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Harmonia Time Capsule: Arts Patronage In 17th-Century Rome

Of all the basic requirements to be a patron of the arts, immense wealth—financial resources—is probably at the top of the list. A close second might be social or business connections, or maybe having the good fortune to be born into the right family.

However you look at it, the three primary cultural figures in Rome during the latter half of the 17th Century met all of the basic requirements. In addition, they were the kind of patrons that artists and scholars deeply appreciated—committed, appreciative, and, on an individual level, intellectually engaged. They were a product of the culture they lived in, a privileged class who surrounded themselves with a cadre of artists and musicians.

Three names stand out during this period, two cardinals and a queen. The first was named Benedetto Pamphili, a great-nephew of Pope Innocent IX and cardinal from 1681 onwards. Pamphili took a direct interest in the financial support of oratorio productions in Rome (since opera was banned by Papal decree). He also employed musicians such as Alessandor Melani and the Arcangelo Corelli. The cardinal was a talented writer who provided librettos for oratorios and cantatas set by many composers of his day.

The other cardinal and significant arts patron was Pietro Ottoboni, who was also the great-nephew of a Pope (in his case, Alexander VIII). Ottoboni was a distinguished librettist and was once described as a “fanatical music lover,” which must have been the case since he was perpetually in debt because of the amounts he spent on music and musicians, in spite of his unbelievably large annual income. Ottoboni consistently employed up to seventy musicians for either church-related or theatrical events. One of his favorite musicians to collaborate with was Alessandro Scarlatti.

The third individual who was an arts patron in Rome with few peers was Queen Christina of Sweden. She left her native country, religion, and crown for Catholicism, which meant moving to Rome where she was able to have the life she desired. Her intense support of the arts and intellectual thought make her one of the 17th Century’s most distinguished women.

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