La Giusta Statera de Porporati. Manuscript on paper. Rome, c. 1645-1649



Dati tipografici:

Folio (275x210 mm). 136 anciently numbered pages, of which pp. 34-42 are blank except for the page number. Original pale brown wrappers alla rustica, manuscript title on the front cover embellished with four calligraphic ornaments (minor losses). A few small marginal tears not damaging the text, text block slightly browned due to the acidity of the ink. Written by a single hand in a large and clear cancelleresca. A very good, extremely genuine copy.


“So insistent were the requests made to me by Your Highness that I should describe not only the lineage of the Cardinals eligible to papacy, their genes, virtues, relationships, customs, wealth, birth, by whom they were promoted, for what reason, if by merit or benevolence, or by descent or by corruption, if they have held previous offices and how they have been brought to that office, if they can reach the Pontificate [...]”. These are the opening words of the ‘The Right Scales of Cardinals', one of the most pungent and informative works (albeit also full of obscene insinuations, exaggerations and partial judgments) of all the anti-Barberini literature.


The anonymous author signs himself at the end of the work with “Di Vs. A[ltezza] S[erenissima] et N.N.” Whether or not it has to be considered as literary fiction, the author of this pamphlet intends to produce, on request of a powerful person, an accurate dossier for each member of the Sacred College. In the preface he promises to give biographical sketches on all the cardinals eligible to papacy, which makes one think of the possibility of an imminent conclave. The years in which the Statera was written, are the first years of the pontificate of Innocent X Pamphili and go from September 1644 to January 1655, but both for the advanced age of the pope and for the always possible scenario of a sudden death, so common at that time, the conclave could be imminent at any time.

The work finds its place and raison d'être in the so-called “Barberini era”, at a time of nepotism and corruption that characterized the pontificate of Urban VIII, when in the Sacred College, in addition to the Pope himself, sat his brother-in-law L. Magalotti, one of his brothers and two of his nephews.

There are several manuscript copies of the Statera in Italian and European libraries, but almost every copy differs from the others for the number of biographies it contains and, sometimes, also for its more or less lashing contents. This is due in part to the deaths and new appointments of cardinals that followed one another with considerable frequency. Urban VIII during his long pontificate created 74 new cardinals, Innocent X 40 in just ten years. Then there is also the fact to consider that the Statera continued to intrigue and be read even when its role as an instant polemical book was already over.


The present copy is divided into two parts: the first one gives us the profiles of the first 12 cardinals elected by Innocent X, starting with his nephew Camillo Pamphili, 21 years old, son of the famous Olimpia Maidalchini. The second part, which starts after eight blank pages, opens with the biography of Urban VIII's favorite nephew, Francesco Barberini, aged 49 at the time of the writing. The author of the Statera considers him responsible, together with his brother Antonio, for having unleashed a series of conflicts throughout Italy, destabilizing the balance between the great powers of the time. Francesco Barberini, moreover, is accused of having put back in vogue for himself the title of “Cardinal Master”. Ambitious and greedy, he dealt with all the princes and crowned heads of Christianity, promising a lot and usually never keeping his promises.

Francesco Barberini had in mind the creation of an independent feud governed by his brother Taddeo, Gonfaloniere of the Holy Church. In the 21 years of cardinalate under his uncle Urban VIII “[...] he had absorbed more than sixty abbeys of great income, he was vice-chancellor of the Holy Church and he had eighteen monasteries of friars and nuns under his control and in short he had become a Guardian of Ecclesiastical Benefits and the Court of Rome was reduced to such a term that it could not hire a servant, for vile as it may have been, that Barberini had not previously chosen, and this was for no other purpose than to put spies in every House to know everything that was being treated and negotiated in them, so that the Apostolic Chamber found itself completely exhausted and depleted, with the whole ecclesiastical state burdened with debts and gabelle, to the point that Innocent X in order not to hear anymore the lawsuits and continued complaints of the Universe against the aforesaid and to administer true justice, forced him to give the Accounts of the things he administered, which he refused and preferred to flee to France than to make the Accounts available to his supreme lord” (pp. 42-44).

As for Don Antonio Barberini Junior, Francesco's younger brother, he was so desperate to become a cardinal from a very young age that his uncle, in order to keep him quiet, made him prior of the Order of the Knights of Malta for the Rome Province, causing great irritation in the knights themselves. The pope named him cardinal when he was only twenty years old. This allowed him to accumulate titles and benefits and to hold political and diplomatic positions. The author of the Statera praises him for his generosity in spending and treating his family's friends. He was a lover of the gentle sex, on which he had spent large sums of money. He is also praised for his military valour in the Castro war alongside his brother Taddeo, general of the pope's army.

Then, to the amazement of the modern reader, he is harshly attacked in the pamphlet for having mishandled an affair, of which we give here a brief account. In the same period when Antonio was in Bologna, it happened that two of his men kidnapped two nuns from the convent of La Maddalena and, after abusing them, they killed them. The event caused great uproar and the archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Girolamo Colonna, once the two men were arrested, wanted to instruct the trial, but was convinced by Antonio Barberini not to do so. Now the criticism of the Statera consists in this: Antonio should have allowed the trial, have them condemned to the scaffold and then have pardoned them. It was a matter of etiquette! After the fall of the Barberini family the two offenders were tried and hanged.

