Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fusing Artistic Styles: The Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo

Ashleigh King
Honors in Rome - Summer 2006

At the northern edge of Rome sits Piazza del Popolo. Among its many uses, Piazza del Popolo is rumored to be the burial ground of the Domitia family, the most famous member of which was surely Nero, the fifth emperor of Rome. Notorious for his personal debaucheries and involvement in the burning of Rome, Nero went down in history as one of Rome’s most evil rulers. After Nero’s death and supposed burial in Piazza del Popolo, Romans believed that the area became haunted by demons. There grew a walnut tree that often had black crows in it, and these birds were thought to be the physical embodiment of the demons. In 1099, Pope Paschal II held a ceremony in Piazza del Popolo, during which he cut down this walnut tree. He then founded a chapel on the ground where the tree had stood and called it Santa Maria del Popolo.

Over the years, Santa Maria del Popolo grew. The chapel was rebuilt in 1227, when Pope Gregory IX turned it into a church and gave it to the Augustinians. Then, between 1472 and 1477, Pope Sixtus IV commissioned Andrea Bregno and Baccio Pontelli to rebuild the church again. The church has not changed much since then, and thus, it has remained largely affiliated with Pope Sixtus’ IV family, the della Rovere. Many della Rovere are buried inside the church. However, in the 1500s, Santa Maria del Popolo became important to another family, the Chigi.

The Chigi family was a wealthy banking family from Siena. Well known in the Tuscan region as early as the thirteenth century, it was not until the late 1400s that the Chigi‘s power began to spread to Rome. In 1487, Agostino Chigi opened a bank in Rome and was met with great success. Between 1500 and 1520, he was undoubtedly the richest man in Rome, and in 1503, Agostino’s influence was magnified when he befriended the newly elected Pope Julius II.

Pope Julius II was a della Rovere, but he developed strong ties to the Chigi family, becoming particularly close friends with Agostino. In 1507, Pope Julius II allowed Agostino to purchase a chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo and turn it into a mausoleum for Agostino and his heirs. Agostino acquired the chapel and commissioned Raphael to redesign it. Between 1513 and 1514, work on the chapel began under the supervision of Lorenzetto. Unfortunately, in 1520, the project was interrupted when both Agostino and Raphael died. Throughout the next few decades, small sections of the chapel were periodically completed. In the 1550s, after Salviati finished the altarpiece, the Chigi Chapel was opened for the first time, yet it was still far from complete.

It was more than a century later that another Chigi would take it upon himself to finish the chapel. In the Holy Year of 1650, Fabio Chigi, the great, great nephew of Agostino, declared that he would restore his family’s mausoleum in Santa Maria del Popolo. He commissioned Bernini to do the work, and several years later, the Chigi Chapel was finally complete.

Because the Chigi Chapel was patronized by more than one person, worked on by countless artists, and completed over such a long period of time, it is a unique and diverse compilation of art. Not surprisingly, Raphael, a master of Renaissance art, originally designed a classic chapel for Agostino. While it is difficult to know whether or not the chapel was completed to Raphael’s instructions, Raphael’s taste is visible in many aspects of the room.

The Chigi Chapel is laid out in an octagonal shape (see Figure 1). Standing in the entrance, one can see the high altar straight ahead, the tomb of Agostino Chigi on the right wall, and the tomb of Sigismondo Chigi, Agostino’s brother, on the left wall. The other four sides of the octagon are made up of niches, each of which contains a statue.

Figure 1: Raphael’s octagonal ground plan for the Chigi Chapel

The architectural design of the Chigi Chapel has often been compared to that of the Pantheon. The Pantheon is circular, not octagonal, but it does have several attributes that appear in the Chigi Chapel. First, the columns in the Chigi Chapel (see Figure 2) are reminiscent of those in the Pantheon (see Figure 3). They are arranged in a similar pattern and have Corinthian orders that resemble one another.

Figure 2: Chigi Chapel columns

Figure 3: Pantheon columns

Even more notable, however, is the similarity between the domes in the two spaces. Both the Chigi Chapel and the Pantheon have coffered domes, or domes with recessed panels. In the center of the Pantheon’s dome is an oculus, a round, open hole, thought to be an eye to the heavens. In the center of the Chigi dome is a circular mosaic entitled God the Father, the Creator of the Firmament, which was executed by Luigi de Pace in 1516 (see Figure 4). Although this is not an open hole, the background of the mosaic is blue like the sky, and the subject of the piece is God. In this way, the mosaic is a pretend oculus, as if the viewer can look through the dome and see into the heavens.

Figure 4: Chigi Chapel dome

In a ring around the Chigi Chapel’s “oculus” are eight other mosaics, each personifying a planet as an Olympian deity. This collection of Olympian gods in the dome may be another reference to the Pantheon, as the literal translation of ‘pantheon’ is a grouping of the gods. Within the mosaics, each Olympian is accompanied by the spherical representation of their planet, as well as that planet’s zodiac sign. Importantly, an angel also guides each Olympian. This is meant to show that God ultimately has control over everything, even Olympian deities.

The drum of the dome contains a series of frescoes that were completed by Francesco Salviati between 1552 and 1554. These frescoes depict Creation and Original Sin. Below the drum are four more Salviati frescoes of the Allegories of the Seasons. At the high altar is another fresco, the Nativity of the Virgin, painted by Sebastiano del Piombo between 1530 and 1534. Below this is a bronze relief of Christ and the Woman of Samaria, executed by Lorenzetto. This relief was originally part of Agostino’s tomb, but Bernini moved it to the altar in the 1650s.

As previously mentioned, the tombs of Agostino and his brother are located on the right and left walls of the chapel, respectively. Both of these tombs were designed by Raphael, executed by Lorenzetto, and later altered by Bernini. In keeping with the symmetry of Renaissance style, Raphael designed almost identical tombs for the Chigi brothers. Each tomb has a medallion depicting the face of the deceased, and the tombs have similar inscriptions. Above each tomb is a lunette by Raffaele Vanni, depicting Aronne above Agostino and David above Sigismondo. Most notably, though, both tombs are pyramidal in shape (see Figures 5 & 6).

Figure 5: Agostino Chigi’s tomb

Figure 6: Sigismondo Chigi’s tomb

This design was derived from ancient Roman models and was actually a common shape in Christian monuments and tombs during Raphael’s time. However, these tombs are not true pyramids; while normal pyramids are quite equilateral in shape, these pyramids are much longer than they are wide. Raphael used an innovative pattern for these tombs that combines a pyramid with an obelisk. It is as if he has stretched the pyramids vertically to partially transform them into obelisks. Their shape may be reminiscent of the funeral pyres on which Roman emperors were historically cremated. During these cremations, an eagle would be released skyward as a representation of the soul flying to heaven. Not coincidentally, there are eagles carved into the frieze above the Chigi tombs, representing the ascension of the Chigi souls into heaven.

Although the contemporary tombs are quite similar to Raphael’s original design, Bernini did make several changes. He stripped the tombs of their bronze, moved Agostino’s bronze relief to the altar, and cancelled plans for a matching relief that was meant for Sigismondo’s tomb. The original inscriptions on the tombs were also different. Raphael intended for the inscriptions to appear to be written on scrolls. Instead, Bernini allowed the inscriptions to span the pyramids.

Bernini also made an alteration to the floor of the Chigi Chapel. Above the entrance to the crypt, Bernini added a marble figure of Death (see Figure 7). This piece is a circular slab of black marble with a skeleton in the center. The dark background creates the illusion that the viewer is looking directly through the floor into the crypt, while the skeleton, with wings and bent knees, appears to be lunging out of the crypt. The skeleton is carrying the Chigi coat of arms, containing both Chigi and della Rovere symbols. Under the skeleton is a Latin inscription that refers to the ascension of the dead into heaven and contains a hidden reference to the Holy Year of 1650.

Figure 7: Skeleton carrying the Chigi coat of arms on the Chigi Chapel floor

Yet even more notable than these alterations were the changes Bernini made to the chapel’s statues. The Chigi Chapel contains four statues, two by Raphael and two by Bernini. In the front left niche is Jonah, designed by Raphael and executed by Lorenzetto (see Figure 8). Raphael’s selection of Jonah as a subject is important because Jonah is considered to be the precursor of the resurrected Christ, as he spent three days in the belly of the whale before being saved.

Figure 8: Jonah, by Raphael, Lorenzetto

The other statue by Raphael is located in the back right niche of the chapel. This sculpture is of Elijah and was executed by Raffaello da Montelupo (no figure available). Another interesting subject, Elijah represents Christ of the ascension because he once ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.

In the front right niche is Bernini’s Habakkuk (see Figure 9). In Habakkuk’s story, he is taking a basket of bread to some field hands when an angel appears. The angel miraculously lifts Habakkuk “by the forelock” and carries him to Daniel, a Jewish exile in Babylon who has been cast into a den of lions and needs food. Bernini’s sculpture depicts the instant in which the angel lifts Habakkuk. Habakkuk is holding a basket, and the angel is pointing in the direction that she will take him.

Figure 9: Habakkuk, by Bernini

One only has to follow the outstretched hand of the angel to see that she is pointing across the chapel at Bernini’s other sculpture, which is, of course, Daniel (see Figure 10). Bernini shows Daniel in a moment of prayer. The figure is kneeling, his head upturned, his lips parted, and his hands raised, asking for deliverance from the lion’s den. At Daniel’s feet is a lion, but strangely, the lion is licking Daniel. This implies the story’s ending, in which Daniel’s prayers are answered.

