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Pope Clement XII

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Clement XII
Bishop of Rome
Portrait by Agostino Masucci, c. 1730–40
ChurchCatholic Church
Papacy began12 July 1730
Papacy ended6 February 1740
PredecessorBenedict XIII
SuccessorBenedict XIV
Consecration18 June 1690
by Flavio Chigi
Created cardinal17 May 1706
by Clement XI
Personal details
Lorenzo Corsini

(1652-04-07)7 April 1652
Died6 February 1740(1740-02-06) (aged 87)
Rome, Papal States
Previous post(s)
MottoDabis discernere inter malum et bonum
(Distinguish between good and evil)[1]
SignatureClement XII's signature
Coat of armsClement XII's coat of arms
Other popes named Clement

Pope Clement XII (Latin: Clemens XII; Italian: Clemente XII; 7 April 1652 – 6 February 1740), born Lorenzo Corsini, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 12 July 1730 to his death in February 1740.

Clement presided over the growth of a surplus in the papal finances. He thus became known for building the new façade of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, beginning construction of the Trevi Fountain,[2] and the purchase of Cardinal Alessandro Albani's collection of antiquities for the papal gallery. In his 1738 bull In eminenti apostolatus, he provides the first public papal condemnation of Freemasonry.

Early life[edit]

Lorenzo Corsini was born in Florence in 1652 as the son of Bartolomeo Corsini, Marquis of Casigliano and his wife Elisabetta Strozzi, the sister of the Duke of Bagnuolo. Both of his parents belonged to the old Florentine nobility. He was a distant relative of Saint Andrew Corsini.[3]

Corsini studied at the Jesuit Roman College in Rome and also at the University of Pisa where he earned a doctorate in both civil law and canon law.


Cardinal Lorenzo Corsini, by Francesco Trevisani.

Corsini practiced law under the able direction of his uncle, Cardinal Neri Corsini. After the death of his uncle and his father, in 1685, Corsini, now thirty-three, would have become head of the Corsini. Instead he renounced his right of primogeniture and from Pope Innocent XI (1676–1689) 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.[3] Corsini's home on the Piazza Navona was the center of Rome's scholarly and artistic life.[4]

In 1690 he was made titular Archbishop of Nicomedia and chosen nuncio to Vienna, receiving a dispensation from Pope Alexander VIII since he had not yet been ordained a priest. He did not proceed to the imperial court,[3] because Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, maintained that he had the right to select the nuncio from a list of three names furnished by the pope.[4]

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 (1700–1721),[3] who employed his talents as a courtier and named him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Susanna on 17 May 1706, retaining his services as papal treasurer.[3]

He advanced still further under Pope Benedict XIII (1724–1730), who made him Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, a judicial branch of the Roman Curia. He was successively appointed as the Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli and Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati.[3]


Papal styles of
Pope Clement XII
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone

Papal election[edit]

Clement XII, 1730

Under Benedict XIII, the finances of the Papal States had been delivered into the hands of Cardinal Niccolò Coscia and other members of the curia, who had drained the financial resources of the see. Benedict died in 1730, and in the conclave that followed his death, after deliberating for four months, the College of Cardinals selected Corsini, 78 years old and with failing eyesight, who had held all the important offices of the Roman Curia.[3] Since Clement XII, no pope has been elected at an older age than Clement XII when he was elected.

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.

On 1 May 1730, several of the cardinals initially settled upon electing Cardinal Gianantonio Davia but had been unable to secure the necessary support. To that end, they refocused their efforts on getting Corsini elected, securing him 31 votes. Corsini, however, was not seriously considered as a candidate until about early July when the candidacy of Pietro Marcellino Corradini started to waver. Meanwhile, the French, Spanish, and Germans were perfectly amenable to Corsini's election.[5]

Corsini took his papal name in memorial to Pope Clement XI, who created him cardinal.


