Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Shedding Light on Caravaggio

Keli Holzapfel
Honors Program in Rome - Summer 2004


I. Introduction

TIME PERIOD BACKGROUND INFORMATION

In the late 16th century, the Baroque style was starting to emerge. This period is characterized by open compositions with elements, often times placed diagonally, that encourage the illusion of movement. A loose and free technique was consistently used among artists. Artists also tried to create a sense of unity among the different elements or figures.
Along with this new style, in the early 17th century, there was a revival in naturalism. Here the aim was to reproduce nature without any improvements. This was brought about by a new interest in the natural sciences, such as biology, anatomy, physics and astronomy. One important follower of this new interest in the natural sciences was Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte.

Also during this time the Counter Reformation was influencing the subject matter and its representations in art. It encouraged a renewal in the interest in martyrs. In the depiction of these martyrs, the Catholic Church encouraged the images to be visually and emotionally appealing so as to encourage piety and faith in heretics as well as to inspire present worshipers. With these representations of horrifying scenes of martyrdom, the Church wanted to reach the largest audience possible in order to regain Catholic worshipers. As a result, this time period is marked by the patronage of the Catholic Church and Catholic nobility in Rome.

A popular figure of influence in Rome at the time was Saint Filippo. At this time he created a religious atmosphere of the simplicity of faith and mystic devotion. He also exemplified humility, realism and was characterized as not only emotionally profound, but also as lacking of class consciousness. His popularity in Rome was felt in throughout society, and several of Caravaggio’s patrons were involved in Saint Filipo’s inner circle of the Congregation of Oratory. Saint Filippo died five years after Caravaggio arrived in Rome, and most likely influenced the young Caravaggio during this short time.


BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF CARAVAGGIO


In 1571, Michelangelo Merisi was born in Caravaggio, a small town in the region of Lombardy, which later became his namesake. At a young age he started to work under the painter Simone Peterzano in Milan. Here he was influenced by Lombardy art, which is characterized by a realistic style with careful drawing and an interest in still-life. During this time Caravaggio’s paintings reflect this style, in which he painted mostly still life.
In 1592 he arrived in Rome. Although not confirmed, it is suggested that before his apprenticeship with Giuseppe Cesari d’Arpino, Caravaggio fell ill and was taken to the Hospital della Consolazione. It is here that Caravaggio was first introduced to the Congregation of the Oratory and Saint Filippo, which later influenced his religious paintings. As mentioned above, once in Rome Caravaggio worked for Giuseppe Cesari d’Arpino. It is through this artist who was gaining popularity, especially with the Pope, that Caravaggio’s work was shown to Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. Soon after Cardinal del Monte took Caravaggio into his home, supporting the realism portrayed in his paintings. At this time Caravaggio continued to paint still-lifes with half figures, but started to include low-life genre scenes as well. Cardinal del Monte encouraged Caravaggio’s unique style of detailed realism, reflecting his own interest in observation of natural sciences. Through Cardinal del Monte Caravaggio not only continued to be introduced to other powerful figures in Rome, for example to Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, but also received his first public commission at the Cardinal's recommendation. On July 23, 1599 Caravaggio signed the contract to paint The Calling of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. On September 24, 1600, Caravaggio received his second public commission to paint The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Cerasi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, which he received through the recommendation of Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani. Later, after rejecting the sculpture of Jacob Cobaert as the altar piece for the Contarelli Chapel, Caravaggio was commission to paint the altarpiece on February 7, 1602, of which the subject was St. Matthew and the Angel. From his first public commission in July 1599 to fleeing Rome in May 1606, Caravaggio obtained six public commissions that included five altarpieces and four lateral paintings. Also during this time Caravaggio built up a reputation for himself throughout Rome. He wandered the streets, clothed in a black cloak and always carrying a sword. He constantly engaged in fights, being easily provoked, and often was seen with a gang of artists whose motto was “Without hope or fear.” During this time what is known about Caravaggio’s personal life is depicted through his voluminous police record.

In May of 1606, after losing a tennis match, Caravaggio argued with the victor and ended with Caravaggio fleeing from Rome as a murder fugitive. He first fled to Genua, then Zagarola, Naples, and Malta. In Malta he painted the portrait of the Grand Master of Knights. Later Caravaggio insulted a member of their order, and was again forced to flee, but this time to Sicily. After several commissions here, he returned to Naples and was ambushed by the Knights and wounded. At this point, he decided to sail back to Rome in hope of a pardon. Along the shore he was unjustly imprisoned by the Spanish Guard, and when they realized he was the wrong man and released Caravaggio, his transport with all of his belongings was gone. It is recorded that he then ran along the Porto d’Ercole in the summer heat in search for the transport and collapsed. He later developed a fever and died on July 18th, 1610, just short of receiving a pardon to enter Rome, decreed by the Pope on July 31st.


HISTORY OF THE CONTARELLI CHAPEL

Caravaggio’s first public commission was for the Frenchman Matteu Contrel (Matteo Contarelli in Italian), who was appointed Cardinal in 1583. Contarelli bought the chapel in the French National Church of San Luigi dei Francesi to be his burial site. In 1565 he commissioned Girolamo Muziano to paint the walls, altarpiece and vault with six scenes of the life of St. Matthew, his patron saint. In 1585 Contarelli died, leaving the responsibility of decorating the chapel to the Crescenzi family. Later in 1587, the Crescenzi family hired Jacob Cobaert to sculpt the altarpiece, and in 1591 they commissioned Giuseppe Cesari d’Arpino to paint the frescoes on the vault. During this time it is possible that Caravaggio, who was under the apprenticeship of Giuseppe Cesari d’Arpino, worked on these frescoes. Muziano died in 1592, never having completed any work on the chapel, and with increasing commissions from the Pope, Giuseppe Cesari d’Arpino also neglected to finish his work. Cobaert too failed to complete the altarpiece until 1602. In 1599, after over thirty years of an incomplete chapel, the priests at San Luigi dei Francesi appealed to the Fabbrica di San Pietro to take over the responsibility of finishing the chapel, claiming that the Crescenzi family was refraining from finishing the decoration of the chapel in order to live off the interest of the money that was left for this purpose. On July 23, 1599, the Fabbrica di San Pietro, with the recommendation of Cardinal del Monte, commissioned Caravaggio to paint the lateral walls of the chapel with The Calling of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. Included in this contract were guidelines requested by Cardinal Contarelli before his death concerning the figures in the paintings and their placement within them. Later, with the rejection of Jacob Cobaert’s sculpture as the altarpiece, the priests commissioned Caravaggio on February 7, 1602 to paint the altarpiece of St. Matthew and the Angel. The first version of this was deemed inappropriate, causing Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani to intervene, calming an angry Caravaggio. Giustiniani bought the original piece, and commissioned Caravaggio to repaint the St. Matthew and the Angel that is now in the Contarelli Chapel.


HISTORY OF THE CERASI CHAPEL

Caravaggio’s second public commission was for Tiberio Cerasi. Cerasi was born in 1544 and practiced law in the papal court. Eventually he left this position to pursue an ecclesiastical career. In 1556 he acquired enough wealth to buy the post of Treasurer General to the Apostolic Chamber, putting himself in charge of papal expenditure. This also put him into contact with Marchese Vincenzio Giustiniani, who was the Depositary General to the Apostolic Chamber and in charge of receiving and disbursing funds. Through this connection, Marchese Vincenzio Giustiniani recommended Caravaggio to Cerasi to paint the lateral walls of his chapel. On September 24, 1600, Caravaggio was contracted to paint two cypress panels just over two meters high for the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. In the contract he was specified to provide figural drawings (called bozzetti) to the patron before painting. The first paintings of The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter were rejected and acquired by Cardinal Sannesio. Today the only original of The Conversion of St. Paul remains in existence. Caravaggio then finished the two paintings of The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter that can be viewed in the chapel today.


II.Description

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF CHAPELS

The Calling of St. Matthew, The Martyrdom of St. Matthew and St. Matthew and the Angel are all situated in the dimly lit Contarelli Chapel. To see these paintings, the viewer had to make an effort to go directly to the Chapel in able to discern the specific details and subject matter of each painting.

The Calling of Saint Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew appear on the lateral walls of the chapel, while St. Matthew and the Angel is placed in the middle of the two paintings as the altarpiece.

In the Cerasi Chapel, The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter occupy the lateral walls. This Chapel is also dark, again requiring the observer to physically walk over to the painting in order to properly view them. It is also important to note that Caravaggio took into account that these paintings were to be located on the lateral walls. As a result, he painted them to be seen from an angle, not from straight ahead. He also created diagonals in these paintings toward the altar of the Chapel, drawing the viewers attention from his paintings to the altar.


CARAVAGGIO'S SUBJECT MATTER AND TECHNIQUE

The commission for the Contarelli Chapel works marks the beginning of Caravaggio’s religious paintings, and continued not only with the Cerasi Chapel paintings, but to Caravaggio’s death. Each one exemplified his new innovative techniques of chiascuro and tenebrism. Chiascuro is an Italian word designating the contrast of dark and light in a painting, creating spatial depth and volumetric forms through slight gradations in the intensity of light and shadow. Tenebrism is a term signifying the use of strong chiascuro and artificially illuminated areas to create a dramatic contrast of light and dark in a painting. Along with the use of chaiscuro and tenebrism, Caravaggio’s paintings showed a new religious intensity and psychology. His religious scenes make devotion more human and accessible to the worshiper. To create a more emotional appeal, he used dark colors to create his forms instead of the soft tints of earlier painters in order to convey the realness and flesh and blood of the his figures. All of these characteristics, as well as symbolism and carefully planned composition, all emerge in Caravaggio’s paintings in the Contarelli Chapel and the Cerasi Chapel.