Figure 10: Daniel, by Bernini

Bernini’s contribution of Habakkuk and Daniel significantly altered the way visitors to the Chigi Chapel were impacted. The sculpture of Habakkuk is one of the first things you notice upon entering the room. It has intentionally been placed near the altar so that the eye is drawn to it. Then, looking more closely at the sculpture, viewers may wonder where the angel is pointing. This leads one’s eye to Daniel, but the sequential experience does not stop here. Daniel is certainly not psychologically contained. Like Habakkuk’s angel, Daniel is gesturing to someone. Remembering the central mosaic of the dome, it is clear that Daniel is not gazing up at an imaginary God. Instead, he is engaged with the mosaic of God the Father. Bernini meant for the viewer’s gaze to be drawn to this mosaic as well, following from Habakkuk to Daniel to God.

Raphael was no stranger to this technique either. When he designed the God the Father mosaic, Raphael intentionally placed the figure of God on the North side of the mosaic, with His feet directly above the high altar. The optimal viewing point of this mosaic is near the entryway of the chapel. Raphael’s design forces visitors to face the high altar in order to view the central mosaic properly. Thus, after viewing the mosaic, the visitor’s eye will naturally fall upon the altarpiece and Piombo’s fresco, as a reminder that the chapel is dedicated to the Virgin.

In guiding visitors’ experiences of the chapel, Bernini and Raphael emphasized the religious function of the space. Thus, the chapel could be meaningful to all Romans, not just those desiring to pay tribute to the Chigi family. However, the second function of the chapel as a mausoleum was important to the overall themes that Raphael and Bernini portrayed in their art. The chapel’s message is one of creation and redemption. Creation is clearly represented in the dome of the chapel, with the figure of God, the mosaics of the planets, and the frescoes of Creation and Original Sin and the Allegories of the Seasons.

Yet the more important theme seems to be redemption. As aforementioned, Jonah and Elijah represent Christ of the resurrection and Christ of the ascension, respectively. Additionally, the eagles above the tombs and the skeleton emerging from the floor are representations of the dead ascending into heaven. It has also been theorized that the fresco in the altarpiece was originally intended to be the Ascension of the Virgin, which would logically fit with the theme of redemption. A more subtle portrayal of redemption is apparent in the chapel’s colors. The floor is black and white, and the lower walls of the chapel are composed of white, gray, and dark earth tones. This gives the chapel a shadowy feel. The dome, on the other hand, contains a lot of gold, making it very bright. Most of the mosaics have sky-blue backgrounds and glisten in the light. This color scheme was deliberately chosen to express the movement of the dead souls upward from the shadowy depths of the tombs to the golden light of heaven.

It is likely that not only the artists, but also the Chigi patrons were interested in promoting this idea of redemption. However, the Chigis had personal motivations for creating the chapel as well. Like most men of his wealth and status, Agostino wanted to be remembered as magnificent. His patronage of the arts was not simply for pleasure; it was a means of demonstrating his endless wealth. The Chigi Chapel is far from modest. It is full of expensive marble, with a dome coated in gold. Agostino requested the use of mosaics in the dome, rather than frescoes, which would have been more cost-effective. Furthermore, in yet another show of wealth, Agostino and Fabio hired two of the most sought after artists to work on the chapel.

The location and architectural form of the Chigi Chapel are no accident either. The chapel’s location in Santa Maria del Popolo is significant because the church is connected to both the della Rovere family and the Augustinians. At the time the chapel was built, the della Rovere had a great deal of power, and Agostino was glad to be affiliated with them. Likewise, it is not surprising that Agostino purchased a chapel in an Augustinian church. Augustus has been remembered as one of Rome’s finest leaders, and throughout history, other Romans have constantly aspired to be associated with him. Agostino was no exception; he used not only the location of his chapel, but also its form to connect himself to Augustus. The architectural similarities between the Chigi Chapel and the Pantheon were likely an intentional means of subtly reconnecting Agostino to Augustus. The Pantheon is thought to be associated with Augustus, so it is quite logical that Agostino would want to be associated with the Pantheon.

Unfortunately for Agostino, most present-day visitors to the Chigi Chapel find it interesting for its unique collection of art rather than its representation of Chigi wealth and greatness. Raphael’s work in this chapel was innovative for its time and influential to future artists. For example, his hybrid of the pyramid and the obelisk was a form often found in later works. Similar designs appeared throughout the seventeenth century in the Contarini monument at Padua, the Dumo at Vicenza, and in Naples. In fact, Fabio Chigi donated six reliquaries of this shape to Santa Maria del Popolo during his renovation of the church. Raphael’s design for the mosaics in the dome was also incredibly inventive. While previous artists had struggled to create illusionistic paintings across domes, Raphael managed to design a compilation of mosaics that suggest the existence of a continuous space beyond the dome. Indeed, the viewer feels as though God and the Olympian deities are together in one sky that is outside the chapel. Raphael’s dome design influenced the work of many future artists, including Correggio in Parma.

Yet the aspect of the Chigi Chapel that I find most fascinating is its rare combination of Renaissance and Baroque art. It is not often that one space contains such magnificent works from such different artists. While Raphael’s layout maintained a classic, symmetrical style that is aesthetically pleasing, Bernini’s alterations contributed a dramatic flair that keeps visitors intrigued. The end result is a chapel in which a beautiful mosaic of God looks down upon a dark, theatrical skeleton. It is a room in which two Renaissance sculptures and two Baroque sculptures face off across Bernini’s dramatic diagonals. Some claim that this blend of artistic styles has left the chapel disjointed and peculiar. Yet I would argue that the Chigi family is incredibly fortunate to be represented by not one amazing artist, but two, in a chapel that is truly one of a kind.

Works Consulted
Bauer, G. & Bauer, L. (1980). Bernini’s Organ-Case for S. Maria del Popolo. The Art Bulletin, 62(1), pp. 115-123.

Borsi, F. (1984). Bernini. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

MacAdam, A. (2006). Blue Guide Rome. 9th ed. New York: WW Norton.

Rowland, I.D. (1986). Render Unto Caesar the Things Which are Caesar’s: Humanism and the Arts in the Patronage of Agostino Chigi. Renaissance Quarterly, 39(4), pp. 673-730.

Rowland, I.D. (1984). Some Panegyrics to Agostino Chigi. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 47, pp. 194-199.

Scribner, III, C. (1991). Gian Lorenzo Bernini. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Scribner, III, C. (1991). Transfigurations: Bernini’s Last Works. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 135(4), pp. 490-509.

Shearman, J. (1961). The Chigi Chapel in S. Maria del Popolo. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 24(3/4), pp. 129-160.

Velani, L. & Grego, G. (2000). Rome: Where to Find Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Borromini. Florence, Italy: SCALA.

Yuen, T. (1979). Giulio Romano, Giovanni da Udine and Raphael: Some Influences from the Minor Arts of Antiquity. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 42, pp. 263-272.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sant' Andrea al Quirinale

Jonathan An
Honors in Rome - Summer 2006

Some special satisfaction in the bottom of my heart and often for relief from my weariness I come here to console myself with my work.”

Standing directly opposite to Palazzo del Quirinale stands a “jewel”. This jewel was not just a church of Jesuit seminary on the Quirinale Hill, but became a demonstration as to the complexity in process of building such place. Considered one of the finest examples of Roman Baroque architecture, Gian Lorenzo Bernini found “some special satisfaction in the bottom” of his heart. The complexity along with the unity of the church brings forth a strong, powerful statement to art and history. This strong and powerful statement built by Bernini is the Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale.

In 1565-1566, the Jesuits established a novitiate on the Quirinal Hill, which incorporated it to a smaller older church of St. Andrea. In 1567, a new chapel was to be built right next to the old church. However, there were worries that this second chapel was small and dark. By the mid-seventeenth century, the Jesuits wanted to replace it, but attracting a patronage was difficult. Before Bernini started his work, two cardinals considered taking up the Jesuits plan to replace the “small, dark, and damp” church with a grander one: Cardinal Ludovisi and Cardinal Ceva.

In 1622, under Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, the nephew of Gregory XV, wanted to build a family mausoleum dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, who was “newly canonized in that year”. Cardinal Ludovisi offered a sum of 100,000 scudi but with the death of his uncle and selection of Urban VIII brought this attempt to an end. Urban VIII forbid construction of all but lower buildings opposite the Palazzo del Quirinale because he did not want the Palazzo to be covered. In 1647, Cardinal Francesco Adriana Ceva made plans for Borromini for a “grand and sumptuous” church dedicated jointly to St. Andrew and St. Francis Xavier. Borromini was chosen to appeal the reigning pope, Innocent X, since he was the favored architect during the time. In addition, it is said that Bernini was in disgrace because of bell towers at Saint Peter’s which is why Francesco went with Borromini. However, Pope Innocent X did not want a church rising across from Quirinale palace because of similar reasons that Urban VIII had. The actual church standing today began Innocent X’s nephew, Camillo Pamphili, and the next Pope, Alexander VII.

