Thursday, October 13, 2005


Angela Kim
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction

Michelangelo Merisi was born in 1571 in Milan. His predicted birthday is September 29th, it being St. Archangel’s Day, for Michael. Caravaggio, the name he later goes by, is a town 43km east of Milan. The plague of 1576/1577 forced Michelangelo’s family to move to Caravaggio for safety. Unfortunately, the disease had already been exposed and Caravaggio’s father and grandparents passed away. Yet even with these events, it is likely that Caravaggio had a fairly comfortable childhood and some schooling. His father had owned property, and there is evidence of his literacy through books Caravaggio later owned, signature on receipts, and verses. This is particularly important because there has been claim to Carvaggio’s illiteracy.

In 1584 Caravaggio returns to Milan to apprentice himself to Simoe Peterzano for four years. Here he is influenced by Lombardy art (the region) which consists of realistic styles and begins to explore and paint still life’s.

Caravaggio returns to his town after the apprenticeship. In 1590 his mother dies and Caravaggio sells his father’s property and departs for Rome where his brother and uncle live as priests. His relationship with his brother must have been delicate, for they did not have much contact but it was his uncle who set Caravaggio up with his first artists’ contacts and jobs. Though none of these jobs in the beginning were very promising; Caravaggio rarely stayed with one for a long period of time, had no fixed residence and often worked for artists of “lesser talent.” During this time, Caravaggio probably had run out of the money that he had made by selling his father’s land, and was living poorly. But Rome was small at the time, the population being around 109,000 and Caravaggio soon met the people that would help him. He eventually worked for artists Giueppe Cesari d’Arpino, and soon after Caravaggio’s work was brought to Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte who provided Caravaggio with board, lodging, and pension. Del Monte was a man of great influence and became the link to Caravaggio’s future public commissions.

II. Description

Contarelli Chapel

French Cardinal Mathieu Cointrel/Matteo Contarelli had left money in his will for the decoration of the chapel in the French national church, the San Luigi dei Francesi. There had been strict guidelines set up for the chapel, that was supposed to represent the life of St. Matthew, who had been Cardinal Contarelli’s patron saint. The vaults had been decorated by frescos by Cesari d’Arpino, but the side walls weren’t painted. The process of this chapel had been heavily delayed and the responsibility was being passed on from person to person. Contarelli had died in 1587 leaving the chapel’s completion to the responsibility of the Crescenzi family. After years of inactivity, the priests appealed to the Fabbrica di San Pietro for its completions, the priests also reported that the Crescenzi family had been using the money for its own interest. There was a recommendation for intervention and Del Monte suggested Caravaggio. In 1599 Caravaggio obtained his first public (and visually the largest) commission.

The Calling of Saint Matthew:

Caravaggio may have been familiar with earlier Netherlandish paintings of money lenders and gamblers. This scene is represented as nearly a silent, dramatic narrative. Levi, the tax-gather is seated counting his earnings for the day with his workers or friends. Jesus is the light that enters. He enters with an artificially/supernatural light that does that come through the window. The clothes of Jesus and peter are entirely different from Matthew and his friends. Matthew is dressed in modern clothes, as Jesus and Peter are in cloaks. This shows the separation of the two worlds. Jesus’ feet are already turned from his body as if he has entered but is ready to leave with Matthew. Matthew looks up surprised, with an expression that reads ‘who me?’ There are those who do look up at this light, and there are others who do not look up. This is a clear indication of those who will be saved and those who will not be saved. “The Calling,” is interesting because it depicts a scene of a man who is in between lives.

Matthew’s hand represents this perfectly. His left hand is on a pile of money, as his right hand is pointing to his heart asking the question that Jesus is asking. It is the gold versus the finger. Matthew must choose, and this painting captures this moment of inaction that is full of psychological activity. With his left hand there is an old man inspecting the money with this glasses, displaying his full concentration of worldly goods, and the young man sitting next to him who joins him in this activity. On his right side, there are two young boys who have looked up with Matthew. X-rays show that Peter’s character was added later next to Jesus. But he does not cast a shadow on the young boy sitting in front of him, emphasizing Jesus’s supernatural light. There are multiple interpretations to the added placement of Peter and his significance. The most interesting one is the hand placement of both Peter and Jesus. Caravaggio would have been familiar with Michelangelo’s ceiling, and the scene of God and Adam. Jesus’s hand is like that of Adam’s, and Peter is like that of God’s. This might be to represent the humanness of Jesus at the time, and Peter as a symbol of the Church and its divine authority. It is a frozen moment, but filled with drama. The message is simple: Christians behave like Matthew and accept Christ, to leave the worldly goods and to live a life in poverty and piety.

The Inspiration of St. Matthew

The painting on display at the Chapel is the second version of this painting. The first one was rejected for the portrayal of Matthew with dirty feet (dirty feet is a big theme with Caravaggio), and as portraying a Saint as illiterate. The second one is not as risky, and like “The Calling,” places Matthew in a suspended moment. Matching time, he is older than he was in “The Calling,” but this time dressed in the cloak and not modern clothing. He is more like an ancient philosopher and Saint rather than a man. Matthew is in an unsettled pose, with one foot up in the air and his stool

tipping. The Angel is in front of him and above him, counting the things that
Matthew must remember for the gospel. Spatially it
is out of time and place, this is emphasized with the dark background. The placement of this painting is central in location and meaning. Matthew’s man comes from ‘manus’ that means hand, and ‘theos’ that translates to God. Matthew is the hand of God, writing down the text with the help of an angel. It represents the divine nature of the text and emphasizes the divinity and authority of the Gospel.

The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew

The story of Matthew’s martyrdom happens in Ethiopia. Matthew forbade the King of Ethiopia’s marriage and seduction of his niece Ighegia, who was living in a convent and a virgin. This angered the King, and he ordered for Matthew’s death. Matthew had been a priest in Ethiopia at the time, and was killed at the altar.

This painting is different from the “The Calling,” and “The Inspiration,” in many ways, yet remains true to the mystery and suspense. It is full of action and movement, and the space is filled . The main figure in this painting is the executioner and not the martyr. It is depicting a murder’s moment, but nonetheless draws out the audience to Matthew.

There are men who are partially nude that wait for baptism. These men move out of fear and revelation. Matthew is down, his body close to the audience, his hand reaching out. The placement of hands are important once again. Matthew’s left hand is out towards to the viewer, it is left empty. Matthew’s right hand is being grabbed by the murder with a sword, at the same time an angel is reaching for Matthew with a palm branch. The angel is on a cloud, indicting that the angel cannot yet fly. Yet behind the angel is a single candle at the altar that shines through this event. This may represent the knowing eyes of God, who is watching it all. Here in the background Caravaggio leaves his signature, his portrait at the very back, almost looking over the shoulders of the murder. His expression is heavily debated. Is he concerned, is he partaking in this violence, which character is he to represent? There is a mixture of sympathy and ambivalence to his expression.

Cerasi Chapel:

In 1600 there was a 2nd commission for Caravaggio from Tiberio Cerasi. Cerasi was born in 1544 and practiced law in the papal court. Eventually, he collected enough wealth to buy the post of Treasurer General to the Apostolic Chamber, which put him in charge of papal expenditure. This diversified his connections and contacts, and within these connections he met Marchese Vincenzio Giustiniani who recommended Caravaggio to Cerasi for his chapel. Caravaggio was contracted on September 24, 1600 to paint two cypress panels. Caracci had already done the altar, so Caravaggio was assigned to paint the two walls on the sides.

The Crucifixion of Peter

When Peter was crucified, he asked to be turned upside down to be the opposite of Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter’s crucifixion happened during Nero persecution of Christians. Peter is unlike a usual representation of saint in this painting. He is an old man, somewhat helpless and fragile. He is accepting of his martyrdom. This inaction compared to the straining of all the other characters, one who is pulling the cross, one, holding, one pushing, all who are straining physically to lift Peter. This painting captures an excited action, the raising of the cross. No one faces the viewer but Peter, no one else is lit. Everything and everyone else remains dark but him. The man who is pushing up the cross has dirty feet, and Peter’s feet are in clear view as well. Caravaggio utilizes all the space in this painting, all the spaces are filled, there are few empty spots. Details do not clutter this painting, rather the theme of this painting is clear: faith. The faith of Peter, and the foundation he is for the church, represented by the rock that is on the floor.

The Conversion of Saint Paul

The conversion of Saul is a story of a man who is met with the divine will of God as he is on his way to persecuting the Christians. The story happens at midday, which is different from the painting where the background is dark. But there is a supernatural light that is shining on Paul. His body is on the floor, and it is closest to the audience, the viewer is head to head with Paul. Paul is leveled with the viewer, placing the viewer in his place. This is once again a significant moment of inaction, where the interest lies in the psychological core of these moments, rather than the physical moments. Paul can see something that no one else can, this is his epiphany. The painting represents a divine moment but like Caravaggio’s other paintings, it includes a touch of ‘dirty feet,’ or rather, the horses’s rear. At the time the painting was first shown, the horse was critized as being too commonly, and the painting boring. “The Conversion,” is another painting that Caravaggio did twice. The one before was full of action, a fallen Paul, a moving horse. This one depicts a deep spiritual moment of light, salvation, repentance and Paul, reaching up.