THE CALLING OF ST. MATTHEW

In The Calling of St. Matthew, the background is dark, creating a dramatic highlight of the figures in the painting from an outside light. The outside light is from an unknown source and falls more directly on the figure of St. Matthew. Christ and St. Peter are standing on the right side of the painting. Christ has his arm stretched outward toward Saint Matthew, his hand in a pointing gesture that perfectly imitates the pointing gesture painted by Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. The beam of light leads the viewer’s eye from the figure of Christ to St. Matthew. St. Matthew repeats the pointing gesture of Christ questioningly at himself, with an expression of shock clearly shown on his face. Caravaggio chose to paint this scene when St. Matthew is in-between is new life as an Apostle and his old life as a tax collector. This juxtaposition can be seen by the fact that his other hand is fondling a pile of gold at his side, and there is even a coin stuck in his hat. This represents his mindset: half of his mind is occupied by the sin of his life centered around money and the other half of his mind, shown by his surprised gesture and his focus on Christ with the light highlighting him, is turned toward the salvation from Christ. This theme of sin versus salvation is further conveyed by the composition of the other figures in the piece, especially with the figures arranged around St. Matthew. The two figures on his right notice the Christ and are looking into the light away from the money on the table. They have a chance to be saved. On the left of St. Matthew, the figures are concentrating so much on the money, they do not see the light, and thus miss salvation. The old man standing, leaning hunched over further shows this through his use of spectacles. The use of spectacles in paintings was a device used to signify short-sightedness. In this painting, the short-sightedness is due to money, and the man cannot see past mortal richness to reach eternal enlightenment.
Another feature of this painting is the comparison between Christ and St. Peter, and St. Matthew and his cohorts around the table. St. Matthew and his friends are dressed in bright modern clothes. This places them in a certain time frame compared to the dark robes of Christ and St. Peter, which humble and somber, are almost timeless. The men around the table are also wearing shoes unlike the barefoot Christ and St. Peter. It also shows the importance of material goods to the men at the table instead of the humble and divine focus of Christ and St. Peter.
The placement of St. Peter is also important in this painting. There is uncertainty whether St. Peter was added in later, or was meant to appear in the painting from the beginning, which has also sparked several theories about his positioning. One is that he was placed there to appease the instructions given to him by the patron to have Christ and his followers in the painting. Another theory is that St. Peter is placed in front of Christ in order to make the figure of Christ more obscure. The last theory of the position of St. Peter is that he is placed in-between the figure of Christ and viewer to signify that to reach salvation and Christ, the viewer must first go through the church, which is represented by St. Peter.
The surroundings of the painting also hold meaning as well as controversy. The window above Christ has a frame in the shape of a cross, which is well placed symbolism for the religious painting. Behind the men around the table, on the left side of the painting, there is a dark strip of paint. This could be the corner of a building, showing that the men are actually outside of Roman Palace, and not in the interior of a building. Another marker of whether the scene takes place inside or outside is that the window has a shutter that opens towards the viewer. These make it seem as though the scene is taking place outside. Others believe that it is an interior due to the fact that the men are gathered around a table, and the light from outside of the painting is shining into the darkness of the room. No one knows the correct interpretation.
One last key features of this painting is the technique in which the figures are painted. The colors used by Caravaggio create voluminous figures that seem to invade the viewer’s space, especially when the light falls on them. It is also interesting to note that the figure of Christ seems to be striding forward, yet his feet are pointing toward the viewer.


ST. MATTHEW AND THE ANGEL

Similar to The Calling of St. Matthew, the background of St. Matthew and the Angel is dark. The figures of St. Matthew and the Angel are highlighted with a light from an unknown source, again creating a more dramatic effect. The subject of the painting is St. Matthew, in a moment of inspiration from the angel above him, writing his part of the Gospel. Since the Gospel is one of St. Matthew’s greatest achievements, it is placed in the most important place as the altarpiece. In a moment of inspiration, St. Matthew is sitting on the edge of his bench. The bench itself is almost falling of the edge of the painting into the viewer’s space. St. Matthew is deep in thought as he writes with the angel above him, ticking off the genealogy of Christ on his fingers. Both figures are fully swathed with drapery. The figure of St. Matthew himself is that of a mature philosopher. Unlike the first version, this version of St. Matthew is more similar to Caravaggio’s other portrayals of the saint.
The composition of the painting is vertical. The viewer is drawn from the angel above and then down to St. Matthew writing the Gospel. The exact position of the angel is unknown. Although the angel looks as though he is coming out toward the painting, and thus closer to the viewer than St. Matthew, St. Matthew is actually turning away from the viewer to look at the angel. This gives the impression that the angel is on the other side of St. Matthew.
The position of the angel above St. Matthew exhibits the hierarchical relationship between the angel and St. Matthew. The true divinity of the relationship is shown by the tilt of the angel’s head toward St. Matthew and the tilt of St. Matthew’s head toward the angel. Both are fully involved in this transcendental moment. It has also been hypothesized that Caravaggio painted the figure of the angel based off of theater actors who hang from wires.


THE MARTYRDOM OF ST. MATTHEW

After stopping work on the first version of this piece due to difficulty in painting his first large scale work with multiple figures (the original can be seen underneath through the use of x-ray technology), Caravaggio painted The Calling of St. Matthew and then successfully continued work on The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. The subject of this piece is the execution of St. Matthew in the temple he converted into a Catholic Church. Continuing the use of a dark atmosphere with a light from an unknown source focusing on the main subject of the piece, Caravaggio created dramatic effects with light as well as using the light to make his figures appear to be in three dimensions. The main focus of the painting is on St. Matthew, laying helplessly on his back with the half nude executioner standing above him with his sword raised. Caravaggio chose to portray the exact moment before St. Matthew’s death, and perhaps showing the moment when the executioner pauses briefly before swiftly bringing the blade upon St. Matthew. St. Matthew is elevated off the ground on steps, and the columns in the back of the scene can barely be discerned. The figure of St. Matthew has his hand raised in defense and is also wounded. The curve of the angel over St. Matthew’s head is juxtaposed with the sharpness of the executioner. Here, Caravaggio creates three lines of movement that draw the attention of the viewer not only to the main action of the piece, but also to a cross. The three lines of movement are from the arm of St. Matthew, the sword of the executioner, and the palm of the martyr being lowered by an angel on a cloud. It is interesting to note here that the angel is precariously lowering the palm, the symbol of a martyr, on a cloud due to the fact that the angel cannot yet fly.
Around the executioner and St. Matthew chaos is ensuing among those in the presence of this murder. These people, with terrorized expressions, are fleeing the scene. The light falls on random parts of these people, for instance part of a hand, adding confusion to the piece and emotionally drawing the viewer into the subject matter. This helps to frame the focus on the murder. The murder is further framed by the use of half nudes in the bottom corners. It has been suggested that these were men about to be baptized by St. Matthew, before his murder, and that, if the painting were to be extended below, there a pool of water present. In the back of the painting, there are modern figures dressed in contemporary clothing as well as a self-portrait of Caravaggio. The modern figures serve to remind the viewer to remember the sacrifices made by those in the past, and that they should continue to observe these sacrifices in the present.
The man in the back can be identified as the self-portrait of Caravaggio by other self-portraits as well as the dark hair, big nostrils, and arching thick eyebrows. Although the exact reason Caravaggio placed himself in this work is unknown, it has been remarked that he is King Herticus in the painting, and thus marking the beginning of his fatalistic and tragic portrayal of his own self image. The placement of a self-portrait in this painting could also be taken from the Renaissance artists, for whom it was common to paint their self-portrait in their paintings as their signature. This could be the influence of Raphael, who did practice this type of signature in his paintings. Since the x-rays taken from the first attempt of this painting shows that Caravaggio must have studied some of Raphael’s work due to the similar technique used, it is very likely that Caravaggio copied this device.


THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL

Caravaggio painted a first version of The Conversion of St. Paul, but, for reasons that remain unclear, he painted also second version of it. The first version of this piece is not only in an extremely different style, but the portrayal of the subject and figures in the piece are completely different in the two versions. In the second version, the one that now hangs in the Cesari Chapel, the subject is of St. Paul as he is receiving the light of God after being thrown off his horse. The figures in this painting are kept to a minimum. Only St. Paul, his horse, and the groom of the horse are present. This is meant to keep the focus on St. Paul, as well as to convey the extremely personal and intimate moment that St. Paul is experiencing. His arms are stretched upwards, receiving the light of God, in a position of helplessness on his back. This pose is reminiscent of the pose of St. Matthew in The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. Also, as is characteristic of Caravaggio’s paintings, the background is very dark despite the fact that the scene is recorded as taking place mid-day. The only source of light is that from God. For the first time in the depiction of this scene, Caravaggio paints the light of God with no figural personification. This helps to give the painting a sense of divinity and heightens the highlighting of the ecstasy exhibited by St. Paul.
Caravaggio has chosen to show the scene without any action. The horse above him is calm, showing very little movement. In fact, this painting has almost no movement at all. The only other movement besides the movement shown by the horse is the up-stretched arms of St. Paul. The use of the horse in this painting could be a device used by Renaissance artists to help fill up the space in the painting as well as frame the main focus of the painting. The enormous rump of the horse helps to lead the viewer down onto the figure of St. Paul.
The expression on St. Paul’s face is one of both ecstasy and divine acceptance. His eyes are closed, signifying both the physical blindness he will experience for the next three days, as well as his previous spiritual blindness to the enlightened of God. The figure of St. Paul is also that of a young man with no distinguishing features. He was a great sinner, he persecuted the Christians, yet by the mercy and power of God, he has been chosen and converted to the path of enlightenment. This gives hope to even the greatest sinner that he too can be forgiven by God if he leaves his sinning for the path of enlightenment. On the edges of the light that is shining down on St. Paul, Caravaggio painted little white dots on the edges so that they will sparkle in the presence of real light, heightening the divinity of the light and creating a more emotional response from the viewer. The enlightened of St. Paul is juxtaposed with the figure of the groom. Although this figure does have a small amount of light on him, it is clear from his stance and position in that painting that although he is lighted, he is not enlightened. The purpose of this painting is to show through the divine intervention of God on the sinner Saul, anyone can be saved and enlightened through the His divine will.


