Pope Sixtus IV

Last updated

Sixtus IV
Bishop of Rome
Giusto di gand, sisto IV, louvre.jpg
Portrait by van Gent or Berruguete, c. 1474
Papacy began9 August 1471
Papacy ended12 August 1484
Predecessor Paul II
Successor Innocent VIII
Consecration25 August 1471
by  Guillaume d'Estouteville
Created cardinal18 September 1467
by Paul II
Personal details
Birth nameFrancesco della Rovere
Born21 July 1414
Celle Ligure, Republic of Genoa
Died12 August 1484(1484-08-12) (aged 70)
Rome, Papal States
Previous post(s)
Other popes named Sixtus
Papal styles of
Pope Sixtus IV
C o a popes Della Rovere.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone
Ordination history of
Pope Sixtus IV
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated by Guillaume d'Estouteville
Date25 August 1471
Elevated by Pope Paul II
Date18 September 1467 in pectore (revealed 19 September 1467)
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Pope Sixtus IV as principal consecrator
Pierre Engelpert 25 March 1477
Georg Hessler 13 February 1480
Giuliano della Rovere 1481
Matthias Scheit 31 December 1481

Pope Sixtus IV (21 July 1414 – 12 August 1484), born Francesco della Rovere, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 9 August 1471 to his death. His accomplishments as pope included the construction of the Sistine Chapel and the creation of the Vatican Archives. A patron of the arts, he brought together the group of artists who ushered the Early Renaissance into Rome with the first masterpieces of the city's new artistic age.


Sixtus founded the Spanish Inquisition through the bull Exigit sincerae devotionis affectus (1478), and he annulled the decrees of the Council of Constance. He was noted for his nepotism and was personally involved in the infamous Pazzi conspiracy. [1]

Early life

Francesco was born to a family of modest means from Liguria, Italy, the son of Leonardo della Rovere and Luchina Monleoni. He was born in Celle Ligure, a town near Savona. [2]

As a young man, Della Rovere joined the Franciscan Order, an unlikely choice for a political career, and his intellectual qualities were revealed while he was studying philosophy and theology at the University of Pavia. He went on to lecture at Padua and many other Italian universities. [3]

In 1464, Della Rovere was elected Minister General of the Franciscan order at the age of 50. In 1467, he was appointed Cardinal by Pope Paul II with the titular church being the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli. Before his papal election, Cardinal della Rovere was renowned for his unworldliness and had written learned treatises, including On the Blood of Christ and On the Power of God. [4] His reputation for piety was one of the deciding factors that prompted the College of Cardinals to elect him Pope upon the unexpected death of Paul II at the age of fifty-four. [5]


Upon being elected Pope, Della Rovere adopted the name Sixtus, which had not been used since the 5th century. One of his first acts was to declare a renewed crusade against the Ottoman Turks in Smyrna. However, after the conquest of Smyrna, the fleet disbanded. [6] Some fruitless attempts were made towards unification with the Greek Church. For the remainder of his pontificate, Sixtus turned to temporal issues and dynastic considerations.


Pope Sixtus IV appoints Platina as Prefect of the Library, by Melozzo da Forli, accompanied by his relatives Melozzo da Forli 001.jpg
Pope Sixtus IV appoints Platina as Prefect of the Library, by Melozzo da Forlì, accompanied by his relatives

Sixtus IV sought to strengthen his position by surrounding himself with relatives and friends. In the fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, he is accompanied by his Della Rovere and Riario nephews, not all of whom were made cardinals; the protonotary apostolic Pietro Riario (on his right), the future Pope Julius II/ Giuliano Della Rovere standing before him; and Girolamo Riario and Giovanni della Rovere, behind the kneeling Platina, author of the first humanist history of the popes. [7] His nephew Pietro Riario also benefited from his nepotism. Pietro became one of the richest men in Rome and was entrusted with Pope Sixtus' foreign policy. However, Pietro died prematurely in 1474, and his role passed to Giuliano Della Rovere.