III. Function

Caravaggio painted “The Calling of St. Matthew,” “The Inspiration of St. Matthew,” and “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew.” These were Caravaggio’s first encounter with paintings so large. X-rays show several changes that he made throughout his commission. Yet Caravaggio must have studied paintings in other churches, and contemplated the kind lighting these paintings would be viewed in. The lighting in the paintings are complementary to each other, coming from the same natural source. The effect that the natural lighting and candle light would have produced is much different from the experience the viewer sees today. The three paintings read logically, from left, center and right, like a printed line of the events of St. Matthew’s life. They are open to the viewer. The hand placements, the spacing, the light are directed in a way so that the viewer has an intimate experience with the paintings and the chapel. The paintings were to honor Contarelli’s patron Saint, but goes beyond the specific life of the saint, and into realms and spaces that the viewer can be placed in—to choose a world between God and material goods, and to trust. The paintings in the Cerasi chapel work in similar ways. They are scenes suspended from time, of inspiration and divinity. But the viewer is placed into the scenes by the body placement and realistic portrayal. These messages aren’t necessarily ones by the patron or the church to the people, but rather of the popular spiritual beliefs of the time, and of Caravaggio’s.

IV. Patron

Before going into the intentions of the patron, I think it is important to address the potential intentions of the artist.

Caravaggio’s Religion:

An important element in Caravaggio’s life and art is his religious and personal beliefs. During his early youth in Milan, Caravaggio must have been exposed to the groups that held concern and social interests for the poor world, and the rejected. Also, when arriving to Rome, Caravaggio must have encountered the popular theories of Saint Fillipo Neri’s. Saint Fillipo Neri was renown for his humbleness, for his heart towards the poor and youth. He was unlike the burcrats that represented the church at the time. Caravaggio may have encountered Neri, either at a hospital he was taken to when he fell in in his early days in Rome, or at Neri’s church. Neri kept his door open to the youth, and received many visitors. It is not unlikely that the two crossed paths. With this it is important to note that Caravaggio was with the people of his time, and not removed.

Also, Caravaggio had an early encounter with mortality and plague. Eventually orphaned, and the threat to his life later on, Caravaggio possibly struggled and developed a keen awareness for the world. His earlier years in Rome, strung with poverty, unstableness and fights and arrests would make him no stranger to the world and colors he depicted.

This would lead to a direct and honest expression of religion and its characters. There is a social and human conscious to his paintings, full of sympathy, yet beauty of the real rather than the embellished. His paintings are directed to the audience, and are open to individual interpretation for the individual to ‘grasp them in terms of one’s own life,’ and the realism in Caravaggio’s paintings would make it possible for viewers to relate.

His paintings were often accused of lacking decorum due to capturing dirty feet, back angles, and more humanly characteristics of saints. But Caravaggio painted life, and in it’s reality wanted to show its beauty.


Somewhat fortunately for Caravaggio, his first public commission had no direct contact with the patron. As mentioned before, Contarelli had died before the completion of his chapel, and left the chapel in supervision for another family to complete. By the time Caravaggio received the commission, he was working with the Church overseeing the commission, rather than the patron. The patron had set guidelines for the paintings, which were supposed to be the life of his patron saint, St. Matthew. But other than that, and no longer being alive, he could not submit direct control over Caravaggio’s work. Instead, the church played that role.

For an example, the Inspiration of St. Matthew had to be repainted because a priest was horrified at the idea of standing below St. Matthew’s dirty feet, and illiterate gesture. This realistic nature in Caravaggio was heavily criticized, for humanizing and humbling the saints and other important figures. Such images were believed to be ‘lacking decorum.’ This can be an indication of a direct clash between Caravaggio’s beliefs and representation, and the Church’s control. As noted with Peter’s later addition in the Calling of St. Matthew, this can be presumed to an influence by the church and its message of its importance. Caravaggio painting solely Jesus and Matthew signifies a relationship of man and God without interference. This was probably not a message the church wanted to project.

It is hard to say what Contarelli would have done differently. He did have guidelines, but ones that were loose enough for Caravaggio to work with. Caravaggio placed the paintings in certain lightings and certain spaces (suspended, timeless) so that people could enter into the painting, and interact intimately with them. This was probably not the instruction of the patron or the church.

This is similarly true for the Cerasi Chapel. However, the patron was alive. But both chapel’s main audience was the public audience. The paintings in the Cerasi chapels had to be pre-submitted, and both paintings were repainted. The reasons remain unclear, whether the patron rejected them or if Caravaggio wanted to repaint them. But the inaction of the paintings, the humility of Peter, and the dirty feet are signals that Caravaggio was given a certain amount of freedom and flexibility outside of his patron’s guidelines.

V. Conclusion

Throughout his career, and perhaps even before that, Caravaggio had frequent encounters with the law. In fact, what historians know about him today is largely due to his police files. He did not have any students and did not write many letters. He was arrested several times, for assaults, fights, throwing a plate of artichokes, throwing stones, among some. He was known to dress in all black, and would wander the streets carrying a big sword with friends who behaved similarly to him. His mischiefs turned serious in 1606, when Caravaggio killed a man in an argument over a tennis match. He quickly fled to Naples, Malta, Sicily, painting and becoming loved then hated and fleeing again. He wanted to return to Rome, but he was sentenced to death and was requesting a pardon from the Pope. His friends and patrons must’ve been working on the pardon, for he received it in 1610. Ironically, it was granted about 3 days before he died. On his way back to Rome, he was mistakenly taken by Spanish soldiers, jailed and when he was freed the ship with all of his belongings had taken off. Desperate and sick Caravaggio died on the beach at the age of 39.

Caravaggio was heavily imitated during his time and after his death. These imitators were known as Caravaggisti. Some painters that were influence by him are Rembrandt and Velazquez. Caravaggio invented Chiascuro, which is contrasting dark and light in paintings, creating spatial depth and forms through the intensity of light and shadow, along with tenebrism which describes a strong uses of chiascuro and artificially illuminated areas to create dramatic contrasts of light and dark. This technique wasn’t the only thing that made Caravaggio a unique and brilliant painter. He was imitated by others with his technique and strong realism, but in his psychological and religious depth.

VI. Personal Observations

There is quote from the novel M by Peter Robb that pulls together my fascination for Caravaggio. “There’s a man called M who’s doing wonderful things in Rome… he’s already famous… he’s got no respect for the work of any master, not that he openly praises his own… says everything’s triviality and child’s play, whatever it’s of and whoever painted it, if it hasn’t been done from life (Robb, 8).” When researching Caravaggio, I came in with very little knowledge of ‘new realism,’ and its intent. I was fascinated with Caravaggio’s fascination to further explore realism, and life and then to present it without any embellishment. Caravaggio’s dedication to the inaction, to the psychological moments fascinated me. He was taking from life, just as he had promised, and proved to be a painter of more than technical talent, but one of life, and connected not with the rich of his time, but the people of his time.

VII. Bibliography

Friedlander, Walter, “Caravaggio’s Character and Religion”, chapter 6 in Caravaggio Studies. New York, 1955.

Hibbard, Howard, “The Contarelli Chapel”, chapter 3 in Caravaggio, New York, 1983.

Hibbard, Howard, “The Cerasi Chapel”, chapter 4 in Caravaggio, New York, 1983.

Puglisi, Catherine, Caravaggio, London, 1998

Robb, Peter, M: the man who became Caravaggio, New York, 2000.

Calvesi, Maurizio, Caravaggio, Italy, 1998.

Langdon, Helen, Caravaggio: A life, London, 1998.

Moir, Aldred, Caravaggio, New York, 1982.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bruno and Galileo in Rome

Patricia Voll
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. An Introduction to Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei
The heliocentric model

When Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei dared to believe that the universe was heliocentric, the boundaries that they crossed lead to life-changing conflicts with the Catholic Church. In the heliocentric conception of the universe, Earth rotated on its axis once every day and orbited around the sun every year. This was a radical change from the geocentric model, in which Earth was the static center of the universe around which the sun, stars, and moon revolved. The heliocentric model not only conflicted with religion at the time of Galileo and Bruno, it also disagreed with the current understanding of physics and threatened to destroy the hierarchy that put the Church in a position of power second only to God.

Aristotle’s “Physica” and “De Coelo” were translated from Arabic to Latin in the twelfth century, bringing them, and their science, into the inheritance of Western culture. Soon after, St. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus adapted Aristotle’s geocentric conception of the universe to the demands of Christian dogma, effectively cementing it to the accepted religion of the West. In 1543 Copernicus reintroduced heliocentric ideas to Western thought and added mathematical analysis in his book “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.” Though Copnernicus himself did not take his new findings as proof that Earth moved, his book opened the door to new questions about the structure of the universe. Meanwhile, the Council of Trent, which convened from 1545 to 1563, worked to reinstate the importance of tradition to the Catholic faith. The ecclesiastical authorities decided that it should be forbidden to interpret scripture against the unified opinion of the fathers of the Church. Scripture was infallible and generally believed to describe Aristotle’s geocentric universe. It was only a matter of time before the traditional concepts accepted by the Church and the fresh ideas of a budding new age of science came face to face in conflict. Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei have been set down in history as casualties of this conflict.