Alexander VII went into negotiations with the Jesuits, Bernini, and Camillo Pamphili involving the new church. On July 1658, Alexander VII told Jesuit cardinal, Sforza Pallavicino, he was going to grant permission for a church that other Popes denied. Moreover, Gian Lorenzo Bernini would be the architect. Camillo Pamphili at first offered a commitment of 15,000 scudi, but the Jesuit Fathers rejected as it was insufficient to begin the project. Later the novitiate accumulated a debt, and when Camillo appeared again, the 15,000 scudi were accepted. Why would Alexander VII allow the construction of the church unlike his predecessors, and why would Camillo give money to build it?

For Alexander VII, commissioning such building had “practical and aesthetic” advantages. The church would not only enhance the Quirinal image, but he could use the Sant' Andrea as a “palace chapel to serve new apartments and offices”. Also, Camillo’s generosity had a greater meaning than just building a novitiate. He hoped to gain the land from the nearby landlords, who were mostly Jesuits, to develop his new palace, Palazzo Pamphili (Doria-Pamphili). During this time, Camillo was indebted to Alexander VII because Alexander had helped make truce between Camillo and his mother, Olimpia Maidalchini. This resulted Camillo to be the Pamphili family heir again. Also, by resolving the conflict with Camillo and his wife, Olimpia Aldobrandini, a Borghese widow, Camillo was placed amongst the wealthiest Roman nobilities. Both Alexander VII and Camillo had other intentions in mind, which fit in unity because by building Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale their intentions were fulfilled.

Even before the Jesuits authorized the building of the church, Alexander VII contacted Bernini about the designs. When this church was about to be built, Camillo spoke of a grand church filled with expensive marbles. However, the Jesuit community was nervous because many times these lavish projects were left unfinished. The Jesuits saw that an inexpensive church was not out of “philosophical oppositions but for fear of not completing the job that had begun.” Later on, the complexity in the church would confirm the Jesuit’s fears. On the other hand, on August 9, 1658, the Pope and Bernini met, and Bernini agreed to talk to the Jesuits “as though on his own initiative”.

Originally the design was pentagonal-shaped with five altars when Bernini brought it to the Pope on September 2, 1658. The Jesuits required five altars to honor Saint Andrew, Francis Xavier, Stanislaus Kostka, Ignatius Loyola, and the Virgin of Sorrows. However, the configuration of a pentagonal church was awkward not just in shape but the area given was not optimal. Thus, Bernini switched to an oval plan where the dimensions and proportions were optimal with the site available. For example, he set longer dimensions of the oval parallel to the street and make the entrance axis shorter. In result, the new church would have its maximum size available.

Before entering Bernini’s “jewel”, there is a semi-circular porch held by two ionic columns with the Pamphili coat of arms (Figure 1). Next to these are the Corinthian pilasters. There is a continuous layout of concave, convex, concave, and convex.
For example, the pilasters seemed convex while the others parts are concaving, typical of baroque. In addition, before the modern streets were paved the church was actually concaved in (Figure 2). So, when an individual was walking up the street, they could see the church located back creating a religious and important aura. Also, the semicircular staircase connects the outside and inside of the church. This half-ellipse balances the other half of the ellipse on the other side. Here we find a complex layout of ellipse, concave, and convex creating a unified shape. The basic design of the church gives the surface of Bernini’s work. The real masterpiece lies within.

As the observer walks in and looks up, the gold elliptical dome is seen (Figure 3). Divided into ten gores, there are pairs of stucco figures portraying angels with festoons or fishermen who were symbols of Andrew’s companions. The putti are amongst flowers and fruit that seem to swing across the dome (Figures 4&5). Throughout the entire church there is a coherent increase in putty carrying garlands and fishermen handling shells, nets, oars, and reeds. Total there is approximately 138 stucco figures of putti and fishermen. These decorations started after the lantern was finished in 1661. In the middle of the dome is a vault. The vault is surrounded with yellow stained-glass so church always seems bright and has the dove of the Holy Spirit flying over. It is important to note that it was not just Bernini who worked on the church. For example, the Pamphili family sent their own capo maestro Giovanni Maria Baratta to oversee the placing of cottonella marble next to the high altar and polishing of stone surfaces. These tasks would be carried out through meetings with Bernini and his sculptures, particularly Antonio Raggi and Pietro Sassi.

As one walks up to the main chapel, a marble floor with gravestones is seen. Done in 1670 by Mattia de’ Rossi on Bernini’s design, these are the three burial places of the three cardinals. After the entrance one finds the burial place of Cardinal Pietro Sforza Pallvicini, then Cardinal Giulio Spinola, and next to the high altar is Cardinal Melzi’s grave.

Walking into the church, the viewer is attracted to the chapel dedicated to St. Andrew. The color, lighting, and the designs on the marble floor all make the eyes be directed forward. Another reason is due to the geometry of the church as the conventional horizontal and vertical importance is substituted for “oblique axial”. St. Andrew is hung on a cross where there are putties and angels scattered around the frame. Known as the “Borgogonone delle Battaglie” by Guglielmo Courtois in 1668, the painting represents the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew to which the church is dedicated to (Figure 6). The painting seems to float above the high altar supported by golden rays and angels guiding it. Above this painting on the high altar is Apostle (Figure 6A). With his hands stretched up toward the light which comes in through the lantern high up in the dome. The statue was carved by Bernini’s pupil Antonio Raggi on Bernini’s design. According to Racconto della Fabrica, Bernini regularly looked over Raggi’s work and had him destroy and redo statues if they did not satisfy him. “Many times he climbed up to readjust them with his owns hands.” This is another example of complexity meeting unity. The picture seems to be lifted by golden rays towards the top. The angels guide the painting, and Apostle is pointing in the direction which the picture is intended go: the dome where the dove of the Holy Spirit is located. Individual components are all interconnected to tell of a statement. As in the case of his chapel, it shows of St. Andrew’s rise to heaven. Directly across this chapel above the entrance are the trumpeting figures of Fame, who bear an inscribed band heralding the patronage of Pamphili (Figure 7). Before building this church, the Jesuits were worried about such lavish church not being finished. During the time that Bernini was designing the high altar the Jesuits worries were almost met.

Between 1662 and 1665, the novitiate did not receive money from Camillo. The Jesuits previous fears seemed to be coming true, but eventually Camillo sold off family valuables and the work continued. In the appendix of “Bernini’s S. Andrea al Quirinale” by Joseph Connors, lists that total costs gone to building. Upon reading the section, it can be seen that Camillo sold two silver vases and a silver fountain to maintain the construction of the church. Then in July 1666, Camillo died and his principal heir, Prince Giovanni Battista Pamphili, refused to continue and to address the debt. Eventually the prince changed his mind and in 1668 Bernini was called to design the high altar area.

After the high altar to the left is the la Cappella di Santo Santislao, or the chapel dedicated to Saint Stanislaus Kostka. The different components show life episodes of the Polish saint. The altarpiece is called “The Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Stanislaus”, which was by Carlo Maratta in 1678. To the right is the “Ecstasy of Saint Stanislaus” by Ludovico Mazzanti around 1725. Also by Ludovico Mazzanti around 1720 is the “Communion of Saint Stanislaus” on the left. Saint Stanislaus’ body is preserved in the lapis lazuli urn under the altar. An important fact to add is the unity of this chapel and the rest of the chapels. All the chapels are darker than the congregational room and similar in lighting because of the window placement behind each altar. Following Saint Stanislaus is the chapel of Saint Loyola, Gonzaga, and Borgia.

The next chapel is dedicated to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Aloysius Gonzaga, and Francis Borgia. In the center is the “Virgin of Saint Ignatius, Francis Borgia, and Aloysius Gonzaga”. On the right is the “Adoration of the Shepherds” and left is the “Adoration of Magi” both by Ludovico David. Following the chapel of these Saints is the la Cappella della Passione.

The “Pieta”, or la Cappella della Passione, was by Giacinto Brandi from 1675-1682. The Altar piece depicts the “Deposition from Cross”, which was done around 1675-1677. To the right is the “Flagellation”, which was done around 1677-1682, and finally to the left is “Going up to Calvary”. Beyond the “Pieta” is la Cappella di San Francesco Saverio.

La Cappella di San Francesco Saverio is a chapel highlighting Saint Francis Xavier (Figure 8). Dedicated to this Saint, the chapel was worked on by Giovanni Battista Gaulli and is called the “Baciccio” (Figure 8). In the center is the “Death of Saint Francis Xavier” which was done around 1676. To the right is the “Sermon of Saint Francis Xavier” and left is the “Saint Francis Xavier baptizes a queen”. In addition to this chapel, there were three rooms dedicated to a young Polish saint: Saint Stanislaus Kostka.

Designed and built by Bernini from 1658 to 1678, these rooms was where the Saint lived for some months as Jesuit novice and where he died on 15 August 1568. In the first room are 12 large sketches by Jesuit artist Fra’ Andrew Pozzo. These show episodes of the Saint’s brief life, from birth at Rostkow near Warsaw to his arrival in Rome in 1567. In the second room are two paintings of Saint Robert Bellarmine and Saint Peter Canisius. There is a photocopy of a letter sent from Saint Peter Canisius to Saint Francis Borgia on September 25, 1567. This letter is known as the letter “of the three Saints” as Canisius refers three young novices whom he is sending from Vienna to Rome. One novice was Saint Stanislaus Kostka whom he wrote is “an excellent young man, of whom we have the greatest hope, but have not yet received him as a novice because his family is completely against it”. The third room was probably where the saint died. In the center is a statue by Pierre Legros made of polychrome marble (Figure 9). The Saint’s head, hands, feet, cushion was carved out of Corinthian marble. The Saint’s clothing is made of black granite while the mattress is of yellow alabaster. At the head of the bed is a painting by Tommaso Minardi (1787-1871) showing the Virgin surrounded by angles and virgin martyr Saints Cecilia, Agnes, and Dorothy welcoming the Saint into Heaven. On the right is an altar decorated with gifts from various novices honoring the Saint. The altar on the left was commissioned by Francis Borgia and is called the “Borghesiana Virgin”.

