From Devil to Detail: The pontificate of Alexander VI in historiography, from Leopold von Ranke to Orestes Ferrara
Setten, S.D. van
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For centuries, the figure of pope Alexander VI has appeared in literature as the pinnacle of Renaissance immorality and wickedness. This narrative carried on into the beginning of the nineteenth century, but then something interesting happens: the image begins to take on a different shape, slowly changing into a wholly different narrative. Today, very few historians still treat Alexander VI as a conglomerate of human sins: he is more often praised for his political conduct and his pontificate’s diplomacy. Why did this change in the nineteenth century? This shift in historiography has been pointed out by some historians, yet few have offered a satisfying explanation for it. This paper offers an explanation, then, by researching the historiography of Alexander VI between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. It traces a selection of authors chronologically, from Leopold von Ranke to Orestes Ferrara. The factors of time, confession, nationality and genre are vital criteria here, and are used so we may understand what caused these authors to arrive to their tale of Alexander VI – ultimately resulting in a change of narrative on the Renaissance pope.