Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta
Rulers of Rimini and Fano from 1432
In 1432, at only 16 years of age, Sigismondo became ruler of Rimini and Fano. Born on the19th of June, 1417, son of Pandolfo and Antonia di Giacomo Barignani, he was educated in military artsfrom childhood: He practised the handling of arms and horsemanship and was taught to “lead armies, set up camps, order troops, organise garrisons, strike the enemy, set up siege machinery and fortifications”.
In 1435 he became captain of the Church for Romagna, a commitment which he held with inconstancy, passing it, in the course of the years, to the service of diverse heads of state; behaviour which earned him the fame of being disloyal, but such mentality was usual for the times. He served at first in the army of the Pope, then with the Sforza against the pontiff, then again, for the alliance between Florence and Venice, and, later, on the Sienese side supporting Giovanni d’Angio’.
As pretender to the Kingdom of Naples, he returned to deploy himself on the side of Pio II.
He was famed for his audacity and unbridled, financial ambition that allowed him to maintain one of the most elegant courts in Italy in the1400’s. He was known as a brilliantcaptain of fortune, an astute diplomat and generous patron. Sigismondo was amongst the first in Italy to take on the role of “patron” of the arts and culture and to surround himself with the greatest artists of the Renaissance. Great architects and painters such as Brunelleschi, Agostino di Duccio, Piero della Francesca, Leon Battista Alberti gravitated toward Rimini. Writers too, such as Tobia del Borgo, Roberto Valturio and Basino da Parma were also there.
In 1433 Sigismondo and his brother were created knights by the Emperor, Sigismondo of Luxembourg.As was the custom in those days, his marriages sealed alliances with powerful families. In 1434 he married Ginevra, daughter of Niccolo’ della casa d’Este, a court of great refinement which, for Sigismondo, served as a constant cultural reference. The marriage of his brother, Domenico Malatesta Novello, (ruler of Cesena), to Violante Montefeltro, daughter of the rulers of Urbino, completed political attachments that would obstruct the expansion ambitions of the great signories.
The death of Ginevra in 1440 allowed Sigismondo to contract another advantageous marriage with Polissena, daughter of Francesco Sforza, who later became Duke of Milan. However, it was only with the bourgeois, Isotta degli Atti, that he had a long sentimental relationship which was only made public after the death of Polissena and which ended in their matrimony celebrated in 1456. In so doing, Sigismondo contravened all social convention. This love story was celebrated by Basinio in Liber Isotteus.
The two political alignments, determined by the alliance, Florence – Milan, in opposition to that between Venice and Naples, conditioned the military enterprises between 1447 – 1448 on Italian territory, that were Sigismondo’s triumphs as military commander.
Notwithstanding that he was in the service of King Alfonso d’Aragona, Sigismondo took command of the Florentine troops together with his eternal enemy, Federico di Montefeltro, and defeated King Alfonso’s soldiers at Piombino.
In 1449 a new change of sides took him to the aid of Venice. If the victory gained at Piombino in 1448 had swelled his fame as a military commander, his about-turn earned him exclusion from the pact of Lodi between Milan and Venice in 1454. The pact inaugurated a forty year period of “peace” and equilibrium guaranteed by the Lega Italica, formed by the major ItalianStates, (the Kingdom of Naples, the Papacy, the Republic of Florence, the Dukedom of Milan and the Republic of Venice).
In 1459 Silvio Piccolomini, for some time adversary of Sigismondo, mounted the papal throne as Pio II. The first gesture of humiliation that the Pope imposed on him was the consignment of Senigallia to the Church and Mondavio and the Montefeltro to Federico.
Sigismondo’s attempt to regain Mondavio earned him a harsh and unjust requisition held on Christmas Day. He was accused of the most infamous crimes and excommunicated. With the objective of recovering the difficult situation, in 1464 Sigismondo, led an expedition in Morea against the Turks who were in a phase of expansion. This undertaking was within the compass of a larger design of crusades inspired by Pio II. However, misfortune by this time dogged the Riminese military commander and the death of the Pope thwarted his venture.
His decline was already sealed. In 1463 he was defeated by the pontifical army commanded by Federico da Montefeltro. The new Pope, Paolo II, only left him the lifelong tenure of the vicariate of Rimini. In 1468 Sigismondo died: he was 51.