The arts were now but a small part of the cultural life of Rome. Here were also hundreds of musicians, poets, dramatists, scholars, and historians. Museums, libraries, and colleges offered the treasures of the past to the student, and academies gave encouragement to literature and science. The decorative conceits of Marini still infected Italian verse, but the sting of Tassoni’s satires, the fire of Marini’s sensualism, and the bubbling flow of Tasso’s stanzas had given Italian poetry a stimulus and an afflatus still felt in lyric souls.
The greatest lyric poet of modern times, should we believe Macaulay, 28 was Vincenzo da Filicaia. He celebrated in grateful odes the deliverance of Vienna by Sobieski, he welcomed Christina to Rome with ecstatic flattery, and he voiced with angry shame the subjection of his country to foreign arms:
Italia, O Italia, doomed to wear
The fatal wreath of loveliness, and so
The record of illimitable woe
Branded forever on thy brow to bear!
Would that less beauty and more vigor were
Thy heritage! that they who madly glow
For that which their own fury layeth low
More terrible might find thee, or less fair! 29
Henry Hallam, after wandering as a learned linguist through all the literature of Europe, thought that not Filicaia but Carlo Alessandro Guidi had “raised himself to the highest point that any lyric poet of Italy has attained,” and that “his ode on Fortune [was] at least equal to any in the Italian language.” 30 No one still uncomfortable in Italian can settle this dispute between Macaulay and Hallam, between Guidi and Petrarch, between Filicaia and Byron or Shelley or Keats.
Guidi was one of several poets who warbled their rhymes in Christina’s Roman salon. The Queen of Sweden had formerly won renown not only as head of a great power but as a patron and paragon of learning, the eager hostess of Salmasius and Descartes. Now her abandonment of a crown for a faith, her conversion from the Protestantism that her father had died to save, and her pilgrimage through the courts of Europe to kiss the feet of the Pope—these were events that rivaled wars and revolutions in fascinating the European mind.
She was twenty-eight years old when she left Sweden (1654). Her cousin Charles X, whom she had nominated to her throne, gave her fifty thousand crowns to gild her journey, and the Swedish Diet voted her a substantial income, and the rights of a queen over her retinue. Hurrying through Denmark, she reached Hamburg, where she scandalized the natives by putting up at the house of a Jewish financier, who as her financial agent had served her faithfully. She passed incognita through Protestant Holland, but in Catholic Antwerp she assumed her own dress. There she royally received the Archduke Leopold, and Elizabeth of Bohemia (another dethroned Queen), and Elizabeth’s daughter the Princess Elizabeth (another pupil of Descartes). Then to Brussels, where she was hailed with bonfires, fireworks, cannon salvos, and applauding crowds. For a time she gave herself joyously to balls, tournaments, hunting parties, and plays; Mazarin sent a company of actors from Paris to entertain her. On Christmas Eve she made private abjuration of the Lutheran faith, and announced her resolve to “listen to no more sermons.” 31 She dallied in Flanders while the Roman Curia prepared plans for her official reception into the Church and Italy. Leaving Brussels, she traveled leisurely into Austria. “At Innsbruck she made her formal profession of the Catholic creed. Her progress through Italy to Rome was as glorious as that of a victorious Caesar. Town after town adorned itself to greet her; fetes and spectacles were arranged in her honor at Mantua, Bologna, Faenza, Rimini, Pesaro, Ancona; at last (December 19, 1655) she entered Rome amid a blaze of illuminations that made a game of her disguise. On the morrow she proceeded to the Vatican and was welcomed by Alexander VII. After she had been three days in Rome she was escorted from it to make the formal entry that had been scheduled by the high ecclesiastics. Riding a white horse in prancing state, she passed through a triumphal arch and the Porta del Popolo into the city, between lines of soldiery and crowds of populace. It was as if the old Church felt that in the abjuration of one woman the whole Protestant Reformation had been annulled.
All that consummated, Christina was allowed to rule her own days, receiving prelates, potentates, and pundits, visiting museums, libraries, academies, and ruins, and astonishing her guides by her knowledge of Italian history, literature, and art. The great families overwhelmed her with banquets, gifts, and compliments; Cardinal Colonna, aged fifty, fell in love with her, serenaded her, and had to be banished to save the dignity of the Church. Soon she found herself entangled in the rivalries of French and Spanish factions at the papal court. Sweden, financing with difficulty a war with Poland, interrupted the payment of her allotted revenue. She pawned her jewels, and received a loan from the Pope.
