Monday, April 4, 2011

An extremely thorough description of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

Here's an excerpt from my forthcoming super comprehensive guide book about Rome.
It will be called ROMAPEDIA.

The first edition was published in Italian as "Guida di Roma e provincia" in 2011 and the new enlarged edition is due to be released in 2014.
There will also be an edition in English available.
It is a work of synthesis and anthology of the most authoritative sources of facts and reliable information about the art of Rome and its Province.
It is an encyclopedic dictionary with 1,329 entries, including 483 churches, 278 palaces, and 152 museums.

It also includes a profusion of artistically or historically relevant buildings, monuments, archaeological sites as well as 95 towns in the province of Rome, constituting one of the richest sources of information available in a single book about the art and history of the Eternal City.

You can check out for free the first 63 pages of the first edition with this link:

My new ROMAPEDIA blog with the most complete encyclopedia about the art and history of Rome and its surroundings is being published. New entries are being added everyday. Here is the link:

Basilica of St. Mary Major
Original church
It is legendary as the sources mention it, but archeology has never confirmed its existence. It would have been built for Pope Liberius I (352/366) and called Liberian Basilica or S. Maria ad Nives
The patrician Giovanni, who wanted to build a church and the Pope Liberius had the same dream on the same night: Our Lady appeared to them asking to erect a church on the site where an unusual event would have occurred on the following day
The story goes that on the next day, August 5 356, it snowed on the Esquiline Hill so it was decided that it would be the obvious place for the church, considering that in Rome it snows roughly every twelve years, not much, and never in August when temperature can reach 40° degrees Celsius (104° Fahrenheit)
The Liber Pontificalis, the medieval book with the biographies of all the popes until the XV century, says it was built "at the Macellum of Livia" in relation with the Forum Esquilinum within the walls near the Esquiline Gate, and then perhaps nearby the current church
Current church
Built for Sixtus III (432/440) on the summit of the Cispius part of Esquiline Hill after the Council of Ephesus in 431 which declared the Virgin Mary "Theotokòs" Mother of God and not only "Cristokotòs" Mother of Christ. The Concil of Ephesus also condemned Nestorianism, a heresy which questioned the divine nature of Christ although from the viewpoint of the Nestorians and Monophysites it was Catholicism to be considered a heresy
Part of the hill was leveled with significant substructures in the back. The Roman pontiffs had inherited the imperial autoritas that used to undertake commissions of this kind
Excluding the funerary basilicas, it is the first church dedicated to a saint and it was called just "S. Maria" until the construction of other basilicas in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary: that's when it took the name "Major"
It was possible to built it inside the pomerium (the sacred border of the City of Rome) not having relics that were not allowed inside the city
During the Middle Ages, the relics of the manger where Jesus is believed to be born were added
Niccolò IV (1288/92) had the apse redone, pushing it back a bit to build a short transept
 Maybe in the original apse there was a round corridor or ambulatory
It is one of the four Patriarchal Basilicas under direct control of the pope, the only one who can celebrate mass on the main altar
1741/43 Ferdinando Fuga (1699/1782) for Clement XI Albani (1700/21) and Benedict XIV Lambertini (1740/58)
Building ON tHE RIGHT
1605 Flaminio Ponzio (1560/1613) for Paul V Borghese (1605/21)
Building ON THE LEFT
1721/43 Ferdinando Fuga who replicated the building on the right after 138 years
1669/75 Carlo Rainaldi (1611/91) with statues by Francesco Fancelli (1624/81) first for Clement IX Rospigliosi (1667/69) and then for Clement X Altieri (1670/76)
In the square "Fluted Corinthian column of imezio marble" (imezio marble came from Mont Hymettus near Athens) sole survivor of the eight columns in the Basilica of Maxentius. It was put up by Carlo Maderno for Paul V in 1614
On the column "Bronze statue of the Virgin" by Guillaume Berthélot (about 1570/1648) and Orazio Censore (active since 1569/d. 1622) made with the bronze from the gate of the fountain in the middle of the portico of the old Basilica of St. Peter
