Alessandro Farnese, il Gran Cardinale

Is your surname Farnese?

Research the Farnese family

Alessandro Farnese, il Gran Cardinale's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Alessandro Farnese

Also Known As: ""Il Gran Cardinale""
Birthplace: Valentano, Viterbo, Lazio, Italy
Death: March 04, 1589 (68)
Rome, Rome, Lazio, Italy (apoplexy)
Immediate Family:

Son of Pier Luigi junior Farnese, 1°duca di Parma and Girolama Orsini
Father of Clelia Farnese
Brother of Vittoria Farnese; Ottavio Farnese, 2°duca di Parma; Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese ("Small Cardinal") and Orazio Farnese, II. duca di Castro

Managed by: George J. Homs
Last Updated:

About Alessandro Farnese, il Gran Cardinale

Alessandro Farnese (5 October 1520 – 2 March 1589), an Italian cardinal and diplomat and a great collector and patron of the arts, was the grandson of Pope Paul III (who also bore the name Alessandro Farnese), and the son of Pier Luigi Farnese, Duke of Parma, who was murdered in 1547.


Born at Valentano (current province of Viterbo), he studied at Bologna, and was appointed administrator of the Diocese of Parma.

On 18 December 1534, at the age of 14, he was appointed Cardinal Deacon of the Title of Sant'Angelo by Paul III, his grandfather, who had been elected to the papacy two months previously.

The Gran Cardinale received many other offices and benefices, becoming Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, Governor of Tivoli, Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica, Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, Administrator of Jaen, Spain, of Vizeu, Portugal, of Würzburg[citation needed], Germany and of Avignon, France. In 1536 he became Bishop of Monreale, Sicily; after he inherited estate after the murder of his father (1547), in 1552 he founded a Jesuit college there.

He became Bishop of Massa in 1538, Archbishop of Tours in 1553, and Bishop of Cahors; Archbishop of Benevento, and Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia and Velletri and Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1580.


He also became a Papal Legate, arranging peace between the perpetually warring Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Francis I of France. In 1546 he accompanied the troops sent by the pope to the aid of Charles V against the Schmalkaldic League. In 1580, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the papacy. Among the buildings that Cardinal Farnese built or restored are the Church of the Gesù in Rome, the Villa Farnese at Caprarola, and the Farnese palace near Lake Bracciano, and the monastery Tre Fontane.

Alessandro Farnese is remembered for gathering the greatest collection of Roman sculpture assembled in private hands since Antiquity, now mostly in Naples, after passing by inheritance to the Bourbon-Parma kings. His generosity towards artists made a virtual academy at the power house he built at Caprarola and in his lodgings at Palazzo della Cancellaria and, after his brother Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese died in 1565, at the Palazzo Farnese. In the Palazzo Farnese the best sculptors worked under his eye, to restore fragments of antiquities as complete sculptures, with great scholarly care. He was also a great patron of living artists. Under the direction of his curator and librarian, the antiquarian iconographer Fulvio Orsini, the Farnese collections were enlarged and systematised. Farnese collected ancient coins and commissioned modern medals. He had paintings by Titian, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and an important collection of drawings. He commissioned the masterpiece of Giulio Clovio, arguably the last major illuminated manuscript, the Farnese Hours, which was completed in 1546 after being nine years in the making (now Morgan Library, New York). The studiolo built to house this collection appears to be the one re-erected at the Musée de la Renaissance, Écouen.

In 1550, Farnese acquired a northern portion of Palatine hill in Rome and had Roman ruins from the time of Tiberius at the northwest end filled in, and converted to a summer home and formal gardens. The Farnese Gardens became one of the first botanical gardens in Europe. From these gardens are derived the names of Acacia farnesiana and from its floral essence, the important biochemical farnesol.

The Cardinal's only daughter, Clelia, married firstly Giangiorgio Cesarini, Marchese of Civitanova, and secondly Marco Pio di Savoia, Lord of Sassuolo.

Farnese was buried before the high altar in the Church of Gesù.

view all

Alessandro Farnese, il Gran Cardinale's Timeline

September 27, 1520
Valentano, Viterbo, Lazio, Italy
Age 35
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Lazio, Italy
March 4, 1589
Age 68
Rome, Rome, Lazio, Italy