Pope Alexander VIII (1610–1691), Pietro Vito Ottoboni – a profligate enthusiast of old books

Bust of Pope Alexander VIII, Domenico Guidi, pic. Wikipedia, author Sailko

Bust of Pope Alexander VIII, Domenico Guidi, pic. Wikipedia, author Sailko

After the death of the aesthetic Pope Innocent XI, who as we know had no heart for artists and art and his principal work was the defense of Europe against a Turkish invasion, in 1689 Peter’s throne was assumed by a Venetian, a descendant of a well-known family, a lawyer by education, a man open to the world Pietro Vito Ottoboni.

Bust of Pope Alexander VIII, Domenico Guidi, pic. Wikipedia, author Sailko
Tombstone of Pope Alexander VIII, fragment, Basilica San Pietro in Vaticano

After the death of the aesthetic Pope Innocent XI, who as we know had no heart for artists and art and his principal work was the defense of Europe against a Turkish invasion, in 1689 Peter’s throne was assumed by a Venetian, a descendant of a well-known family, a lawyer by education, a man open to the world Pietro Vito Ottoboni.

     

His election, was significantly contributed to by the ex-nepot, Cardinal Flavio Chigi, with whom he worked together during the pontificate of Alexander VII. The very same name was also assumed by the new pope. At the time of his election, he was an elderly 79-year old man and – in contrast with his predecessor – he was thought of as an able diplomat, and a clergyman attached to current tradition, which he quickly showed by bringing back the custom abandoned by his predecessor of appointing nepots to high posts.

He also found common ground of understanding and compromise with the difficult and negatively predisposed to the papacy King of France Louis XIV, and when the need arose offered military aid in his homeland – Venice. The papal treasury rapidly emptied, not only to the joy of his numerous nephews and other relatives, but also of Romans – the pope introduced provisions liberalizing the trade of grain, which in turn lowered its cost, decreased taxes and established charity institutions. 

Alexander VIII was a great collector of old manuscripts and rare books, he had no time for other passions.

After his death, his grandnephew, funded him a grand, multi-colored monument, situated on the right side of the nave of St Peter’s Basilica (San Pietro in Vaticano). A bronze statue of Alexander is accompanied by two personifications of Prudence and Religion, as well as a relief depicting the pope during the ceremony of canonization of five saints in 1690. Their author was the prematurely deceased sculptor – Angelo de Rossi, the creator of among others, an imposing statue of saint James the Less in the Archbasilica of Saint John in Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano). The inscription sheds light on work and the persona of the funder of the statue – Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.