Alessandro Albani was the nephew of Pope Clement XI, who convinced him to set aside a budding military career increasingly debilitated by weak eyesight that would lead to blindness in old age, and become a cardinal, an elevation effected on July 16, 1721. Albani developed into one of the most astute antiquarians of his day; an arbiter of taste in the appreciation of Roman sculpture and a powerful and enterprising collector of Roman antiquities and patron of the arts... He used both ancient and modern art as a form of cultural capital, giving away acquisitions as favours and selling them for perpetually needed funds or when they lost efficacy for him (Seymour Howard, 'Some Eighteenth-Century 'Restored' Boxers', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 56, 1993, pp. 238-255).
Albani was the formal protector of Rome's artists as patron of the Accademia di San Luca and was a powerful advocate for his favourites. Today, he is perhaps most famous for the creation of the Villa Albani in Rome. Begun in 1751 and completed by 1763 - the year of the Spencers visit to Rome - the Villa was designed to house his constantly evolving collections of antiquities and Roman sculpture, which soon also filled the casino that faced the Villa down a series of formal parterres. Albani's life-long friend Carlo Marchionni was the architect and the Albani antiquities were catalogued by the Cardinal's secretary, the first professional art historian, Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Cardinal Albani's coins and medals went to the Vatican Library, over which he presided from 1761 but the sarcophagi, columns and sculptures have long since been dispersed.