Filippo Bruno was born in 1548 to a father who was a minor military officer and a mother of German ancestry. A native of Nola, he was sent to the University of Naples to study literature, logic, and dialectic when he was fourteen. At the age of seventeen, he formally entered the Dominican convent of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples and was assigned the religious name ‘Giordano’ in honor of the Dominican Master of Metaphysics, Giordano Crispo. Having already been formed intellectually at the University, Giordano Bruno’s decision to join so strict a religious order at such a late age was probably influenced by economical pressures and the educational opportunities offered by the Dominicans.

By the age of eighteen, Bruno had acquired such a reputation for his techniques in memory that he was summoned to Rome for a while by Pope Pius V to instruct the powerful leader in mnemotechnics, the art of memory. Eventually he returned to his home convent and was ordained a priest at the age of 24. However, in 1576 he learned of plans to bring him before the Inquisition in Naples, so he fled for Rome. A total of 130 charges ranging from the possession of forbidden books to the expression of Arian tendencies were drawn up against him. Arianism was a dangerous heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. He was allowed to stay with the Dominicans in the convent of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, but his philosophical ideals soon made him unwelcome. Bruno quickly embarked from the convent for fifteen years of wandering and prolific intellectual production before his arrest in 1591 by the Inquisition.
Though forced to move often because of his penchant for creating controversy, Bruno’s reputation was widespread, especially in the highest ranks of society. Many powerful people were interested in learning his mnemotechnic secrets and sought his company. Over the course of his wandering years, Bruno taught school in Noli, Italy, registered at the University of Geneva but got in trouble for criticizing the Chair of Philosophy, and lectured on Philosophy and Astronomy in Toulouse, France. He was also invited to the court of King Henry III while in Paris, debated with experts at Oxford in London, and lectured on Aristotle at the University of Wittenberg, Germany. Though he was received by Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and pleased him with his works, Bruno was effectively expelled from the city limits in Frankfurt. He also published many lectures, dialogues, and poems on morals, mnemotechnics, philosophy, and physics. Mnemotechnics was his most profitable subject because during the Renaissance memory was seen as one of the most powerful tools for accessing the mysteries of nature. Unfortunately, his popular talent for memory was also responsible for his ultimate arrest in 1592 by the order of one of his benefactors, the Venetian nobleman Giovanni Mocenigo. Apparently, Mocenigo and Bruno had a disagreement and the patron was afraid that his scholar would leave for Germany and reveal his magical techniques to someone else. In the grueling eight-year trial that followed, Bruno was prosecuted for far more than his Copernican beliefs.

Galileo was far from Rome when Bruno’s trial concluded, but the events that led up to his own conflict with the Church were already in motion. Born on 15 February 1564, Galileo Galilei was named after the older brother of his great-grandfather. Though the Galilei family was well educated and proud to be descended from a noble family, they were not very rich. Galileo’s father was a distinguished lute player and musical theorist, so all of his children received musical instruction. Galileo himself became a good organist and an outstanding lute player and continued to play his whole life. He was sent to the Benedictine school of Vallombrosa at the age of ten and enrolled in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Pisa in September 1581, but left after three years without a degree, which was not an uncommon practice at the time. He soon learned that his primary interest was not medicine but mathematics, though he also had considerable skill as an artist and would have chosen to become a painter if circumstances had allowed.

On Galileo’s first trip to Rome in the fall of 1587 he was a young mathematician in search of recommendations that would help him get his first job. He met with and gained the support of Christopher Clavius, the celebrated professor of mathematics at the Jesuit’s main institution of higher learning, the Roman College. In Italy at the time of the Counter Reformation it was wise to gain ecclesiastical support, and Galileo needed powerful friends if he was going to fill a vacant teaching position at a good university. With the support of Clavius and other mathematicians that were impressed with his work, Galileo was able to get a teaching position first at the University of Pisa from 1589 to 1592 and then at the University of Padua until 1610. He studied the centers of gravity of solids and built an ingenious precision balance, but his most important discoveries came after he improved the telescope and turned it towards the sky. His astronomical studies amazed the grand duke of Tuscany so much that he made him his official mathematician and philosopher in 1610.

Galileo saw many new phenomena in the sky that convinced him that the Copernican system of the universe was correct. He rushed to publish his discoveries and before long a lively debate sprung up over the reliability of his new instrument of observation. The philosopher Ludovico delle Colombe wrote a manuscript treatise that argued against the idea of Earth’s rotation and made the first claim that it would contradict the infallible words of the Bible. In March of 1611, Galileo, now a famous professor, set out for Rome to convince people of his techniques and publicize his discoveries. This first trip was wildly successful, winning him an audience with Pope Paul V, induction into the Lyncean Academy, and the equivalent of a modern honorary doctorate at the Roman College. However, it was only a matter of time before the fact that his science appeared to contradict the Bible put him in conflict with the Church.

II. Bruno’s Philosophy and Trial

Disdainful of mathematics, Bruno was much more of a philosopher than a scientist. He felt that a physicist’s field of study was the tangible universe, so he challenged any line of thought that utilized nonphysical elements and avoided what he considered the juvenile exercise of calculation. To him, computational astronomy missed the true significance of the sky.

Bruno was originally arrested and interrogated in Venice, but the central office of the Inquisition in Rome thought his accusations were of such a nature that they wanted to handle the case themselves. Normally, because of the independence of the Republic of Venice, such a request would have been denied, but since Bruno was not a Venetian citizen and the Roman Inquisition had already started proceedings against him when he fled in 1576, he did not escape so easily. In the fall of 1593, after he had been transferred to Rome, interrogations of Bruno’s fellow prisoners lead to another long list of accusations that was added to the original ones made by Mocenigo, his enraged ex-benefactor. Bruno denied all of the charges, except for those dealing with philosophical doctrines of the universe and the soul.

In a review of the case in 1595 the Inquisition decided to order a formal censure of all of Bruno’s available writings. This was a very difficult task because of the sheer number of books that Bruno had written and their relative scarcity. The Inquisition was never able to obtain more than about half a dozen of his books and didn’t complete the censures until 1597. After a preliminary interrogation, Bruno was allowed to see the censures and reply to them. In 1598 a summary of the proceedings was compiled because the full notes on the trial had reached an unmanageable 600 pages.

At this point interrogation under torture was considered because of the legal weakness of the case and the apparent dangerousness of the subject. However, in the end a more humane strategy was decided on thanks to the suggestion of Robert Bellarmine, an Inquisition consultant that later became a Cardinal and played an important role in Galileo’s trial. Bruno was presented with a short list of some of his unquestionably heretical theses and asked to reflect on them and declare himself ready to abjure them. They hoped to convict him on the strongest charges and end the trial if he cooperated. If things did not go according to plan, they would resort to torture.

The eight theses that made it onto the list are not known for certain, but they probably corresponded to some of the erroneous theses found in Bruno’s books and a few dealing with the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and incarnation. His heretical theses from his books included the convictions that the universe is spatially infinite, there is an infinite plurality of worlds similar to ours, substance can neither be created nor destroyed, the Earth and the stars are animate (possess rational souls), the Holy Spirit is the soul of the universe, the human soul is to the body like a pilot to a ship, there is evidence that there were humans before Adam and Eve, and, of course, the Earth moves according to the Copernican theories. Some of the charges that were brought against him by the testimony of the witnesses included speaking ill of Moses, disapproving of praying to the saints, having a habit of uttering blasphemies, maintaining that Jesus had sinned, denying that three kings paid homage to baby Jesus, practicing magical arts, denying the virginity of Mary, and believing in the transmigration of human souls into animals. Obviously, he was not in trouble merely for supporting Copernicanism.

In January of 1599 Bruno appeared to submit to the requests of the Inquisition when he declared that if they found these eight theses heretical, he would retract them. Three officials were sent to Bruno and told him that if he abjured the theses he would only have to do some penance. Bruno continued to cooperate and wrote a retraction for all of the theses, except two that he wanted to explain in person. The Pope ordered that he retract his remaining heretical opinions and that the records be searched for more. Bruno said he was ready, but sent a note to the Pope defending his opinions and betraying his previous cooperative statements. He was given a 40-day ultimatum to repent his heretical ideas or be executed.

When the time came to repent, Bruno couldn’t deny the philosophical positions that he truly felt were correct. Despite all the best efforts of the Inquisition to try and persuade him to change his mind, Bruno refused to repent. He was therefore sentenced to death, condemned as an unrepentant, obstinate and treacherous heretic, and declared guilty of all of the accusations. The Inquisition was of the opinion that his refusal to repent made him guilty of all charges, with or without adequate proof.

