Adrian VI (or Hadrianus VI), born Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens, was the 218th pope of the Catholic Church and the only Dutch pope in history.
Born in Utrecht, Adriaan Boeyens studied at the University of Leuven, where he became a doctor of theology in 1491 and rector of the university three years later. One of his students in Leuven was Erasmus. Around 1509, his career moved into a new direction when he became involved in the education of the young Habsburg prince Charles, future Emperor Charles V. Throughout the next decade, Adriaan obtained important political positions in Spain, culminating in his appointment as cardinal in 1517 and governor of Castile in 1520.
After the death of Leo X in December 1521, Adriaan was proclaimed pope: a surprising election, given the fact that he was highly unknown in Rome and that he had never set foot in the Eternal City. The Roman populace showed its disgust with the choice for a 'barbarian' pope, and numerous pasquinate ridiculed the newcomer and his entourage, with 'their names which dumbfound a dog, which hound a graveyard with the sound of horrible and strange words'.
Following his entry into Rome on August 29 and his coronation in St. Peter’s Basilica, Adrian VI tried to impose far-reaching reforms in Rome, establishing a significant break from his Renaissance predecessors in his explicit rejection of pomp and circumstance and 'pagan' art. At the same time, he appointed numerous Dutchmen in his service, including Dirk van Heeze, Albert Pigge and, most importantly, Willem van Enckenvoirt. The painter Jan van Scorel became the head of the Vatican collections under his papacy.
Having spent just a little bit more than a year in office, Adriaan fell ill and died, 64 years old, on 14 September 1523. Immediately rumours spread that he was poisoned - a fate that many Romans applauded. His personal physician, supposedly responsible for his death, was celebrated as the liberator of Rome, LIBERATORI PATRIAE SPQR. The humanist poet Angelo Colocci commented:
'The Romans admit they have received two moments
Without ungrateful feelings:
The moment you came, Adrian, and the moment you left.'
Copy after Jan van Scorel
Portrait of Pope Adrianus VI, 1625-1650
Oil on panel, 93 x 73,3 cm
© Centraal Museum Utrecht
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M. Verweij, Pas de deux in stilte. De briefwisseling tussen Erasmus en paus Adrianus VI (1522-1523), Rotterdam 2002
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