Who Were Pietro and Savo Mellini?

Nuria Rodríguez Ortega

Pietro Mellini, the author of the rhyming inventory that is the focus of this publication, was the younger brother of the papal nuncio1 Savo Mellini, to whom the poem is addressed. Pietro (ca. 1651–1694) and Savo, or Savio (1644–1701), the sons of Mario Mellini III, were the last scions of an old Roman family that was documented as early as the eleventh century (fig. 1). Although the Mellini family never reached the apex of Roman society, they were certainly members of the “establishment” of Roman nobility.

Bust of Pietro Mellini
Fig. 1. Pierre Etienne Monnot (French, 1657–1733). Bust of Pietro Mellini from the funereal monument of his brother, Cardinal Savo Mellini, 1699, marble. Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo, Mellini family chapel. Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen

Mellini Chapel (Santa Maria del Popolo)Fig. 2. Mellini family chapel. Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo. Photo © Zello

They amassed a considerable fortune and had a family chapel in the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo (fig. 2). The Mellini owned several homes throughout the
city2 and had social and familial relationships with the most powerful Roman families. They held important political and diplomatic offices as well as relevant positions in the Roman municipality. No member of the family ascended to the papal throne, but four became cardinals, and two served as papal nuncio to Spain: Cardinal Giovanni Garzia Mellini (1562–1629) and Cardinal Savo Mellini.

From his youth, Savo had set his sights on obtaining a high position in the church; he achieved this goal when he was named a cardinal in 1681. Savo was a cultivated man who studied at the Università degli Studi della Sapienza in Rome. Studies that have addressed the figure of Savo Mellini focus mainly on his diplomatic work in Spain, where he resolved numerous conflicts that emerged from the political relations between Spain and the Holy See. Also documented is the role that he played as a patron of the arts during his time in Madrid; there he commissioned not only paintings but also decorative objects that became part of the Palace of the Nunziatura. Savo’s life in Madrid was characterized by a large stipend and a rather ostentatious lifestyle that contributed to diminishing the Mellini family fortune. The work of committenza carried out by Savo in Spain is noteworthy given that it has not been possible to find any documentation on similar activities in Rome, neither before his departure for nor after his return from Spain. In fact, one of the distinctive characteristics of the Mellini collection of paintings is its “old-fashioned” character.3

We know very little about Pietro Mellini, the purported author of the rhyming inventory of 1681. His administrative career in the municipality of Rome can be traced in documentation preserved in the Archivio Capitolino,4 where we learn that he held several fairly high offices, including that of capitano del popolo.5 Pietro assumed this position after the death of Pope Clement X in 1676, and again after the death of Pope Innocent X in 1689. The inscription on Pietro’s funerary monument in the family chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo highlights this aspect of Pietro’s life. It singles out his work as administrator of the family estate along with his political and diplomatic activities. However, the text of the 1681 poem reveals Pietro’s aspirations to present himself as a man of erudition, well versed in humanistic culture and a participant in the literary world.

The Mellini family name died out during the eighteenth century; its last prominent member was Pietro’s son Mario IV (1677–1756), who was named a cardinal in 1747. Pietro’s other son, Nicola (after 1672–1749), had no male children. Nicola’s two daughters began two new branches of the family, the Falconieri Mellini and the Serlupi Crescenzi Mellini. Perhaps it is on account of this splitting of the family that later historiography has not dedicated much attention to the Mellini family and its members' roles in the artistic and cultural milieus of their times. As our bibliography indicates, studies on the Mellini family are relatively few in number and provide only a fragmentary picture of the family and its art collection.