FOUNTAIN designed by Carlo Maderno
at the top from left "Statues of saints and popes" by Carlo Monaldi (about 1690/1760), Agostino Corsini (1688/1772), Giuseppe Lironi (1689/1749) ("Virgin Mary"), Bernardino Ludovisi (about 1713/49) and Carlo Marchionni (1702/86)
Further down Statues by Filippo Della Valle (1698/1768) and Francesco Queirolo (1704/62)
On the porch pediments Statues by Michelangelo Slodtz (1705/64), G.B. Maini (1690/1752), Pietro Bracci (1700/73) and Pieter Anton van Verschaffelt (1710/93)
On the building to the right of the façade "Angels that support arms of Paul V" by Nicolas Cordier (1567/1612) and by Ambrogio Buonvicino (c. 1552/1622)
1375/76 on the foundations and base of the eleventh and twelfth century. Completed in the second half of the fifteenth century. At 75 m (246 feet) high is the tallest in Rome. Its four bells are considered to be the most harmonious in the whole city 
Statues of "St. Jerome" and "St. Luke" by Giovanni Antonio Parracca aka Valsoldo (?/1642-46)
"St. Matthew" by Francesco Mochi (1580/1654)
"St. Matthias" and "St. Epaphras" by Stefano Maderno (1560/1636)
Behind the church ESQUILINE OBELISK dating back to the beginning of the first century AD, a Roman imitation of the Egyptian obelisks moved here from the Mausoleum of Augustus, where he was paired with the other one now in Piazza del Quirinale. It was moved here in 1587 by Domenico Fontana (1543/1607) for Sixtus V Peretti (1585/90)
The stairway in the rear façade was once climbed on their knees by wifes mistreated by their husbands, praying for a renewed peace in their families
Central door with "Scenes from the life of the Virgin" by Ludovico Pogliaghi (1857/1950)
On the right "Bronze Statue of Philip IV of Spain" (benefactor of the church who died on 1655) 1692 by Girolamo Lucenti (?/1698), maybe designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
On the left "Holy Door" 2001 Luigi Mattei
Four reliefs above the doors:
"Pope Martin escapes assassination by the exarch Olimpio" by Giuseppe Ludovisi
"Gelasius I burns heretical books" by G.B. Maini (1690/1752)
"Pope Ilario holds a council in the Church" by Pietro Bracci (1700/73)
"The patrician Giovanni and his wife offer their goods to Pope Liberius" by Bernardino Ludovisi (about 1713/49)
Mosaics in the gallery splendidly visible through the façade built by Ferdinando Fuga:
"Blessing Christ, angels, symbols of the Evangelists, Madonna and Saints" and below "Episodes from the legend of Pope Liberius and the patrician Giovanni" dating back to the late thirteenth century by Filippo Rusuti with contributions of unknown artists involved in the artistic climate of this period that saw the application of daring perspectives for that time, also expressed with frescoes in the unfinished decoration in the transept of Niccolò IV 
"Compared to Torriti and Cavallini, the sign of Rusuti is more metallic and, typical in his works, is a strong emphasis on linearity, accompanied by accurate gradations in the transition between light and shadow, which enhances its work, revealing at the same time his distance from the chromatic gamut of the soft and blurred Cavallini" (Carlo Bertelli, Giuliano Briganti, Antonio Giuliano)
"Four angels in marble and bronze" by Pietro Bracci removed in 1932 from the canopy
On the landing of the stairs "Bronze statue of Paul V" by Paolo Sanquirico (1565/1630)
restoration 1746/50 Ferdinando Fuga 
The Floor is partly Cosmatesque dating back to the mid twelfth century. The original fifth century floor in marble slabs is still 5 cm (2 inches) below the current floor
The original ceiling dating back to the time of Sixtus III (432/440) was just made out of wooden trusses
Current ceiling with the emblem of Alexander VI (1492/1503) is attributed to Giuliano Giamberti aka Giuliano da Sangallo (1445/1516) helped by his brother Antonio Giamberti aka Antonio da Sangallo the Elder (about 1460/1534)
It was decorated with gold leaf which maybe was the first gold ever to come from America to Europe
Originally there was an inscription similar to that of S. Sabina
In the rose window "Affirmation of the Council Vatican II" 1995 by the Hungarian naturalized Italian János "Giovanni" Hajnal (1913/2010)
Two sixteenth century mosaics on the right "Fight between Jacob and the Angel" and on the left "King on a throne, maybe Solomon"
Frescoes above "Rest in Egypt" on the right and "Flight into Egypt" on the left 1593 by Ferraù Fenzone (1562/1645)