THE CRUCIFIXION OF ST. PETER

In contrast to the inaction of The Conversion of St. Paul, The Crucifixion of St. Peter is shown in the middle of movement. Following the example of Michelangelo, Caravaggio depicts this scene as the cross is being raised. He paid special attention to the way in which he portrays this movement, attempting to make it look realistic. It is possible that he used models in order to do this, which is can be seen by the straining muscles of the men lifting the cross. For example, one of the worker’s bulging veins and the redness of his hand is depicted as a direct result of raising the cross. Another executioner exhibits a bulge of flesh where his jacket cuts his waist as he pulls the rope.
As is typical in Caravaggio paintings, the background is dark, with a source of light falling on the main subject, which is St. Peter. The executioners around him are not lit at all. Instead they serve as an unattached physical mechanism raising the cross and pushing St. Peter closer to his death. They also help to frame the painting, drawing the viewer’s attention to the figure of St. Peter. The large rear end and dirty bare feet of the executioner on the left help to draw in the attention of the viewer, since the Cerasi Chapel is dark, and once the viewer is close to the painting, draw his attention to St. Peter.
The figure of St. Peter is made more dramatic by the light shining down on him. He is being crucified upside down (he claims he is not honorable enough to die in the same way as Christ), yet shows extreme calmness and serenity. He looks down, toward the altar of the chapel. St. Peter himself is portrayed with monumental massiveness, even for his old age. He is accepting of his death, and the scene, without an audience, releases an intimate vibe, appealing to emotions of the viewer and inviting them to participate in the extreme faith in the salvation of God shown by St. Peter. The main theme of this painting is faith, which can also be seen by the symbolism of the rock placed under St. Peter, signifying St. Peter as the rock of faith with which the church was founded.
Caravaggio also used an illusionism in this painting. Although it looks as though St. Peter is being crucified on an upside-down cross, he is actually only attached to one board. There is no cross beam. Instead, his left arm is stretched along the same board as his body.


III. Function

THE CONTARELLI CHAPEL

The paintings in the Contarelli Chapel were meant to continue the honoring of Cardinal Contarelli’s patron saint, St. Matthew, and to allow the general public to see the highlights of the Saint’s life and death. In painting the scenes of the calling, martyrdom and inspiration for the gospel of St. Matthew, Caravaggio did much more than just simply portray St. Matthew in an honorable fashion. He brought the sacred scene into the space of the viewer, helping them to identify with the scene taking place. His voluminous figures and often architectural positioning caused the viewer to feel as though the figures were coming out of the painting. This is most notably seen with St. Matthew and the Angel, in which the bench St. Matthew sits on is tilting off of the edge of the painting into the viewer’s space. The dark atmosphere of all of the paintings, along with the highlight of the figures from a light source outside of the painting, creates a highly dramatized effect. This contributes to the emotional response felt by the viewer. In The Calling of St. Matthew, the painting was meant to portray the salvation of St. Matthew from his life as the tax collector. Although his life started out in sin, once he followed Christ, he was saved. This conveys a message of hope for the sinful viewer as well as the forgiving nature of God. In The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, the viewer is reminded of the sacrifices that were made by St. Matthew in the name of Christ. The men on the left-hand side in modern dress among those who witnessed St. Matthew’s martyrdom represents the need for those in the present to recognize and remember the sacrifices made by those in the past. In St. Matthew and the Angel, the divine inspiration of God is portrayed. With St. Matthew in a moment of sudden inspiration with the angel, the divinity and power of God is seen as he writes one of his most important accomplishments of his life, his part of the Gospel. Along with the different messages conveyed by each painting, the viewer was meant to feel a deep religious response as they interpret the scene in all its realism and darkness. The final effect was that of the common person experiencing the divinity of God through the medium of painting as a way to make the supernatural tangible.


THE CERASI CHAPEL

The same is true for the Cerasi Chapel. Although the patron had to approve of the design of the paintings, there was no other intended viewer of the scenes except for the public. In these paintings, The Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter, the minimal amount of figures in addition to the saint were meant to signify the deeply personal experience felt by the saint. There is no audience shown, just the saints in their state of divinity. In the Conversion of St. Paul, the inaction of the picture magnifies the experience of St. Paul as the light floods over his body. His outstretched arms signify his acceptance of his salvation. Here the viewer also sees the horse, who takes up a large part of the composition. First the viewer’s eyes are drawn to its enormous rear, and then following the outstretched arms, to the figure of St. Paul on his back with his eyes closed in ecstasy. The horse also looks fairly calm, as if it is was not the horse that threw St. Paul to the God, but instead it was through the power of God that St. Paul is now helplessly laying the ground. The message conveyed here is the power of God, as well as the arbitrary nature in which God chooses Saul to become St. Paul. The viewer notices that St. Paul is conveyed here as a young man, who has no distinguishable features of a saint. He also was a Roman soldier persecuting the Christians before his conversion. Together, these facts give hope to the viewer for their own salvation. If God can forgive someone who was killing his followers and looks like a common youth, than he can also forgive the sins of the viewer who most likely is someone from the general public stopping at the church.
On the opposite side, the viewer sees a scene in action and movement. From a distance, the viewer is drawn to the dark painting, and first comes upon the large rear end of an executioner with very dirty feet. At first this seems like a joke, until the viewer is led from the executioner to the main focus of the painting, which is St. Peter’s crucifixion. In The Crucifixion of St. Peter, the main message conveyed to the viewer is faith. Not only is there a rock placed boldly in the front plane of the painting signifying St. Peter as the rock of faith with which the Catholic Church was founded, but St. Peter himself is looking toward the altar. Even in the moments before his death by crucifixion, he still is showing faith to God. All the figures around him are very mechanical, and uninvolved in the emotional part of the painting. This is a very intimate scene showing St. Peter’s faith in his last moments before death. As in the other paintings by Caravaggio, the background and atmosphere are dark, except for a light from an unknown source highlighting St. Peter on the cross. This draws the viewer’s attention to the act of raising the cross, and then to St. Peter and his calm and serene demeanor as this brutal crucifixion is occurring. Again, this calm expression in the face of death further emphasizes St. Peter’s faith, exemplifying to the general public what is true faith.


IV. Patron

For these particular works, Caravaggio had significant freedom in how to paint each individual picture. At the time of his first public commissions, The Calling of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, the original patron for these pieces had died thirty years earlier. Although Contarelli did leave outlines for the paintings, Caravaggio only loosely followed them. He only really followed the guideline for the subject of the painting, for it was the wish of Contarelli to have scenes of his patron saint in his chapel, and the general situation of the moment portrayed.
For St. Matthew and the Angel, Caravaggio was commissioned by the priests of San Luigi dei Francesi. His first portrayal of this piece was rejected. To the priests, the painting failed to show St. Matthew as dignified. They felt he was shown as common and illiterate, with the angel basically writing the Gospel instead of the angel purely inspiring St. Matthew. This portrayal was considered unbefitting for the saint, and Caravaggio was forced to paint another version of St. Matthew and the Angel. In this new portrayal, he represents the Saint with the dignity required by the church, showing St. Matthew more in a moment of inspiration from the angel.

Although the patron was alive for his second public commissions, Cesari had little stipulations for Caravaggio’s paintings for his chapel. His only requirement was for Caravaggio to show him a drawing of the scene before he painted it. However, it is interesting to note that Caravaggio painted both of these scenes, The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter, and later completely started over. It is unknown whether these were rejected by Cerasi or if Caravaggio simply decided to repaint them after seeing Annibale Caracci’s Assumption as the altarpiece.
In all of his paintings, the present movement towards naturalism can be seen. Caravaggio paints his figures realistically, leaving out any idealization of the Renaissance. This caused much controversy and debate, as well as induced a plethora of criticism from the classicalists. They called Caravaggio unimaginative, stating that he only knew how to copy from nature. They also criticized his use of dark atmosphere/background, stating that he used this device to hide his inability to paint due to his lack in classical training. Although these criticisms were prevalent at the time, many more people of the time found his style to be unique and innovative, spreading his style throughout Western Europe as well as in Italy both during his life and after his death.

During Caravaggio’s youth, and during his first couple years in Rome, Filippo Neri was very popular all over Rome. His humble, mystic and simplistic view of the relationship between God and the worshiper appealed to all classes in society. He was later sainted after his death, and possibly had influence over Caravaggio. This influence can be seen with the simplicity shown in Caravaggio’s paintings as well as the directness of the subject matter. Along with the ideas of St. Filippo, the ideas of St. Ignatius also could have influenced the way that Caravaggio portrayed his religious scenes. The ideas of St. Ignatius, written in Exercita Spiritualia, encouraged the supernatural to be made tangible to the senses. In Caravaggio’s works, this can be seen through the appeal of the divine to both the intelligence and the spirituality of the viewer, helping the viewer to understand the painting on a deeper more religious level than with previous styles.


V. Conclusion

Caravaggio’s revolutionary technique and subject matter influence painters both within Italy and abroad, especially in Western Europe. He left in his wake a school of painters, these artists called Caraggeschi, who tried to imitate his tenebrism, chiascuro and realism, a style later known as Caravaggismo. Not only did they emulate his style, but also started painting the same type of low-life genre scenes as Caravaggio. Most notably he influenced the works of Velazquez, Guercino, and Georges de la Tour to name just a few.