On February 17, 1600, Bruno’s tongue was tied with a gag and he was led to the Campo de’ Fiori by the Companions of St. John the Beheaded, a religious order that devoted itself to escorting the condemned to their appointed place of execution. In the center of the piazza, in front of a crowd of witnesses, Bruno was stripped naked and tied to a pole on top of a pyre of wood. The Companions offered him a crucifix in one last attempt to get him to repent, but he turned away from it. So Bruno was burned alive as a heretic. His books, the physical embodiment of the very thoughts for which he died, were burned in St. Peter’s square.

III. Galileo’s Life and Science

To understand the issues behind Galileo’s conflict with the Church, it is important to grasp the state of science in his time. Advocating for a heliocentric arrangement of the universe crossed not only theological boundaries, but astronomical, physical, and epistemological ones as well. Copernicus showed through reason and mathematics that a heliocentric universe explained more simply and more coherently the known motion of the planets and the stars than a geocentric one. In the heliocentric model, there are thousands fewer moving parts because the stars are stationary while only the Earth and other planets rotate. The motion of the planets is also a lot simpler because they only rotate in one direction and do not need epicycles to explain why they sometimes move backwards. However, the elegance and simplicity of a model doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it is correct. Since people could feel that the earth was solid and stationary, it seemed absurd to think that the Earth in fact moved.

When Galileo was a young professor, there were many good astronomical arguments against the heliocentric model. The earth-heaven dichotomy argument stated that if Copnericus’s model were correct, the planets should be like the Earth. It was widely believed that the heavenly bodies were weightless, luminous, and changeless, so it seemed impossible to say that they were similar to the Earth in any way. The planet Venus presented another problem. Since this planet would be between the sun and the Earth, it should have phases like the moon, but none were visible to the naked eye. Additionally, Mars, which would be the fourth planet from the sun, should change in size and intensity as it moved from the same to the opposite side of the sun from the Earth. Some variation was detectable, but it wasn’t enough for how far the planet should move according to Copernicus.

Other objections came from the accepted theories of relative motion. Since objects fell vertically, rather than to the side, it was reasoned that the Earth could not be moving underneath them while they were traveling through the air. Similarly, projectiles flew the same distance when launched with equal force whether they were directed towards the east or the west, so presumably the earth couldn’t have any longitudinal velocity. These two arguments can easily be refuted by a basic understanding of the principle of superposition or the conservation of momentum, but these theories of mechanics had not been formed yet. Also, an erroneous understanding of centrifugal force convinced people that if the Earth were rotating, everything on it should fly off and the earth itself should begin to deteriorate. Finally, physics at the time postulated that there were five different natural elements, and that each of them had one of three possible natural motions. Water and earth moved directly towards the center of the universe, making the Earth the very core of the cosmos. Aether, the element of the heavenly bodies, had eternal circular motion around the center of all creation. Additionally, air and water were thought to have a natural motion away from this center. As long as this theory of natural motion was considered reality it would be impossible for the earth to be anything but the stationary center of the universe.

With the telescope, Galileo was able to disprove many of the astronomical arguments against Copernicanism. He saw that the Moon was covered in craters and mountains that appeared to be made of the same rough, non-luminous substance as mountains on earth. He was the first to observe the moons of Jupiter, which he called Medician Stars in honor of the Medici family, his most powerful patrons. These satellites showed that minor planetary systems were possible. Galileo’s telescope also revealed that Venus does in fact have phases like the moon and that Mars changes in brightness and apparent size by an appropriate amount for the radius of its orbit. In addition, he was able to observe spots on the sun that moved in such a way as to suggest that the sun rotates on its own axis once a month. Though these discoveries are impressive and boosted the evidence for the heliocentric theory considerably, there were still many mechanical concepts that needed to be discovered in order to make it a viable model for reality. Basically, a new physics needed to be established, including superposition, the conservation of momentum, the law of gravitational force, and the law of inertia. Though much of Galileo’s work focused on investigations into the laws of motion and gravity, his most influential findings were not published until the end of his life and they were still only the beginning of the new science that needed to be constructed.

Besides all of the scientific arguments against heliocentrism, Galileo had to face epistemological objections. One issue was whether or not physical truth had to be directly observable or if some phenomenon could occur without detection by the human senses. This lead to the question of whether artificial instruments, like the telescope, were legitimate tools in the search for truth, or if only the human senses should be used. There was also the issue of whether astronomy or physics should take precedence, since the heliocentric theory contradicted the physics of the time. Finally, and most importantly for Galileo’s story, there was the issue of whether or not the Bible should be considered a scientific authority.

In 1613 the Grand Duchess Christina confronted one of Galileo’s students, Benedetto Castelli, on the apparent disagreement between heliocentric theory and the Bible. Galileo approved of Castelli’s answer, but still felt the need to write his student a letter detailing his own arguments on the subject. This letter pointed out that the Bible used figurative language and shouldn't be taken literally in many places. It would certainly be heretical to take the Bible literally when it describes God as having feet and hands or feelings like hate and anger. He also contended that the Bible was only the utmost authority on religious and moral issues and not in science. Finally, Galileo took a passage in Joshua that seemed to indicate that the sun rotated around the earth and proceeded to reinterpret it to show that it would make more sense if the earth rotated about the sun. This last step was perhaps going a bit too far considering the recent decisions of the council of Trent, so it is no surprise that after the letter began circulating widely an objection was soon made. The Dominican Niccolò Lorini filed a written complaint against Galileo with the Inquisition in February 1615. He included what turned out to be a slightly incorrect copy of Galileo’s letter to Castelli as evidence. The investigation of the case found that a correct copy of the letter was not opposed to Catholic doctrine and the hearsay evidence offered by witness testimony was baseless.

Galileo was innocent of heresy for the time being, but the case had interested the Inquisition to the point that they appointed an expert panel to look into the status of Copernicanism. This panel reported in 1616 that it was not only theologically heretical, but also philosophically and scientifically untenable to support heliocentric theory. Though the Inquisition didn’t issue a formal condemnation of the theory, Cardinal Bellarmine, the same man that played a role in Bruno’s fateful trial, was appointed to notify Galileo personally that he was not to defend Copernicanism anymore. Being cautious, Galileo obtained a certificate from Bellarmine that stated that he had neither been tried nor condemned and that he had merely been notified that Copernicanism could not be defended. In addition to silencing Galileo, the Congregation of the Index, which was responsible for censuring books, banned a book that claimed to show that heliocentric theory was compatible with the Bible. They also banned Copernicus’s book, pending correction, and others like it.

After this incident, Galileo carefully put aside his arguments for Copernicanism for quite some time. However, the election of Pope Urban VIII, the former Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, changed matters considerably. The new Pope was an admirer of Galileo and had been instrumental in preventing Copernicanism from being formally condemned. Galileo was granted six weekly audiences with Urban VIII when he went to visit the new Pope in Rome in 1624. At these discussions Galileo apparently learned that Urban VIII didn’t think that Copernicanism was heretical, but dangerous and requiring special care. The Pope believed that the heliocentric theory could never be proved absolutely true because the earth’s motion was not directly perceivable and the omnipotence of God made it such that anything humans observed, such as possible evidence of Copernicanism, could be caused by any number of phenomena that humans weren’t aware of.

His conversations with Urban the VIII made Galileo feel confident that if he was careful, he could write about Copernicanism again. Consequently, in 1632 he published “Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican,” a book with many cautionary prefixes and introductions as well as Urban’s favorite argument about God’s omnipotence stuck in at the end. It was written in the style of a dialogue between three people, one for each of the two sides and one to mediate, so that it would not appear that he was favoring one side or the other. However, objections were soon raised that he in fact made the arguments for the Copernican system stronger. In addition, a file was found that claimed that Galileo had been given a special injunction by Cardinal Bellarmine that forbade him to speak about Copernicanism at all. This document was unsigned and of questionable legal validity, but suspicions began to arise and Galileo was soon summoned to Rome.

In Rome, Galileo was not imprisoned but allowed to stay in the Tuscan embassy. His certificate from Bellarmine made it clear that he was not guilty of breaking a special injunction, so the Inquisition decided to drop the more serious charge. However, Galileo was still required to plead guilty to inadvertently supporting Copernicanism. In a deposition to that end, Galileo said that, upon rereading his book, he found that it did seem to support Copernicanism more, and that he probably wrote it that way out of a wish to be clever by making the weaker side seem to have stronger arguments. Despite this apology, the Pope was still not satisfied that Galileo had no malicious intentions and ordered that Galileo be examined under the threat of torture. However, Galileo stuck to his word was deemed to be telling the truth.

So on 22 June 1633, Galileo was read his sentence and required to recite a formal abjuration in the convent of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. He was guilty of a middle level of heresy for the beliefs that the earth moves and the Bible is not a scientific authority. His book was banned and he was sentenced to house arrest until his death, which occurred in 1642.

IV. Visual Impact on Rome

Over time, Bruno’s image has developed three main variations: the philosopher,

the anticlerical,

and the prophet. The first committee for raising a statue of Bruno on the site of his execution was formed in 1876 by some radical students after Rome became incorporated into the kingdom of Italy. This group wanted to erect a statue that commemorated one the many victims of religious fanaticism to show the world that the Papacy was defeated. However, this anticlerical message was not well received by the public or the municipal and political authorities, so the project was dropped. The second committee, formed in 1884, had much more support because of the changing times and was eventually successful at erecting the monument we see today by the Roman sculptor Ettore Farrari in the Campo de’ Fiori.