Thirty-six ancient monolithic Imezio marble columns and four granite columns supporting the entablature decorated with "Two mosaic friezes" representing acanthus converging towards the Agnus Dei, executed in the years 432/440. Half of the original clerestory windows were closed at the end of the sixteenth century
Along the side walls "Thirty-six mosaic panels" about 432/440, though restored in 1593: on the right "Stories of Moses and Joshua", on the left "Stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"
Six mosaics were destroyed for the construction of the side chapels but the subjects are known from drawings. They are a beautiful artistic testimony of the first half of the fifth century during the time when the Roman Empire was Christian. Maybe the models were codes of the time with stories of the Iliad and Odyssey having similar representations. The stories begin from the presbytery and end at the entrance with reading direction oriented to the speaker in the area of the altar
"The familiarity with the early Christian mosaics and wall paintings acquired in S. Maria Maggiore and St. Paul Outside the Walls from Torriti, Cavallini and their entourage must have opened their eyes to the classical world and must have led them to be pervaded of its spirit. They found themselves faced with the need to explore on their own the problem to represent figures that were to act credibly in a plausible and convincing space, thus providing a realistic approximation of reality, and were taken to see the world through new eyes, putting aside their training based on the books of medieval models" (Richard Krautheimer)
"All the Fathers, despite the diversity of methods of interpretation of the Scriptures, converged on a central point, as demonstrated in his important studies by M. Simonetti: always the Old Testament was read in conjunction with the New, because it was written for the Christian faith in relation to Christ. Whether it would make a more allegorical exegesis, as in Alexandria, or whether the exegesis was more tied to the story, as in the school of Antioch, the unity of Old and New Testament, however, was obvious to all the different teachers of the time "(Andrea Lonardo)
Among the windows
Frescoes with "Stories of Mary" 1593 G.B. Ricci (about 1550/1624), Orazio Gentileschi (1563/1639), Baldassare Croce (about 1553/1628), Andrea Lilio (about 1555/1632), Ventura Salimbeni (1568/1613) executed for Cardinal Pinelli with original style but respectful of the directions that the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent in 1563 had expressed about art
Mosaics in the triumphal arch
About 432/440 at the time of Sixtus III
It was originally an apse arch but after the construction of the transept at the end of the thirteenth century it became triumphal arch. Inconsequential narrative drawn from the apocryphal gospels (hidden gospels) which were not approved by the church as divinely inspired but not heretics either
We know that the successor of Pope Sixtus III, Leo I the Great (440/461) used these representations during his sermons to an audience that knew very well these very intellectual stories. We cannot therefore consider this story as a Biblia Pauperum, a Bible in images for people who couldn't read or write
In the left spandrel, on the uppermost left part "Annunciation" with Mary dressed as an eastern queen pulling a thread of scarlet wool from a basket, a symbol of the conception of Jesus
On the right "Annunciation to Joseph" with a rod that will flourish to indicate the husband of Mary
Below "Epiphany" magi clothed with strange colored oriental suits, little Jesus on a throne, on the left Mary, on the right mysterious veiled woman in purple with a scroll, maybe an allegory of Wisdom
Below "Massacre of the Innocents" and further below "Heavenly Jerusalem" with no doors and a group of lambs
At the center of the arch "Throne and Tetramorph" with protomes in the arms of the throne representing the faces of Sts. Peter and Paul, cross with krìsmon and the seven seals scroll in emerald iris as described by the Apocalypse of St. John
In the right spandrel, on the uppermost right part "Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and Flight into Egypt"
Below "The king of Sòtime Aphrodisius goes out and meets Jesus": the idols broke in the city and the king went out to see what had happened. "King Herod and the Magi". Further below "Bethlehem"
