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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Melchiorre Cafà and Camillo Pamphilj: The Art of Patronage in Seventeenth-Century Rome

  • Author(s): Medina, Ashley
  • Advisor(s): Neville, Kristoffer
  • et al.

This thesis explores the dynamics of artistic patronage in the mid-seventeenth century in Rome, focusing on Prince Camillo Pamphilj and the sculptor Melchiorre Cafà. Cafà travelled to Rome from Malta around 1658 to train in Ercole Ferrata’s bottega, although he quickly surpassed his teacher and almost immediately attracted the patronage of the elite Prince Camillo Pamphilj. Camillo commissioned Cafà to create a large marble relief for Sant’Agnese in Agone, the Pamphilj family church. Cafà enjoyed a short but impressively successful career in Rome before his unexpected death in 1667. This thesis explores the artist-patron relationship between Pamphilj and Cafà, investigating the motives for Camillo’s direct and steadfast patronage of the Maltese sculptor, Cafà’s rapid rise in the artistic community, and how these two elements relate to one another.

Ultimately, this thesis argues that Camillo envisioned Cafà as a superstar of his own making. This argument is supported by the personal ambitions of the Pamphilj family, who did not prefer Gianlorenzo Bernini, the reigning sculptor of the time, and used his skills only occasionally. As well, Camillo was motivated by the changing tastes in artistic trends, which included a new appreciation for the artistic invention and design of the clay models, an aspect of sculpture in which Cafà excelled. Both Camillo and Cafà had much to gain by the sculptor’s success. Camillo earned the right to claim the foresight to support this brilliant artist, and Cafà was given the opportunity to compete against Bernini for the role of top sculptor in Rome. The artist-patron relationship between Camillo and Cafà reveals much about the social and political structures in Rome in the mid-seventeenth century, including how significantly art and artists affected not only cultural development and the city’s aesthetic, but the status and power of art patrons.

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