War stranded him in Rome without his pension andwhose own connoisseurship was sharpened by the connection. Turns of events after the Napoleonic upheavals forced the Albani heirs to sell the villa to the Chigi, who eventually sold it to the Torlonia, the richest Roman bankers of the 19th century, to whom the villa still belongs. Cardinal Albani's coins and medals went to the Vatican Library, over which he presided from 1761. The sarcophagi, columns and sculptures have been dispersed, but the famous bas-relief of Antinous remains in the villa.

Cardinal Albani had another villa with a large park at Porto d'Anzio, that was finished in February 1732, but was habitable for a few weeks only in spring because of malaria. Perhaps the villa, and certainly a casina in the park were by Marchionni. Excavations in the park brought to light many Roman sculptures. Here J. J. Winckelmann was housed.

See also

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