"The complex mosaic along the aisles is the story of salvation that culminates in the depiction of the triumphal arch centered on the eight episodes, canonical and apocryphal, of Jesus' childhood. The scenes of the Infantia Salvatoris take place on either side of the central clypeus with the empty throne, prepared for the advent of Christ on Judgement Day, symbol of the Etimasia, the representation of the enduring invisible presence of God in the world. The throne, which recalls the imperial and consular chair, is adorned with a garland and a cloak designed as insignia Christi, following the imperial tradition that the presence of the emperor could also be established solely by his image or his insignia" (Simona Fortunelli - TMG)
CONFESSIO 1862/64 by Virginio Vespignani (1808/82)
Urn made by Luigi Valadier (1726/85) with relics of the cradle of Bethlehem along with a few stones of the stable, hay and fragments of the bands of the Child Jesus
"Statue of Pius IX" Mastai Ferretti (1846/78) 1883 Ignazio Jacometti (1819/83)
MAIN ALTAR with "Urn of porphyry supported by four angels" which acts as a base for the papal altar with inside the relics of Sts. Matthew, Lawrence, Stephen and Jerome
CANOPY by Ferdinando Fuga. Bronze leaves added in 1823 by Luigi Valadier
The "Four ancient columns in porphyry" were originally placed with the other two in a pergola with a lintel of white marble that was an element of separation between sanctuary and nave, still maintaining and permitting visibility
Mosaic in the apse
"Mary crowned" by Jesus and the Assumption into heaven in between Cardinal Giacomo Colonna, Niccolò IV with the halo of the living, angels and saints. All around branches with birds and below scene by the River Nile
Further down "Stories of Mary": "Annunciation", "Nativity", "Adoration of the Magi", "Presentation in the Temple"
In the center "Death of the Virgin" 1295 Jacopo Torriti (he signed his great work in the lower left part) for Niccolò IV Masci (1288/92) (in charge of the imposing pictorial program of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi where Torriti worked too) and Cardinal Giacomo Colonna regent of the Basilica
"The figures are plastically solid and the limbs are outlined by the rich, heavy folds of drapery; the apostles overlap one another, moving at different levels as if in a performance space. The space expands to the bottom, to the top and to the sides. The gold upon which the figures sticks out gives the impression of immeasurable depth. Gestures and movements express the drama taking place. The scene does not remain confined within its limits and the wings of angels seem to hold up the basic framework of the basin while the almond shape around Jesus and Mary replaces in shape and position the missing window in the middle of the apse: thus the dramatic composition of Torriti, bright in colors and light, fits organically into its architectural frame" (Richard Krautheimer)
"His language is still within the Byzantine tradition, though he does not hesitate to revise some aspects with references to late antique art. Spectacular is the huge Coronation of the Virgin, which encircle the spirals of acanthus, a classical memory. The result is a personal color palette that allows the detection of the artist's personal exemptions from the Byzantine conventional style: the complexion is pale and light assume a pearly inflection between the dress folds light and dense" (Carlo Bertelli, Giuliano Briganti, Antonio Giuliano)
Mosaics on the arch outside the apse heavily restored in 1930: "Twenty-four elders of Revelation, symbols of the Evangelists, Agnus Dei" and below, at the level of the Marian stories, two scenes of "St. Jerome" and "St. Matthew" related to the relics of the two saints located in the main altar
Perhaps in the original apse of Sixtus III there was the representation of Christ that Niccolò IV wanted to update with the Marian representation
At the bottom of the apse "Four reliefs" about 1474 by Mino del Reame (attivo c. 1463/77) from the ancient canopy of the papal altar
ALTARPIECE "Nativity" 1750 Francesco Mancini (1679/1758)
up in the transept frescoes discovered in 1931 with "Prophets inside clipei" left unfinished at the end of the thirteenth century with perspectival three-dimensional representations innovative for its time, maybe by Pietro de 'Cerroni aka Pietro Cavallini (about 1240/1325), a young Giotto (1267/1337) or Cenni di Pepo detto Cimabue (c. 1240/1302) 
Restored by Ferdinando Fuga
In the counter-façade PATRIZI ALTAR