Farrari was the leader of the left-wing radicals in parliament and a freemason. He visualized Bruno as the prophet of a new religion. For Bruno, astronomy and the art of knowledge were ways of gaining understanding of the true nature of the universe. Since he believed that only through reason could true enlightenment and unity with the Supreme Being be reached, he became a figure of prime interest to religious and quasi-religious groups in the second part of the nineteenth century. These groups were rushing to fill in the religious gap created by the inability of the Catholic Church to adjust to modern times. Bruno became the saint of science to nationalists, rationalists, theosophists, freemasons, and freethinkers alike. In fact, Farrari’s committee portrayed Bruno as a Christ figure in their manifesto, describing how he was sent by God to spread the ‘truth’ in Europe and fulfill his ‘mission’ by dying at the stake in Rome.

Ferrari struggled through many different designs before he arrived at one that met both his standards and those of the city council. Designs for the heretic preaching his sermon, the passive, scholarly monk, and the saint at inner peace were all attempted and set aside as inadequate. Standing with his hands folded in front of him, the statue of Bruno that we see today actually embodies all three of the main variations on the philosopher’s image. The way he holds a book in his arms, with a page marked by one finger, makes him look wise and scholarly. His position above the action of the Campo and his down-turned head make him seem like a prophet watching over all. Finally, the gravity and the mysteriousness of his hooded figure give him an element of the anticlerical as well. A raised hood symbolized sacrifice in ancient Roman times and devotion or worship to the religions of the East, where the freemasons and theosophists found their spiritual inspiration. It also represented disrespect to the Church, since it is customary to remove head coverings when entering the holy Christian places of the West. Though the Vatican used all possible means to oppose the project, there was so much support from unions, clubs, universities, and religious sects all over the world that the statue was able to be unveiled in Rome on July 9, 1889.

The statue is located in the center of the Campo de’ Fiori, in the exact location of Bruno’s execution. At one point the statue was intended for the western part of the campo, from which it would have been looking east, towards the place where he was killed. This location would have commemorated the philosopher’s reaction as he beheld his appointed place of execution after being lead in procession from the prison in Tor di Nona. However, placed as it is in the center of the square, it looks west, towards the Vatican, seeming to admonish the Church for its unjust actions.

The Campo de’ Fiori statue quickly gained international renown. The image of the statue spread to homes, offices, temples, and public buildings in the form of small plaster replicas or busts and statues ordered from Ferrari’s workshop. The success of the statue was due to many factors, including the strong anticlerical leanings of liberals all over the Western world at the time that the statue was erected. It also had strong symbolic meaning since it was placed in the Capitol of Catholicism, right at the scene of a great crime of the Church. Often regarded as the civil, or anticlerical, equivalent to St. Peters, the statue is used to this day as a cult image, attracting occultists, mystics, freethinkers, freemasons, and hardcore anticlericals as well as the usual tourists.

The Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was begun in about 1285 on the site of a temple erected by Pompey for the Roman goddess Minerva to commemorate Roman victories in Asia. The site was originally the location of a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis, but she was assimilated into Minerva. Completed in 1370 and given to the Dominicans by the Senate, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is the only Gothic church in Rome. However, the façade, begun in 1453 and restored in the seventeenth century, is plain and in a different style. The monastery where Bruno stayed used to adjoin the church and was at one time the seat of the Dominican Generalate.

The body of St. Catherine of Siena is housed under the high altar. It was brought there in 1451 by St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, but was placed in the Rosary Chapel until Pope Pius IX moved it to the altar in 1855. Additional parts of the church help to contextualize Galileo’s trial in this space. A statue by Michelangelo, entitled “Christ the Redeemer,” resides to the left of the altar. Galileo was born three days after the great artist died.

The right transept houses the chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, with Fillippino Lippi’s frescoes in the bay. St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the people that incorporated Aristotle’s science into Church doctrine. The sacristy was commissioned in 1637 by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, the nephew of the Pope who was in office when Galileo was tried. The church also houses the tombs of five Popes, including Leo X (d 1521), Clement VI (d 1352), Paul IV (d 1559), Urban VII (d 1590), and Benedict XIII (d 1730).

There are also the graves of sixty Cardinals, including Cardinal Juan Torquemada, who is depicted in the Chapel of our Lady of the Annunciation. This man was the uncle of the infamous Cardinal Thomas de Torquemada, the Inquisitor General that built up the Spanish Inquisition.

V. Conclusion

Galileo and Bruno were alike in many ways. Both were religious, well educated, and had careers in academia. However, their characters, their approaches to reason, and their successes in the academic world were vastly different. Galileo was talented at pulling strings and getting good recommendations, making him very successful in academia. Bruno, however, had a tendency to upset people and make enemies, so he never remained in one place very long or made many lasting connections. Bruno was a philosopher and Galileo was a scientist, so their reasons for supporting Copernicanism did not agree. Bruno supported the theory because it fit with his existential reflections and his ideas about infinity. Galileo supported it because he had solid scientific results to back it up and had started to realize the modifications to physics that were needed to make his astronomical results agree with the rest of scientific theory.

These differences in the lives of the two men are reflected in the differences between their trials. Bruno was condemned to death for refusing to refute his philosophical theories because of his stubborn nature. He also had made a lot more enemies and had about a hundred more accusations than Galileo. His trial was grueling and prolonged because of the complexity of the case and his philosophies, causing him to suffer for eight years in the Inquisition prisons. Galileo on the other hand had a relatively easy time. He was allowed to stay in the Tuscan embassy or in the private apartments of the Inquisition officers and had a short trial based on only a handful of accusations. He had friends in the Inquisition and was allowed to live, though he was never on good terms with the Church again during his lifetime.

In the end, the outcomes of the two trials really fit the purposes of the men that lived through them. Bruno died dramatically at the stake and so was able to live on as a martyr for free thought. In later years his philosophies became even more popular because he died for them. Alternatively, Galileo used the life that he was granted to continue making scientific discoveries and publish one of his most important books on physics, Discourse on Two New Sciences, in 1638. By consenting to the demands of the Inquisition, no matter how humiliating they may have been, Galileo was able to contribute to the science that would ultimately make the theory he supported victorious.

Another interesting connection between the two trials was the involvement of a common person, Cardinal Bellarmine. This man was only an Inquisition consultant at the time of Bruno’s trial, but by the time he was involved with Galileo he was a very famous and respected theologian. In Bruno’s trial he wisely advocated to resist the urge to automatically resort to torture, showing compassion to the philosopher, but also tact for achieving the ultimate goal of the Inquisition: repentance. When he became famous for his wisdom that prompted such suggestions, he was used in Galileo’s trial as an authoritative figurehead. The different ways that Bellarmine was used in the two trials shows the Inquisition’s understanding of the two men. To get Bruno to confess they knew they needed to coax him and use carefully thought out strategy, whereas with Galileo they knew that he would submit if commanded to by one of his important connections.

The spaces in Rome that commemorate these men also reflect the differences between their trials. Bruno’s statue is central to Campo dei Fiori, making it the hub of action to this center of life and activity. The philosopher’s thesis described an infinite universe, where no linear hierarchies could be formed because there was no top position, so it makes sense that his monument stands in the neutral center of the Campo rather than favoring one of the sides. In an infinite universe, there would be no center. Bruno’s statue gives people a focus, the ideal of standing up for what you believe in, that can center them when they feel insignificant because of his philosophies.

In contrast to the circular feel of the Campo, the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is arranged very hierarchically. The body of St. Catherine serves as the base for the rising hierarchy represented, where the Earth is the center of the universe that God, above, presides over. It makes sense that Galileo’s trial was held here because keeping the Earth at the center of the universe was important to maintaining the Church’s power. If the Earth were just another planet among many, then the hierarchy that placed the Church just under God in authority would be broken. The Church would then be just another governing organization on one planet, rather than the second highest power in the universe. Containing art that tells the stories of the Church and the bodies of influential people, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a place of preservation, making it the perfect place for tradition to triumph over new ideas.

VI. Personal Observations

When I first arrived in the Campo dei Fiori, I knew that I was in the right place because I recognized the statue of Bruno. As I spent more time in Rome, with most class activities in or around the Rome Center in Palazzo Pio, I began to feel that the Campo was home. Bruno, despite his serious look, became a friendly face. The window of the back room on the third floor became my favorite place to sit in the Rome Center. From there I could watch over the life of the Campo and began to learn its rhythms. Before I got to Rome I didn’t realize how the statue of Bruno watched over the life of the Campo. I didn’t understand the significance of his position before I looked out the window of the third floor and, from behind Bruno’s back, saw the dome of St. Peter’s basilica looming above the roofs of the buildings separating the Campo from the Vatican.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was the first church that I entered in Rome. I entered through the front door and at first could only see the scaffolding in the center of the church and the tables selling postcards at the entrance through the darkness. As I walked to the front I gradually took in the high ceilings, covered in stars and heavenly figures over a backdrop of rich, dark blue. The two sitting Pope sculptures looking down from either side of the apse and the statue of St. Catherine lying at rest impressed me right away with the feeling of importance and holiness that they gave to the people they represented. After seeing the elaborate Gothic decorations of the church, I was surprised to find the small back door open, with sunlight pouring through. Walking through the door, I was immediately enchanted by the small street outside and the discrete wooden door leading back into the church. I knew from the first day that I visited the church that I wanted to come in through the back door for my presentation. It felt more natural than the front entrance designed in the 17th century and also more secretive and furtive, fitting for Bruno’s flight and Galileo’s humiliating confession.

