- The city of Rome during the Renaissance stood for two related but distinct entities. First and foremost it was the Eternal City, the idealized capital of the ancient Roman Empire, which in turn was viewed as the culminating element in the ancient classical civiliza-tion that was the ideal of the whole Renaissance. This idealization of Rome was not entirely lacking from the culture of the Middle Ages, but in some medieval thinkers it was qualified by aversion to the pa-gan religious identity and the worldly spirit of the pre-Christian city. Beginning with Petrarch in the 14th century, the concept of a rebirth of high culture after a millennium of barbarism implied restoring the literary and artistic standards of ancient Rome at its height. For many Renaissance intellectuals, especially the so-called "civic humanists" of Florence and later of Venice, it also meant recapturing the self-sacrificing patriotism which, at least according to the views promoted by the ancient Roman historians, had been the primary cause of the ancient city's rise to greatness.But Rome was also the ecclesiastical capital of medieval Latin Christendom, already the principal Christian center of the western empire before the political dissolution of the Roman state in the fifth century. Above all, it was the seat of the papacy, which was accepted throughout western Europe as the principal religious authority. Dur-ing the early Renaissance, the actual residence of the popes was not at Rome but at Avignon on the southeastern border of France (1309-1377). Even then, however, the basis of papal authority was "Roman," and the overwhelmingly French papal curia of that period still referred to itself as the "Roman" curia, a practice that Petrarch treated with ironic bitterness. During the Western Schism (1378-1417), when there were two or even three rival popes, one of these lines established itself in control of Rome while the other re-turned to Avignon. After the election of a universally accepted pope, Martin V, in 1417, papal control of Rome remained tenuous at best. His successor, Pope Eugenius IV, was driven from Rome by an up-rising among the nobility and spent nine years (1434-1443) in exile, most of them in Florence. Only under the next pope, Nicholas V (1447-1455), did the papacy re-establish itself securely in Rome.Nicholas V is important in the history of papal Rome because he had the ambition of redeveloping Rome as the central city of the whole Christian world, both politically and culturally. His ambitious plans to rebuild the city into a grand and flourishing metropolis re-mained little more than dreams until the early 16th century, when Popes Julius II and Leo X made papal Rome Italy's principal center for the patronage of Renaissance art and humanistic scholarship. This ambition was compromised and deflected in more conservative directions by the outbreak of the Reformation and the disastrous Sack of Rome in 1527 by the army of the Emperor Charles V, but it was not ended. Already under Pope Paul III (1534-1549), later popes resumed the effort to develop the city into a suitable capital for Catholic Christendom, using the arts as an integral part of their goal of reasserting the power and magnificence of Rome. Examples of this continuing effort include the completion of the basilica of St. Peter under Paul V (pope, 1605-1621), the addition of Gianlorenzo Bernini's baldachino to the high altar of St. Peter's under Urban VIII (pope, 1623-1644), and the addition of the great colonnade that frames the approach to the basilica (designed in 1656-1657 under Pope Alexander VII).In the history of Renaissance Rome, the most spectacular single in-cident is the infamous Sack of Rome, the conquest and unrestrained looting of the papal capital on and after 6 May 1527 by the army of the most powerful Catholic ruler in Europe, the Emperor Charles V. Although wars between popes and Catholic rulers had been common since the 11th century, the violence of this incident shocked contem-poraries, many of whom (including many orthodox Catholics) re-garded it as a judgment of God on the corruption and worldliness of the church. It has often been taken as the terminal date of "the Re-naissance," a judgment that is debatable even with regard to Italy and certainly is invalid for the rest of Europe. But the incident did break up the galaxy of artistic and literary stars who for the preceding two or three decades had made Rome the center of Renaissance culture. Several leading Roman humanists were killed in the violence and others left the city and returned only much later or never. Major artists, including Jacopo Sansovino and Parmigianino, left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. There was eventually a partial recovery, but Rome never again became the predominant center of Renaissance culture, and the mood of gloom and insecurity caused by the plunder never entirely disappeared, perhaps because the incident proved that like the other Italian states, the papacy could not maintain its politi-cal autonomy in the face of the struggle between France and Spain for control of Italy.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.