1558 for Patrizio and Costanzo Patrizi
Canvas "Apparition of the Virgin in a dream to Giovanni Patrizio and his wife" 1635 by Giuseppe Puglia aka Bastaro (c. 1600/36)
On the side walls marble portraits "Patrizio Patrizi" by anonymous and "Costanzo Patrizi", who died in 1623, by Alessandro Algardi (1598/1654)
To the right of the entrance
"Monument to Clement IX" Rospigliosi (1667/69) 1671 by Carlo Rainaldi
"Statue of the Pope" by Domenico Guidi (1625/1701)
On the right "Faith" by Cosimo Fancelli (1620/88), on the left "Charity" by Ercole Ferrata (1610/86)
Clement IX had asked Carlo Rainaldi in 1669 to make the back façade of the Basilica, which he completed only in 1675 under the reign of the following pope Clement X Altieri (1670/76)
1605 Flaminio Ponzio (1560/1613)
Basin 1825 by Giuseppe Valadier (1762/1839)
"Statue of St. John the Baptist" by Canova's pupil Adamo Tadolini (1788/1868)
Altar relief "Assumption of the Virgin" 1608/10 by Pietro Bernini (1562/1629), the masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo's father
"Sensitive to the compositions of large altarpieces by Cesari and especially Zuccari, Pietro Bernini makes marble sensitive and malleable like plaster. (...) The little angels with their cheeky expressions are also an important precedent for the many cherubs that the young Gian Lorenzo would carve a little later" (Alessandro Angelini)
Frescoes on the ceilings of two rooms "Angelic Gloria" in the vestibule and "Immaculate between prophets and doctors of the church" in the baptistery 1608/10 by Domenico Crespi aka Passignano (1559/1638)
To the right of the sacristy entrance there is the "Monument to Odoardo Santarelli" about 1644 with bust by Alessandro Algardi
On the left below "Bust of Pope Benedict XIII Orsini (1724/30)" 1724 Pietro Bracci (1700/73)
To the right of the entrance of the Chapel of Sts. Michael and Peter in Chains "Bust of Antonio Emanuele Ne Vunda aka il Negrita Ambassador of Congo" 1608 by Francesco Caporale (active 1606/11)
The African diplomat died in the arms of Paul V in 1607 after a voyage of three years to go to Rome. He had been sent by the king of Congo to obtain missionaries from the Pope
Designed by Flaminio Ponzio (1560/1613)
"The insertion of windows to the sides and above the altar is an important innovation in that, placing light sources incident at the center of the picture perspective and employing the grazing light to accentuate the importance of the stucco in the lunettes, heralds the scenographic lighting of the Raimondi Chapel, and the pattern of light in the Gloria of the Chair of Peter" (Paolo Portoghesi)
In the vault "Death of the Virgin", lunettes "Stories of Mary" and small chapel to the right of the altar wall "Lady of the Scapular" and "Annunciation" Domenico Crespi aka Passignano 
In the small chapel to the left of the altar wall reliefs inserted in the walls "Madonna and Child" (signed opus Mini), "Christ Blessing", "Saints", "Doctors of the Church" and "Prophets" by Mino del Reame (attivo c. 1463/77) or Mino da Fiesole (1429/84) from the ancient ciborium of the papal altar
In the vault "Rest in Egypt" and "Circumcision" and small chapel to the right of the altar wall "Pentecost" by Domenico Crespi aka Passignano
Reliefs in the walls "Virgin between two angels" and "Sts. Jerome and Bernard" by Luigi Capponi
In the vault traces of "Evangelists", according to Roberto Longhi, by Piero della Francesca (about 1417/1492)
"Christ rising from the grave" and preliminary sketch of "St. Michael the dragon", maybe by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420/97)
Column of the abjuration 1596 in memory of Henry IV of Navarre, the King of France, who had abjured Protestantism in the Basilica of St. Peter the year before
"Nativity" (formerly in the Sistine Chapel) about 1290 Arnolfo di Cambio (about 1245/1302) with "Statues of the Magi standing" by a pupil of Arnolfo and "Statue of Madonna and Child" by Giovanni Antonio Parracca aka Valsoldo (?/1642-46)
"Madonna and Child" Domenico Beccafumi (1486/1551)
"On the way to Calvary" about 1520 Giovanni Antonio Bazzi aka Sodoma (1477/1549)
Liturgical fabrics of St. Pius V, Paul V and Urban VIII
Manuscripts scores of Domenico Scarlatti and Pierluigi da Palestrina
Sword found in the tomb of Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Collection of reliquaries
All the altars of the aisles are supported by "Pairs of angels in stucco" by Pietro Bracci (1700/73)
"Family of the Virgin" by Agostino Masucci (1691/1758).