His first moves as Pope Clement XII were to restore the papal finances. He demanded restitution from the ministers who had abused the confidence of his predecessor. The chief culprit, Cardinal Niccolò Coscia, was heavily fined, excommunicated 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 money poured into Clement XII's treasury, an annual sum amounting to nearly a half million scudi, enabling him to undertake the extensive building programs for which he is chiefly remembered,[3] but which he was never able to see.

Art and architecture[edit]

Bust of Clement XII by Edme Bouchardon

A competition for the majestic façade of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran was won by architect Alessandro Galilei. The façade he designed is perhaps more palatial than ecclesiastic, and was finished by 1735. Clement XII erected in that ancient basilica a magnificent chapel dedicated to his 14th century kinsman, St. Andrew Corsini. He restored the Arch of Constantine and built the Palazzo della Consulta on the Quirinal Hill. He purchased from Cardinal Alessandro Albani for 60,000 scudi a famous collection of statues, inscriptions, etc., and opened it to the public as the Capitoline Museums. He paved the streets of Rome and the roads leading from the city, and widened the Via del Corso. He began the triumphant Baroque Trevi Fountain, 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.The pope founded in 1732 the Italo-Albanian College Library of San Demetrio Corone in Calabria.[6][3]

Foreign policy[edit]

Politically, however, this was not a successful papacy among the secular powers of Europe. When the attempt of Papal forces to take over the ancient independent Republic of San Marino failed, Clement XII disavowed the arbitrary action of his legate, Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, in seizing San Marino, and restored its independence. He was also rebuffed in Papal claims over the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza.[3]

In August 1730 he gave permission for Victor Amadeus II of Savoy to carry out a morganatic marriage to Anna Canalis di Cumiana. Victor Amadeus II subsequently abdicated his throne causing great unrest in Savoy.

Ecclesial activities[edit]

Papa Clemente XII, unknown Spanish artist (oil on canvas, 1739, University of Salamanca)

In ecclesiastic affairs he issued In eminenti apostolatus, the first papal decree against the Freemasons on 28 April 1738. He canonized Saint Vincent de Paul and proceeded with vigour 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 Pope Leo I (440–461). 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.[3] He created the youngest Cardinal ever when on 19 December 1735, he named Luis Antonio Jaime de Borbón y Farnesio, Royal Infante of Spain, age 8, to the Sacred College.

Though he was blind and compelled to keep to 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 Accademia dei Lincei). In 1754, his nephew, Cardinal Neri Maria Corsini, founded there the famous Corsini Library.[3]


Clement XII created 35 cardinals in fifteen consistories held throughout his pontificate. The first individual he raised into the cardinalate was his nephew Neri Maria Corsini while he also raised his future successor Carlo della Torre di Rezzonico (Pope Clement XIII) to the cardinalate. He also raised his nephew Giovanni Antonio Guadagni to the cardinalate in 1731.

Canonizations and beatifications[edit]

The pope named five new saints during his reign with the most notable being Vincent de Paul. He also beatified eight others including his predecessor Pope Benedict XI.

Death and burial[edit]

The tomb of Clement XII.

Clement XII died on 6 February 1740 at 9:30am due to complications from gout. His remains were transferred to his tomb in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran on 20 July 1742.[3] Pope Clement XII's tomb is in the Capella Corsini of the Basilica of St. John Lateran and was completed by the sculptors Giovanni Battista Maini and Carlo Monaldi. His bust was completed by Filippo della Valle.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pope Clement XII (1730–1740)". www.gcatholic.org. Retrieved 2022-05-12.
  2. ^ Gross, Hanns (1990). Rome in the Age of Enlightenment: the Post-Tridentine syndrome and the ancient regime. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-521-37211-9.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLoughlin, James (1908). "Pope Clement XII". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Pope Clement XII", Papal Artifacts
  5. ^ John Paul Adams (29 September 2015). "Sede Vacante 1730". CSUN. Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  6. ^ "De Rose, Conforti".
  7. ^ "Bust of Pope Clement XII by VALLE, Filippo della".

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Pope
12 July 1730 – 6 February 1740
Succeeded by