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Oliviero Carafa

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Filippino Lippi

A 1489 painting by Filippino Lippi in the Carafa Chapel of Santa Maria sopra Minerva shows Thomas Aquinas presenting Carafa as a humble witness to the Annunciation.

Oliviero Carafa (1430 – 20 January 1511) was an Italian Cardinal and diplomat of the Renaissance. Like the majority of his era's prelates, he displayed the lavish and conspicuous standard of living that was expected of a prince of the Church. In contemporary times, he is perhaps best known for his bitter moral opposition to Michelangelo Buonarotti's use of nude figures in his famous fresco The Last Judgement (commissioned and approved by Pope Julius II). His outrage led to the so-called "Fig-Leaf Campaign" in which the genitals were censored with robes and fig-leaves after Michelangelo's death by one of his own students, Daniele da Volterra.

Early ecclesiastic career

He was born in Naples to an illustrious house,[1] prominent in the military and administrative service of the House of Aragon. His father Francesco was lord of Torre del Greco, Portici and Resina. His mother, as contemporaries often pointed out, was distantly related to Thomas Aquinas.[2]Though he was elevated to the Archbishopric of Naples (18 November 1458) at a young age, his career was mainly that of a statesman rather than an ecclesiastic. He retained the powerful and lucrative position until September 20, 1484, but kept control of the see at the heart of the Regno by ceding the position to his brother Alessandro, retaining his right to resume it should his brother die, by a papal brief. When that eventuality happened (July 1503), he was archbishop once more, ceding the title to his nephew Bernardino, who died within months, and then to Vincenzo. "What emerges clearly from this complicated pattern of exchanged titles is that Carafa was determined to retain the prestigious and wealthy title of Naples within his family's control."[3]

Pope Paul II made him a cardinal of Santi Marcellino e Pietro on 18 September 1467, and Pope Sixtus IV appointed him legate to King Ferrante (Ferdinand) of Naples in 1471. Carafa was also named by Sixtus admiral of the pontifical fleet, which captured Smyrna from the Ottoman Turks under his command. Oliviero thus gained the reputation of an able military leader and the respect of Sixtus IV, who maintained him in his court despite his feud with Naples. In 1473 he was appointed protector of the teaching order of the Dominicans. In 1476, he succeeded Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia as bishop of Albano, which upgraded much his standing in the Roman Curia. In the conclave of 1484, Oliviero’s name was discussed as a possible successor of Sixtus IV, but his firm adhesion to Ferrante’s interests prevented his candidature. After Innocent VIII's election, Oliviero resigned the see of Naples in favour of his brother, Alessandro Carafa, and was raised to the bishopric of Salamanca, in Spain, which he retained till 1494. During the turbulent reign of Innocent VIII (1484-1492), Carafa acted as an ambassador of Naples to the Holy See, succeeded well in conciliating his King with the Church and received the gratitude of the Roman clergy.

Cardinal Carafa in the Borgia court

After Innocent's death (July 1492), Carafa endeavoured again to be made pope but was excluded from the first ballots of the 1492 Conclave (August). Despite his quarrel with his master, he acted in favour of Naples, supporting Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere against Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (whose Spanish descent seemed a threat to the Aragonese dynasty of Naples). After Borgia’s election as Alexander VI, Oliviero’s influence was not restrained (he replaced Borgia as dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals). The new Pope must have appreciated his diplomatic skills, for he bestowed upon him the Bishopric of Sabina, which Carafa gave up in 1503.

In 1494, Oliviero resigned the see of Chieti in favour of his teenage nephew Giovanni Pietro Carafa, later Pope Paul IV. During Alexander VI's reign, Oliviero gradually gave up his intervention in the Neapolitan affairs and was not engaged in the bull with which the Pope deposed the Aragonese dynasty of Naples in 1501.

Patron of arts

Carafa's income was estimated at 12,000 ducats a year.[4] In Naples he brought the High Renaissance to the city in the richly decorated Succorpo in the crypt of the cathedral, designed to contain the relics of Saint Januarius in a sufficiently magnificent manner that it could serve also as his own mortuary chapel; it was commenced in 1497 and completed in 1506.[5] In Rome he established himself in a palazzo of the Orsini in the Parione, where he may have employed Donato Bramante to remodel the structure, which was replaced in the late eighteenth century by Palazzo Braschi. Carafa was an intellectual patron of Renaissance humanists and assembled a great library that was resorted to by scholars. He carried on Torquemada's patronage of printing, at the first printing press in Italy, established by Torquemada at Subiaco.[6] In his household his nephew Giampietro Carafa, later Pope Paul IV, received a thorough training in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. There in 1501 the battered Roman marble dubbed "Pasquino" by the Romans was unearthed, and set upon a pedestal at the corner of Piazza di Pasquino and Palazzo Braschi, on the west side of Piazza Navona. He devoted himself to the patronage of art and, as Cardinal Protector of the Dominican order from 1478, benefited generously the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva; for the decoration of his chapel at its associated priory, organized about the theme of the Annunciation, he employed Filippino Lippi in 1488; for the painter who had made his reputation in Florence, it was his first large-scale fresco, and the only work in Rome.[7] In the altarpiece, Filippino has depicted his patron, kneeling, his lean, bony face, long sharp nose and narrow lips in profile, with his patron Saint Thomas Aquinas standing by.