Although these painters were able to imitate his style, they did not master Caravaggio’s emotion or the religious psychology found in his paintings. These elements are what separate Caravaggio from his followers and provoke the interest of viewers today. His unique interpretation of religious scenes, combined with the sharp light penetrating a dark atmosphere and realism found in the paintings of the Contarelli Chapel and the Cerasi Chapel compel the viewers to closely examine his work as well as experience the scene taking place. There is a mysterious mysticism that one can almost physically grasp, appealing to the emotion, senses and intellect of viewer, sparking interest in both Caravaggio and all his work.


VI. Personal Observations

I was surprised to find that in both the Contarelli Chapel and the Cerasi Chapel that many of the first versions of Caravaggio's paintings were rejected. It shocked me that a painting by a master such as Caravaggio would be rejected, especially when he was continually commissioned, even throughout his exile from Rome.

The most intriguing part of my research consisted of the comparison between the two St. Matthew and the Angel paintings. I personally found the first painting to be more appealing and emotional, and was thus very interested in the reasons for its dismissal. It seems strange that the priests rejected it due to the indecorous figure of St. Matthew, seemingly represented as low class and illiterate. To me, the figure of St. Matthew seemed wise with age, and his pose was neutral. I was not offended by it at all. It was also very interesting to compare it to the painting that was accepted, especially to compare the different representation of St. Matthew as well as a completely different composition. In the first St. Matthew, there is debate on whether the figure, considered to be a socratic figure, is that of St. Filippo. This is due to St. Filippo's image as the Christian Socrates, as well as the extremely different portrayal of St. Matthew in Caravaggio's other two paintings on the lateral walls. The figures of St. Matthew in these two paintings are similar to each other. In the final version of this piece, Caravaggio goes back to this representation, making St. Matthew look similar to the other two paintings.


VII. Bibliography

Beguin, Sylvie, et al. Dictionary of Italian Painting. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1964.

Beny, Roloff and Gunn, Peter. The Churches of Rome. New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1981.

Bersani, Leo and Dutoit, Ulysse. Caravaggio’s Secrets. Cambridge: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1998.

Friedlaender, Walter. Caravaggio Studies. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

Hibbard, Howard. Caravaggio. New York: 1983.

Krautheimer, Richard. Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. Tennessee: Kingport Press, Inc., 1986.

Macdonald, William. Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. New York: George Braziller, 1965.

Puglisi, Catherine. Caravaggio. Hong Kong: Plaidon Press Limited, 1998.

Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York: Prentice Hall, Inc., 2002.

Voss, Hermann. Baroque Painting in Rome. San Francisco:
Alan Worsy Fine Arts, 1997.

Waterhouse, Ellis. Italian Baroque Painting. London:
Phaidon Press, 1962.


Websites

www.artchive.com/artchive/C/caravaggio/calling_of_st_matthew.jpg.html

www.abcgallery.com/ C/caravaggio/caravaggio23.html

www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol6is3/st-matthew-angel.html

www.albany.edu/scj/ jcjpc/vol6is3/st-paul.html

www.artchive.com/artchive/C/caravaggio/st_peter.jpg.html

www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/c/caravagg/04/26conta.html

Bernini's work at St. Peter's

Julia Mattson
Honors in Rome - Summer 2004

I. Historical Background

In 1624, at the age of twenty-six, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) entered the Fabricca, the construction project of St. Peter's. Maffeo Barberini had just been elected pope, and became Urban VIII. After five years of working on designing a new canopy for the Vatican Confessio, Bernini was appointed the official “Architect of St. Peter’s” and continued to execute papal commissions in and around the church for over fifty years. St. Peter’s can therefore be viewed not only as a testament to the authority and power of the Catholic Church, but a monument to Bernini himself.

Before delving into Bernini’s contributions to St. Peter’s – the basilica and piazza, it is insightful to note the way in which Bernini intended the pilgrim to approach St. Peter’s Basilica. In Bernini’s time, the only bridge that spanned the Tiber between the old city of Rome and the Vatican vicinity was Ponte Sant’Angelo. Pope Clement IX ordered the modernization of this 1,500-year-old bridge in 1667, and not only did Bernini add rows (on either side) of angels carrying objects of Christ’s Passion, but he lowered the high balustrades so St. Peter’s could be viewed a half-mile from the west. It was Bernini’s intention that the pilgrim receive a golden vision of what lay before him before crossing the bridge, turning left, and plunging into the dark tunnel-like Medieval Borgo streets that led up to Bernini’s magnificent piazza of St. Peter’s. It was in these dim, restricted streets that Bernini expected the pilgrim to reflect upon life and death, humbling himself before entering the “symbolic heaven” represented by Bernini’s ninety-six saints and martyrs that each sit upon individual 39-foot travestine columns.

Today it is impossible to enter St. Peter’s from the way in which Bernini had in mind. The aforementioned narrow streets were bulldozed between 1936 and 1950, replaced by Via della Conciliazione, a wide and expansive street better suited to modern traffic and lined with 20th century obelisks that would have shamed Bernini. Also, the Ponte Sant’Angelo is inaccessible to buses, the transportation by which the modern-day pilgrim visits the basilica – as opposed to by foot or even on one’s knees. Nonetheless, St. Peter’s Basilica is an incredible testament to the Catholic faith, and Bernini’s work at St. Peter’s exemplifies - as well as defines - his sheer artistic genius.


II. Bernini's Projects

Equestrian Statue of Constantine the Great

On the wall opposite the main doors at the extreme right of the atrium is Bernini’s equestrian statue of Constantine, constructed between 1662 and 1668. Constantine is portrayed at the instant that led to his ultimate conversion, after his vision of “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (or, “By This Sign Though Shalt Conquer”) encircling a cross, and before subsequent victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber in 312 AD. Ten years after this victorious battle, Constantine, the first Christian emperor, began his initial construction of the original St. Peter’s. This statue of Bernini's employs the Baroque idea of a charged space, of capturing a given moment; both horse and rider are gazing up at the cross above, responding to the image they see. The horseman's clothes are blowing in the wind, set against a backdrop of drapery that is seemingly filled with movement. Constantine's horse is on its hind legs, with the hair of its mane and tail exaggerated. This concept of theatricality, of flowing movement arrested at a single point in time, is one that is entirely of the Baroque era. It has been said that the finished statue was so unwieldy and large that a door of Bernini's studio had to be torn down in order to remove it.

Bas Relief on Main Portal

High above the main doors to the church is a bas-relief designed by Bernini with the words Pasce Oves Meas, or “Feed My Sheep.” Depicted in the relief is an image of Christ confronting the kneeling Peter, and gesturing towards His “sheep” – that is, Christ’s people for Peter to care. This refers back to a biblical passage in the book of John where Christ instructs the apostle Peter to look out for members of His flock. Implied in Bernini's bas-relief is the Catholic belief that papal authority was a divinely ordained responsibility, and that the pope could be traced back through unbroken succession to Saint Peter, and to Christ himself. This symbolism and idea of heavenly authority, as well as the emphasis on firmly establishing authority itself, is one that is repeated throughout the entire church.

Tomb Monument to Countess Matilda

Inside the church, on the second pier of the right aisle, is a tomb-monument of Countess Matilda of Tuscany. Designed by Bernini, the work was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1633, who wished to venerate one of the most powerful women in the Middle Ages. Countess Matilda was an 11th century noble-woman who owned large amounts of property in Northern Italy. Upon her death, she bequeathed these vast estates to the Holy See. It is logical that Urban VIII would have wanted to call attention to this action given the much-diminished secular power of Rome, and by commissioning a tomb-monument to be created and placed in the Vatican basilica, he set the woman as an example by which he desired contemporary princes to follow.

This element of propaganda is further obvious in the front of the sarcophagus. Here there is an image depicting a scene that took place in 1077, with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV - who ruled Germany, Italy, and Burgundy - kneeling and humbling himself before Pope Gregory VII in front of Matilda's castle in Canossa. This is significant in that it represents the highest peak of papal supremacy in international affairs. It is important to recognize why Pope Urban VIII would want to refer back to the glorious days of ultimate authority of the pope.


Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament

The Capella del Santissimo Sacramento (Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament) was constructed in 1973-74, and was one of Bernini's last works. His preliminary sketches for the altar design involved rings of angels holding up the 'tabernacle for consecrated wafers of the sacrament' with the mere touch of their fingers. In the end, however, Bernini chose a much less elaborate design, with the tabernacle resting on a firm base and a bronze angel on either side. The angel on the left has her eyes closed, and is in complete adoration. In contrast, the one on the right has her eyes open and is gazing at the viewer, inviting him/her to participate in the action at hand. This is an artistic technique that was used often by Bernini and other Baroque artists, where one figure is completely involved in the depicted scene, while another invites the audience to take part in what is going on within the work itself.


Baldachino and Transcept of the Basilica

Baldachino comes from the Italian word "baldacco", which refers to a silk cloth that was used to make canopies above important places and people. In Bernini's bronze canopy, he employs twisted marble columns called "solomonicas" which were thought to have come from Solomon's Temple. Bernini adopted the style for his baldachino because Constantine used them in his original church, and several of the first columns are still preserved in the modern-day basilica.

In working on the baldachino, Bernini was aided by his father and numerous other sculptors and craftsmen. Finding enormous quantities of bronze necessary to construct the columns was an overwhelming task, and part of the bronze used was plundered from the roof of the porch of the Pantheon - lending to the often quoted phrase, "What the barbarians didn't do, was done by the Barberini."