The secular fortunes of the Della Rovere family began when Sixtus invested his nephew Giovanni with the lordship of Senigallia and arranged his marriage to the daughter of Federico III da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino; from that union came a line of Della Rovere dukes of Urbino that lasted until the line expired, in 1631. [8] Six of the thirty-four cardinals that he created were his nephews. [9]

In his territorial aggrandizement of the Papal States, his niece's son Cardinal Raffaele Riario, for whom the Palazzo della Cancelleria was constructed, was suspected of colluding in the failed Pazzi conspiracy of 1478 to assassinate both Lorenzo de' Medici and his brother Giuliano and replace them in Florence with Sixtus IV's other nephew, Girolamo Riario. Francesco Salviati, Archbishop of Pisa and a main organizer of the plot, was hanged on the walls of the Florentine Palazzo della Signoria. Sixtus IV replied with an interdict and two years of war with Florence.

According to the later published chronicle of the Italian historian Stefano Infessura, Diary of the City of Rome, Sixtus was a "lover of boys and sodomites", awarding benefices and bishoprics in return for sexual favours and nominating a number of young men as cardinals, some of whom were celebrated for their good looks. [10] [11] [12] However, Infessura had partisan allegiances to the Colonna and so is not considered to be always reliable or impartial. [13] The English churchman and Protestant polemicist John Bale, writing a century later, attributed to Sixtus "the authorisation to practice sodomy during periods of warm weather" to the "Cardinal of Santa Lucia". [14] Although such accusations are easily dismissed as anti-Catholic propaganda, [10] they still prompted the noted historian of the Catholic Church, Ludwig von Pastor, to issue a firm rebuttal. [15]

Foreign policy

Sixtus continued a dispute with King Louis XI of France, who upheld the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438), which held that papal decrees needed royal assent before they could be promulgated in France. [3] That was a cornerstone of the privileges claimed for the Gallican Church and could never be shifted as long as Louis XI manoeuvred to replace King Ferdinand I of Naples with a French prince. Louis was thus in conflict with the papacy, and Sixtus could not permit it.

On 1 November 1478, Sixtus published the papal bull Exigit Sincerae Devotionis Affectus through which the Spanish Inquisition was established in the Kingdom of Castile. [16] Sixtus consented under political pressure from Ferdinand of Aragon, [16] who threatened to withhold military support from his kingdom of Sicily. Nevertheless, Sixtus IV quarrelled over protocol and prerogatives of jurisdiction; he was unhappy with the excesses of the Inquisition and condemned the most flagrant abuses in 1482. [17]

As a temporal prince who constructed stout fortresses in the Papal States, he encouraged the Venetians to attack Ferrara, which he wished to obtain for another nephew. Ercole I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, was allied with the Sforzas of Milan, the Medicis of Florence along with the King of Naples, normally a hereditary ally and champion of the papacy. The angered Italian princes allied to force Sixtus IV to make peace to his great annoyance. [3] For refusing to desist from the very hostilities that he himself had instigated and for being a dangerous rival to Della Rovere dynastic ambitions in the Marche, Sixtus placed Venice under interdict in 1483. He also lined the coffers of the state by unscrupulously selling high offices and privileges. [6]

In ecclesiastical affairs, Sixtus promoted the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which had been confirmed at the Council of Basle in 1439, [6] and he designated 8 December as its feastday. In 1476, he issued the apostolic constitution Cum Praeexcelsa, establishing a Mass and Office for the feast. He formally annulled the decrees of the Council of Constance in 1478.


The two papal bulls issued by Pope Nicholas V, Dum Diversas of 1452 and Romanus Pontifex of 1455, had effectively given the Portuguese the rights to acquire slaves along the African Coast by force or trade. Those concessions were confirmed by Sixtus in his own bull, Aeterni regis , of 21 June 1481. [18] Arguably the "ideology of conquest" expounded in those texts became the means by which commerce and conversion were facilitated. [19]

In November 1476, Isabel and Fernando ordered an investigation into rights of conquest in the Canary Islands, and in the spring of 1478, they sent Juan Rejon with sixty soldiers and thirty cavalry to the Grand Canary, where the natives retreated inland.

