Alessandro Albani

Alessandro Albani.

Alessandro Albani (15 October 1692 – 11 December 1779) should be best remembered as a leading collector of antiquities, dealer and art patron in Rome. He supported the art historian, Johann Joachim Winckelmann and commissioned paintings from Anton Raphael Mengs. As a Roman Catholic cardinal (from 1721) he furthered the interests of the governments of Austria, Savoy and Britain against those of France and Spain; he was a noted jurist and papal administrator in his earlier career.

Biography

Alessandro Albani was born in Italy on 15 October 1692 in Urbino, then part of the Papal States. He was the son of Orazio Albani. His education at La Sapienza University in Rome was towards a degree in jurisprudence. Early in life he also studied for a military career. He was made an honorary member of the military brotherhood of justice of the Knights of St. John, Rome, on 26 August 1701, at the age of nine, and a colonel of a regiment of dragoons in the pontifical troops, in 1707.

Alessandro Albani descended from the Albani family (branch of Urbino), which originated from into the Albani (family) that had established itself there from northern Albania in the 15th century.[1] Alessandro's father, Orazio, was the brother of Pope Clement XI Albani, who convinced Alessandro to set aside his budding military career, for which the weakness of his eyesight, that led to blindness in his advanced age, did not recommend him, and become a clergyman. After Pope Clement XI's death in March 1721, Pope Innocent XIII appointed Alessandro as a cardinal, on 16 July 1721 - for which Alessandro required numerous special dispensations, not least because his brother, Annibale Albani, had been made a cardinal in 1711 and still sat in the Sacred College[2]

Bust of Demosthenes from Alessandro Albani's collection (Musée du Louvre).

Albani developed into one of the most astute antiquarians of his day, an arbiter of taste in the appreciation of Roman sculpture, and "a powerful and enterprising collector of Roman antiquities and patron of the arts... He used both ancient and modern art as a form of cultural capital," Seymour Howard observed,[3] "giving away acquisitions as favours and selling them for perpetually needed funds or when they lost efficacy for him." His first apprenticeship in this area was served under the papal antiquary and curator Marcantonio Sabatini.[4]

He was the formal protector of Rome's artists as patron of the Accademia di San Luca and was a powerful advocate for his favourites. Among the works of modern artists that passed through his hands was the album of drawings by Carlo Maratti that was sold in 1763 to George III and is conserved in the Royal Collection.[5]

His worldly manner and his sympathy with the Hanoverian party in Britain[6]- (Clement kept the Stuart pretender as his perennial guest in Rome) was exemplified by his friendship with Baron Philipp von Stosch, who shared many of Alessandro Albani's interests, and his correspondence with Sir Horace Mann, the British envoy at Florence,[7]who caused Clement many occasions of concern. Namedwho papal envoy, with his brother Cardinal Carlo, to Bologna to welcome King Frederick IV of Denmark, he was sent in 1720 to Vienna in an attempt to retain Papal territorial rights in the duchy of Parma and Piacenza, recently awarded to Charles de Bourbon, and to conclude the negotiations for the restitution of Comacchio, in the possession of Habsburg troops since 1707. Sir Horace Mann, at the request of the Cardinal, arranged for John Chute of 'The Vyne' in Hampshire, who was enjoying the Grand Tour, to spy on the Jacobites, who were in Rome making their plans for an invasion of England from Scotland. Information he collected was passed to Albani and then sent to England. Chute was a member of the Gay group known as the 'Finger Twirlers'. They included Horace Walpole and Thomas Gray the poet. Eventually, Chute was forced to flee, having been twigged.

A mid-18th-century view of the Villa Albani by Giuseppe Vasi.

His accommodating manner suited him for diplomatic tasks, such as the successful negotiations with Vittorio Amedeo II over conflicting rights of nomination and investiture, aggravated by the acquisition by the House of Savoy of Sardinia, over which the papacy had long-standing feudal pretensions. Accords were finalised in 1727 during the papacy of Pope Benedict XIII, for which Vittorio Amedeo thanked Cardinal Alessandro with a rich abbacy and the title of "Protector of the Kingdom". Within the Papal Curia, however, the party of the zelanti considered the accords too generous in their terms. Tensions increased with the pontificate of Clement XII, unsympathetic to Savoia. When a new concordat was arrived at in 1741, Alessandro Albani signed on the part of Savoia.

As a cardinal he participated in the conclaves of 1724, 1730, 1740, 1758, 1769, and 1774-1775. He announced the elections of Pope Clement XIII (1758), Pope Clement XIV (1769) and Pope Pius VI (1775). His consistent stand against French interests brought him closer to those of the Habsburgs; Cardinal Albani represented Habsburg Austria at the Holy See, from 1756 until his death. He was appointed Librarian of the Holy Roman Church on 12 August 1761.

From the time of the papacy of Pope Clement XIV he realigned himself with the zelanti against the interference of Roman Catholic monarchs in the diplomacy that surrounded the eventual expulsion and Suppression of the Jesuits from most Catholic Christian countries.

He died on 11 December 1779. He was buried in the Observant Franciscan Church of San Pietro in Urbino, Marche, Italy.