In July, 1656, she set out on a visit to France. There too she was honored as a queen. She entered Paris on a white charger richly caparisoned; a thousand cavaliers rode forth to meet her; crowds cheered her; officials smothered her with oratorical flowers. The current Duc de Guise, sent by Mazarin to escort her, described her as
not tall, but she has a plump waist and large hips, handsome arms, a white and well-made hand, but more that of a man than a woman. . . . The face is large without being out of shape. . . . Nose aquiline, mouth rather big but not disagreeable; . . . eyes very fine and full of fire. . . . A very odd headgear . . .: a man s wig, thick and high. . . . She is shod like a man, and she has the tone of voice and nearly all the actions of a man. She affects to play the amazon . . . She is very civil and cajoling, speaks eight languages, principally French—as well as if she were born in Paris. She knows more than our Academy with the Sorbonne added; understands painting admirably, as she does all other things. A very extraordinary person. 32
She was lodged in the King’s apartment in the Louvre. Later the Duc de Guise led her to Compiègne, where she was received by Louis XIV, then a handsome lad of eighteen. Court ladies fluttered about her, but were disconcerted by her masculine dress and speech. Mme. de Motteville thought she “looked at first sight like a disreputable gypsy,” but “after . . . I began to get accustomed to her clothes . . . I noticed that her eyes were fine and sparkling, that there was gentleness in her face, and kindness mingled with pride. Finally I perceived with amazement that she pleased me.” 33 Generally, however, the women who embroidered French manners, fashions, gaiety, tact, and grace were offended by Christina’s carelessness in dress, her “immoderate laughter, [and] her freethinking in speech, as much on religion as on topics about which the proprieties of her sex demanded more reserve. . . . She professed to despise all women on account of their ignorance, and took pleasure in conversing with men, on evil topics as much as good ones. She observed none of the rules.” 34 Voltaire thought that the ladies of France judged this unruly queen too harshly for her failure to follow the norm. “There was not,” he said, “one woman at the French court whose intellect was equal to hers.” 35Christina, for her part, set down the court ladies as too affected, the men as too feminine, and both as insincere. At Senlis, on the way back from Compiègne to Paris, she asked to see “a demoiselle named Ninon [de Lenclos], celebrated for her vice, her loose way of living, her beauty, and her wit. To her alone, of all the women she saw in France, did she show any signs of regard.” 36 She found Ninon temporarily confined to a convent. Christina conversed gaily with her, and approved her avoidance of marriage. 37After visiting the cultural institutions and notable art of France, Christina returned to Italy (November, 1656).
In September, 1657, she visited France again. She was not as formally received as before, but she was lodged semiregally at Fontainebleau. There she alarmed France by what she appears to have thought a legitimate use of her royal rights over her retinue. The Marchese Monaldeschi, her equerry, entered into a conspiracy against her, which she detected by intercepting his letters. He made matters worse by accusing another on her staff of the plot. She confronted him with his incriminating letters; she ordered a priest to hear his confession and give him absolution, and then she had the Marchese put to death by her guards. France was shocked, and even those who recognized the rights which the Swedish Diet had granted her over her attendants were scandalized that so sudden and arbitrary a use of her authority had been made in rooms belonging to the King of France. Though Christina was allowed to spend that winter in Paris, enjoying plays and balls, the court was much relieved when she left for Italy (May, 1658).
The interruption of her income from Sweden placed her in such straits that she is said to have asked the Emperor Leopold I for an army which she herself would lead against Charles X; she was dissuaded from this martial enterprise by an annuity of twelve thousand scudi from Pope Alexander VII. Twice she visited Sweden (1660, 1667) to regain her revenues, and perhaps her crown. The revenues were restored to her, but she was not welcomed in Stockholm; the Lutheran clergy accused her of plotting to convert the nation to Catholicism, and she was forbidden to hear Mass in her apartments. After each of these visits to Sweden she retired to Hamburg. Thence in 1668 she sent agents to Warsaw to enter her candidacy for the Polish throne, left vacant by the abdication of John Casimir; Pope Clement IX supported her claim, but the Polish Diet rejected her for many reasons, one of which was her refusal to marry; not all the empire of the world, she said, would reconcile her to matrimony. 38 She returned to Italy in November, 1668, and remained there till her death.
Those final twenty years were the most gracious of her life. Her apartments in the Palazzo Corsini became the leading salon in Rome, the rendezvous of prelates, scholars, composers, nobles, and foreign diplomats. There she welcomed Alessandro Scarlatti, and received from Arcangelo Corelli the dedication of his first published sonatas. Her rooms were embellished with paintings, statues, and other forms of art chosen with a taste admired by conoisseurs; and the manuscripts she collected were later reckoned among the choicest in the Vatican Library. She discouraged the artificial style that had developed in Italian verse, and influenced Guidi to lead a movement back to the purity of language, and directness of expression, prevalent under the Medici. Her own memoirs were a model of simple and forceful speech, and her Aphorisms were the sharp and pithy pronouncements of a woman of the world who did not let her piety hamper her enjoyment of life. She was no bigot. She condemned the violence of French Catholics in enforcing the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. “I look upon France,” she wrote, “as a sick person, whose arms and legs have been cut off in order to treat her for a disorder of which she would have been completely cured by the exercise of gentleness and patience.” 39 Bayle thought these sentiments a remnant of her Protestant rearing; she reproved him for this interpretation; he wrote her an apology; she forgave him on condition that he send her new or curious books. 40
She died in 1689, aged sixty-three, and was buried in St. Peter’s. Three years after her death Giovanni María Crescimbeni founded in her memory the Arcadian Academy, whose first members were chiefly those who had formerly gathered under her wing. They continued the old association of poetry with pastoralism; they called themselves shepherds, took bucolic names, and held their meetings in the fields. They established branches in the principal cities of Italy, and, despite their constitutional artifice, they ended the reign of conceits in Italian poetry.