Renaissance and Reformation Pope Innocent VIII
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0486


In 1432 Giovanni Battista Cibo (or Cybo) was born into a Ligurian family, though he spent some of his formative years in the kingdom of Naples. This dual inheritance was reflected in his episcopal career, which saw him made bishop of Savona in 1466 and translated to Molfetta in 1472. Pope Sixtus IV raised him to the cardinalate on 17 May 1473, but his subsequent record was relatively undistinguished (see the Oxford Bibliographies article “Pope Sixtus IV”). During the next conclave, Sixtus’s nephew Giuliano della Rovere (see the Oxford Bibliographies articleJulius II”) persuaded his fellow cardinals to elect Cibo to the papacy, which was accomplished on 29 August 1484. He took the papal name Innocent VIII and his pontificate lasted a little under eight years, until his death on 25 July 1492. He appears in passing in numerous publications relating to Rome and the papacy during the Renaissance period, but he lacked the forcefulness, magnetism, or literary skills that distinguished some of the other 15th-century popes and so remains relatively enigmatic, —the man who happened to be pope while others took the lead in statecraft, literature, and the visual arts. Like all popes, his career can be traced in numerous Reference Works, but there are few publications that can pass as Overviews of his life or pontificate. In historiographical terms, the real strength lies in Primary Sources, the quantity and quality of which are such that, for present purposes, they are subdivided into Letters and Diaries and Histories. There are Collections of Papers that touch on the pontificate, but none devoted to Innocent himself. On the other hand, his papal election ensured that the Cibo Family remained socially distinguished for some generations, though they were never as prominent as some of the other dynasties who traced their exalted status back to one or more of the Renaissance popes. Although contemporaries found Innocent lacking in confidence, he was a papal monarch, the counterpart of the emperor and superior to all other Prelates and Princes, whether in Italy or Wider Christendom and Beyond. However, that was about the papacy as an institution, not the Cibo pope as an individual. Only when one turns to the cultural trio of Architecture, Sculpture, and Literature does Innocent even begin to emerge as an individual, commissioning his own architectural additions to the Vatican complex and being celebrated in the last papal tomb created for Old St. Peter’s.

Reference Works

Eubel 1913 is the standard reference work consulted by historians of the Church in the fifteenth century. It provides basic information about popes, cardinals, and bishops. The Catholic Hierarchy website is in essence an online version of Eubel, but is being constantly expanded, so that it now ranges somewhat beyond the information found in the older work. In addition to Catholic Hierarchy, the only other exclusively online resource cited here is Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church 1998–, a compendium of information relating to the entire history of the cardinalate. The remainder of the present selection are all straightforward texts of varying lengths. The shortest, on Innocent VIII and other popes, are to be found in Kelly and Walsh 2010. Depending on the student’s precise need, that may be sufficient, but Levillain 2002 is a more substantial English-language text and provides information beyond brief biographies of popes, thereby encouraging the reader to acquire a wider range of relevant information. The two other works cited in this section are intimately related, for the entry on Innocent in the Dizionario biografico degli italiani is an abbreviated version of that in the Enciclopedia dei Papi, albeit with a lengthier bibliography. Either version will suffice for academic purposes, and both encourage the student to make connections, between a wide variety of contemporaries in the case of the DBI, and between popes in that of the Enciclopedia.

  • Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Miami: Florida International University Libraries, 1998–.

    Grouped with the other cardinals created on 7 May 1473, Giovanni Battista Cibo can be found in the general list of cardinals, which provides basic biographical information, a bibliography, and webography. The cardinals created by Innocent are on a separate web page. Elsewhere, under “Papal Elections and Conclaves,” the only conclave in which Cibo voted, and from which he emerged as pope, is featured, with the electors listed.

  • Catholic Hierarchy. 1996–.

    This website is essentially a more flexible but less scholarly version of Eubel 1913 and the entire nine-volume Hierarchia catholica series. Innocent’s personal web page can be used as a gateway to different parts of the site: “Bishops,” “Dioceses,” “Events,” “Holy See,” and “Various,” the last of which includes sections on “Conclaves” and “Consistories,” though the emphasis is modern and not all lists go back as far as the fifteenth century.

  • Dizionario biografico degli italiani. 100 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–2020.

    Now that the DBI has reached completion, short biographies are available for all the most notable characters in Innocent VIII’s story. The entry for “Innocenzo VIII, papa” by Marco Pellegrini is in Vol. 62 (2004), at pp. 450–460. It is a shortened version of his text for the Enciclopedia dei Papi (2000), though the bibliography is rather more extensive than that in the earlier publication.

  • Enciclopedia dei Papi. 3 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2000.

    The entry for “Innocenzo VIII” is by Marco Pellegrini and is to be found in Vol. 3, at pp. 1–13. As with the entries for other Renaissance popes, the text is thorough and authoritative. The bibliography is shorter than some others, but a longer version compiled by the same author can be found in the DBI.

  • Eubel, Konrad. Hierarchia catholica medii aevi. Vol. 2. 2d ed. Münster, Germany: Sumptibus et Typis Librariae Regensbergianae, 1913.

    This most authoritative of resources details all cardinalitial and episcopal appointments, including those of Giovanni Battista Cibo to the sees of Savona and Molfetta, and as cardinal priest of S. Balbina and S. Cecilia, as well as the additions he made to the College of Cardinals and appointments to bishoprics made during his pontificate. Each appointment is traced by means of archival references.

  • Kelly, J. N. D., and M. J. Walsh. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. 2d rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acref/9780199295814.001.0001

    This accessible volume provides useful introductions to each pontiff from St. Peter to Benedict XVI, including an entry on Innocent VIII at pp. 254–255, which reflects traditional appreciation of the pope’s life and times. The bibliography consists of primary sources and reference works, but does not reflect modern scholarship. First published as a single-authored work; revised by Walsh.

  • Levillain, Philippe, ed. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. 3 vols. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

    Between them, the three volumes contain a rich abundance of useful material on all aspects of papal history. Anna Esposito’s entry on Innocent VIII appears in Volume 2, at pp. 798–800. As the work of a specialist on 15th-century Rome, Esposito’s survey of the key features of Innocent’s pontificate should be preferred to the version in Kelly and Walsh 2010. The same applies to the bibliography.

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