Sixtus's earlier threats to excommunicate all captains or pirates who enslaved Christians in the bull Regimini Gregis of 1476 could have been intended to emphasise the need to convert the natives of the Canary Islands and Guinea and establish a clear difference in status between those who had converted and those who resisted. [20] The ecclesiastical penalties were directed towards those who were enslaving the recent converts. [21]

Princely patronage

Sixtus IV.png

As a civic patron in Rome, even the anti-papal chronicler Stefano Infessura agreed that Sixtus should be admired. The dedicatory inscription in the fresco by Melozzo da Forlì in the Vatican Palace records: "You gave your city temples, streets, squares, fortifications, bridges and restored the Acqua Vergine as far as the Trevi..." In addition to restoring the aqueduct that provided Rome an alternative to the river water, which had made the city famously unhealthy, he restored or rebuilt over 30 of Rome's dilapidated churches such as San Vitale (1475) and Santa Maria del Popolo, and he added seven new ones. The Sistine Chapel was sponsored by Sixtus IV, as was the Ponte Sisto, [7] the Sistine Bridge (the first new bridge across the Tiber since Antiquity) and the building of Via Sistina (later named Borgo Sant'Angelo), a road leading from Castel Sant'Angelo to Saint Peter. All of that was done to facilitate the integration of the Vatican Hill and Borgo with the heart of Old Rome. That was part of a broader scheme of urbanization carried out under Sixtus IV, who swept the long-established markets from the Campidoglio in 1477 and decreed in a bull of 1480 the widening of streets and the first post-Roman paving, the removal of porticoes and other post-classical impediments to free public passage.

Ponte Sisto, the first bridge built at Rome since the Roman Empire Ponte Sisto, Rome.jpg
Ponte Sisto, the first bridge built at Rome since the Roman Empire

At the beginning of his papacy, in 1471, Sixtus had donated several historically important Roman sculptures that founded a papal collection of art, which would eventually develop into the collections of the Capitoline Museums. He also refounded, enriched and enlarged the Vatican Library. [7] He had Regiomontanus attempt the first sanctioned reorganisation of the Julian calendar and increased the size and prestige of the papal chapel choir, bringing singers and some prominent composers (Gaspar van Weerbeke, Marbrianus de Orto and Bertrandus Vaqueras) to Rome from the north.

In addition to being a patron of the arts, Sixtus was a patron of the sciences. Before he became pope, he had spent time at the very liberal and cosmopolitan University of Padua, which maintained considerable independence from the Church and had a very international character. As Pope, he issued a papal bull allowing local bishops to give the bodies of executed criminals and unidentified corpses to physicians and artists for dissection. It was that access to corpses which allowed the anatomist Vesalius, along with Titian's pupil Jan Stephen van Calcar, to complete the revolutionary medical/anatomical text De humani corporis fabrica .

Other activities


The Pope created 34 cardinals in eight consistories held during his reign, among them three nephews, one grandnephew and one other relative, thus continuing the practice of nepotism that he and his successors would engage in during this period.

Canonizations and beatifications

Sixtus IV named seven new saints, with the most notable being Bonaventure (1482); he also beatified one person, John Buoni (1483).

Uppsala University

In 1477, Sixtus IV issued a papal bull authorizing the creation of Uppsala University – the first university in Sweden and in the whole of Scandinavia. The choice of this location for the university derived from the fact that the archbishopric of Uppsala had been one of the most important sees in Sweden proper since Christianity first spread to this region in the ninth century, as well as Uppsala being long-standing hub for regional trade. Uppsala's bull, which granted the university its corporate rights, established a number of provisions. Among the most important of these was that the university was officially given the same freedoms and privileges as the University of Bologna. This included the right to establish the four traditional faculties of theology, law (Canon Law and Roman law), medicine, and philosophy, and to award the bachelor's, master's, licentiate, and doctoral degrees. The archbishop of Uppsala was also named as the university's Chancellor, and was charged with maintaining the rights and privileges of the university and its members. [22] This act of Sixtus IV had a profound long-term effect on the society and culture of Sweden, an effect which continues up to the present.