Experiencing the sites in Rome for my project made me realize how my path through the spaces influenced my experience of them. An important part of my presentation was how I planned to move the group through the sites. We entered the Campo from the corner that Bruno entered it on his way to execution and wound our way to the back door of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva so that the students didn’t see the front at all before they entered the church. I wanted the way that we moved through the spaces to help place the stories of Galileo and Bruno in their context.

Realizing the importance of how we moved through my sites also helped enhance my understanding of why Bruno and Galileo got into so much trouble with the Church. Their crime was not just believing in a theory that the Church didn’t agree with, it was advocating to rearrange the space of the universe in the minds of the public. Just seeing how the placement of Bruno’s statue in the Campo dei Fiori is influential to our experience of the space made me realize how incredibly significant the placement of the Earth in the universe must be to the human experience. By presuming to make the universe infinite as well, Bruno’s philosophy not only threatened to shatter Church hierarchy, but also to make the Earth just one world out of infinity. Galileo dared to reinterpret the Bible to show that God agreed with him while he tried to move the Earth in the universe space that the Church had so carefully arranged. These trials were not just a matter of moving the Earth, they were also a matter of Church hierarchy, the significance of humanity to the universe, and the power of interpreting the Bible. Only when I realized the power involved in this debate could I truly appreciate Bruno’s legendary last words before the Inquisition. I agree with him when he said, “ Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.”

VII. Bibliography

Artigas, Mariano and William R. Shea. Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2003.

Berggren, Lars. “The Image of Giordano Bruno.” Gatti 17-49.

Calcagno, Antonio. Giordano Bruno and the Logic of Coincidence. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1998.

Finocchiaro, Maurice A. “Philosophy Versus Religion and Science Versus Religion: the Trials of Bruno and Galileo.” Gatti 52-96.

Finocchiaro, Maurice A. The Galileo Affair. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Gatti, Hilary, ed. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher of the Renaissance. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002.

Hager, June. “The Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.” In Italy Online. 6 July 2005. <>.

Michel, Paul Henri. The Cosmology of Giordano Bruno. New York: Cornell University Press, 1973.

Sharp, Mary. Churches of Rome. London: Hugh Evelyn Limited, 1967.

Piazza and Porta Del Popolo

Joe Plumb
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction

The Piazza and Porta del Popolo were named for Santa Maria del Popolo, the medieval church which was built just next to the gate to the city in 1477. This gate, or porta, replaced the Porta Flaminia in the 6th or 7th century. Originally it was not ornate and entered to a small piazza which was surrounded only by buildings. The piazza was very important, however, because three key roads diverged from this point. Note that while historically the names of these streets changed over time, the description here will use their modern names. The Via del Babuino, the left street when at the porta, leads to the Piazza di Spagna. Via del Corso in the center leads to Piazza Venezia and the monument to Vittorio Emmanuel II. Finally Via di Ripetta on the right leads to the Porta di Ripetta and was the route taken by early pilgrims to get to the Vatican.

Now Via di Ripetta was not built until 1518 by Pope Leo X. He did this to open up the older part of the city. This was the first major alteration to the piazza since the porta was built, and it began neary two centuries of changes to the Piazza and Porta del Popolo.

The next change was the building of the external façade of the porta in 1561 by Pius IV. Pius choose the architect Vignola to do the work, but the design itself was Michelangelo’s. The design called for two sets of Doric columns, one of red granite and one of breccia pavonazza, an Italian marble. The two statues are those of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, made by Mochi to emphasize that this city was the holy city. While today four sets of columns exist and there are three archways, this has only existed since 1870. If one looks closely they can see the seams of stone which separate the old gate from the new.

In 1589 Pope Sixtus V re-erected an obelisk which was discovered in the Circus Maximus in the middle of the piazza. This was part of a building plan by Sixtus which used obelisks to mark places where important roads converged or diverged. One source refers to a plan of Sixtus’ in which the obelisks were to be used as sundials, but even if this were true it never materialized. The obelisk itself is the second oldest in Rome (the oldest is in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterno). It dates from the 13th century BC and was carved on three sides by Seti I while his son, Ramses II, carved the remaining side. It was brought to Rome in 31 BC by Octavian to be erected in the Circus Maximus in 10 BC.

The Piazza remained this was until 1655, when the inner façade of the porta was redecorated by Pope Alexander VII for the arrival of Queen Christina of Sweden. Queen Christina was a very important figure at the time. She had ruled Sweden, one of the most powerful countries in Europe at the time, from 1640 to 1654. At that time she converted to Catholicism and fled Sweden, where the religion was illegal. Upon being chosen Pope in 1655, Alexander invited Christina to come and live in Rome. She accepted, and Alexander had Bernini redecorate the façade for her arrival. Now the inner façade is seemingly very blank, leading scholars to believe it was very hastily constructed. Of course Bernini could not spend a great amount of time on it because we know he had less than a year to complete it. What he built was the seven hills and a star, the symbol of Alexander XII, right above the oak branches which were the symbol of his family. What is very interesting is that at the end of the oak branches there are ears of wheat, which are the symbol of the Swedish royal family. This shows the close political alliance that Alexander and Christina had planned. Christina even took the last name of Alexandria when she came to Rome. The importance of Christina’s conversion is by no means trivial, this was a sign of the rising power of the church, that the ruler of a powerful country would abdicate and flee her homeland in order to be a part of the Catholic Church.

In 1660 Alexander XII decided to have more work done on the piazza. He had two churches, Santa Maria di Monte Santo and Santa Maria de’Miracoli, built. They were to stand on either side of Via Corso, as if religious sentinels guarding the holy city. The architect was Rainaldi, who had trouble initially because the footprint of one church was larger than the other, yet he desired to make two identical churches. To accomplish this he gave Santa Maria di Monte Santo an oval dome while Santa Maria de’Miracoli received a circular one, both however having the same diameter when viewed from the porta. In this way he created the illusion of symmetry. Construction began in 1662 on both churches and they were finished by 1679.

From 1679 until 1814 there was no work done on the piazza, and it stood as an example of architectural prospect in depth, where one could see down each of the side streets from a point just in front of the obelisk. In 1814, however, this changed. This was the neoclassical era, and Napoleon had conquered Rome. He instituted many changes in Rome, though the Piazza del Popolo is one of the few that remain today. The architect Giuseppe Valadier introduced a transverse axis to the piazza, giving it an exedra on each side. These curved walkways make the Piazza del Popolo a panorama in addition to the depth prospective it once was. It was during this renovation that the lions around the obelisk were added, in addition to the statues which were placed on the sides of the piazza. There were four statues, each representing a season, on each end of the two exedra. On one side Neptune can be see with two tritons, while on the other a figure representing Rome is seen between the Tiber and the Aniene. One interesting note is that a barracks for Carabinieri was built in 1824 during this remodel, and it can still be seen across from Santa Maria del Popolo.

The Piazza and Porta del Popolo have seen great change over the years, but it is interesting that the building they were named for, Santa Maria del Popolo, was the only element of the entire section of Rome which remained untouched since the 15th century. Everything else has been torn down to make way for this church or that exedra, but in the end the old, quant church is the one which survives.

II. Description

The Porta del Popolo is a massive passage way which has three arches, the center one being the largest. The largest arch is eight meters high and three wide. On the outside there are four sets of Doric columns, the coat of arms of Pius IV, as well as the seven hills and a start above it. There is only foot traffic through porta now, but the Via Flamina begins right outside it. There are statues of Saints Peter and Paul. Peter holds a set of keys while Paul holds a book. On the inside we see again the seven hills and a star, under which are the oak and wheat. Below this there is the inscription “Felici fausto ingressui”, meaning “For a happy and blessed entrance”.

The Piazza del Popolo is an oval shape with an obelisk in the middle of it. There are four lions around the obelisk which serve as fountains. On each side of the oval there are sculptures. On one side there is Neptune between two Tritons, while on the other there is Rome between the Tiber and Aniene. On either side of each of these statues there are four figures representing the four seasons. Near the southern part of the piazza there are two churches, Santa Maria di Monte Santo and Santa Maria de’Miracoli. Both look identical and seem to be guarding the city.

