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DONNA OLIMPIA, THE QUEEN OF THE ROMAN SALONS

Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (26 May 1591 – 27 September 1657), was the sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X. Sometimes referred to as “Donna Olimpia” or “la Papessa” (the “Lady Pope”), she was perceived by her contemporaries as having influence regarding papal appointments.

A noblewoman of Viterbo, Olimpia has been the protagonist of the Roman social and cultural gathering for almost twenty years in the mid-17th century. A beautiful, smart, greedy and ambitious woman, she was to become a nun for the will of her father. To escape the danger, she blamed her confessor for trying to seduce her. Young widow of a wealthy bourgeois, she married a fifty-year-old impoverished nobleman, Pamphilio Pamphilj, and economically supported him to enter the Roman salons of which she became the undisputed queen.

Her husband’s brother, thanks to her providential help, was named Pope Innocent X. At that point they started to call her “the door of the Vatican“. She accumulated great wealth in her palace in Piazza Navona, by all means, including illicit actions. She imposed Bernini (who rewarded her with a a considerable prize) to the pope for the realization of the Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The talking statue of Pasquino hosted many accusations against her immorality and avidity: “She was a man dressed as a lady for the city of Rome and a woman dressed as a man for the Roman Church.” “He who chooses ladies chooses damnation; he who chooses women, misfortune; he who chooses Donna Olimpia, woman, misfortune and ruin” ” Olimpia, nunc impia… once pious, now profane. She aroused so much envy, hate and resentment that she had to escape from Rome when the Pope died. Olimpia died two years later, leaving an unprecedented fortune to her heirs.

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