Sixtus IV became ill on 8 August 1484; this illness worsened on 10 August while the pope was attending an event in Rome. He felt unwell that evening and was forced to cancel a meeting he was to hold with his cardinals the following morning. The Pope grew weaker during the night of 11 August and he was unable to sleep. Pope Sixtus IV died the following evening – 12 August. [23]

The envoy of the Medici family summed up Sixtus' reign in the announcement to his master, "Today at 5 o'clock His Holiness Sixtus IV departed this life – may God forgive him!". [24]

Pope Sixtus's tomb was destroyed in the Sack of Rome in 1527. Today, his remains, along with the remains of his nephew Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere), are interred in St. Peter's Basilica, in the floor in front of the monument to Pope Clement X. A marble tombstone marks the site.

His bronze funerary monument, now in the basement Treasury of St. Peter's Basilica, made like a giant casket of goldsmith's work, is by Antonio Pollaiuolo. The top of the casket is a lifelike depiction of the Pope lying in state. Around the sides are bas-relief panels depicting allegorical female figures representing Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Painting, Astronomy, Philosophy and Theology—the classical liberal arts, with the addition of painting and theology. Each figure incorporates the oak tree ("rovere" in Italian), symbol of Sixtus IV. The overall program of the panels, their beauty, complex symbolism, classical references and their relative arrangement are compelling and comprehensive illustrations of the Renaissance worldview. None of them actually states how he died.


Sixtus created an unusually large number of cardinals during his pontificate (23) who were drawn from the roster of the princely houses of Italy, France and Spain, thus ensuring that many of his policies continued after his death:


Pope Sixtus is portrayed by Arthur Grosser in the short film Assassin's Creed: Lineage , a prequel to the video game Assassin's Creed II .

Pope Sixtus is portrayed by James Faulkner in the historical fantasy Da Vinci's Demons as having an identical twin, Alessandro. Shortly after the true Pope Sixtus, Francesco, was elected on conclave, Alessandro usurped the Holy See and had his brother locked up in Castel Sant'Angelo. The series implies that many of the more unsavoury parts of Sixtus' reign were really the work of his evil twin, who was out to gain power for himself.

Pope Sixtus is portrayed by Raul Bova in the second season, and John Lynch in the third season of the TV series Medici: Masters of Florence . [25]