Over a period of 20 years, from 1658 to 1678, Gian Lorenzo Bernini worked on the Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale. It is said that Bernini did not charge a fee for building this church and the only payment he received was bread donations from the novitiate. Why did Bernini work so hard on this church? Was he making amends for his failure before or was he that religious in his later years? No one will know, but the building of Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale shows how complex a process can become: from the fluctuating funding to the Papal agreement wavering. Despite these difficulties, Bernini had a reason to take consolation for the church because it became more than the sum of the individual parts. The “jewel” became a test against time, luck, and history. In the end, Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale combined complexity and unity to create a strong, powerful statement to history and art.

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Marder, Tod. Bernini and the art of architecture. New York: Abbeville Press, 1998.

Petersson, Robert. Bernini and the excesses of art. Florence, Italy: M & M
Maschietto & Ditore, 2002.

"San't Andrea Al Quirinale." Virtual Reality Tour. 2005. Willilams College. 19 Sept.
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Wittkower, Rudolf. Bernini: the sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London: Phaidon
Press, 1997.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

City As Theater: Piazza Navona and the Fountain of the Four Rivers

Teresa Peterson
Honors in Rome - Summer 2006

Like a novel, a movie, an opera, or a play, the world around us can be manipulated to tell a story. Monuments can be built to express gratitude, churches are built to revere and honor, homes are decorated in the latest style to express wealth and affluence. The world around us is a theater, a stage. Actors tell the story, drama abounds, and messages are related to the masses. In the ancient city of Rome, the Piazza Navona is one such place that, though its façade has changed over the years, remains home to spectacles, propaganda, storytelling; theater.

Piazza Navona as it exists today was built upon the remains of, and gets its long and narrow shape from, what was once the Stadium of Domitian. The stadium was 275 meters long, 106 meters wide, and could house 30,000 spectators who would come to view the agones, or “games”. These games were free for the public and consisted of foot races and mock naval battles. The stadium itself was built in 85 A.D. by the emperor Domitian for the people’s use and enjoyment. Sumptuously decorated with statues, it would have been a popular site for people to come and relax, the opulence of it all reminding them of their benevolent leaders. It functioned as a meeting place, a place of fun, spectacles, and general enjoyment, all at the expense of a loving patron – the emperor. Even in its earliest form, the piazza was used to promote the great leaders of the Roman world and to pacify, appease, and delight their patrons, a function it continues to serve to this very day (“Piazza Navona”, Wikipedia).

In the time of Pope Innocent X the piazza was remodeled and given a new attitude and, of course, a new significance. The Palazzo Pamphilj, which now serves as the Brazilian Embassy, was designed and built during his pontificate, along with its adjoining church Sant’Agnese in Agone. In addition, the most recognizable feature of the piazza today was added, the Fountain of the Four Rivers.

Pope Innocent X was born in 1574 as Giambattista Pamphilj. The Pamphilj family was originally from Gubbio in Umbria and had moved to Rome in the previous century. Since the first record of Pamphilio Pamphilj in the 12th century, the Pamphilj continued to prosper as minor nobles by marrying into families of the declining nobility. It was only in the 17th century, with Giambattista Pamphilj, that the Pamphilj family joined the ranks of the powerful Roman nobility. Giambattista Pamphilj took a degree in law at the Jesuit Collegio Romano at the age of 20 and was later raised to the Cardinalship by Urban VIII. While a cardinal, Pamphilj spent much time working in Spain and Naples and developed close ties to the Spanish. At the death of Urban VIII in 1644, the conclave split. The French and Spanish each began massing troops and the factions within the conclave began looking for a compromise. Pamphilj, with his strong ties to the Spanish and his association with the Barberini, was settled upon on September 15th, 1644.

As Innocent X, Pamphilj had a reputation for uprightness and was a strict and fair administrator, although he was often prone to bouts of foul temper. Unlike his predecessor, Urban VIII, he despised the corrupt system of nepotism in the church that had been allowed free reign and went so far as to exile the Barberini family from Rome for some years – they later reconciled their differences and the Barberini were returned to Rome. During their time in exile, Marforio the river god statue is said to have asked Pasquino, another “talking statue”: “What kind of man is the new pope?” Pasquino replied, “He’s not a man, he’s a fly swatter!” referring to the Barberini coat of arms, the three bees (“Pamphilj”).

Innocent X was known for his hatred of all things Barberini. Upon entering the papacy, Innocent X set about rebuilding his family home in the Piazza Navona, making the paltry palace worthy of a pope and more brilliant than that of the Barberini. In addition to rebuilding the family palace, he took it upon himself to remodel the entire piazza in which it sat. Buildings were demolished to make way for the new palace, Palazzo Pamphilj, and its adjoining church, Sant’Agnese in Agone. The church recalls the ancient stadium of Domitian as it stands where the young virgin Agnese was martyred. The twelve year old, after refusing to marry a pagan, was stripped and brought before the emperor in the stadium, whereupon hair miraculously covered her nakedness, thus protecting her modesty and chastity (“The Basilica”). The piazza itself took its name from the church and over time corruption has changed the name from “in agone” to “navona”. Interestingly, the word “navona” means a large ship in Italian and is a reference to the ancient stadium on which the piazza now lies (“Piazza Navona”, Roma Interactive).

In order to complete the new piazza, Innocent wanted a massive fountain erected as the center figure of the piazza. An obelisk that had been lying in pieces near the Appian Way in the old Circus of Maxentius was to be the focal point of the grand fountain. Innocent invited artists to compete in a competition for the commission in order to ensure that his fountain was the best in Rome. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of Rome’s most famous and demanded artists of the time, was not invited to participate due to his extremely close ties to the Barberini family (Hibbard 116,120).

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples in 1598. At the young age of 7 he traveled to Rome with his father, Pietro Bernini, a famous mannerist sculptor, and quickly caught the eye of the Pope Paul V’s nephew, Scipione Borghese. The pope, Paul V, was introduced to the young prodigy and promptly handed over control of his education to Cardinal Maffeo Barberini. Upon his election as Urban VIII, Barberini required Bernini for his exclusive use, allowing him no other patrons, making an exception only once for Scipione Borghese who had been instrumental in his election. Under the patronage of Urban VIII, Bernini was called upon to recreate the city of Rome (Hibbert 179-185). He revolutionized art of the time, revitalizing Rome and becoming one of the most prominent Baroque artists in the world.

In 1647 it seemed that Francesco Borromini, who had thought up the theme of the four rivers of the four continents for the fountain, would win the papal commission. Encouraged by his friends Prince Niccolò Ludovisi, the pope’s nephew-in-law, and Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, the pope’s infamous sister-in-law, often referred to as the “she-pope” due to her outstanding influence over the pope (“Pamphilj”), Bernini created a model to be secretly placed in a room where the pope would be sure to see it. Some tales make reference to the model having been made out of silver. Whatever the medium, when the pope saw the model he was reported to have exclaimed, “We must indeed employ Bernini: although there are many who do not wish it; the only way to resist him is not to see his work” (Magnuson 81). In 1648 Bernini, at age 50, was given the commission for the fountain.

Construction was begun on the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the summer of 1648 with the transportation of the obelisk to the piazza. This journey alone was reported to have cost 12,000 scudi in a time when a single scudi could buy 100 loaves of bread. It is understandable that, when taxes were levied to pay for the fountain’s construction, the people of Rome were outraged. The talking fountain Pasquino spoke for the people when he said,

Noi volemo altro che Guglie e Fontane.
Pane volemo: pane, pane, pane!

We need other than spires and fountains.
Bread we want: bread, bread, bread.
(Magnuson 83)

During the final phases of construction the pope went to see the fountain. The story goes that he asked Bernini if he could see the fountain complete with water. Bernini apologized, explaining that the water was not yet ready, as the water for the fountain was being redirected to the piazza from the Aqua Vergine and the ducts were still incomplete. The pope gave his blessings and understanding, but as he turned to go he heard the sounds of rushing water. Turning back to the fountain he saw that Bernini had signaled an assistant and had begun the flow of water from all sides of the fountain. Delighted with the trick, the pope exclaimed that Bernini had added ten years to his life. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see another five (Hibbard 121-122).

The fountain is made up of a base formed from a large elliptical basin, surmounted by a large mound of marble, on which is elevated an Egyptian obelisk (“Fontana…”). The obelisk rests upon above a watery grotto sculpted of travertine, a hard, strong rock that is easier to sculpt than true marble. What makes the fountain’s obelisk unique is what it stands on. The supporting rock is in no way solid. It is hollowed in such a way that it is possible from all sides to see through the rock under the obelisk to the other side of the piazza. This creates the dizzying illusion that the obelisk is weightless, just lightly resting on the cavern below it.