"Blessed Nicola Albergati" by the Roman Stefano Pozzi (1699/1768)
1750. The only chapel added to the already existing ones by Ferdinando Fuga with ten columns of red porphyry from the two ancient tabernacles of the basilica
In the short sides "Two aediculae reliquaries" with relics of various saints, including St. Thomas of Canterbury and St. Bibiana
"Wooden crucifix" first half of fifteenth century
The manneristic painter Girolamo Muziano (1532/92) is buried here
"Annunciation" about 1750 by Pompeo Batoni (1708/87)
SISTINE CHAPEL (or Chapel of the Holy Sacrament)
1584/87 Domenico Fontana (1543/1607) for Sixtus V Peretti (1585/90)
Painted in the years 1587/89 by Cesare Nebbia (1536/1614) and Giovanni Guerra (1544/1618)
Restored 1726 by Filippo Raguzzini (1680/1771), who also consolidated the triumphal arch with the mosaics of Sixtus III
It is the first example of use in Roman chapels of the polychrome polished marble and the first example, almost "incunabula" of the poetry of involvement of the spectator which will be typical of the Baroque style, with a room consisting of homogeneous meaningful references between architecture, painting and sculpture
Faced with marbles from the Septizodium, the now disappeared massive fountain at the bottom of Palatine hill near the Circus Maximus
"Bronze ciborium" 1590 Ludovico Del Duca (active since 1551/d. after 1601) with angels by Sebastiano Torrigiani (active since about 1573/d. 1596)
Under the ciborium "Oratory of the Crib" old chapel renovated in about 1290 by Arnolfo di Cambio (about 1245/1302) who also designed the mosaic floor, the altar frontal and the two reliefs "David" and "Isaiah" in the spandrels of the entrance arch
It was transported here from the apse by Domenico Fontana and now the "Nativity" is in the Museum of the Basilica
On the right "Tomb of Pope Sixtus V" 1588/90 designed by Domenico Fontana
"Statue of Sixtus V" by Giovanni Antonio Parracca aka Valsoldo (?/1642-46)
Five bas-reliefs with "Scenes of the pontificate of Sixtus V" by Nicolò Pippi and Gillis de la Rivière (?/1602)
On the sides "St. Francis" by Flaminio Vacca (1538/1605) and "St. Anthony" by Pietro Paolo Olivieri (1551/99)
In the niches of the back wall "St. Peter" and "St. Paul" by Giovanni Antonio Parracca aka Valsoldo designed by Prospero Antichi aka Prospero Bresciano (active since 1580/d. after 1592)
ON THE LEFT "Tomb of Pope St. Pius V" Ghislieri (1566/72) designed as well by Domenico Fontana
"Statue of St. Pius V" by Leonardo Sormani (before 1530/after 1589)
Five bas-reliefs with "Scenes of the pontificate of St. Pius V" by Nicolò Pippi and Gillis de la Rivière
On the sides "St. Peter Martyr" Giovanni Antonio Parracca aka Valsoldo and "St. Dominic" G.B. Della Porta (1542/1602)
In the adjoining Sacristy "Sink" maybe by Isaia da Pisa (active 1447/64)
In the floor in front of the Sistine Chapel BERNINIS' FAMILY TOMB where the giant of the arts Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598/1680) is also buried
"Tomb of Cardinal Rodriguez Gonzalo Garcia Gudiel" 1299/1303 Giovanni di Cosma (a pupil of Arnolfo di Cambio who first had propagated in Rome this French model of a tomb monument) with mosaic "Madonna and Child with Saints" by the Cavallini workshop
Restored by Ferdinando Fuga
"Tomb of Clement Merlini", who died on 1642, by Gregorio Spada with a bronze bust by Andrea Bolgi (1606/56). The monument has been attributed to Francesco Borromini by his friend writer Fioravante Martinelli
Pauline Chapel (or Borghese Chapel)
1605/11 Flaminio Ponzio (1560/1613) for Paul V Borghese (1605/21)
Frescoes in the spandrels and lunettes above the altar ("Apparition of the Madonna and St. John to St. Gregory the Healer") Giuseppe Cesari aka Cavalier d'Arpino (1568/1640)
Every 5th of August during the mass petals of white roses are dropped from the dome in memory of the legend of the miraculous snow
In the dome OF THE CHAPEL "Virgin and apostles" 1612 by Ludovico Cardi aka Cigoli (1559/1613)
The moon under the feet of the Virgin is painted in the way it had been discovered shortly before by Galileo Galilei a friend of Cigoli "with the irregular divisions and its islands": from the dome of the chapel Cigoli used for several months the Galilean telescope
It was the first example of a dome painted in Rome in which the scalloped division is not used, substituted by a perspective in concentric circles that hides its constructive function