Digging the foundations for the enormous shafts required to support the columns - each 10 feet square and 14 feet deep - proved to be a difficult problem. Bernini himself proclaimed that "the work came out well by luck," as any slight error in the building of the structure would have proven to be disastrous. The finished baldachino was unveiled on June 29, 1633 at the Fest of St. Peter. It served not only as a canopy, sanctuary, and visual framework for St. Peter's chair (which will be discussed later), but symbolically mediated between heaven and earth - identical to the function of the church.


If we recall Bernini's choice of twisted solomonic columns and recognize that, in his time, these columns would have invoked images of Jerusalem itself, then it is of utmost significance that Jerusalem was the site of Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascent to heaven. This is because, through elements within the crossing of the church (at the intersection of the nave and transepts where the baldachin rises beneath the dome), the baldachin is established as Jerusalem. Bernini himself suggested the altar below the baldachino represented the Crucifixion, the triumphant cross above signified the Resurrection, and Michelangelo's dome at the top was symbolic of Christ's ascent to heaven. In addition to this, Bernini also pointed out the triple nature of Christian divinity that was embodied in the form of a great dove underneath the canopy (Holy Ghost), cross above the baldachino (Christ the Son), and mosaic by Cesari d'Arpino in the summit of the dome (God the Father).

While working on the canopy structure, Bernini was commissioned to assemble four prized relics with four figures of saints associated with these relics in the four surrounding niches supporting the dome. The first of these relics, now regarded as more symbolic than authentic, is the kerchief St. Veronica used to wipe the perspiration from Christ's face as He carried the Cross to Calvary. It is said that the impression of Christ's face was miraculously imprinted on the kerchief.





The second relic is the fragment of the True Cross, brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helena, Constantine's mother.










Thirdly, the skull of St. Andrew (St. Peter's brother) who was thought to be martyred in Greece on an X-shaped cross was once acquired by the church, but was brought back to Greece in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.









Lastly, there is the relic of the lance of St. Longinus, the Roman centurion who stabbed Christ's side, only to realize Christ's divinity after inflicting this fatal wound.

Each of the four saints faces the awe-inspiring baldachino, and the figures stand below balconies that contain angels in their bas-reliefs, balconies which serve as displays for the three remaining relics that are brought out on Easter and Good Friday. Of there four sculptures, only St. Longinus was carved by Bernini (the other three were done by Bernini's assistants). This 14.5-foot tall statue constructed between 1635 and 1638 was one of Bernini's largest, and the artist made at least twenty-two models in preparation for it. Important to note are St. Longinus' outstretched limbs - his arms and legs are elongated and spread out, and artistic technique that would not have even been considered in the Renaissance time. The idea of "knowing how to draw a straight line but choosing to draw a curve instead", of breaking out of a single block in thought, was inherently Baroque in nature.


St. Peter's Chair or Cathedra Petri

Bernini's vision for the Cathedra Petri, or Chair of St. Peter's, included that it be visible from the entrance of the church at the end of the 600 foot nave, framed by the baldachin columns with rays of sunlight streaming down the central aisle along the east-west axis. The bronze chair, completed in 1666, encases the wooden one that was supposedly used by St. Peter himself. One of the church's most venerable relics, the throne has been in both the old and new St. Peter's for many centuries. Recent tests, however, have dated the wood from the chair to the 9th century AD, and studies have established that the chair was donated by Charles the Bald on his coronation in 975. Nonetheless, great prominence is appropriated to this treasured reliquary; the chair is placed in the exact center of the main apse and seems to float above the altar.

Surrounding the chair, at each of the four legs, are four saints that contribute to the spectacular Baroque setting. In the foreground are giant statues of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, their robes appearing to be blown in the wind, representing the Latin branch of the Catholic Church. Situated at the background are statues of St. Athanasius and St. Chrysostom, signifying the Greek branch of the Catholic Church. The four saints in the background and foreground have their fingertips linked to the Chair by loops of drapery and are interpreted as being in communion with the chair, as opposed to supporting the chair itself. This is a crucial distinction, as the chair supports itself, significant when taking into consideration the attitude of the Church as being self-sustaining.


Above the chair is an oculus encircled by angels and cherubs through which light floods in. The dove of the Holy Spirit is illuminated at the center, and here light itself becomes a structural element - similar to the way in which Bernini uses water in his magnificent fountains.





Tomb of Alexander VII

Across the left wall, diagonal from St. Longinus is the tomb of Alexander VII, completed in 1979 after seven years when Bernini was eighty years old. According to Baldinucci, one of Bernini's biographers, Bernini undertook this commission "on account of his gratitude to the memory of the prince...notwithstanding his age and the decline of his strength which made him daily less capable of such work." Small parts of the monument were carved by Bernini (including Alexander's face and hands), but it can be certain that the entire work was under his rigid control and direction.

One major disadvantage that would have discouraged many an artist was the large niche in which the tomb monument was to be placed - the niche contained a doorway in the center of the rear wall. Bernini, however, used this obstacle as an asset, and used the door to represent a tomb entrance. Death was often represented as a skeleton holding an hour glass for the living, indicating time's passage. Bernini was the first to utilize three-dimensional skeletons, and this idea might have originated from a memorable mass conducted at Il Gesu (the Jesuit church Bernini attended during much of his adult life) in 1639. In this unusual service, Jesuit fathers constructed mechanical skeletons - some holding swords and crowns to symbolize the dominance of death over this present world, others grasping Adam and Eve after their initial sin of consuming the forbidden fruit. These figures from the memorable mass may have left an impression upon Bernini's mind. as Alexander's tomb monument involves a similar 3-D skeleton, emerging from the symbolic tomb.

Surrounding Alexander VII's tomb are four allegorical figures: Prudence, Charity, Truth, and Justice. This imagery is noteworthy when keeping in mind the desired impact the patron (Alexander VII) intended the viewer to have. That is, the fact that Pope Alexander VII is surrounded by virtues and is carved in a kneeling position makes him appear quite pious. Alexander's successor, Pope Innocent XI, had a severe view towards nudity, and forced Bernini's statue of Truth to be covered up with a bronze cloth and painted white.


Tomb of Urban VIII

The tomb of Bernini's beloved patron, Urban VIII was commissioned in 1628 (by Urban himself), almost twenty years before his death. The funerary monument holds many resemblances to that of Alexander VII, including a giant sarcophagus forming the base for a bronze figure of the pope, with allegorical figures on either side. Here, there are two white marble figures that represent Justice (on the right) and Charity (on the left). On top of the sarcophagus is the Genius of Death writing the name of the Pontiff on an unrolled piece of parchment. In usual Bernini fashion, there is much theatricality to the work, and Urban VIII's tomb remained the most important model for papal tombs until the end of the Baroque era.

Colonnade and Piazza

Commissioned by Alexander VII in the summer of 1656, Bernini's Colonnade may very well constitute the most successful architectural work known to mankind. Taking into consideration all barriers Bernini had to work around, St. Peter's Piazza is yet another example of Bernini's skill and creative perfection. Entering St. Peter's Piazza, the pilgrim is confronted with a "symbolic heaven", with 96 of Bernini's saints and martyrs situated above individual travestine columns. The viewer is enveloped by the spaciousness, yet is not overwhelmed. Bernini described his Colonnade as the arms of the Mother Church "stretching out to receive Catholics, so as to confirm them in their faith, heretics to reunite them with the Church, and infidels to enlighten them in the true faith."

In designing the Colonnade, visibility was of a major concern. The transverse oval design provided maximum amount of unobstructed views of the windows from which the pope gave his blessings urbi et orbi (to the city and the world). One of these windows was of the Benediction Loggia above the portico of St. Peter's (from which the pope gave his blessing on Easter and other special days), the other one (for other occasions) was in the papal apartment high in the Vatican palace to the north. By swinging the colonnade as far toward the papal apartment as possible and providing a longer horizontal axis, the visibility factor was dealt with.

In order to compensate for the wide facade of St. Peter's Basilica, Bernini "made it appear taller by contrast" by constructing relatively low (39 foot) columns. He also connected the curved colonnades to the basilica by a pair of straight, enclosed corridors of the same style and height in order to provide a further optical "pinching" effect of the broad facade.

And the obstacles don't stop there. The colonnades all reach 39 feet, but each of the columns varies in level of foundation, as the ground slopes down away from the basilica. The individual statues of saints and martyrs atop the columns were designed by Bernini but executed by many sculptors, with Lazzaro Morelli carving 47 of the 96 saints. Each of the 15 foot tall saints piece together to constitute a whole, creating an outdoor "pantheon" (if you will) of Catholic saints to welcome approaching pilgrims on their journey.

Originally, the piazza was to be enclosed by a "terzio baccio", or "third arm." Bernini later decided to place this back and allow for an entrance court - a "theatrum mundi" (world theater) resembling the ancient ampitheaters such as the Colosseum. This third arm was never built, but Bernini still successfully displays a construction that is both open and closed, a "teatro" that recalls the greatness of Ancient Rome.


III. Conclusion

St. Peter's continues to this day to be the center of Catholicism. Bernini's contributions to St. Peter's exemplify more than any other complex works of art the spirit of the Catholic Restoration, and the Baroque era. In the fifty years between 1625 and 1675, St. Peter's was dramatically transformed - from the Ponte Sant'Angelo all the way to the Cathedra. Bernini's numerous works of pure genius comprise a dynamic work in its entirety, and each composition continues to evoke in the modern visitor the same multitude of feelings and images for which Bernini intended. In spite of his numerous commissions in and around the basilica, Bernini never lost sight of the whole picture, and it is this full scope that lends itself to the continuity of his work - across the individual works themselves, as well as spanning the scale of time. To this day, thanks to Bernini, St. Peter's remains a source of affirmation for the faithful, reassurance for once-faithful, and inspiration for rest - the precise effect that Bernini desired.