The reaction of the people when the fountain was unveiled on June 12, 1651 was one of astonishment, apprehension, and fear. The obelisk appeared so much as if it were floating on air that the people who visited it feared that a gentle gust of wind might topple it. One account claims that Bernini, upon hearing of the peoples’ fears, went straight to the piazza. There, looking upon the fountain with worry and apprehension, he attached four strings to the top of the obelisk. After having those four strings attached to adjacent buildings in the piazza he appeared more at ease and left the piazza, ever the showman (Wallace 90).

Below the obelisk there rests a watery cave decorated with various flora and fauna, upon which rest the four colossal figures representing the four rivers of the known world. These giants by Bernini are carved out of marble and each represents a river from one of the four continents of the world. The figure of the Danube represents Europe and is depicted holding up the papal coat of arms, a dove with a laurel branch and three fleurs-de-lis, and is accompanied by a horse in the hollowed cave. The Ganges represents Asia and the Orient and is shown with an oar in his hands to symbolize the great navigability of the river. The Nile, along with the palm tree and lion, represents Africa and is covering his head to symbolize the unknown origins of the river. The final river, the Rio della Plata, represents the Americas and is shown with a bag of overflowing gold to represent the wealth to be found in the New World. Also representing the Americas is a snake high upon the rocks and an armadillo in the water, an animal only found in South America (Magnuson 83).

This fountain is a triumph of Bernini, easily one of the most well-known and acclaimed works of the Baroque age. The figures of the rivers recline on the rocks in a contraposition very reminiscent of Michelangelo’s David. Long, hard diagonals created with arms, legs, animals, and rocks are very characteristic of the Baroque style. The spiral of the Danube corresponds to that of the Ganges on the opposite side, while the same affect is seen with the Nile and the Rio della Plata, thus creating a series of opposing yet balancing movements around the fountain (Magnuson 85). Bernini shows his brilliance in his ability to incorporate movement into the hard marble that makes up the fountain and manages to obtain an atmosphere of live sensations. If you look, you can almost seen a gust of wind passing through the leaves of the palm tree, brushing the mane of the lion and the horse, and hissing through the cracks in the ravine below the obelisk (“Fontana…”).

Bernini often described himself as a “friend of water”. To him, water was just one more medium in which to express the marvels of the world around him. Unlike other artists of the day, his fountains were built in function of their water, not just to be beautiful alone with water added on a whim. His fountains, most especially that of the Four Rivers, were conceived with the interplay of water in mind. The way the water plays against the rocks and interacts with the animals in the grotto was intentional and serves to add movement and a theatrical nature to the fountain (Borsi 208-209). It seems strange then, that at the end of his days, while passing through the piazza in his carriage, Bernini commented to his son, “how ashamed I am to have done so poorly” (Hibbert 197). It is exactly that theatrical nature of the fountain that draws people in, and keeps them in awe, which Bernini despised.

The dramatic nature of the fountain hides a message to the people. The fountain, as the central figure of a piazza whose main function of the time was a market, was placed in a key position for it to be seen. Aside from bringing water to the people, the fountain served as a symbol of strength of the papacy and, in effect, of the Pamphilj family. Pope Innocent X used the fountain as a means of propaganda, imparting to the people a message that would have been easily read at the time. This message was one of power, his own and that of the papacy.

The obelisk, the most striking feature of the fountain upon first glance, was commonplace in Christian monuments and thus served to connect the fountain to the papacy. It was made in Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. Within its hieroglyphs, a goddess presents a Double Crown to the emperor, suggesting that it was intended for the ascension of Domitian in 81 A.D. It was dedicated to the sun gods and then later used in the Circus of Maxentius (Okamoto). Before being added, obelisks were exorcised in a complicated ceremony, making them available to be used in Christian projects. The addition of an obelisk to the fountain, therefore, represents a Catholic triumph over paganism. The shape of the obelisk recalls the sun’s rays and is often associated with divine light (Wallace 93). Its previous association with the sun gods recalls early Christian associations with Jesus and the sun. The obelisk itself is topped with a dove holding an olive branch, instead the more common brass cross. Not only is the dove is a common symbol of peace and of the Holy Spirit, but it is also a symbol of the Pamphilj family.

The figures representing the four rivers each embrace the obelisk, and thus the papacy and the Pamphilj, in a different way. The Danube is shown to be embracing the papal coat of arms and the obelisk above it. It is the only figure to do so, implying that Europe was the only continent completely enlightened by the Church. The Ganges points respectfully towards another coat of arms but looks out across the piazza instead of completely acknowledging the obelisk and Christianity. The Nile is shown hiding his head from the light of the obelisk in ignorance while the Rio della Plata shields his eyes from the blinding light. The interaction between the obelisk and the rivers would have been easily recognized as the people took a turn about the fountain admiring its beauty.

The political climate at the time of its construction was a very large influence on the fountain. The use of the Danube instead of the Tiber to represent Europe was not an accident. It was during the pontificate of Innocent X that the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, thus ending the Thirty Years’ War. The use of the Danube is a direct reference to the treaty’s inclusion of the decision that the once Protestant lands of Austria and Bohemia, which lie along the banks of the Danube, would once again be under the official jurisdiction of the church. Regardless of the gains to the papal state, the Treaty of Westphalia was considered a failure due to the huge losses it afforded the papacy. By using the Danube, the fountain is helping to promote Innocent X as a good military leader a peacemaker (Christian 354-355). The obelisk, in its very nature Egyptian, recalls the conquering of Egypt by the Roman Empire and thus was associated not only with divine power, but also with military power (Weston-Lewis 143). Innocent X used the fountain as a piece of propaganda to mollify the people and assure them of the continuing state of the Church even in times as tumultuous as they were.

Beginning in the year 1652, the year after the unveiling of the Fountain of the Four Rivers, the fountain was flooded every Saturday and Sunday during the hot summer days of August. The market held in the piazza was hung so that business could continue as the people enjoyed the cooling water. The flooding of the piazza was a grand event and spectacle in its day. Nobles would come out dressed in their finest ensembles to watch their carriages perform in a grand parade through “Lake Navona”. Children and dogs were often seen running and splashing through the shallow waters. At the end of the day grand supper parties would be held at the palaces of the rich. Until the year 1867, when the pavement in the piazza was raised, these festivities continued. They brought the people together, rich and poor, for a common purpose. The very theatrical nature of the event, begun by a papal patron, brought people to the piazza to view the sights and made the piazza an ideal place to promote the goals of its patrons (Morton 186-187).

Today, the piazza continues to be a thriving place of business and entertainment. During the day it is a hot spot for tourists looking to see the famous sights, most especially the Fountain of the Four Rivers that proudly stands in its center even now. During the evenings musicians, magicians, jugglers, and artists of all kinds line the piazza to entertain the masses that come to make the piazza one of the major centers of Rome’s nightlife. Though the patrons and messages have changed and been lost throughout the years, the piazza’s functions remains ever the same, to be a place of life, excitement, and drama.


Borsi, Franco. Bernini. Trans. Robert Erich Wold. New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc, 1980.

Christian, Mary. “Bernini’s ‘Danube’ and Pamphili Politics.” The Burlington Magazine. Vol. 128, No. 998. (May 1986): 352+354-355.

“Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.” Wikipedia. 29 Aug 2006

Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1971.

Hibbert, Christopher. Rome: The Biography of a City. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 1985.

Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the Age of Bernini: Volume 2. Trans. Nancy Adler. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1986.

Morton, H.V. The Fountains of Rome. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.

Okamoto, Shoji. “Piazza Navona Obelisk.”

“Piazza Navona.” Roma Interactive.

“Piazza Navona.” Wikipedia. 30 Aug 2006

“The Basilica of St’Agnese, Rome.” Vatican Exhibit. 2001. The Lubbock-Avalanche Journal.

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

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

The Photographs:

First picture featured taken by myself from Palazzo Pamphilj

Second picture featured taken from “Filippo Juvarra's Drawings - The coats of arms of Innocentius X by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi”

Other Pictures featured taken from “Piazza Navona”

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Villa Borghese

Won Steinbach
Honors in Rome - Summer 2006

I. Introduction
Located to the north of Rome’s historic center, on the Pincian Hill, the Villa Borghese is featured prominently on local maps. The magnificent estate, with its lush gardens and scenic gravel paths, covers an area of 688 hectares, making it one of the largest public parks in Rome. However, its significance lies not in its size or its geography, but rather in its monumental status among scholars and historians of art. Housed within the Casino Borghese, unquestionably the centerpiece of the Villa, is one of most extensive and venerated collections of ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art in the world. Paintings and statues, each utter manifestations of genius, find their homes along the walls, within niches, and upon pedestals in the many numbered rooms of the Casino, traversing millennia and civilizations. Some of the most impressive works in the collection, the statue groups by Bernini, are to be examined in the following sections. Also, it is important to discuss certain themes concerning the creation and function of the Villa Borghese within a historical context.

