Pope Alexander VI
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Pope Alexander VI (January 1 1431 – August 18 1503) is the most controversial of the secular popes of the Renaissance. Member of the infamous Borgia family, his surname became a byword for the decadence of the papacy of that era, see Banquet of Chestnuts. However, it has been noted that the crimes of Rodrigo Borgia are similar in nature to those of other Renaissance princes, with the one exception being his position in the Church. As French historian Joseph de Maistre said in his work Du Pape, "The latter are forgiven nothing, because everything is expected from them, wherefore the vices lightly passed over in a Louis XIV become most offensive and scandalous in an Alexander VI."
Confiscations and Savonarola
Violent and vengeful, Alexander quickly became the most powerful man in Rome, and even his father quailed before him. Because Alexander needed funds to carry out his various schemes, he began a series of confiscations, of which one of the victims was his own secretary. The process was a simple one: any cardinal, nobleman or official who was known to be rich would be accused of some offence; imprisonment and perhaps murder followed at once, and then the confiscation of his property. The least opposition to the Borgia was punished with death.
Even in that corrupt age the debased state of the curia was a major scandal. Opponents such as the demagogic monk Girolamo Savonarola, who appealed for a general council to confront the papal abuses, launched invectives against papal corruption. Alexander VI, unable to get the excommunicated Savonarola into his own hands, browbeat the Florentine government into condemning the reformer to death (May 23 1498).
Representations in popular culture
Frederick Rolfe wrote Chronicles of the House of Borgia. This was a revisionist account, in which he argued that the Borgia family was unjustly maligned and that the accounts of poisoning were a myth.
The Borgia Bride (2005) is a historic fiction by Jeanne Kalogridis, told from the perspective of Dona Sancha, married to the Pope's youngest son Jofre.
In March 2005, Heavy Metal published the first of a three part graphic novel biography of Alexander VI entitled "Borgia", written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Milo Manara. The story focuses mostly on the sexual indiscretions and acts of violent backstabbery carried out by the corrupt papal figure. The second part was released in May 2006.
Spanish author, Javier Sierra writes of Pope Alexander VI in his novel, "The Secret Supper".
Barnabe Barnes' 1606 play "The Devil's Charter", performed at the Globe by the King's Men, dramatizes the life of Pope Alexander VI and his daughter Lucretia Borgia. In Barnes' play Alexander sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the papacy. Lucretia binds, gags, and stabs her husband onstage and later dies poisoned by her own cosmetics.