In the lunettes and the arches on either side "Holy Spirit, the Eternal Father and Saints" 1613 by Guido Reni (1575/1642)
In the entrance arch "Fathers of the Church" by Giovanni Baglione (1566/1643)
ALTAR 1613 by Pompeo Targone (1575/about 1630). It had been designed by Girolamo Rainaldi (1570/1655) and G.B. Crescenzi (1577/1635)
Relief above in marble and gilded bronze "Pope Liberius outlines the plan of the Basilica" Stefano Maderno (1560/1636), alongside "Bronze angels" by Guillaume Berthélot (c. 1570/1648)
On the sides of the altar statues of "St. John the Evangelist" by Camillo Mariani (1567/1611) and "St. Joseph" by Ambrogio Buonvicino (c. 1552/1622)
In the center there is the most venerated "Madonna acheròpita" (it means not painted by human hands) aka Salus Populi Romani surrounded by "Crown of Angels" by Camillo Mariani, previously attributed to St. Luke himself. It maybe dates back to the twelfth or the thirteenth century, even if the repainting makes it difficult to establish the precise date
For centuries, until the second half of the sixteenth century, a procession (litany) was held that used to bring here from the Lateran the acheròpita icon which is kept there. The two icons, representing in the eyes of the faithful the real presence of the effigies, would meet each other and bow
On the right "Tomb of Pope Clement VIII" Aldobrandini (1592/1605) Flaminio Ponzio
"Statue of Clement VIII" by Giacomo Longhi Silla (active since 1568/d. 1619)
Bas-reliefs of "Stories of the papacy" below by Ambrogio Buonvicino (c. 1552/1622) and Camillo Mariani (1567/1611), above Ippolito Buzio (1578/1659), Pietro Bernini (1562/1629) (he executed the caryatids) and Giovanni Antonio Parracca aka Valsoldo (?/1642-46)
On the sides "Aaron" and "St. Bernard" Nicolas Cordier (1567/1612)
On the left "Tomb of Pope Paul V" designed as well by Flaminio Ponzio
"Statue of Paul V" by Giacomo Longhi Silla
Bas-reliefs of "Stories of the papacy" above by Giovanni Antonio Parracca aka Valsoldo, Ippolito Buzio and Cristoforo Stati (1556/1619). Below Stefano Maderno and Ambrogio Buonvicino (c. 1552/1622)
On the sides "David" and "St. Athanasius" Nicolas Cordier
Frescoes by Domenico Crespi aka Passignano (1559/1638)
1562/73 Tiberio Calcagni (1532/65) and Giacomo Della Porta (1533/1602) designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475/1564)
On the altar, "Assumption" by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta (1521/80), a student of Perin del Vaga; frescoes on the altar and the lunette by Cesare Nebbia (1536/1614)
"Tombs of Sforza Cardinals" maybe by Giacomo Della Porta
Altarpiece by Placido Costanzi (1702/59)
Further on in the nave "Statue of Regina Pacis" 1918 by Guido Galli (1873/?) for Benedict XV Della Chiesa (1914/22) as a thanksgiving for the end of World War I
ALTAR OF St. Leo the Great
Painting by Sebastiano Ceccarini (1703/83)
1550 Guidetto Guidetti (about 1498/1564)
"Beheading of St. Catherine of Alexandria" and other frescoes by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta
"Two Cesi tombs" 1565 by Guglielmo Della Porta (1515/77)
"Monument of Agostino Favoriti" 1685 by Filippo Carcani (active 1670/91) designed by the painter Ludovico Gimignani (1643/97)
Above the Holy Door "Tombs of Cardinal Filippo and Eustachio De Levis" 1489 in the style of Giovanni Dalmata
To the left of the entrance "Monument of Niccolò IV (1288/92)" 1574 Domenico Fontana (1543/1607) with statues by Leonardo Sormani (before 1530/after 1589)
Archaeological explorations
Excavations made in 1971 revealed 6 m (20 feet) deep under the floor a building with a colonnaded courtyard overlooked by a few rooms, maybe identified through numerous epigraphic discoveries with a LATE-EMPIRE PALACE OF THE NERATII FAMILY
From the apse stairs lead underground to a large colonnaded courtyard. The marble decoration at one point was removed and replaced on the walls of the long sides with an extraordinary "Calendar painted on a wall" maybe dating back to the late fourth century AD, but more likely to have been painted in the years between 224 and 275 AD. There are scenes of agricultural works related to each month of the year
Even if the paintings are damaged, it is one of the best examples still existing of landscape painting of the late imperial age

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