II. The Borghese Family

Such a context would not be complete without a brief biography of the family for whom the Villa Borghese is named. Originally lawyers from Siena, the Borghese, under the leadership of their patriarch Marcantonio I, made their way to Rome in the 16th century with the intent of shedding their modest roots and adorning themselves as Roman nobility. These ambitions were quickly realized in the first part of the 17th century when Camillo Borghese, son of the first Marcantonio, was elected pope in 1605, taking the name of Paul V. Once in power, Paul was quick to establish his family in both the secular and ecclesiastical realms. In casting the traditional role of a cardinal-nephew, he chose his sister’s son, Scipione Borghese, who was only 26 at the time. Scipione is famous as an infallibly astute judge of artistic talent and a prolific, if somewhat unscrupulous, collector of works, and also as the Baroque genius Bernini’s first patron. His cousin, Paul V’s other nephew, Marcantonio II, became the heir to the family fortune and the progenitor of the Borghese line, and was rewarded with princedoms and other titles. In the family’s ascent, largely guided by Cardinal Scipione, through the social hierarchy of Rome, the Borghese forged important alliances through marriages to well-established families, such as the Orsini, and invested heavily in land with the income from Scipione’s numerous church offices.

III. History of the Villa Borghese
In their claim to status, the Borghese found it necessary to engage in numerous and elaborate building projects. For Pope Paul V, these were mostly of a public, and aquatic, nature. On the other hand, Scipione applied himself more to the raising of private estates, in particular the Villa Borghese. In 1610, the Cardinal hired papal architect Flaminio Ponzio to begin the design and construction of the Villa on the Pincian Hill. Ponzio worked until his death in 1613, after which his duties were assumed by Giovanni Vasanzio, who completed the Villa in 1625. Nearly two centuries later, long after the death of Scipione Borghese, Prince Marcantonio IV, a descendant of Marcantonio II, initiated a huge renovation project under the direction of Antonio Asprucci. The two worked together between 1775 1790 to produce much of the Casino Borghese as it is known today. Under the stewardship of Marcantonio’s son Camillo, the Borghese collection suffered a great many losses as a result of his close connections to France and Napoleon Bonaparte, having married the French Emperor’s sister. Prince Camillo sold hundreds of priceless antiques to his brother-in-law, many of which are still housed in the Louvre in Paris. Indeed, the Louvre borrowed much from the Villa Borghese, such as the concept and organizational principles of the modern art gallery. In the early 20th century, financial ruin following the crash of the Bank of Italy forced Paolo Borghese to sell the Villa to the Italian state. Since then, it has been turned over to the municipality of Rome and opened to the public. The Casino is now known as the Museo or Galleria Borghese and entry is completely free, though Cardinal Scipione’s grand personal collection has undergone considerable modification over the centuries.

IV. Themes Surrounding the Villa Borghese
In its original form, the Villa Borghese represented several trends predominant in Cardinal Scipione’s time, in particular the concept of villaggiatura, which has to do with the lifestyle associated with the villa, the practice of collecting artwork, and patronage. Villaggiatura was actually popularized in the Renaissance period, following the general revival of classical thought and practices. Noble families adopted the idea of the villa from the ancient Romans, who distinguished “the society, affairs, and politics of the city (negotium)” from the “quiet and healthy moderation of the country (otium)." Villas were meant to be an escape from the distractions and worries of urban life, which took their tolls on the mind and body, in order to rejuvenate oneself. The character of the villa was marked by pleasure, both simple and sensual, and by the calculated juxtaposition of the natural and the artificial. Thus, the villa had three primary functions: relaxation, entertainment, and exhibition. It was a place where an aristocrat could find solace away from the city, invite and entertain guests of honor, and also display evidence of one’s fortune and erudition.

This last function is very much related to the notion of collecting, also descended from antiquity. In addition to the impressive architecture and tranquil gardens of Renaissance and Baroque villas, aristocrats of the period enhanced the effect of their estates by adorning them with ancient and modern masterpieces. Antiques in particular were revered, having “the power... to add luster to [their] owner by association." More generally, art was used and desired not merely for its aesthetic value, but as a means of conferring status upon a collector. The subject and symbology of a piece could, for instance, create connections between an aristocrat and some noble, or even divine, heritage. Moreover, the quality and quantity of a collection served to imply a certain level of cultivation and wealth.

Another practice common in the 17th century and earlier was that of patronage, which refers to a specific and exclusive relationship between an artist and a client, or patron. Traditionally, young, promising artists were discovered by wealthy individuals, who sponsored their artistic pursuits. In exchange, the artist would work only for the patron and his close friends until, if the artist was particularly gifted, he had built up a sufficient reputation to be able to continue his career independently. Patronage, then, was a type of investment, and the returns were quite substantial for those fortunate enough to happen upon genius. There was obviously the material benefit of having sole access to the talents of a master, as well as the prestige and fame that comes from having discovered the greatest artist of an entire epoch.

V. The Casino Borghese

Keeping in mind the ideas briefly describe above, as well as the history of the Villa and the Borghese, it is prudent to discuss the subject of the Casino Borghese and its priceless contents. As mentioned before, the present-day Galleria features some of the finest and most exquisite works from the Baroque period, perhaps most prominently those by Bernini, as well as by Caravaggio. Other periods are also well-represented: there is a small contingent of Raphael’s works, as well as a multitude of antique busts and statues. The collection in its entirety, and also certain pieces individually, have much to tell about the man who brought them to the Villa Borghese, Cardinal Scipione.

Of the works mentioned above, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s statue groups are perhaps the most visually exciting and evocative, including four masterpieces executed during the dawn of the artist’s career: David, Apollo and Daphne, Pluto and Proserpina, and Aeneas and Anchises. Bernini’s David (1623-1624), considered by some to be the epitome of Baroque style, which emphasizes dramatic movement and vivid emotion, is the centerpiece of the second room in the Casino, the Room of the Sun. Immediately apparent is the extreme stance of the biblical hero and the intense focus etched into his face, which is actually the self-portrait of a young Bernini. This contrasts starkly with Michelangelo’s iconic version of the same subject, which depicts a pensive, almost casual, young man. Beneath David lies the unused cuirass given to him by King Solomon and also a harp with an eagle’s head, a reference to the Borghese crest. Viewed at different angles, the sculpture gives varying impressions: from the right, most obvious is David’s movement as he prepares to fire; from the front, the pose is static in anticipation of the fatal climax; and diagonally, a balance is achieved between movement and stillness.

Aside from its brilliant aesthetic qualities, it is important to discuss what relevance this sculpture had in relation to Scipione, who commissioned it. First, consider the curious fact that it is one of the few works with a religious theme; most of the collection depicts classical and pagan subjects. Although Cardinal Scipione was not a particularly pious man, the David emphasizes his ecclesiastical position. Moreover, the story of David, a young shepherd boy divinely chosen to triumph over Goliath, is one that is personally close to Scipione, who also ascended from a modest background.

In the next room, fittingly called the Room of Apollo and Daphne, stands Bernini’s eponymous masterwork. Executed between 1622 and 1625, the marble Apollo and Daphne has never been removed from the room since the construction of the Villa, although it has been reoriented over the centuries. Originally, one would enter the room and see only the figure of Apollo from the rear. This very deliberate scheme forced the viewer to walk around the statue to appreciate it fully. As one circumambulates the piece, one witnesses the chapters of Apollo’s fruitless pursuit unfold in sequence: the impassioned god’s near success, the nymph Daphne’s vivid desperation, and finally her metamorphosis and salvation. In this way Bernini offers proof of his genius, by forcing the viewer to see how he has chiseled the very motion of time into cold, hard marble. Also, notice the impeccable attention to tactile quality that characterizes this and all of Bernini’s works: compare the rough and abrasive texture of the bark that begins to cover Daphne’s torso with the tender leaves sprouting from her fingertips or with the nymph’s smooth and supple skin.

Inscribed on the pedestal upon which the Apollo and Daphne sits, on the opposite side of a passage from Ovid’s Metamorphosis is a quote in Latin by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII: “Quisquis amans sequitur fugitivae gaudia formae / fronde manus implet baccas sev carpit amaras” (Whoever under the influence of love pursues the joys of fugitive beauty is filling his hands with leaves or trying to pluck bitter berries). This passage essentially serves as a warning against the sensual pleasures of worldly frivolity, as opposed to the spiritual fulfillment found in a life devoted to the Church. In this sense, Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne promotes an image of Cardinal Scipione’s sanctity and piety, and also serves as a lesson to future Borghese scions.

The Gallery, or the Room of the Emperors, displays another of Bernini’s early statue groups, his Pluto and Proserpina (1621-1622). The twisting sculpture features the tearful Proserpina, daughter of the earth, being abducted by the god of the underworld, Pluto, accompanied by Cerberus, the three-headed dog. Bernini’s skill is convincingly evinced in the physical interaction between the struggling Proserpina and her persistently ardent captor: the soft flesh of her back and thigh is forced to yield under Pluto’s firm grip, while his face is contorted by her defiant hand. Like the Apollo and Daphne, one is again obliged to view the group from all sides. From left to right, one sees first the stride of Pluto towards the unfortunate Proserpina, then his triumph, and finally the frightened resistance of his beautiful victim. Thus, one is able to experience the myth as if the sculpture were alive in both physical and temporal dimensions.

Though the scene depicted in Pluto and Proserpina is one of victory for the god of Hades, there are other narratives and concepts present in the statue group and the myth that surrounds it. Ultimately the story of Persephone is a joyous one, as her mother Gea is able to free her from the underworld for six months of the year. This plot might be construed as the continuous conflict between innocence and sin or as the triumph of heaven over hell. Another important aspect is the origin of the seasons: Gea was so glad to have her daughter back that all the earth blossomed upon her return; hence, spring. Again, the theme of nature emphasizes the idea of villaggiatura and the role of the villa as an escape from urban life.

