Six degrees (or less) of separation – The Ciociaria Nobleman’s way

It’s true, I am Australian of Italian origin from a small town called Sonnino in the Lazio region. Don’t call me crazy but I seem to find a connection wherever I go; even in an exhibition in Perth about Italian noble families. The saying is valid about there being only six degrees of separation!

If you have ever read history books or articles about royal or noble families, they were the quintessential experts in arranged marriages. Love sometimes remotely got a look in which was not necessarily within the confines of that marriage!

This was not the case for two sisters of the Colonna Barberini family – Anna Maria and Luisa. They married in the mid 1800’s to two Corsini brothers – Tommaso and PierFrancesco – who were from a noble family in the Florentine region. As the Colonna, the Corsini received and lost their fiefdoms from having popes in the family. Popes died and the families could have lost their worldly goods or kept them, depending who was the successor.

The young men’s uncle was Lorenzo Corsini, otherwise known as Pope Clement XII, pope from 1730 to 1740 and presided over the growth of the papal finances as well as instigating major building developments in Rome. This included the building of the new façade of the Basilica of St John in Lateran, the beginning of the building of the Trevi Fountain but was also the first public papal condemnation of the Catholic Church’s opposition to Freemasonry.

The Colonna pope was Otto (Oddone) Colonna, known as Pope Martin V from 1417 to 1431. He made Rome the Apostolic seat again after the very dark period known as the “Great Schism of the West” which had split the papacy between Avignon and Rome.

This was short lived as the next pope, who was aligned to the Orsini family and enemies of the Colonna family, plunged the rivalry between the two families into constant clashes until the pontificate of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI. With the peace treaty – ‘Pax Roman’ 1511 – it ended the bloody conflict which was further cemented by the marriage of Marcantonio II Colonna and Felice Orsini in 1552.

Marcantonio II, being a bit of rebel, was disinherited by his father Ascanio however as he was supported by Pope Pius VI, he managed to regain the family fiefs for himself. He was in such good favour with the Pope, that he was made Commander of the Spanish cavalry during the war against Siena (1553-1554), then Admiral of the Papal fleet in the famous Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

With him, he had other members from noble families within the Lazio region, as it is now known. One such family were the Mancini who were from the hilltop town of Sonnino, a town which became known for its infamous brigand, Antonio Gasbarrone some 300 years later. Under the papacy of Oddone Colonna/Martino V, the cavalry would become the families’ specialty. Francesco Mancini was Marcantonio’s vice-constable during the Battle of Lepanto.

Marcantonio II’s paternal aunty, Vittoria Colonna, was a renowned poetess. After the death of her husband she befriended and developed a very close friendship with Michelangelo due to their shared interest in religion and art and belief that the best way to enhance such religious experiences was through works of art.

Vittoria commissioned a drawing of the Pieta’ which Michelangelo drew using black chalk on paper. This can be viewed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachussetts, USA.

Their friendship was so close that Michelangelo painted the princess into his Universal Judgement masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel. Next time you find yourself in Rome and manage to visit the Chapel, look behind the altar and you will see a woman above and to the right of Simon of Cyrene who is holding the cross. Here you will also see the self-portrait of the painter not too far from the princess.

This one photo encased in a wooden and gold painted frame of two loving sisters who married two brothers, also for love.

This one photo of loving sisters of the Colonna family of Paliano, who took us on a brief journey not only through history, but to different towns from Florence, Siena, the Lazio region – Rome, Paliano, Sonnino – to Palermo, Sicily, to Boston USA to Perth, Australia, the location where this photo was taken.

It is currently on display as part of the ‘A Window of Italy – the Corsini Collection’ exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

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