When Bramante arrived in Rome, his first architectural commission came from Carafa, the cloister at Santa Maria della Pace.

During the last years of his life, which coincided with the pontificate of Pope Julius II, Carafa was regarded as a wise counsellor of the Church. He died on 20 January 1511. His tomb is in the Carafa Chapel of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Censorship of the Sistine Chapel frescoes

Despite his patronage of the arts, Carafa is perhaps best remembered in modernity as the man most directly responsible for the censorship of nudity in Michelangelo Buonarotti's The Last Judgment, altarpiece at the Sistine Chapel. The fresco was the object of a bitter moralist dispute between Carafa and Michelangelo (and ultimately the painter's patron, Pope Julius II, who had contracted and approved the work). Because he depicted naked figures, the artist was accused by Carafa (amongst others) of immorality, obscenity and even Satanic influence. A censorship campaign (known as the "Fig-Leaf Campaign") was organized by Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) to convince Julius II to allow the fresco to be chiseled entirely off the wall. When the Pope's own Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully, and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns," Michelangelo worked da Cesena's partially-naked and devilish semblance into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld. It is said that when Carafa and Cesena complained to the Pope and demanded that Michelangelo be arrested and the fresco be destroyed, the pontiff whimsically responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait (and the painter) would have to remain.

However, Carafa's rage did not diminish and, following the death of both Michelangelo and Pope Julius II, ordered the genitalia in the fresco to be covered by the artist Daniele da Volterra, one of Michelangelo's lesser pupils, whom history remembers by the derogatory nickname "Il Braghettone" ("the breeches-painter").


  1. Other cardinals of the Carafa were Filippo Carafa della Serra (1378); Gianvincenzo Carafa (1527); Carlo Carafa (1555); Diomede Carafa (1555); Alfonso Carafa (1557); Antonio Carafa (1568); Decio Carafa (1611); Pierluigi Carafa (1645); Carlo Carafa della Spina]] (1664); Fortunato Ilario Carafa della Spina (1686); [[Pierluigi Carafa, iuniore (1728); Francesco Carafa della Spina di Traetto (1773); Marino Carafa di Belvedere (1801); and Domenico Carafa della Spina di Traetto (1844); see F. Scandone, "I Carafa di Napoli, in P. Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane 2nd series, Naples 1913.
  2. Gail L. Geiger, "Filippino Lippi's Carafa "Annunciation": Theology, Artistic Conventions, and Patronage" The Art Bulletin 63.1 (March 1981:62-75) p. 71.
  3. Diana Norman, "The Succorpo in the Cathedral of Naples: 'Empress of All Chapels'" Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 49.3 (1986:323-355) p.335.
  4. Norman, Diana (3 December 2004). Possessions. London: Open University. ; F. Strazzullo, "Il Card. Oliviero Carafa mecenate del rinascimento", Atti dell'Accademia Pontaniana, New series, 14 (1965:1-24), treats his patronage in detail.
  5. See Norman 1986.
  6. R.P. Mortier, Histoire des Maîtres Généraux de l'Ordre des Frères Prcheurs, vol. 25 (Paris) 1911:, noted by Geiger 1981, p. 69 note 45.
  7. Geiger 1981:62-75); in 1486 Carafa had purchased adjacent land to enlarge his chapel.


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Giacomo Teobaldeschi
Archbishop of Naples
Succeeded by
Alessandro Carafa
Preceded by
Pedro de Toledo
Bishop of Salamanca
Succeeded by
Diego de Deza
Preceded by
Giacomo Passarelli
Bishop of Rimini
Succeeded by
Vincenzo Carafa
Preceded by
Giacomo Bacio Terracina
Bishop of Chieti
Succeeded by
Gian Pietro Carafa
Preceded by
Alessandro Carafa
Archbishop of Naples
Succeeded by
Giovanni Bernardino Carafa
Preceded by
Rodrigo Lanzol-Borja y Borja
Cardinal-bishop of Albano
Succeeded by
Jean Balue
Preceded by
Giuliano della Rovere
Cardinal-bishop of Sabina
Succeeded by
Girolamo Basso della Rovere
Preceded by
Oliverio Carafa
Dean of the College of Cardinals
Succeeded by
Bernardino López de Carvajal
Preceded by
Giuliano della Rovere
Cardinal-bishop of Ostia
Succeeded by
Raffaele Riario
Preceded by
Bishop of Caiazzo
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Juan Gálvez
Bishop of Terracina
Succeeded by
Zaccaria de Moris
id:Oliviero Carafano:Oliviero Carafa

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