Aeneas and Anchises, the last of Bernini’s early statue groups in the Casino, marks the beginning of his extensive and illustrious career. Executed between 1618 and 1620 with the help of his father Pietro, Bernini’s Aeneas and Anchises portrays Virgil’s hero fleeing the burning Troy with his elderly father and young son. Anchises, a wrinkled and feeble figure on the weary shoulders of Aeneas, is carrying the family household gods, while the child Ascanius bears the sacred fire of the hearth. Even at a young age, the technical proficiency and artistic promise of Bernini is apparent.

The subject of this sculpture, a common one since antiquity, is rife with metaphors and inferences. For instance, the three figures, the man, his father, and his son, represent the three stages of life: youth, maturity, and old age; or they can be interpreted as the three stages of time: the past, present, and future. In this way, Scipione proclaims his noble ancestry, the power of his current offices, and, finally, the impending ‘golden age’ heralded by the Borghese reign. Another line of analysis connects the Cardinal with Aeneas, who Virgil describes as the founder of Rome, thus emphasizing and, in a sense, legitimizing the status of the Borghese family as Romans. Similarly, the family household gods that Anchises carries with him reference the coming of Marcantonio I and the Borghese to Rome, leaving behind their Sienese origins.

Aside from these four statue groups, which have been accorded the highest veneration due to their illuminating and intimate connection to both Bernini and Cardinal Scipione, the Casino contains no small fortune in masterpieces dating from antiquity and the Renaissance. Unfortunately, to discuss in detail, or even only briefly, every piece of aesthetic or historical significance would comprise volumes.

VI. Conclusions
In sum, the Casino and the works amassed by Cardinal Scipione, in particular Bernini’s statue groups, contribute significantly to the themes of villaggiatura, collecting, and patronage discussed previously. The function of the villa as a place to entertain and to display one’s status is very much evident in the lavish decoration and invaluable art work that overwhelms visitors to the site. Additionally, the relationship between the natural and the artificial, which is essential to the notion of the villa, is seen in numerous sculptures, especially the Apollo and Daphne, in paintings and frescoes, as well as in the simple geography of the Villa Borghese. Cardinal Scipione’s deliberate selection of subjects to expound certain messages, as in the David,vindicates the power of artwork to confer favorable status on a collector. Moreover, the reverence and high appraisal of Bernini’s early works even now is a testament to his genius, and therefore also speaks to the qualities of Scipione as his patron.

Touring the meticulously organized rooms of the Casino Borghese is a vastly different experience from perusing through museum guides or wending through the green and serene avenues of the rest of the estate. Upon entering the Portico, one is immediately assaulted by the image of Marcus Curtius throwing himself into the chasm of the Roman Forum, as well as the numerous busts, statues, paintings, and the many decorative devices employed by the building’s designers. Indeed, this impressive and overwhelming scheme is common to most every room in the Casino, which very much fulfills the function of the villa as a mark of status and wealth. It is remarkably difficult, near impossible, to forget the significance and sophistication of Cardinal Scipione as one is humbled by the remnants of his legacy.


Della Pergola, Paola. Villa Borghese. Roma: Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, 1962.

Ehrlich, Tracy L. Landscape and Identity in Early Modern Rome: Villa Culture at Frascati in the Borghese Era. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press: In association with the American Academy in Rome, 2002.

Fiore, Kristina Herrmann, ed. Guide to the Borghese Gallery. Roma: Edizioni De Luca s.r.l. for the Minister of Culture and the Environment, 1997.

Hibbert, Christopher. Rome: The Biography of a City. Great Britain: Viking, 1985.

Majanlahti, Anthony. “The Borghese” in The Families Who Made Rome. London: Chatto & Windus, 2005.

Moreno, Paolo, and Chiara Stefani. The Borghese Gallery. Milano: Touring Club Italiano, 2000.

Ovid. Metamorphoses.

Paul, Carole. Making a Prince’s Museum: Drawings for the Late 18th Century Redecoration of the Villa Borghese. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2000.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bernini and Urban VIII at St. Peter's

Rebecca Reh
Honors in Rome - Summer 2006

The beginning of the 17th century was a time of celebration for the Catholic Church. Thanks in large part to the new orders that had been founded, such as the Jesuits, the Church was able to successfully battle the Reformation and retain much of its spiritual power. The strict style of the Counter Reformation gave way to the flamboyant style of the baroque, which appealed emotionally and worked to draw the viewer into the piece, as well as being extremely detailed and rich. At the time it was felt that God should be worshipped at least as well as any earthly prince, sparing no expense. In 1620 Catholic forces won the battle of the White Mountain, spurring optimism that the church may be able to regain their terrestrial power. This hope proved to be in vain at the end of the 30 year war, when Pope Innocent X was allowed only a minor role in the peace process of Westphalia.

The baroque era encompassed both periods of hope and despair, as the church lost more and more of its power. This led to continued attempts to reassert papal power, and many of the most impressive monuments of the baroque period are papal propaganda. The inner adornment of the new St. Peters venerated the popes of the time, and legitimized papal power on earth, instead of speaking to the people on a personal level. This is especially apparent in the Baldacchino, transept and Cathedra Petri. Together, these send a strong message of papal power on earth.

One of the first, and most influential popes of the baroque era was Pope Urban VIII, originally Maffeo Barberini. The Barberini’s were a Florentine merchant family, not exceedingly rich, but prosperous. Maffeo came to Rome on his uncle’s invitation when he was still a boy, and studied with the Jesuits. Later he studied law at the University of Pisa, and found a place in the courts of the Roman curia. He took holy orders in 1604, and was given the post of papal nuncio in Paris. The king was so taken by the clever Barberini, that he persuaded the pope to make Barberini a cardinal. In the conclave following the death of Pope Gregory XV, Barberini was put forth as a compromise candidate, after 8 cardinals had already died from the heat and malaria. Despite the fact that he was only 55, he was elected Pope Urban VIII.

Urban VIII was a well-educated and cultured man, and a great patron of the arts. His character was friendly and charming, although he was know for his mercurial temper, and was quick to take offense. He loved the arts and literature, and considered himself a poet, writing verse in Italian, Greek and Latin. Due to his love of literature, he adopted several of the symbols of Apollo as his own, including the laurel branch and the sunburst.

When Barabarini was still a cardinal, he was introduced to the young sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. Bernini was born December 7, 1598 to Pietro Bernini. Though he was born in Naples, his father was from Florence, and he always considered himself a Florentine. Bernini accompanied his father to Rome in 1605 when Pietro was called to work on a depiction of the Assumption for the Santa Maria Maggiore. Although only 8, Gian may have helped his father with the work. News of the precocious young artist soon reached the ears of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who introduced Bernini to Pope Paul V. The Pope recognized Bernini’s talent, and directed cardinal Maffeo Barberini to oversee his education.

Barberini took to Bernini, and showed an avid interest in his education. Bernini was given access to the Vatican museum, where he studied the masterpieces of classical sculpture. Bernini was encouraged to undertake larger works of his own, the most famous of which are his David (1624) and his Apollo and Daphne (1625). Through these works Bernini proved himself to be a truly gifted sculptor, who drew the viewer into the pieces he presented and captured the emotion of the moment.
When Barberini was appointed Pope, he had plans for Bernini, but he needed to expand Bernini’s capabilities in the technical aspects of art. He appointed Bernini the overseer of the Vatican foundry, and then superintendent of the Aqua Felice. Urban was getting Bernini ready for the most important commission of all, Reverenda Fabbrica.

. Urban VIII intended to leave his mark on Rome, and determined to undertake the decoration of the interior of St. Peters basilica. The reconstruction of St. Peters was begun during the papacy of Julius II, and was completed more than 100 years later, by Pope Paul V, in 1621. However, the interior of the church did not match the splendor of its new form, and there was no proper place for many of the valuable relics that are kept in the church. Especially contested was what to do with the space above St. Peters tomb. In the old St. Peters, a Baldacchino was located above the tomb in the center of the church, and this was the location of the high altar. However, this arrangement had been changed several times, and in the time of Paul V, the high altar was located in the western arm of the church. When Gregory XV became pope, he rebuilt a temporary Baldacchino over the tomb. Urban saw the redecoration as the perfect way to leave his mark, as well as one better his predecessor Paul V.
Urban VIII commissioned Bernini to design a permanent Baldacchino to place above St. Peters tomb. The Baldacchino is supported by four massive columns and stands above St. Peters tomb, in the center of the church. In fact, the Baldacchino is a combination of a ciborium and a baldacchino, which appalled many architectural purists. Ciampelli called the structure a “chimera”, stinging criticism at the time. The columns are made of bronze and their twist mimics the design of the columns of the high altar in the old St. Peters, which were rumored to have come from the temple of Jerusalem. The columns are gilded, and adorned with laurel branches and putti, with lizards and bees crawling up the sides. Bernini used a procedure called lost-wax to caste the columns, in which the actual items were used as molds in the wax, and consumed by liquefied bronze. When bronze for the project was running short, Urban VIII ordered that bronze be taken from the portico of the pantheon and used in the casting. This gave rise to the expression “What the barbarians didn’t do, the Barberini did”.