IV. Personal Observations

During the excavation process for the foundation of the baldachino columns pagan sarcophagi were encountered, and it had never occurred to some people that St. Peter would be buried among non-Christians. Weird coincidences began to take place a few days into digging; the Keeper of the Vatican Library who was asked to keep a memorandum of the excavations suddenly died. Other deaths of those connected with the project followed, including the Pope's own private chaplain, and Urban himself fell ill. Upon the Pope's recovery, work was carried on and pagan and Christian relics continued to be uncovered.

Of a particularly conspicuous nature are the Barberini bees placed seemingly at random on the Urban VIII's tomb. Upon being questioned by a churchman (who apparently Bernini disliked) about the bees, Bernini said, "Yes, they are scattered, but as you know, bees reassemble at the sound of a bell." This cryptic remark was in fact a warning, and referred to the Cardinal-Nephews of Urban VIII who had fled to Italy after his death. When the Barberini cardinals heard the sound of a bell marking the death of a pope and announcing a meeting to elect a new successor, they would indeed return. Bernini was therefore, as this remark reflects, well aware that he might suffer personally as a result of the political upheaval that accompanied each new papal succession.

Walking across the piazza, this forest of 284 columns is four columns deep, and this depth adds to the idea of a fully-encompassed space. There are, however, two points along the broad axis of the piazza (spanning the obelisk and two fountains) from where the four-column-deep colonnades line up in single file.


V. Bibliography

Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965.

Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini – Volume I. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1982.

Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini – Volume II. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1982.

Peterson, Robert T. Bernini and the Excesses of Art. Florence: Maschietto&ditore, 2002.

Scribner, Charles. Bernini. New York: Harry N. Agrams, 1991.

Storoni, Paola B. Unusual Guide to the History, the Secrets, the Monuments and the Curiosities of St. Peter’s Basilica. Rome: Newton & Compton, 2000.


Vicchi, Roberta. The Major Basilicas of Rome. Florence: Scala, 1999.

Wallace, Robert. The World of Bernini: 1598-1680. New York: Time-Life Books, 1970.

Weston-Lewis, Aidan., ed. Effigies & Ecstasies: Roman Baroque Sculpture and Design in the Age of Bernini. Edinburgh: Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, 1998.

Wittkower, Rudolf. Gian Lorenzo Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London: Phaidon Press, 1955.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Ancient Influences on Renaissance Art

John Hebert
Honors in Rome - Summer 2004

1. Introduction

The Renaissance is everywhere known as a rebirth, but what was it a rebirth of? It was among other things a rebirth of the aspirations towards classical ideals in art. These ideals included realism, harmony, symmetry and the idea that physical perfection in art implied a perfection of both mind and spirit. This was a massive contrast to the art of the middle ages, but exactly in line with the work of the Greeks and Romans.

At this same time Rome was finally beginning to grow back up as a city. People were populating regions that had been left to desolation and ruin for over a thousand years, only to in many cases find valuable ruins while plowing a field, or expanding upon a foundation. This allowed for massive inspiration in the arts through the rediscovery of long lost ancient works, as well as a general haunting from the Romans' unimaginably impressive past.

Pope Julius the second enjoyed his pontificate from 1503 to 1513. During this time he had the 'Bellvedere Courtyard' constructed by the skillful Bramante. This was the era of many great discoveries such as the Laocoon and Julius II was a lover of these ancient works. This was indeed a perfect match as this courtyard was perhaps the first museum ever built for this specific purpose.

This was also the era of the great Michelangelo. Michelangelo enjoyed a position of favor in the Pope's eye, leading to an incredibly amount of access to these great works and inspiring him to magnificent ends. While of course others were to be inspired by these same ancient works, many were so inspired through the great work of Michelangelo rather than the originals. As such a great master of the times he had few peers who worked at an equal level of skill, leaving only the work of the ancients to learn from and compare to; they were to serve as both his mentors and his rivals.

II. Influential Works

Apollo Belvedere

The sculpture of Apollo Belvedere was referred to by J. J. Winckelman as "the consummation of the best that nature, art, and the human mind can produce". This statue is thought to be a second century marble copy of a Greek bronze original. It was found in the late 15th century and acquired by the Vatican in 1511.

This statue is the epitome of classical art and sculpture. This can be seen through the extremely realistic folds and falling of the cloak, as well as the perfection of the male figure depicted who is most likely the god Apollo. His stance is also of note; he is realistically positioned with one leg bent, a position referred to as contraposta. This statue is as well seen as a nearly perfect representation of the human figure. The effects of the classical style are also seen in that Apollo is in a calm serene state; he is not engaged in any violent actions or emotions, but rather is calmly posing. This statue is the epitome of classical style and is everything that the renaissance artists strived to achieve.

The statue as it can be seen in the Vatican Museums is completely un-restored, though at one point it was. Michelangelo was greatly opposed to any restoration of ancient works, but would suggest others to do so in his place when he was asked to do so. It was through such a student, Montorsoli, that Apollo Belvedere was at one point incorrectly restored. This restoration was shown to be wrong by the fact that Montorsoli left Apollo's hands empty, while the quiver of arrows on his back implies that he should be holding a bow. It is now hypothesized that the statue originally included Apollo holding both a bow and a laurel branch, symbolizing the two contrasting sides of Apollo: his punishment of the wicked and his forgivement of the repentant.


Laocoon

The Laocoon is once again a Roman copy in marble of a Greek original, dated back to between 42 and 20BC. It is rumored to have been made by three great Greek sculptors: Agesander, Athendoros and Polydorus. This statue was found in 1506 near the site of Nero's Golden House but it is possible that either it was a possession of Nero’s or some other wealthy Roman.

The unearthing of the Laocoon in 1506 made for quite a ceremonious event. Michelangelo was in Rome at the time just after having finished his David in Florence and was able to be present at the unearthing. Immediately the group gathered there recognized the work from Pliny's histories as Pliny had described it among other things as 'superior to any other work in sculpture or painting'. As Pope Julius II was a lover of antiquities he of course immediately acquired the great work; church bells are said to have rung all throughout Rome as it was taken to the Vatican. It was immediately placed in the newly constructed Belvedere Courtyard and has resided in its niche there for all but 13 of the last 500 years.


The figures depicted in Laocoon are the priest Laocoon himself whom the statue is named after along with his two sons. Laocoon was a priest of either Poseidon or Apollo, and lived in the city of Troy. He is known for having attempted to warn his fellow Trojans against accepting the horse from the Greeks with the words 'Do not trust the Horse, Trojans, Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.' His advice was not heeded of course and in his anger he hurled a spear against the horse, some say even hence producing a noise when weapons inside rattled. However, this act had sealed his fate for both Poseidon and Athena favored the Greeks in this war and they sent two sea serpents to kill Laocoon and his two sons, the scene depicted in the statue. The Trojans however misinterpreted his death as a sign of anger from the gods for hurling the spear at the Horse and immediately accepted the gift, meeting their own end as well. This statue serves as a symbol for the fall of Troy in that through the story of Aenas. Aenas escaped the fall of Troy while carrying his father on his back, displaying his virtues and later going on to found Rome. Hence this statue serves as a symbolic reminder of the fall of Try and the birth of Rome.

This statue had a profound influence upon Michelangelo. Michelangelo was present from the unearthing of the statue on and as an artist in such great favor with the Pope he enjoyed the special benefit of being able to spend far more time studying it than anyone else. He was most influenced by the figures depicted in their violent conflict with the serpents. This statue is rather Hellenistic in that the scene portrayed is one of action and emotion and it does not strive for the perfection, harmony and symmetry of the classical work. Instead it shows three people desperately struggling for their lives. The expressions of pain on the faces are also of note; they have a profound effect upon the viewer as a view from the backside highlights, a completely different mood is created. Michelangelo had always wanted to depict muscular movement in some way other than showing off strength and this was a blueprint depicting exactly how to do so. Michelangelo is now viewed as being on the forefront of the movement to Baroque and it is very possible that this statue through its emphasis on climax and emotion came to influence him into that direction.

When the statue was found it was in remarkable shape missing only Lacoon's right arm. As many people in the Renaissance focused on perfection, there was a general desire to correct the statue's flaw by replacing the missing arm. Michelangelo took an entirely opposite view in general upon restoration and refused to help restore any statue, often suggesting others to work in his place. Pope Clement went on to hold a contest for the best replacement arm and had Raphael judge the entries. The winner had Laocoon's arm held out, up into the air forming a diagonal with his left leg. This pose is thought to be more heroic and almost gives the impression that Laocoon has a chance at fighting off the mighty serpents. However this restoration was incorrect and several other attempts were made before the original arm was excavated in 1957. This find proved that the original arm had been strongly bent at the elbow, which one should note is exactly the position suggested by Michelangelo as most likely. The found arm was put back onto the statue, though due to the many attempts to restore it one can see additional cuts had been made to the shoulder of the statue, further degrading the precious ancient work.

As previously stated the Laocoon statue has resided almost entirely in its niche in the Belvedere Courtyard since its excavation in 1506. The only period at which it was not there was after Napoleon conquered Rome and removed it for placement in his palace, the Louvre. Napoleon did not last very long as an emperor however and it was returned in 1813 to the Vatican by the British. At one point the French King Francis I asked of Pope Leo X for the Laocoon statue, or at least one equally as grand as it. The Pope obviously did not want to part with such an incredible statue asked Bandinelli if he could make a copy on par with the original. Bandinelli replied that he could do even better and while that may or may not be true, the Pope liked Bandinelli's copy enough that he kept it as well and sent to the French King only the plaster casts used in making the copy.