III. Function

This space is meant to function as an entranceway. After passing through the porta one would see their first glimpse of Rome. From this angle, however, it is impossible to see down any of the streets, because the obelisk is blocking Via Corso and the visitor is not in the right position to see the other streets. As they would approach the obelisk and go around it, the full view of Rome would be at hand. Santa Maria di Monte Santo and Santa Maria de’Miracoli are not intrusive, but allow the viewer to see down the extensive side streets. This point is the invitation into Rome for the visitor, who, in many cases, would be a pilgrim. The pilgrims received a special message from this entrance, from passing between Peter and Paul to seeing a pagan obelisk topped with a cross to finally seeing the twin churches and the streets of Rome, the pilgrim would feel that they had finally arrived at the Holy City.

IV. Patron

The religious concerns of the Popes were definitely addressed in the work on the Porta and Piazza del Popolo. The end result of these concerns was a truly Christian entrance, showing Peter and Paul at the entrance and then three churches in the piazza. It was important to the Popes to define Rome as the Christian city, and this entranceway shows that.

It is also an interesting space because it was not built at one time, it was built and rebuilt for centuries, leaving the modern viewer with a jumble of time periods. The effect of this mixing of architectural styles gives the impression of timelessness. From the obelisk to the ancient bricks of the porta to the medieval church and the new façades, finally to the twin churches and the Tritons with Neptune, each part sends the individual message of the Triumph of a Christian Rome, and this message becomes timeless because it has been repeated in such grandeur for ages.

V. Conclusion

The Porta del Popolo is rarely used anymore. It is cut off from traffic and the only group that goes near it is the Angels and Demons tour group. The same exists in the piazza. Cars circle it, making it a giant roundabout, but it not the entrance it was.

Modern visitors rarely see the piazza as a destination. More frequently it is a place to enjoy the view while going from place to place. This can be seen by the lack of information of the piazza in guides to Rome after 1850. It is a space that’s over that hill; it had its time, but that time has long passed.

So why do we look at it? Well, as tourists we really don’t, but as students of Baroque architecture we must. The Piazza and Porta del Popolo are excellent examples of how the piazzas of Rome were set up in the first place. It was a place of importance because of the entrance, and it was defined because of it. Because of this importance the piazza and porta were developed as an examples of the ideal. This is exactly what Leo X felt in 1518 when he built Via Ripetta, he was building on this concept of an important entrance in the porta. This idea continued as long as the Porta del Popolo existed as a porta, but that time has long since passed, leaving it, and the piazza, undefined.

VI. Personal Observations

I was most surprised by the fading importance of the piazza and porta during the 19th and 20th century. At first I thought that this site lacked importance, but I discovered that it used to be very important, but that has been forgotten.

Another thing that surprised me was how much changing the structure changed the function of the piazza. The new design by Valadier basically killed the piazza, in my opinion. It now draws people to the sides of the piazza instead of the skinnier form that drew people into Rome. That reconstruction ended in 1824, and after 1850 I couldn’t find much information at all about it. There are more factors at work, of course, but I still believe that was the crucial factor. I imagine that had the piazza never be reconstructed it would be very similar to the Campo, with restaurants giving life to the piazza, because there little life left in Piazza del Popolo today.

VII. Bibliography

Roma Barocca by Portoghesti (UW Seattle)
Baroque Architecture by Norberg-Schulz (UW Seattle)
Rome by Elling (UW Seattle)
History of Architecture by Fletcher (UW Seattle)
Rome by Millard (UW Seattle)
Guide to Rome by DK Publishing (UW Seattle)
Rome, author unknown, 1850 (American Academy,Rome)
Piazza del Popolo (UWRC, in Italian)

Freedmen Tombs of Pompeii

Julia Olson
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Slavery in Ancient Rome

Although the exact onset of slavery in Rome is unknown, the concept has always been part of Roman society. In the early ages, slavery was primarily limited to farms. Most manual labor was done by free laborers who would hire themselves out to the landowners. Unfortunately, Rome was always in constant battle and the wealthy Romans frequently lost their free laborers when they were called off to fight and were left with no one to tend to their fields. These wars, however, brought plenty of foreign slaves into the country. Slavery quickly blossomed and practically all manual labor was soon done by slaves. After a few hundred years, virtually any Roman citizen who was not a slave owned a slave. The slave trade flourished and was fed with a constant supply of war captives sold into slavery by generals. Since most slaves were captured during war, the slave trade soon expanded into more then just the buying and selling of manual laborers. Along with the field hands, many educated were captured as well. These men (and occasionally women) were sold to Romans who needed the specific skill the slave possessed. Skilled slaves were often allowed to pursue whatever their field may be with the profits going straight to the master. Sometimes these slaves were even allowed to start their own business with only an annual stipend owed to the master. Slaves played a part in virtually all aspects of Roman life from field hands, to cooks, to seamstresses, to physicians. To provide some perspective, in the daily life of a wealthy land owner in ancient Rome, a slave would wake him, dress him, feed him, drive him, write correspondence for him, tend to his fields and animals, feed and take care of his family, teach his children, and do the shopping for his wife. Slaves were a very integral part in the life of an ancient Roman family and often became part of the family. This very close relationship between slave and master became fairly common in Roman society.

Most slaves, despite this relationship with their master, always kept their hopes set on freedom. There were only two ways a slave could be set free. Either he could purchase freedom from his master by means of his collective savings, or he could be set free as a reward by his master. This act of freeing a slave was known as manumission and was an official handing over of ownership done in front of a witness. Once freed, the slave was part of a roman class of freed slaves known as libertini. Even though the slave was now a freedman, a relationship of mutual aid often remained between ex slave and master. The close ties built during slavery were hard to break and some slaves even preferred to stay with their master and his family once freed. Although some of the freedmen were educated, most of this class took the trade jobs looked down upon by the upper classes. These jobs varied significantly but included baker, blacksmith and butcher. Despite the fact that the freedman could, and often did, become powerful men, they could never attain true social equality with the free born citizen. Many freedmen dedicated their lives to becoming as wealthy and powerful as their old masters and strove to fit in as equals with the freeborn citizens. This desired to be seen as noble and equal followed them to their graves and is evident in the way that many freedmen decorated their tombs in the style of a man of noble birth.

II. Roman Death and Burial

The ancient Roman view of the afterlife was strongly tied to their burial practices. Romans believed that the soul of the dead was only truly laid to rest once the body had been properly buried. Burial was taken very seriously and the necessary ceremonies could take up to a week. Tending to the dead was very important and ritualistic. To prepare the body, the relatives would traditionally close the deceased's eyes while calling out the name of their dead as though they were calling him back to life. Then the body was washed and limbs straightened, and laid near the front door of the house for a few days so that friends and neighbors could come pay their respects. A coin was then traditionally placed in the mouth of the deceased. The coin was payment to Charon, who ferried the dead across the rivers of the underworld. The act of burying the dead with a coin was not standard, however it was common and many tombs have been found with a coin alongside the body. Once the body was prepared, the funeral procession would commence. This process varied greatly with status. A poor man would simply be carried to his tomb by his friends and family while a wealthy, influential member of society would warrant a more elaborate event. His procession would typically include a band of musicians leading up the procession, followed by jesters and men wearing wax masks of the deceased, then the visible body of the deceased carried on some sort of couch, and finally the family and libertini, then friends. It is important to note here that the freed slaves of the family came before their friends. This further shows the extent of the relationship that was maintained between freed slave and ex master.

If the deceased was middle or low class, the funeral procession would proceed straight to the burial site but, once again, if the deceased was wealthy, the funeral procession would be extended. Depending on the status of the departed, the procession could possibly even honored by public authority with a funereal oration in the forum. Only after the body of the wealthy had been sufficiently paraded around the city would it resume its course to the cemetery. Once the body reached the burial site, it would be placed in its grave. The actual burying of the body varied with time, and different customs were more typical to different time periods. Both cremation and inhumation were practiced throughout Roman history. There are, however, some generalizations that can be made. If the body was to be cremated, a shallow grave would be filled with dry wood and the body would be laid on top of it then set to fire. Once all had burned, the grave would either be covered with earth or the ashes taken to a separate site for burial. If the body was to be buried, it would be covered and laid in its tomb. Regardless of status, the dead were laid to rest with tokens and gifts to ensure that they did not return and bring unhappiness and despair to their family. The extravagance of the gifts and tomb, however, depended on the wealth of the deceased. After burial, the family would traditionally partake in nine days of sorrow before moving on with life.

The actual tombs, especially for the wealthy, often lined public streets leading away from the city. The dead were not allowed to be buried, or even cremated, within the city walls due to sanitation; possibly to prevent the spread of disease. Although eventually cemeteries were set aside for burial, these tombs along side the road remained popular until land began to become scare. Before lack of land was a problem, however, as long as they were outside the city walls, there was no regulation on where, or how big, tombs could be. Wealthy families often had huge, elaborate plots lining the road as close to the entry of the city as possible. The smaller tombs of the less wealthy were jammed in between them wherever there was room. One tomb could contain one body, or the bodies of an entire family. Tombs were designed to have a lavish front displaying the wealth of its inhabitant to any passerby. The body was generally enclosed in a sepulcher chamber within. The fronts of the tombs were often characterized by funerary reliefs. These are carvings on the front of the tombs decorated with significant objects such as portraits, possibly even an inscription, and items that otherwise portrayed the wealth and lifestyle of the departed. The actual shape of the tombs depended on personal preference. More tombs around 200 AD were house shaped while earlier tombs took more extravagant geometrical shapes. Only the very lowest class was buried in mass graves with total strangers.

