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Pope Clement XII

Lorenzo Corsini, Pope Clement XII (pope 1730-1740), a Florentine aristocrat, was a lawyer and financial manager under preceding pontiffs. He is known for building the new facade of St. John Lateran and beginning the Trevi Fountain and the purchase of Cardinal Albani's collection of antiquities for the papal gallery.

Under Benedict XIII, the finances of the Papal States had been delivered into the hands of Cardinal Coscia and other members of the curia, who had left the finances of the see in bad shape. After deliberating for four months, the College of Cardinals selected Cardinal Lorenzo Corsini, 78 years old and with failing eyesight, who had held all the important offices of the Roman Curia.

As a Corsini, with his mother a Strozzi, the new pope represented a family in the highest level of Florentine society, with a cardinal in every generation for the previous hundred years. Corsini was a lawyer, with a degree from the University of Pisa, who had practiced law under the able direction of his uncle, Cardinal Neri Corsini. After the death of his uncle and his father, in 1685, Lorenzo, now thirty-three, would have become head of the Corsini. Instead he resigned his right of primogeniture and from Innocent XI he purchased, according to the custom of the time, for 30,000 scudi, a position of prelatial rank and devoted his wealth and leisure to the enlargement of the library bequeathed to him by his uncle.

In 1696 Corsini was appointed treasurer-general and governor of the Castel Sant' Angelo. His good fortune increased during the pontificate of Pope Clement XI, who employed his talents as a courtier and rewarded him with a cardinal's hat, 17 May, 1706, retaining his services as papal treasurer.

He advanced still further under Pope Benedict XIII, who made him prefect of the judicial tribunal known as the Segnatura di Giustizia. He was successively Cardinal-Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli and Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati.

Though he was blind and compelled to keep his bed, from which he gave audiences and transacted affairs of state, he surrounded himself with capable officials, many of them his Corsini relatives, but he did little for his family except to purchase and enlarge the palace built in Trastevere for the Riarii, and now known as the Palazzo Corsini (the seat of the Regia Accademia dei Lincei). In 1754, his nephew, Cardinal Neri Corsini, founded there the famous Corsini Library.

His first moves as pope were to restore the papal finances. Clement demanded restitution from the ministers who had abused the confidence of his predecessor. The chief culprit, Cardinal Coscia, was heavily fined and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. Papal finances were also improved through reviving the public lottery, which had been suppressed by the severe morality of Benedict XIII. Soon it poured into his treasury an annual sum amounting to nearly a half million scudi, enabling him to undertake the extensive buildings programs for which he is chiefly remembered, but which he was never able to see.

A competition for the majestic fašade of St. John Lateran, perhaps more palatial than ecclesiastic, was won by architect Alessandro Galilei (finished 1735), and Clement erected in that ancient basilica a magnificent chapel dedicated to his 13th century kinsman, St. Andrew Corsini. He restored the Arch of Constantine and built the governmental palace of the 'Consulta' on the Quirinal. He purchased from Cardinal Albani for 60,000 scudi a famous collection of statues, inscriptions, etc. and added it to the gallery of the Capitol. He paved the streets of Rome and the roads leading from the city, and widened the Corso. He began the triumphant Baroque Fontana di Trevi, one of the noted ornaments of Rome. Under his reign a port was built at Ancona, with a highway that gave easy access to the interior. He drained the malarial marshes of the Chiana near Lake Trasimeno.

Politically however this was not a successful period for Papal authority among the secular powers of Europe. When the attempt of papal forces to take over the ancient independent Republic of San Marino failed, Clement disavowed the arbitrary action of his legate, Cardinal Alberoni, in seizing San Marino, and restored its independence. He was also rebuffed in Papal claims over the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza.

In ecclesiastic affairs his reign was less propitious. He issued the first papal decree against the Freemasons (1738). He canonized St. Vincent de Paul and proceeded with vigor against the French Jansenists. He campaigned for the reunion of the Roman and Orthodox churches, received the patriarch of the Coptic Church and persuaded the Armenian patriarch to remove the anathema against the Council of Chalcedon and Leo I. He dispatched Joseph Simeon Assemani to the East for the twofold purpose of continuing his search for manuscripts and presiding as legate over a national council of Maronites.

His magnificent tomb is in the Lateran.

Preceded by:
Pope Benedict XIII
List of popesSucceeded by:
Pope Benedict XIV