Belvedere Torso
The Belvedere Torso was another statue found unceremoniously in the 15th century and brought to the Vatican by Pope Clement in 1523. This statue is again a Roman copy of a Greek original, and is dated via the inscription on the base to the 1st century BC. This is possibly a statue of Hercules or Apollo, though current thought is now leading to the possibility that this is a statue of Ajax pondering the death of Achilles. Though as one can obviously see there is an extremely limited context from which one can make judgments as the statue is lacking arms, legs and a head. This statue is obviously un-restored, and that is probably for the better as the lack of context would make restoration efforts rather improvisational. Michelangelo admired this statue and the pose portrayed immensely. His admiration for it came from the sense of internal struggle that is portrayed so elegantly and done so only with a torso.
He often referred to it as his teacher, and went on to use copies of this pose throughout his future work and notably in the Sistine chapel.


III. Conclusion

The Renaissance was a time when artists came to again value the classical ideals. These included realism, symmetry and harmony, and the idea that physical perfection implied a perfection of both mind and spirit. It was at this same time that the repopulation of Rome caused many major ancient artistic works to be found again, and the combination of these two events had profound consequences for the arts. The artists of the time were able to learn profound amounts from these old statues. Some of the statues found were in spectacular condition such as Apollo Belvedere and some were not, as the Belvedere Torso, but all had some imperfections and had incurred some damage throughout the ages. This led many people to the desire to repair the statues and while many attempts were made to do so, the repairs were quite often done incorrectly and only damaged the statues further. Michelangelo protested these restoration attempts from an artistic perspective and a respect for the sculpture. These damaged sculptures can also be seen to have influenced his work on the 'unfinished statues', a set up statues that are clearly not completed figures but at the same time their not having been finished adds an incredible element to the work. This question of restoration is still present with us today however, all over Rome damaged structures are present, leaving the question of to what extent should these be restored and rebuilt, and to what extent should they be left exactly as they are found.


IV. Personal Observations

The subject of art influence is actually an interesting one when you get to the point of actually recognizing the influences in other works. This came for me in a big way in the Villa Borghese Museum when I was staring at a large painting, only to realize that the figure depicted was an exact copy of the Belvedere Torso. Of course he had a full body, but to see his torso section as an exact replica gave me a sense of fulfillment. Besides being able to see such a direct influence as a mimicked pose, the general artistic styles and goals that were strived for throughout the renaissance as well as ancient times are now also much more apparent.

The other very interesting idea that was raised through this topic was that of restoration. While wandering around Rome and especially Pompeii one can see buildings that definitely were reconstructed since the age of Ancient Rome. This leads inherently to the question of how much should be reconstructed, how is it known to be the correct reconstruction, or are only original pieces to be used or should newly fabricated ones be used too? These issues are the exact same that have come up with the ancient sculptures found, only more often these came up when the sculptures were found in the 14th and 15th century. Sometimes the statues were restored and as seen through the story of the Laocoon very often these restoration attempts were done incorrectly. Eventually the correct arm was found for the Laocoon, though by this time parts of the original statue had been cut away and had to be reattached as well. This issue seems to be very widespread, though not very well resolved; at least it seems that preservationism has led us to be more cautious than our Renaissance forefathers.


V. Bibliography
General
http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=253553

Laocoon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laocoon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laoco%F6n_and_his_Sons

Apollo Belvedere
http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/carlyle/hudson/apollo.html
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/clan/hod_49.97.114.htm
http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/mythology/images/apollo_belvedere_jpg_image.html

Belvedere Torso
http://www.norwichfreeacademy.com/slater_museum/shows/cast/128_belvedere_torso.html
http://rubens.anu.edu.au/new/books_and_papers/classical_tradition_book/chap2.html
http://pages.ivillage.com/thelighthouse/Italy2002/ItalyDay3.html

Belvedere Courtyard
http://www.allaboutitaly.com/jumpNews.asp?idChannel=3&idLang=ENG&idUser=0&idNews=27872

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Villa Farnesina

Kara Dunn
Honors in Rome - Summer 2004

I. Introduction
"Key Figures: Patron and Artists of the Villa Farnesina"

The Villa Farnesina is a Roman villa built in 1509 for Agostino Chigi. At the time of its construction, the estate was located just outside of the city walls, and therefore considered a country villa. Today, it is only a short bus ride from the city center, located across the Tiber in the neighborhood of Trastevere. When considering the villa and its decoration, it is important to first consider the man it was built for. Chigi was a phenomenally wealthy banker from Siena. In fact, he was so incredibly wealthy and influential that he was honored with the title “Il Magnifico” by his hometown, was elected to be a senator, and was on intimate terms with Pope Leo X, who baptized Chigi’s illegitimate son (named Lorenzo Leone after the Pope) and eventually married Chigi to his mistress, Andreosia.

The Villa Farnesina
View of the Villa Farnesina from the gardens



The Villa Farnesina
View of the Villa Farnesina from the main entrance.

At this time, the Renaissance admiration for classical texts, art, and architecture had made the Roman villa fashionable again. In it’s classical ideal, it was meant to function as a retreat that could be devoted to quiet meditation and contemplation away from the city in the beautiful, rural countryside. Chigi, a business man first and foremost, had no desire to build a villa devoted to leisure hours and quiet reflection. Though Chigi did surround his villa with a large garden and fine stables, the building was meant to serve a business purpose as well. Being located so close to the city center, it was close enough for him to be able to return to the city in the evenings and his business there. The advantage of not being located too far away also allowed the villa to serve as a place where Chigi could lavishly entertain high prelates, noblemen, cardinals, and popes in a setting of wealth and grandeur. Comedies and poetry recitations were performed there for entertainment, and Chigi was famous for the extravagant banquets he held at the Farnesina. The most famous of these took place in his stables, when he tricked his guests into thinking it was his banquet hall by the lavish tapestries and decorations that were hung to conceal the stalls. At another famous banquet, he was said to have told the servants to cast the silver dishes each course was served upon into the Tiber after being used, to show his disdain for such trifles (though it is also said he placed a net below the surface of the water to retrieve the dishes with later). Whether or not they are true, the fact that these stories were circulated at all suggests the impressive scope and magnitude of his entertainments there. So, while the villa was built with classical architecture and function in mind, its true purpose was to impress upon guests the wealth, culture, and refined taste of the Chigi household.

Other key members involved in the construction of the Villa Farnesina include Baldassarre Peruzzi, an architect and painter, and Raphael Sanzi. Peruzzi was a famous architect who designed the Villa Farnesina and painted some of the frescoes as well. Like many great artists of his time, he was remarkable for the varied extent of his knowledge and skill. Not only was he a student of mathematics, a classical scholar, an architect, painter, and scientific engineer, but he also was a practitioner of minor arts such as stucco work in relief. The Villa Farnesina was one of the first works which brought renown to the young artist. On account of his success there he was appointed by Pope Leo X as architect to St. Peter’s, though his design for it’s completion was never carried out. Peruzzi continued to live and work in Rome and Siena until his death in 1536, when he was buried next to Raphael in the Pantheon. Raphael Sanzi, master painter of the Renaissance era, was commissioned to paint the "Triumph of Galatea", a beautiful fresco adorning what is now known as the "Hall of Galatea". Five years later, he was again commissioned by Chigi to decorate the ground floor loggia of the villa. A huge number of artistic works were completed or guided by Raphael during his regrettably short lifetime, and the Farnesina’s Galatea is considered to be one of his most accomplished pieces.


II. Description

Loggia della Psyche

The Farnesina is set in the midst of a beautiful garden of bergamot trees, cedars from Lebanon, cypresses, laurel bushes, and evergreens. On the ground floor of the Villa, an entrance hall leads to the Loggia della Psyche. The frescoes there were painted by Raphael and his pupils Giulio Romano, Francesco Penni, Raffaellino del Colle, and Giovanni da Udine. Raphael was commissioned to decorate the loggia in 1517, five years after painting the Galatea there. Like the Galatea, this cycle reflects the cultured atmosphere which had flourished in Rome under Pope Julius II and Leo X. According to his commission, Raphael was to decorate the large entrance loggia. This is a space which communicates between the living room and the garden outside. Raphael approached the individual character of this space by treating the roofed structure, which is a part of the main building, as an open pergola. He divided the space with magnificent, rampant garlands of exotic fruits that had been recently discovered in the explorations of the Americas. In fact, the garlands, painted by da Udine, were so admired by Pope Leo X that he commissioned the painter to decorate the first floor of the loggia in the Vatican with similar floral motifs. In keeping with the theme of the loggia as a pergola, Raphael also designed two large ceiling pictures that simulate tapestries stretched across the room. These huge awnings were painted so that we can see the straps “holding” the tapestries in place, and even the scalloped edges they create by stretching the material.

The frescoes around the ceiling represent episodes from the story of Cupid and Psyche as told by Aduleius in the “Metamorphasis.” Some of the remarkable frescoes include Venus showing Cupid her rival, Psyche; Cupid talking to the Three Graces; Venus going to Olympus on her chariot pulled by doves; Psyche competing the tasks set to her by Venus; and finally the story ends with the two psuedo tapestries on the ceiling which show the Council and the Banquet of the Gods, during which the marriage between Cupid and Psyche is arranged and celebrated. Although the preparatory drawings and the general conception of the stories are certainly Raphael’s work, the bulk of the painting was actually carried out by his pupils.

Loggia della Eros e Psyche
The Loggia of Cupid and Psyche was designed by Raphael.
Though much of the actual painting was done by his students,
Raphael's own hand in evident in the lovely face of Psyche
as she accends to Olympus with her lover, Cupid.
While completing the loggia, Raphael was supposedly so sick wtih longing
for his mistress that Chigi had her brought to stay at the villa in order to allow the artist
to focus on his work. It is thought to be her face that Raphael used as a model
for Psyche in this cycle of frescoes.