The columns support a canopy, made of bronze but resembling a fringe of tassels, showing the three bees of the Barberini arms and cherubim alternately. Suns appear on the entablature of the columns, atop which stand four angels, each holding up the canopy by a garland of flowers. The four volutes that rise to the center are made of wood, and designed to resemble the ancient Christian symbol of diving dolphins. Crowning the entire structure is a globe with a cross on top, which symbolizes Christ ruling the world, and mirrors the cross on the top of the great dome directly above.

The transept was commissioned the first year that Bernini became Reverenda Fabbrica, which meant that while he did not carry out all of the work himself, he designed and supervised the entire construction. The pope and commission of cardinals decided to keep the most venerable relics of the church in the transept, and ordered that statues be made of the saints that corresponded to the relics to be placed in the niches of the piers. Bernini himself was to do the statue of St. Longinus. St. Longinus was a Roman soldier, who pierced the side of Christ as he was being led to the crucifix. Instantly after wounding Christ, Longinus realized that he truly was the Son of God, and converted to Christianity. In this statue you can see the action and motion typical of Bernini. Bernini has chosen to depict the moment Longinus converts to Christianity. His gaze is transfixed at an invisible Christ, the psychological link between the two drawing the viewer into the scene. The diagonal formed by his arms and the folds of his dress emphasize this gaze.

The other statues in the transept are St. Andrew, for the church had a piece of the cross he was crucified upon; St. Veronica, with the cloth she used to wipe the face of Christ; and St. Helen, who brought a piece of the cross Christ was crucified upon to Rome. St Andrew and St. Helen were carved by Bolgi and Duquesnoy respectively, and are reminiscent of Bernini’s work, since they were his students at the time. Franceso Mochi did the statue of St. Veronica. All of the statues seem alive, captured in a single moment. In Bernini’s original organization, St. Veronica and St. Helen look toward the high altar, while St. Longinus and St. Andrew are looking up toward the heavens, and God. The council of Cardinals changed this arrangement to that which we see today.

Decoration of the piers does not end with the statues, but extends upward. Above the statues are balconies, where the relics are kept, taken down on special occasions and paraded around the city. Angels are carved onto the back of the niches, shown carrying the relic. The sky behind them is made of yellow marble, with purple marble clouds. On either side of the composition are pieces of the columns from the baldacchino in Old St. Peters. The niches are concave in shape, which complement the concave sides of the Baldacchino.

One of Urban VIII’s major goals in undertaking the redecoration of St. Peter’s basilica was to legitimize his own papacy. The Barberini’s were not a noble Roman family, and were not established in Roman society. Also, Barberini was offered as a compromise candidate for pope, and was very young to have been elected, both of which caused people to question his right to the papacy. The Baldacchino and the transept decoration serve to highlight the fact that Urban was appointed by divine right. This is emphasized by the priority the project was given; construction was begun the first year of Urban’s papacy.
The Baldacchino is covered with Barberini symbols. The Barberini crest is featured on the column bases, and the three bees are featured on every other canopy fringe. Urban’s personal symbols, such as the laurel branch and the sun, are also prominently featured, sometimes displacing traditional Christian iconography. Laurel branches have replaced the grape vines that twist around the original Baldacchino columns, symbolizing the Eucharist. Medals that exult Urban and show the date the Baldacchino was completed are carved into the base of the statue, placed there by imaginary pilgrims.
That people noticed and analyzed the symbols on the Baldacchino is evident from the myth that grew up about the stemme of the crests on the base of the columns. The stemme are faces of women carved into the top of the crest, as part of the surrounding frame. As you walk around the Baldacchino, the faces grow more and more agonized, until the final crest shows the face of a cherub, instead of a woman. It was rumored that this depiction arises from Urban’s promise that if his favorite niece safely delivered her baby, he would build an altar to her. No one is certain of the meaning of the symbol; possibly it suggests the struggle of the Church, and the trials it had been through during the Counter Reformation, until finally delivered by Pope Urban VIII. More important than the meaning of the sequence, however, is the fact that it can only be read by circling around the altar. Thus Bernini is controlling people’s movement, and how the altar is viewed, as well as recreating the ancient tradition of circumambulating an altar.

The position of the Baldacchino is extremely important to Urban’s message. As the first pope, directly appointed by Christ, St. Peter’s tomb reminds all that popes are chosen by God. Above this is the altar, proclaiming the power and holiness of the current pope, Urban VIII. Finally, the globe with the cross above acts as God’s stamp of approval upon the monument below. St. Peter’s tomb is the most important relic in the church, and all the pilgrims are certain to spend a great deal of time in front of the altar. To increase the amount of time spent in the center of the church, where the Baldacchino is easily visible, all of the most important relics of the church were placed in the transept. Originally, the gazes of the saints would even have returned the attention to the high altar, and the Baldacchino.

During the papacy of Urban VIII, the throne of St. Peters was placed in the baptismal chapel, to signify the pope’s authority over all who are baptized. However, when Alexander became pope he felt the throne was such an important symbol of papal power and succession that it deserved a more prominent place. Alexander commissioned the throne be placed in the central apse of the basilica.

The chair itself is encased in a bronze statuary throne. Bernini personally did the relief’s on the back and side of the throne, although others did most of the monument under his direction. The clearest relief is that on the back of the chair, which shows the pasce oves meas, the scene in which Christ entrusts the care of his sheep to St. Peters. The side reliefs also show scenes from St. Peters life, namely the handing over of the keys and the washing of the feet. These scenes highlight the meaning of the monument, which is the right of papal succession.

The chair is held aloft by four doctors of the church, a term that refers to a theologian whose teachings had a great impact on the formation of Christianity and the Catholic Church. From clockwise starting from the bottom left are St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius, and St. Augustine. Since St. Chrysostom and St. Athanasius are associated with eastern Catholicism, and St. Ambrose and St. Augustine are associated with western Catholicism, the doctors act as a bridge between east and west, symbolizing Catholic unity. Miraculously, the doctors are barely touching the throne, yet they are able to carry it. Instead, the chair appears to be hovering with divine power. This demonstrates that the work of the doctors in strengthening and guarding Christianity was the will of the divine.

The depiction of the dove and emanating rays and angels is known as “the Glory”. Although this is not the first time Bernini incorporated light into his designs, he usually uses a hidden window, which creates the impression his work is surrounded by a divine glow. Bernini agonized over what to do with the harsh, direct glow from the original window. In the end, Bernini decided to incorporate the window in the composition, softening the light by placing yellow stain glass in and painting upon it the magnificent dove. The dove shines above as a representation of the Holy Spirit, sanctioning all below it and inspiring awe in all who view it.

That the Cathedra Petri is relatively bare of Chigi symbols shows us that Alexander was not intent on justifying his particular papacy. Instead he was focused on a larger goal, relegitimizing the role of the pope in the modern world, and regaining temporal papal power. When Alexander was still cardinal, he was involved in the treaty of Westphalia, that ended the 30 years war. This treaty granted states ultimate power over their own boarders, and placed protestant countries on the same level as Catholic ones. This was a harsh blow to the church, and Alexander always felt personally responsible for this lost of temporal papal power. Thus it was his supreme goal to help the church regain this power while he was Pope. The Cathedra Petri is one of the greatest demonstrations of this goal.

Although the Cathedra Petri was commissioned much later than the Baldacchino and transept, the three work together as a cohesive monument. Bernini took great pains to bring the two together visually, using the Baldacchino as a frame through which the Cathedra Petri can be viewed down the center aisle of the basilica. This is the proper way to view the monument, and the view through which is creates its most striking impression.

A pilgrim, making their way through all of the other sites and trials, would come at last to St. Peters, and, walking down the center aisle to approach the site of St. Peters tomb, would be struck by the majesty and joy of the Baldacchino and Cathedra Petri. The spirals of the columns and the upward curve of the volutes create a striving upward to heaven, and the faces of the angels are joyous. Behind the Baldacchino, light comes streaming through the Glory, pronouncing the majesty of god. The faithful would linger in the transept, venerating the most important relics of the church. One would have to be blind not to understand that Urban VIII built the Baldacchino, and recognize his right to the papacy. There would be no doubt left in ones mind that the pope’s were powerful, to be able to build such monuments, that seemed to float in midair and glow with holy light.

The Baldacchino, transept and Cathedra Petri are amazing examples of Bernini’s work, and were extremely influential to the development of the baroque style. The practice of mixing both mediums and styles became acceptable, and using light as part of a composition was also introduced. Using concave lines became prevalent in the baroque period. The idea of using different colored marble to depict a scene, as was seen in the transept balcony niches, was often emulated by other artists.
As modern viewers, we are still impacted by the grandeur and the emotion contained within the Baldacchino and Cathedra Petri. The statues in the transept continue to impress us with their dramatic lines and expressions. However, the original meaning of the monuments has lost some power over the years, as the domain of papal power has become increasingly restricted to the spiritual realm. Also, the monument looses some meaning when viewed by a secular audience, which was not the intent. Even so, it is difficult not to be awed by Bernini’s triumphal work.

While researching this topic, I was impressed by how much meaning was packed into the monument, and how cleverly it was worked in. Every little detail has to be taken into account, from the stemma on the side of the Baldacchino to which Doctors of the Church were portrayed. Still, the monuments do not feel cluttered, because all of the details work together to tell a cohesive story, and also portray an overall emotion. It also interests me how it’s impossible to read a monument unless you know the context in which it was built, as well as the personalities of the people involved in its construction. I loved seeing how all the different threads of the story came together to make the monument.

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