See also


  1. Lauro Martines, April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 150–196.
  2. Miranda, Salvador. Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church
  3. 1 2 3 Butler, Richard Urban. "Pope Sixtus IV." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 25 Jul. 2014
  4. Martines, April Blood, p. 159
  5. Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes, New York: HarpersSanFrancisco, 1997, p.264-5.
  6. 1 2 3 "Sisto IV (1414-1484)", Palazzo-Medici Riccardi Archived 2014-08-10 at the Wayback Machine
  7. 1 2 3 Morris, Roderick Conway. "When Sixtus IV Needed a Painter", New York Times, May 10, 2011
  8. On his premature death (1501), Giovanni entrusted his son Francesco Maria to Federico's successor Guidobaldo (Duke of Urbino 1482–1508), who, without an heir, devised the duchy on the boy.
  9. McBrien, Lives of the Popes, p. 265.
  10. 1 2 Havelock Ellis (1906). Studies in the psychology of sex. Davis. Retrieved 2013-06-23.
  11. Nigel Cawthorne (1996). "Sex Lives of the Popes". Prion. p. 160.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  12. Stefano Infessura, Diario Della città di Roma (1303–1494), Ist. St. Italiano, Tip. Forzani, Roma 1890, pp. 155-156
  13. Egmont Lee, Sixtus IV and Men of Letters, Rome, 1978
  14. Giovanni Lydus, Analecta in labrum Nicolai de Clemangiis, De Corrupto Ecclesiae state. In class a: Nicolas de Clemanges, Opera Omnia, Elzevirius & Laurentius, Lugduni Batavorum 1593, p. 9)
  15. Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes [1889], vol. II, Desclée, Roma 1911, pp. 608-611
  16. 1 2 Costigan 2010, p. 15.
  17. Kamen 1997, p. 49.
  18. Raiswell, p. 469 see also "Black Africans in Renaissance Europe", p. 281
  19. Traboulay 1994, P. 78-79.
  20. Sued-Badillo (2007), see also O'Callaghan, p. 287-310
  21. "Slavery and the Catholic Church", John Francis Maxwell, p. 52, Barry Rose Publishers, 1975
  22. Sten Lindroth. A History of Uppsala University: 1477-1977. Almqvist & Wiksell International (1976)
  23. "Sede Vacante 1484". 2 May 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  24. Perie, The Triple Crown, Spring 1935 p.26
  25. Clarke, Stewart (10 August 2017). "Daniel Sharman and Bradley James Join Netflix's 'Medici' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety . Retrieved 11 August 2017.

Related Research Articles

Della Rovere Noble family of Italy

The Della Rovere family was a noble family of Italy. It had humble origins in Savona, in Liguria, and acquired power and influence through nepotism and ambitious marriages arranged by two Della Rovere popes: Francesco Della Rovere, who ruled as Sixtus IV from 1471 to 1484) and his nephew Giuliano, who became Julius II in 1503. Sixtus IV built the Sistine Chapel, which is named for him. The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome is the family church of the Della Rovere. Members of the family were influential in the Church of Rome, and as dukes of Urbino; that title was extinguished with the death of Francesco Maria II in 1631, and the family died out with the death of his granddaughter Vittoria, Grand Duchess of Tuscany.

Pope Innocent VIII Pope of the Catholic Church, 1484–1492

Pope Innocent VIII, born Giovanni Battista Cybo, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 29 August 1484 to his death. Son of the viceroy of Naples, Battista spent his early years at the Neapolitan court. He became a priest in the retinue of Cardinal Calandrini, half-brother to Pope Nicholas V (1447–55), Bishop of Savona under Pope Paul II, and with the support of Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere. After intense politicking by Della Rovere, Cibo was elected pope in 1484. King Ferdinand I of Naples had supported Cybo's competitor, Rodrigo Borgia. The following year, Pope Innocent supported the barons in their failed revolt.

Pope Julius II Pope from 1503 to 1513

Pope Julius II was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1503 to his death in 1513. Nicknamed the Warrior Pope or the Fearsome Pope, he chose his papal name not in honour of Pope Julius I but in emulation of Julius Caesar. One of the most powerful and influential popes, Julius II was a central figure of the High Renaissance and left a significant cultural and political legacy. As a result of his policies during the Italian Wars, the Papal States remained independent and centralized, and the office of the papacy continued to be crucial, diplomatically and politically, during the entirety of the 16th century in Italy and Europe.

Pazzi conspiracy 15th-century plot to displace the Medici family in Italy

The Pazzi conspiracy was a plot by members of the Pazzi family and others to displace the Medici family as rulers of Renaissance Florence.


The House of Riario, sometimes referred to as Riario-Sforza is an Italian noble family from Savona, near Genoa. Closely associated with the Papal States, the family gained control over several signorie ("lordships"), such as Bologna and Forlì.

Palazzo della Cancelleria

The Palazzo della Cancelleria is a Renaissance palace in Rome, Italy, situated between the present Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori, in the rione of Parione. It was built 1489–1513 by Baccio Pontelli and Antonio da Sangallo the Elder as a palace for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, and is regarded as the earliest Renaissance palace in Rome. The Palazzo houses the Papal Chancellery, is an extraterritorial property of the Holy See, and is designated as a World Heritage Site.