Hall of Galatea
To the right of the loggia is the Hall of Galatea, which contains the famous fresco depicting the triumph of the nymph Galatea, on a shell pulled by dolphins. The subject is chosen from a poem by Angelo Poliziano, a poet from Florence, which had also helped inspire Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. These lines describe how the clumsy giant cyclops, Polyphemus, sings a love song to the beautiful sea-nymph Galatea, and how she rides across the waves in a chariot drawn by two dolphins, laughing at his song while a company of sea gods mills around her. In the myth, Galatea refuses Polyphemus' advances because of her love for a Sicilian youth named Acius. Polyphemus eventually kills Acius with a boulder in a jealous rage, and a distraught Galatea turns his blood into the river Acius in Sicily.

Triumph of Galatea
Raphael's "Galatea" depicts the beautiful sea nymph riding across the waves on her chariot as she
laughs at the cyclops Polyphemus, who is singing her a love song (pictured elsewhere in the hall).


Hall of Galatea
The ceiling in the Hall of Galatea, designed and painted by Peruzzi, represents
the alignment of the stars on the day of Agostino Chigi's birth. His horoscope supposedly foretold a long and prosperous life.



All around the fresco of Galatea are delicate and idealized landscapes painted by Gaspare Dughet, and higher up on the wall there is a stunning Head of a Young Man. The charcoal colored head set against a rough background was originally attributed to Michelangelo, but modern opinion is inclined to credit it to Peruzzi. The lunettes, representing several myths, and the wide square near Galatea where Polyphemus stands, are the work of Sebastinao del Piombo. The vaulted roof, which was painted by Peruzzi, represents the twelve signs of the zodiac with planetary gods residing in some of them. Venus, for example, appears with the sign of Capricorn, and Apollo, the sun, with the the Archer. Star-charts of the northern hemisphere show that the constellations in Peruzzi’s fresco would have occupied this position on December 1, 1466. Since there is no documentation accurately pinpointing the date of Chigi’s death, though it was thought to be around the year 1465, it is generally believed that this ceiling represents the position of the stars on the day of Chigi’s birth. Peruzzi, an astrologer, would certainly have been capable of painting a precise horoscope for Chigi, and Chigi himself was known to believe in astrology, perhaps because his stars foretold and long and prosperous life for him.

From the windows on the first floor, there is a beautiful view of the gardens. A pleasant stroll under the laurel bower leads to a marble plaque which bears the inscription:

"Quisquis huc accedes: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum" which translates to:

"Whoever enters here: what seems horrid to you is pleasant to me. If you like it, stay, if it bores you, go away; both are equally pleasing to me."


III. Function
"Function of Artwork: Impact on Viewer and Themes in Decoration"

The Villa Farnesina is rumored to have been built upon the site of the ancient villa where Cleopatra stayed when she accompanied her lover, Mark Antony, to Rome, and was built by Chigi for his mistress, the infamous courtesan Imperia (though it became the home of his second mistress, Andreosia, who eventually became his wife, after Imperia's death). Considering this history, it is not surprising that the decoration of the villa should have a common theme running through it - love.

The myth of Cupid and Psyche is an interesting subject matter for the loggia. Cupid fell in love with the daughter of a king, but had to remain unrecognizable to her and so came to her only at night. After Psyche had undergone many difficult trials, Zeus made her immortal and allowed her to marry Cupid. The unusual subject seems to be a reference to the much longed for marriage between Chigi and his mistress, Andreosia, with whom he already had four children. Of particular interest is the scene of Cupid with the Three Graces. It was said that only in the presence of the Three Graces could a young man recognize the charms of his beloved. Cupid is looking at the Graces and pointing with his left hand, not at Psyche, but at the loggia itself, the Chigi’s own domain. This is thought to be a compliment to the charms of Chigi's mistress, the lady of the house. The garlands of fruit are also charged with highly erotic overtones. Many of the fruits are bursting open, at their peak of ripeness, and there are several questionable vegetables, apparently an irregular variety of an elongated squash, scattered throughout the garlands.

The "Triumph of Galatea" also follows this theme of the pursuit of love, and demonstrates Raphael's remarkable skill in creating a fluid, harmonious composition of his figures. In this cheerful picture, every figure seems to correspond to some other figure, and every movement has a counter-movement to answer to. For example, there are small boys with bows and arrows aiming at the heart of the nymph. The ones to the right and left echo each other’s movements, and the boy swimming beside the chariot corresponds to the one flying above Galatea’s head. The sea gods also seem to be wheeling around the central figure, with two on the margins who blow their seashell horns, and two pairs in front and behind. Amazingly, all of these diverse movements around Galatea are also reflected in the figure of the nymph as well. While her chariot is driving from left to right across the sea with her veil blowing backwards, she is gazing back over the water in a counter-action to the forward motion of the chariot. Hearing the strange love song, she turns around and smiles, and all the lines in the picture converge on her beautiful face in the center of the picture, from the small boys arrows to the reins she holds in her hands. Through these artistic means, Raphael has achieved constant movement throughout the composition of the piece, without letting it appear restless or unbalanced.

The exquisite beauty of Raphael’s figures was also admired by his contemporaries and by following generations. When he had finished Galatea, Raphael was purportedly asked by a courtier where he had managed to find a model of such beauty in all the world. The master replied that he had not copied any specific model, but had instead followed “a certain idea” he had imagined in his mind. To some extent, Raphael had strayed from the faithful portrayal of nature which had been the ambition of so many artists at this time, and deliberately used an imagined type of regular beauty.

These themes of love found in the artwork of the Farnesina are also extended into the master bedroom, in a beautiful depiction of Alexander the Great presenting a crown to his beloved, Roxane, as she sits on a bed in a grand sleeping chamber.

These works of art, created by acknowledged masters of the day, would have been meant to impress upon the viewer the cultural attainments of the household. The grand style of the villa imparts a feeling of wealth and sophistication, and guests of Chigi would have undoubtably felt that they were in the presence of an influential and powerful figure upon entering his domain.


VI. Patron
"Functions of the Villa: Chigi's Motivations for Decorating Scheme"

It is intersting to note that the subjects for the villa's decoration were chosen from history or classical mythology, and there is no Christian imagery present in any of the decoration of the villa. One reason for this could be the fact that one of the villa's primary functions was to be a home for Chigi's mistress, a union which would have been considered "unholy" by the church. It would therefore make sense that Chigi would chose classical figures to celebrate their love, since there is no implication of an Almighty Father hovering in the heavens above, judging the activities going on in the villa below.

This leads into the second major function of the villa, which was to serve as a space where Chigi could host lavish parties to entertain his friends, clients, or other influential figures. This is especially evident in the decoration of the loggia. The theme is love, depicted with erotic overtones in the fruit of the garlands and the beauty of the scantily clad mythological figures. A banquet of the gods is presiding on the ceiling above the loggia, a party for the gods mirroring the parties that would have been taking place down below. As a palace built for banquets, love affairs, and entertainment, Chigi would not have wanted to include Christian symbols or figures that would remind the viewer of the church's stance on morality and values.

Some viewers might have found the villas decoration slightly shocking - the themes of love, eroticicm, and paganism without any sign of Christianity to contrast them. This is partly due to the Renaissance and the revival of classical texts and pagan mythology. These classical subjects would have been considered a sign of culture and education, not a sign of paganism or heretic beliefs. This can also be seens as a testament to Chigi's power. While the decoration of his villa might have caused a few reproving looks, nobody would dare reprimand an influential man like Agostino "Il Magnifico" Chigi for his choice of artwork. Chigi apparently believed himself to be above reproof, considering the inscription placed in the garden which implied that the viewer's opinion of his villa's decoration was of little consequence to him.


V. Conclusion
"The Villa Farnesina Today"

After Chigi’s death, the villa was bought by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, from whom the villa takes it’s name. It was passed to the Bourbon family in 1714 and then bought by the Spanish Ambassador, Bermudez de Castro, some time after that. In 1928 it was bought back from the Duke’s heirs by the Italian state and the major rooms were opened to the public for viewing, as it still is today. The Academia Nazionale dei Lincei is currently located in the Farnesina since 1944, and there is also a library there.

While the decoration of the villa may have been erotically charged and slightly radical in it's lack of Christian imagery at the time of it's construction, its artwork has lost that shock value over time. Visitors who return to the villa now are drawn there to view the work of Raphael, although those with more knowledge of Renaissance art and architecture are also interested in seeing the work of Peruzzi. Unfortunately, the Villa Farnesina tends to get lost in the crowd of historical sights, monuments, and museums that saturate Rome, and visitors today are likely to find themselves alone in the villa to appreciate its lovely artwork at their leisure.


VI. Personal Observations
A visit to the Villa Farnesina should be on every traveller's list of places to see in Rome, in my opinion. All of my research was completely inadequate in preparing me for my first experience of exploring the villa and seeing the decorations in person. Since the villa recieves very few visitors, even in peak tourist season, it feels almost as though the viewer is stepping back into a tiny bubble of Renaissance Rome as they wander the empty rooms, alone. The villa is unique in that it offers an opportunity to view paintings by Raphael in the setting they were meant to be viewed in. It is surprising how different the impact is, vieweing the "Galatea" as a part of the decoration of an entire room and not simply as a solitary panel on display in a museum. In this setting it is possible to see how the paintings were meant to work together within the overall scheme of decoration, and I found them more powerful when viewed together than they probably would have been if viewed individually.


VII. Bibliography
Hibbert, Christopher. "Rome: Biography of a City." London: Penguin Books, 1985.

Millard, George. "Rome." New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Johnston, David E. "Roman Villas." London: Shire Publications, 1988.