In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sigismondo Malatesta

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Political History and War with Pius II
  • Reverse Canonization and Papal Invectives
  • Relations with the Turks and Crusade in the Morea
  • The Castel Sismondo
  • Cultural and Artistic Patronage
  • Isotta degli Atti

Renaissance and Reformation Sigismondo Malatesta
Anthony D'Elia
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0233


Sigismondo Malatesta (1417–1468), the Lord of Rimini, was renowned in the Renaissance as a brilliant condottiere, who used ingenious siege tactics and won pivotal victories for Pope Eugene IV (1431–1447) and the republic of Florence in 1448 and 1453. He was also a great patron of the arts and made Rimini into a vibrant center of Renaissance culture. The painter Piero della Francesca, the sculptor Agostino di Duccio, the medal-caster Matteo de’ Pasti, and the architect Leon Battista Alberti, among other artists, all embellished the Malatesta family church, San Francesco, which later became known as the Tempio Malatestiano. Sigismondo was extolled as an avid student of classical literature, especially Homer’s epics. He supported several humanists in his court, including Basinio of Parma, Tobia del Borgo, Roberto Orsi, Pandone de’ Pandoni (Porcellio), Pietro Parleo, and Roberto Valturio. He hosted debates on learned subjects in his castle, which was praised as a “wonder of the age” for its innovative defensive design. In 1458 Sigismondo became embroiled in a long quarrel over tithes and territory with Pope Pius II (1458–1464), who, after excommunication failed, performed a reverse canonization and enrolled Sigismondo among the devils in hell. Pius wrote and circulated a lengthy invective in which he condemned Sigismondo for unbridled lust and rape, blasphemy, atheism (epicureanism), paganism, and deification of his longtime consort and third wife Isotta degli Atti. Pius also accused Sigismondo of murdering his first two wives, Ginevra d’Este (1418–1440) by poison and Polissena Sforza (1428–1449) by strangulation. The negative character that the pope conjured in the invectives appealed to later writers, who presented Sigismondo as a violent, tormented lover rebelling against papal rule, including the Edwardian aesthete Edward Hutton and the modern poet Ezra Pound. On the battlefield Sigismondo was outnumbered and eventually lost to the papal allies. He had to give up most of his territory and was required to lead a crusade in the Morea, southern Greece, against the Turks (1464–1465). After some initial success, Sigismondo was forced to abandon the crusade and returned to Rimini, carrying the body of the infamous neopagan philosopher Plethon, which he entombed amid great scandal in the church of San Francesco. Pius’ successor, Pope Paul II (1464–1471), was wary of Sigismondo and kept him as a virtual prisoner in Rome until his death in 1468. During this time Sigismondo reportedly made plans to murder the pope with a hidden dagger and may have been involved in the so-called humanist conspiracy against the pope in February 1468.


There is no standard modern biography of Sigismondo. Falcioni 2007 and Falcioni 1998 focus on institutional and economic history. Franceschini 1973 and Tabanelli 1977 offer more popular overviews that focus on political history. For cultural history, Battaglini 1794 is still essential, while Clementini 1969 is of limited use. D’Elia 2016 explores Sigismondo’s life in relation to the classical ideals in his court literature and art.

  • Battaglini, Francesco G. Della vita e de’ fatti di Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. In Basini Parmensis poetae Opera praestantiora nunc primum edita et opportunis commentariis illustrata. Vol. 2. Edited by Angelo Battaglini, 257–699. Rimini, Italy: Albertiniana, 1794.

    Battaglini tries to defend Sigismondo’s legacy against Pius’ accusations. There are footnoted sources, which makes this book an excellent resource. The text, however, is dense and crowded with excessive and mostly superfluous detail.

  • Clementini, Cesare. Raccolto istorico della fondatione di Rimini. Bologna, Italy: Forni, 1969.

    Originally published 1617–1627. A history of Rimini by a local historian, structured around the biographies of Malatesta rulers. The lengthy chapter on Sigismondo is the earliest biography of Sigismondo. On the whole, Clementini is sympathetic and presents Sigismondo as heroic and learned. Although he draws on archival sources, there are no notes, and the archaic typescript makes reading a challenge.

  • D’Elia, Anthony F. Pagan Virtue in a Christian World: Sigismondo Malatesta and the Italian Renaissance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674088528

    Explores Sigismondo’s political and public career in relation to the classical image and values promoted in the humanist literature and art that he commissioned.

  • Falcioni, Anna. La signoria di Sigismondo Malatesta. Vol. 1, L’Economia. Rimini, Italy: Bruno Ghigi, 1998.

    Treasure trove of archival sources for the economic history of Sigismondo’s rule in Rimini. Contains an appendix of documents (pp. 173–290) that relate to infrastructure, private property, agriculture, condotte contracts, and commerce.

  • Falcioni, Anna, ed. La signoria di Sigismondo Malatesta. Vol. 2, La politica e le imprese militari. Rimini, Italy: Bruno Ghigi, 2006.

    Articles relating to Sigismondo’s political and military career.

  • Falcioni, Anna. “Malatesta, Sigismondo Pandolfo.” Dizionario biografico degli italiani 68 (2007).

    Good introduction. Focuses on political and economic history.

  • Franceschini, Gino. I Malatesta. Milan: Dall’Oglio, 1973.

    General history of the Malatesta family. Few notes.

  • Tabanelli, Mario. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta: Signore del medioevo e del rinascimento. Faenza, Italy: F. lli Lega, 1977.

    General political biography with some notes.

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