Girolamo Riario

Girolamo Riario was Lord of Imola and Forlì. He served as Captain General of the Church under his uncle Pope Sixtus IV. He took part in the 1478 Pazzi Conspiracy against the Medici, and was assassinated 10 years later by members of the Forlivese Orsi family.

Pietro Riario

Pietro Riario was an Italian cardinal and Papal diplomat.

Raffaele Riario

Raffaele Sansoni Galeoti Riario was an Italian Cardinal of the Renaissance, mainly known as the constructor of the Palazzo della Cancelleria and the person who invited Michelangelo to Rome. He was a patron of the arts. He was also the first adolescent to be elevated in the College of Cardinals in the history of the Holy See.

Ascanio Sforza Italian cardinal of the Catholic church

Ascanio Maria Sforza Visconti was an Italian Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Generally known as a skilled diplomat who played a major role in the election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, Sforza served as Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from 1492 until 1505.

Oliviero Carafa

Oliviero Carafa, in Latin Oliverius Carafa, was an Italian cardinal and diplomat of the Renaissance. Like the majority of his era's prelates, he displayed the lavish and conspicuous standard of living that was expected of a prince of the Church. In his career he set an example of conscientiousness for his contemporaries and mentored his relative, Giovanni Pietro Carafa, who was also "Cardinal Carafa" from 1536 to 1555, when he became Pope Paul IV.

The Apostolic Chancery was a dicastery of the Roman Curia at the service of the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. The principal and presiding official was the chancellor of the Holy Roman Church who was always the cardinal-priest of the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Damaso. The original, principal function of the office was to collect money to maintain the Papal army. Pope Pius VII reformed the office when Emperor Napoleon I of France obviated the need for Papal armies. In the early 20th century the office collected money for missionary work. Pope Paul VI abrogated the Cancellaria Apostolica on 27 February 1973. Its obligations were transferred to the Secretariat of State.

Andrea Bregno

Andrea di Cristoforo Bregno (1418–1506) was an Italian sculptor and architect of the Early Renaissance who worked in Rome from the 1460s and died just as the High Renaissance was getting under way.

Francesco Salviati Riario was the archbishop of Pisa in 1474 and one of the organizers of the Pazzi conspiracy. A blood-member of the Riario family, and of the Salviati family, he was also related by marriage to the Pazzi, Medici, Vettori, and other powerful families. Orphaned at a young age, Salviati was educated as a humanist but vied to succeed in the church, knowing he could not rise to power in the family after losing his father. Pro-Medici sources paint Salviati as a flatterer and gambler who lusted for the power that could be attained through church favour.

Marco Barbo of Venice was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church (1467) and patriarch of Aquileia (1470)

Giovanni della Rovere Italian condottiero

Giovanni della Rovere was an Italian condottiero. He was a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, and the brother of Giuliano della Rovere (1443–1513), Pope Julius II from 1503.

1484 papal conclave

The 1484 papal conclave elected Pope Innocent VIII after the death of Pope Sixtus IV.

1513 papal conclave

The 1513 papal conclave, occasioned by the death of Pope Julius II on 21 February 1513, opened on 4 March with twenty-five cardinals in attendance, out of a total number of thirty-one. The Conclave was presided over by Cardinal Raffaele Sansoni Riario, who was both Dean of the College of Cardinals and Cardinal Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church (Camerlengo). Voting began on 10 March, and there were only two Scrutinies. Negotiations after the first balloting led to the election of Giovanni de'Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and the de facto ruler of Florence, as Pope Leo X on the morning of 11 March.

Cardinals created by Sixtus IV

Pope Sixtus IV created 34 new cardinals in eight consistories:

Galeotto Franciotti della Rovere

Galeotto Franciotti della Rovere was an Italian Roman Catholic bishop and cardinal.


Further reading

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Paul II
9 August 1471 – 12 August 1484
Succeeded by
Innocent VIII