Nicholas V, Pope
NICHOLAS V, POPE
Pontificate: March 6, 1447, to March 24, 1455; b. Tommaso Parentucelli, Sarzana, Nov. 15, 1397; d. Rome. Thomas, the son of a doctor, had to abandon his studies at Bologna on being orphaned. Thereupon he acted as tutor in two wealthy Florentine families, and was thus influenced by the humanistic and artistic ferment of that city. After finishing his studies at Bologna, he entered the household of Bp. Niccolò albergati of bologna, whom he served faithfully for 20 years, accompanying him to Rome, Florence, and elsewhere, profiting by the example of his saintly patron. After Albergati's death (1443), eugene iv first made Parentucelli bishop of Bologna, which being in revolt refused him entry; Eugene then sent him on missions to Germany. There he successfully mitigated antipapal opposition and was made cardinal in December 1446.
On Eugene's death (1447), Parentucelli was elected pope. Proclaiming a policy of peace, he dismissed the mercenary troops; conciliated by concessions various Roman families, even allowing the rebuilding and partial refortification of Palestrina; and granted Bologna practical independence. Poland was attached to the Holy See by further concessions; Frederick III of Austria was won to Nicholas's cause by the Concordat of Vienna (1448) and a promise of imperial coronation, fulfilled in 1452. Frederick consequently withdrew his safe-conducts from the rump council of Basel, which then went to Lausanne. Nicholas agreed to extremely generous conditions for its dissolution, letting it accept the antipope Felix's resignation, "elect" Parentucelli pope, and decree its own dissolution. With the end of the council, Nicholas rehabilitated all its members in their dignities and made Felix cardinal with a pension (1449).
In 1450 Nicholas proclaimed a Jubilee, which drew pilgrims from all Western Christendom, and served at once to strengthen devotion, to reestablish the papacy as the center of the Church, and to improve both papal and Roman finances. The occasion was marred by an outbreak of plague, during which Nicholas left the city, and by a traffic disaster on the Ponte Sant'Angelo in which at least 172 people were trampled to death. The few, but worthy, cardinals he created included nicholas of cusa, the promoter of reform in Germany.
The pope's chief claim to fame is the impulse he gave to the renaissance in Rome. He made, and in great part carried out, elaborate building plans (including a renovation of the Leonine city) in a Rome that was in ruins after more than a century of neglect. The stational churches, various palaces attached to basilicas, bridges, and roads, as well as the city's fortifications, were rebuilt, and in many parts of the Papal States fortresses were erected. To decorate his buildings he invited artists from many nations, especially from Florence. The best known was Fra Angelico, some of whose work still remains in the chapel of S. Lorenzo in the Vatican. The pope's commissions encouraged the art of tapestry, the ornamentation of rich vestments, and gold and silver work.
However, his principal interest was books. His agents searched for rare codices in many countries, an army of copyists was employed to multiply them, and some of the most celebrated humanists labored in their correction and translation. The writings of Herodotus, Thucidydes, Homer, Polybius, Strabo, and other authors of Greek antiquity, as well as many works of the Greek Fathers, were rendered into Latin, and thus made available to those who did not read Greek. In his literary pursuits Nicholas spent vast sums of money and was generous to a fault to the humanists, several of them Greek refugees, who thronged to the papal court. At his death Nicholas left a library of 807 Latin and 353 Greek MSS, a very large collection for that day (see vatican library).
The year 1453 was disastrous for the pope. In January he forestalled a plot against his life, becoming in consequence more timorous than ever; he had all the ringleaders executed. In May the Turks captured Constantinople, and the fleet of papal and Venetian ships (the latter with orders not to annoy the Turks) was too late to help. His health also deteriorated. He tried to rally Western Christians to a crusade, but the effort was ineffectual. With the same objective, he invited the Italian States to meet in Rome to arrange a treaty of peace. The meeting failed, but prepared the way for private diplomacy, leading to the peace of Lodi (1454), in which Nicholas and finally all the States acquiesced. The States, however, were not willing to risk their wealth for the protection of Christendom.
Nicholas, a man of unstained life, vivacious, but simple in manner, had the artistic spirit to appreciate all forms of art and to harmonize them, giving architecture the first place. His importance in the arts and in literature cannot be overestimated. In a deathbed speech he claimed that he had patronized the arts, not for personal fame but, by making Rome outstanding, to strengthen religious allegiance. His policy of "peace by concession" was breaking down as his reign ended, for the princes did not share his ideals.
Bibliography: Sources. vespasiano da bisticci, The Vespasiano Memoirs: Lives of Illustrious Men of the XVth Century, tr. w.g. and e. waters (London 1926). g. gaida in l. a. muratori, Rerum italicarum scriptores, 500–1500 2 (Milan 1723–51) 3.1:328–339. g. manetti, Vita di Nicolò V, tr. and introduction by a. modigliani (Rome 1999). Literature. l. pastor, The History of the Popes From the Close of the Middle Ages, (London–St. Louis 1938–61) 2:1–314. e. mÜntz, Martin V -Pie II, 1417–1464, v.1 of Les Arts à la cour des papes pendant le XV e et le XVI e siècle, 3v. (Paris 1878–82). e. mÜntz and p. fabre, eds, La Bibliothèque du Vatican au XV e sièele (Paris 1887). f. x. seppelt, Geschichte der Päpste von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des 20 Jh., (Munich 1956) 4:307–326, 490–493. t. magnuson, Studies in Roman Quattrocento Architecture (Rome 1958). c. burroughs, "Below the Angel: An Urbanistic project in the Rome of Pope Nicholas V," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 45: 94–124. f. bonatti and a. manfredi, eds., Niccolò V nel sesto centario della nascita, Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Sarzana, 8–10 ottobre 1998 (Vatican City 2000).