Few popes have left a greater mark on the fabric of Rome than Urban VIII (r. 1623-44), whose heraldic bees swarm all over the Eternal City.
Pope Urban VIII belonged to the Barberini family, whose coat of arms takes the form of three bees. The family hailed from Barberino Val d'Elsa, a small village near Florence, and were originally called the Tafani da Barberino. Tafani is the Italian word for horseflies, and it was a trio of horseflies rather than bees that originally graced the family's coat of arms.
As the family moved up the social ladder, transferring first to Florence and then to Rome, they dropped the first part of their name and replaced the horseflies with bees, an insect with a much better pedigree in the arcane world of symbols.
Pope Urban VIII was a prolific patron of the arts and, during his two decades as pope, the Barberini bees popped up in every form, from stucco to stained glass.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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