1459 and 1464, Pienza, the former Corsignano, was erected to be perpetually
remembered as the birthplace of one of its most illustrious citizens, Aeneas
Silvius Piccolomini,1 the Pope Pius II (1405-1464,
elected in 1458). The remodelling of this Italian countryside village began by
its centre, with the construction of a palace, a church and their piazza. This essay argues that Pienza
was envisaged by Pius as an expression of his devotion to God, to his native
place and to his family. Therefore, it is a memorial of his existence in his
own birthplace. The definition of devotion, as a religious worship or love and
loyalty for someone or something,2 is better appreciated in the
cathedral, il Duomo, where the
spiritual perspective and the humanist essence were bond together to endure as a
memorable remark of Pius II’s life. The analysis was built around the
Commentaries wrote by Pius II,3 the architectural remains of Pienza
cathedral, and the bibliography about the subject.
Aeneas was born, the noble Piccolomini family were a powerful banking merchants
in Siena. However, in the late fourteenth century,4 they were banned and exiled to
Corsignano, a provincial town in the Sienese countryside with no more than
fifteen hundred inhabitants.5 In 1423, Aeneas left Corsignano to
pursue his humanist intellectual career, he studied law, humanities and
languages, Greek and Latin. Due to his abilities, he was named poet and secretary
of the Emperor Frederick III (1415-1493) in 1442. Four years later, Aeneas
changed from imperial to pontifical benefaction, working for the pope Eugene IV
(1383-1447). In 1447, he accepted ordination into priesthood and started to
serve the Church. At this same year, Aeneas was given the bishopric of Trieste
by the newly elected pope Nicholas V (1397-1455). Thereafter, in 1450, he
became bishop of Siena, a remarkable fact for the once banned Piccolomini
family.6 Six years later, he was created
cardinal by the pope Callixtus III (1378-1458).
during the 1450s, Aeneas accorded the marriage between Frederick III and
Princess Eleanor of Portugal (1434-1467). Also, he witnessed the former to be
crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by the pope in Rome. Hence, in his professional
life, Aeneas did considerable travels across Europe, especially in Italy,
Germany and Austria.7
1458, Aeneas was elected pope under the name of Pius II. This choice was due to
Virgil’s classical passage: ‘sum pius
Aeneas’,8 a fact that outlines the Pope’s strong
personality, referring to his own given name in a humanist way.9 Most of Pius’s life is registered
in his autobiography composed in third person, the Commentarii (Commentaries). In this manuscript, Pius II illustrated
his journeys and occupations in a lively and descriptive way.
21 and 22 February 1459, during his expedition from Rome to Mantua, to attend
the Congress convoked by him,10 Pius II passed through Corsignano.11 The description he made during this
journey is a testament of his love and care for his native place and of the
familiar bond between the Piccolomini and this land:
A high mountain (Monte
Amiata) rises from the valley of the Orcia River, … there is a town of
little repute but possessed of a healthful climate, excellent wine, and
everything else that goes to sustain life. Travelers to Rome from Siena, …,
pass Corsignano on a gently sloping hill at their left three miles from the
main road. The greater part of the town once belonged to the Piccolomini, and
Pius’s father, Silvio, has his ancestral estates there. Here Pius was born and
here he passed this childhood.12
1 Enea Silvio Piccolomini in Italian.
2 ‘Devotion’, Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus
(Cambridge University Press)
26 December 2017.
3 The English version is published as Pope Pius II, Memoirs of a
Renaissance Pope: The Commentaries of Pius II, trans. by Florence A. Graff
(London: Allen & Unwin, 1960). For the original version see Pius and Adrianus van Heck, Pii II Commentarii Rerum Memorabilium Que
Temporibus Suis Contigerunt, Studi e Testi, 312–313 (Città del Vaticano:
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1984).
4 Susan J. May, ‘Pienza: Relics, Ritual and Architecture in the City of a
Renaissance Pope’, in Foundation, Dedication, and Consecration in Early Modern
Europe, ed. by Maarten Delbeke and Minou Schraven, Intersections, 22
(Leiden: Brill, 2012), p.103.
5 Charles R. Mack, Pienza: The Creation of a Renaissance City
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), pp.17;27.
6 Mack, Pienza, p.28.
7 Pope Pius II, Memoirs, p.26.
8 ‘I am pious Aeneas’, from the epic poem ‘The Aeneid’, written
between 29 BC and 19 BC, and whose hero is Aeneas. Virgil, The Aeneid (London: Penguin Books, 1956).
9 Cecilia M. Ady, Pope Pius II (London: Methuen & Go. LTD.,
10 To discuss a new Crusade against the Turks, who had taken
Constantinople in 1453. Ady.157.
11 Enzo Carli, Pienza:
La Città di Pio II (Roma: Editalia, 1967), p.28.
12 Pope Pius II, Memoirs, p.102.