The sack of Rome

The capture and pillaging of Rome by Imperial troops in 1527 marked a key moment in the political dimension of Reformation conflict. As the home of the Catholic Church, Rome made a tempting target for antipapal and iconoclastic fury; likewise, the eruption of violence in the Holy City at a moment of growing political and ideological tension made the event a volatile site for polemical engagement on both sides. Partisans of the Church, such as Thomas More, could allege and condemn outrageous Protestant violence; Lutherans could likewise celebrate a significant blow to the Vatican. Popularly remembered as marking the end of the Italian Renaissance, a curious periodising gesture, it still has a significant place in how we imagine events as demarcations and watersheds in our conception of the grand scale of history.

In this lavish edition of the engravings of Martin van Heemskerck (1489-1574) produced by the Philobiblon Society in a small run of 200 copies in 1870, the sack of Rome here becomes an event memorialised at two removes: first in Heemskerk’s engraving, and again in this reproduction of that engraving. The volume’s stated goal is to ‘rescue from the oblivion which attends rarity some of the contemporary engraved memorials of [Heemskerck’s] person and history’ (xv), and its interest is primarily art-historical, its introduction focusing primarily on biography of Heemskerck and an account of the development of his style and the circumstances under which he worked, with description of the events that he depicted provided as context rather than foregrounded, shifting the terms by which they are remembered. BW

Chief Victories of the Emperor Charles V, designed by Martin Heemskerck in M.D.LV, ed. William Stirling Maxwell (London: privately printed, 1870).


Further Reading

Judith Hook, The Sack of Rome (London, 1972).

Thomas More, Dialogue Concerning Heresies, in The Complete Works of Thomas More, 15 vols. (New Haven, 1963-97), vol. 6.1, pp. 370-2, and Richard C. Marius’ Appendix, vol. 6.2, pp. 773-7.

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