III. History of Pompeii

As in the rest of Italy, an obvious social hierarchy was prevalent in the small town of Pompeii and was evident in every day life. This town is located nearly 2 miles from the shore of the Bay of Naples and nearly at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. Pompeii was first occupied in the 8th century BC by the Etruscans. This occupation lasted throughout the 5th and 6th centuries BC. After the Etruscans came the Saminites who turned Pompeii into a pure Greek town. Their reign ended when the Romans took control of Pompeii around 200 BC. The Romans retained control over Pompeii until the fateful day in 79 AD when Mt Vesuvius erupted. At this time there were approximately 20,000 people residing in Pompeii. Although almost all inhabitants were killed, the ash from the eruption preserved the entire town exactly how it was in its last moments. From this preserved town, we have been able to study almost all aspect of Roman life in Pompeii from lifestyles to how they buried their dead.

Burying the dead inside of the city was forbidden in Pompeii, as it was in most Roman cities. As a result, the patrons of the city resorted to the next most conspicuous place to lay their dead to rest; the roads leading into the city. By building tombs to commemorate their dead alongside the road, the citizens of Pompeii hoped that passerby’s would see and appreciate the wealth and nobility of a certain person/family. Although there were other ways to bury the dead, such as cremating and storing the ashes in a columbarium (a large tomb maintained by the local funeral group with niches dedicated to certain people/families), one of the “hot spots” to place a tomb was a road known as the ‘Street of Tombs’ leading out of Pompeii to the nearby town of Herculaneum. Wealth and social status were very important parts of society and as a result the prime spots (largest and closest to the city walls) were often taken by the elite. Those with lesser means were forced to squeeze their tombs in between two larger ones, go further down the road, or set them back off the road. The reason that the spots closest to the gate were more desirable was logical; the tombs closest to the entrance of the city would be the last thing a traveler would see before he entered and the first thing he saw before he left. In this way the deceased, and their family, would be honored every time someone entered or exited through the gate.

IV. Tomb Styles

The tomb styles ranged from monuments shaped like altars and temples to memorial arches and niches. Not all the tombs have the sepulcher chamber; the remains were sometimes deposited in the earth beneath the monument. One characteristic of many Pompeii tombs, regardless of style, were large funereal reliefs with portraits. These reliefs were especially common in the tombs of the libertini and most followed a basic format. There was typically a framed niche within with frontal partial-view portraits of a man dressed in a toga and a woman dressed in a stola and a mantle. The clothing is significant because clothing is something that is heavily restricted for slaves. Only once they become free can they choose their own clothing. In addition, this style of clothing shows that they are Roman citizens. The faces in the portraits were also significant in determining statues. Some common characteristics of the portraits include deep set eyes, creases alongside the nose, set mouths and often deep furrows in the brow for the men. Overall, the reliefs with portraits have the intent of showing the individual social accomplishments of the deceased as a respectable citizen of Rome. Being seen as an upstanding Roman citizen was something that the noble class maintained after death and the libertini emulated in their own graves. By emphasizing what honorable citizens they were, the freed slaves hoped that their status as a freed slave would be overlooked in favor of these other characteristics.

Another characteristic of the tombs are the similarities between the portraits. The portraits were often made generically in bulk, and then altered once they had been purchased. Consequently, the bodies on the portraits are very similar and only the faces would be unique depending on each person. These funerary reliefs were often associated with the class of freed slaves because the portraits were inexpensive and accessible and were an easy way to portray the deceased as they wanted to be remembered. The virtues of respectability and age were very highly prized in Roman society, and as a result the portraits were often made to look older by adding wrinkles and furrowed brows. These aging features also suggest hard work, that the libertini had survived considerable struggle and hardship to attain their freedom. One possible reason that this tomb style was so popular among freed slaves was they felt it was very important to commemorate their changed social statues. The libertini often included a brief inscription below their portraits giving their names and a brief list of accomplishments. Although most inscriptions listed names and a few achievements, the lengths could range from just the names, to lengthy biographies. If it was not specified that the deceased was a freedman in the inscription, their name would show their social status; a slave only had one name of their own and their masters’ family name while a citizen of society had both a first, and a family name. Once a slave had been freed he often kept his masters family name, and added his own on to it. A final commonality between reliefs were the carvings. At this time, very few common citizens were literate and since the tombs were meant to be appreciated by all, visual biographies were often added. These included a few significant illustrative carvings that would visually explain who the inhabitant of the tomb was. There could be a re-enactment of a scene, for example bread making if the deceased was a baker, or just significant objects, such as tools they worked with. Either way, these drawings were meant to further describe the life and lifestyle of the departed.

V. Themes / Meanings of Tombs

In Ancient Rome, a tomb served a very distinctive purpose beyond housing the body of the deceased; it preserved the inhabitants’ immortality. In a time where there was virtually no written record documenting an average citizens existence, maintaining ones immortality played a very important part in ancient Roman life and especially death. By decorating the front of their tombs with portraits, drawings and inscriptions, the deceased were effectively able to achieve immortality through each viewer. As long as their tomb remained standing, they would never be forgotten. Another benefit of using tombs to document ones existence was that the Romans could chose how they wanted to be remembered. They could create this lasting monument, to themselves, and be remembered however they desired. The libertini were able to replicate the style used by the wealthy in their tombs in hopes that future generations would associate them with the noble class. The decorations that were part of the reliefs were meant for the passerby to interact with; some tombs even contained inscriptions to the spectator saying things along the line of “stop, read this”.

VI. Example of Tomb Styles

The two attached photos of tombs are examples of typical tomb styles. The first is the relief on the front of a tomb of two Greek libertini. By looking at the facial features of the portraits, it is obvious that one of the depicted is old and one is young. The elder has no hair, deep furrows along his mouth and nose and slightly sunken cheeks, while the younger had much more youth like features. The inscriptions below list the names of the two men and by the same family name it can be determined that these two are father and son. There are also a variety of carvings along the outside of the portraits. To the right there is a hunting knife and fishing pole, presumably favorite pastimes of the men. To the left is an imitation of the wand used in the process of manumission, or freeing of a slave by the master. This implies that one, or both, of those portrayed were at one point slaves and joined the class of libertini. Above the portraits are depictions of tools used by a blacksmith indicating that the men were most likely blacksmith during their lives. The various tools along the edges of the portraits, along with the stern features of the men, makes the two men appear very dignified and hardworking, no doubt the intention of the tomb.

The second tomb seen is one on the Street of Tombs in Pompeii, the tomb of C. Munatius Faustus. This tomb was created for Munatius by his wife, Naevoleia. His wife is portrayed in the representation of a woman looking out through a window at the top of the relief. Her half bust showing just her face and slightly shoulders indicates that she was alive when this tomb was commissioned. The inscription indicates that Munatius held the title of Augustalis and was a very wealthy and respected Roman citizen. Just in case the viewer could not read, the inscription represents a scene of Munatius selflessly distributing grain to the eager people. This would leave no doubt in the viewers mind that Munatius was noble, wealthy, and loved by the people.

VII. Conclusion

Death is a fascinating, although morbid, topic and can reveal much about a society. The ancient Roman burial practices took into account both the wealth and status of the deceased. As a result, the tombs of the wealthy were often larger and more elaborate then those of the poor. Burial was a very important part of Roman society and families would spend a significant amount of money to make sure their dead were properly honored. Being remembered after death was important in Roman society so tombs also represented the immortality of the deceased. One particularly interesting aspect of ancient Roman burial practices are the tombs of the social class of freed slaves known as libertini. These slaves, in an attempt to be remembered as wealthy and powerful, modeled their tombs after the style of the rich and noble.

VIII. Personal Obervations

I found the overwhelming desire for immortality to be the most interesting aspect of my topic. It really intrigued me how the ancient Romans were so desperate to be remembered in a favorable way that they would exaggerate their tombs, even going as far as mimicking a different social group, in order to be remembered in a positive light. It also made me think, however, about the importance of immortality. Although it’s hard to imagine it at this point in my life, while researching tombs I can’t help but wonder how I will chose to be remembered when that time comes. It seems that every person in this world has so many accomplishments that to summarize who they were in a few words and pictures would be impossible. What aspects of my life were so noteworthy and important that they defined who I am? Only when I started thinking along these lines could I truly understand why the ancient Roman tombs are the way they are.

IX. Bibliography

Elsner, Jas. Art and Text in Roman Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Kleiner, Diana E. New York: Garland, 1977.

Morris, Ian. Death-Ritual and Social Structure in Classic Antiquity.
New York: Cambridge UP, 1992

Ranieri, Marisa. Pompeii: The History, Life and Art of the Buried City. White Star, 2004.

Toynbee, J.m.c. Death and Burial in the Roman World. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1996.