Gossip, slander and accusatory booklets have always existed, but if one behaves as a cardinal in such a shameless way, one inevitably becomes the protagonist of a myriad of bad stories. Here is another one. The French court appreciated Barberini's services to such an extent that, having Antonio had a rather serious confrontation with the French ambassador d'Estrées in Rome, although the main responsibility was Barberini's, Richelieu recalled his diplomat. From La giusta Statera de' Porporati in the printed edition of Geneva [i.e. Amsterdam] 1648, which we offer together with the manuscript and of which we will provide a bibliographic description below, we learn that Barberini “impregnated the daughter of the Marquis de Covré Ambassador of France” (more correctly: d'Estrées de Coeuvres) and her father, who had been marshal of France, a very hard man, killed her in Caprarola (Farnese's land) and then joined the Duke of Parma in order to take revenge on Barberini. This part of the story is not present in the manuscript. Now, our research shows that the only daughter of the Duke of Estrées who was alive and unmarried at the time of the episode was only one year old.


In another episode Cardinal Bernardino Spada is blamed for another very serious misconduct, also happened in Bologna: the Statera says “that he had inherited most of the property of Andrea Casale from Bologna after having been the main instrument of his ignominious death in jail [...]”. The adventurous and tragic events of the Bolognese Senator A. Casali, a soldier who was believed dead and finally escaped from Saracen captivity after 25 years, is worthy of being narrated by a great playwright. The story is supported by numerous contemporary documents. You can read a good report on it by G.P. Brizzi for the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani in the dedicated entry. In the Statera Cardinal Spada is never mentioned directly and the villain is once again a friend of Antonio Barberini, Ferrante Casali, cousin of the victim.


The rather violent costumes of the time also emerge in a further episode narrated in the Statera. F.M. Brancaccio, bishop of Capaccio, “[...] for some ecclesiastical issues coming in disorder with a Spanish Captain sent in that city [Capaccio] from the Viceroy of Naples and after the words coming to the hands, the aforesaid captain remained there dead for an arquebus bullet shot by his [Brancaccio's] Castrato [...]”. Summoned by the Viceroy in Naples to give account of the fact, Brancaccio went to Naples, but at nighttime he escaped by boat to Rome, where he informed the pope who approved and praised his behavior, and in a consistory held not many days later made him cardinal, so that as a prince of the Church he could not be harassed by the Spanish. It should also be noted among the favorites of the aforementioned bishop the figure of the castrato: in those days in fact most prelates, especially cardinals, had at their disposal women and children, but especially young castrated men.


The present manuscript of the Statera also provides us, among others, with the profiles of Cardinals Albornoz († 1649), Antonio (Marcello) Sr. Barberini († 1646), Br. Maria Farnese († 1647), O. Giustiniani († 1649) and G. Dom. Spinola († 1646), which in many other copies are not present.

The entry dedicated to B.M. Farnese is preceded by a cross to indicate his death, which, however, is not mentioned in the text. The cross, by the color of the ink and the ductus, appears to be by the same hand that wrote the manuscript. The same can be said about O. Giustiniani. The manuscript also contains the biography of Giov. Casimino Vasa, who was created cardinal in 1646, but renounced his office in 1647 to take the throne of Poland.


In the editing of this description, we have drawn with full hands on the essay by Claudio Costantini, Fazione Urbana, Sbandamento e ricomposizione di una grande clientela a metà Seicento (Genoa, 2004). It is a wide-ranging work, the result of an in-depth investigation of archival material, of which the Statera is only a chapter, but certainly one of the most compelling.

Costantini collated a number of manuscripts of the work preserved in Italian libraries and at the Vatican Library, and also used a printed copy of the Statera in the same edition offered here with the manuscript and described below.

La giusta statera de' Porporati, dove s'intende la vita, la nascita, adherenza, possibilità ricchezza, offitii, le dignità, le cariche di ciascun Cardinale oggi vivente […] con l'aggionta delli penultimi sei Cardinali promossi da Innocenzo X l'anno 1648. Geneva [i.e. Amsterdam], 1650.

12mo (121x67 mm). 300 pp. Lacking the first blank leaf A1. Contemporary stiff vellum, inked title on spine (slightly soiled, lacking the back flyleaf, book block partly detached from the binding). Slightly uniformly browned and foxed. The Statera, which ends at p. 260, is followed by Il ricorso di Pasquino ad Appollo contro D. Olimpia e la correttione di Appollo fatta al Papa.


In conclusion, by placing side by side the present manuscript, which is particularly rich, as it offers 68 biographical profiles, omitting only that of Michele Mazzarino, brother of the more famous Giulio, nominated cardinal in 1647, and the printed edition described above, we can get an exhaustive report of the Sacred College around 1648.