Malatesta, Sigismondo Pandolfo (1417–1468)

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Malatesta, Sigismondo Pandolfo (14171468)

The lord of the Italian city of Rimini, Sigismondo Malatesta was a tyrant, a ruthless commander of mercenary armies, and a significant patron of Renaissance artists and architects. He was born in Brescia, the son of Pandolfo Malatesta, whose ancestral home of Rimini was violently contested by the armies of the pope. At the age of thirteen, Sigismondo began his military career, taking up arms against Carlo Malatesta, the lord of Pesaro, who had allied with Pope Martin V in hopes of conquering Rimini. After defeating Carlo, Sigismondo was appointed vicar of the towns of Rimini, Cesena, and Fano by the pope; in 1432, at the age of fifteen, he became the lord of Rimini by succeeding his half brother Galeotto Roberto, who resigned the title to escape the many conspiracies and violence surrounding his family's court.

His renown as a military leader spreading throughout Italy, Sigismondo joined forces with the pope while still in his teens to defeat a campaign by the Spanish mercenary Sante Cirillo. In 1437 he occupied the city of Cervia; although the pope excommunicated him for this action, he was soon restored to the good graces of the church and made a commander. He allied with Francesco Sforza of Milan and in 1442 married Sforza's daughter, Polissena. He became Sforza's rival when the latter obtained Pesaro from Carlo Malatesta. He entered the service of King Alfonso V of Naples but turned against his patron by fighting with Florence, defeating Alfonso's siege of Piombino.

Malatesta had a reputation as an unscrupulous and violent tyrant, but he also sought a brilliant legacy as an art patron. He invited Leon Battista Alberti to design the Temple of San Francesco, also known as the Tempio Malatestiano, in Rimini. This structure is known for Alberti's use of the Roman arch, the first Renaissance building to adopt this ancient pagan motif. Malatesta himself was a skilled poet who dedicated his verses to Isotta degli Atti, his third wife and the woman who may have inspired the death of Polissena Sforza, who succumbed to a sudden illness possibly brought on by poisoning.

After the Peace of Lodi, an alliance of Italian forces joined against Malatesta and attacked his territory. His skill as a military leader made him a serious threat to the pope and the princes of Italy; in order to thwart his ambition Pope Pius II accused him of heresy and sodomy in 1460. Pius sent his armies against Rimini and in 1462 Malatesta's army was smashed near the town of Senigallia. His conquered territories lost, Malatesta had only the ancestral seat of Rimini remaining in his possession. With Italy united against him, he enlisted in the service of Venice and fought against the Ottoman Turks in Greece in 1465. When he returned to Italy he plotted a return to dominance through the murder of Paul II, the successor of Pius. When he arrived in Rome, intending to carry out the deed himself, he lost courage and returned to Rimini, where he died.

See Also: Alberti, Leon Battista; Pius II