The Italian Art: Rome page contains 80 images of primarily religious art from the Rome Portfolio.
Rome is literally saturated with churches, and during the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque and
later periods attracted some of the best artists in Europe, including Michelangelo, Bernini and others,
who created sculpture, paintings, and architecture, primarily under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

This page is quite extensive, but Rome has a tremendous amount of art and architecture that is
not represented here. For more Roman secular, mythological and religious art, sculpture and
architecture, visit the multi-page section on Rome, the Eternal City in the Scenic Gallery.

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Images are in a number of Galleries in the Italy Collection.

Direct Links to the Florence and Rome Collections:

Florence          Rome


Trevi Fountain 6429

The terminal point of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct built by Marcus Agrippa (19 BC) (the builder of the original Pantheon in 27 BC) to supply the baths named after him, Fontana di Trevi replaced the simple basin designed by Leon Battista Alberti for the Renaissance Pope Nicholas V in 1453 when he repaired the Aqua Virgo (which had been broken by the Goths in 537 when they besieged Rome). According to a 1st century legend, the Aqua Virgo was created after a virgin (Trivia) led a band of thirsty soldiers from Agrippa’s army to a spring, which became the source of the aqueduct. This was the spring of Salone ten miles east of the city, which became the source of the most important of the eleven aqueducts which fed the thirsty fountains and population of Rome. The aqueduct ran almost completely underground, which kept it from being vandalized (literally, as the Vandals did sack Rome in 455, but they did not interrupt its flow of water to Rome).

The Aqua Virgo (Virgin Aqueduct) is the oldest still operating in Rome, and even though it was damaged by the Goths it never stopped bringing water into Rome (it is the only ancient aqueduct which has continually functioned since the time of Augustus). It was repaired several times in the Middle Ages, although these repairs only restored flow from nearby sources. In 1410, a set of three basins were constructed to catch the water which flowed from three mouths (the fountain of Trei, most likely the origin of the name Trevi). This was replaced in 1453 by one large basin designed by Leon Battista Alberti after Pope Nicholas V restored the aqueduct. In 1570, Pope Pius V restored the original sources of water to the aqueduct.


Trevi Fountain 7506

Trevi Fountain in the mauve reflected light of the waning sun.

The Tritons, Hippocampi and Oceanus were designed by Giovanni Battista Maini,
the sculptor responsible for the implementation of Nicola Salvi’s design. Due to quarrels
between Salvi and Maini, the inevitable construction delays due to the magnitude of the work,
the invariably occurring cost overruns, and other reasons, the fountain took a long time to build.
Pope Clement XII inaugurated it in 1735 when it was only partially completed, and died five
years later without seeing the finished work. Salvi and Maini never saw it finished either,
as Salvi died in 1751 and Maini in 1752. Before this, however, Pope Benedict XIV
took the opportunity to get his name on the project by staging a second opening
in 1744. His name is emblazoned above the central arch in large gold letters.
After the death of Salvi and Maini, there was a delay before Giuseppi Pannini
took over. Pannini completed the fountain with the installation of Pietro Bracchi’s
Oceanus and the two allegorical sculptures of Abundance and Salubrity (which had
replaced previously planned sculptures of Marcus Agrippa and Trivia the Virgin in 1762).

Most of the images on this page were taken inside some of the numerous churches of Rome.
I decided to add some images of exterior architecture (many more are in the Rome Portfolio).


Moses 8409

Moses was sculpted in 1513-1515. It was originally intended to be seen from below, surrounded by seven other massive figures). The horns resulted from a mis-translation by Jerome in the Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible). Jerome translated the word karnaim as ‘horned’ instead of ‘radiant’.

Moses is holding the tablets of Law with his right hand, his left hand is resting on his lap. He stares with a stern expression that led to the coining of the word “terribilita” (terribleness).


Moses 8429

The mark on Moses’ right knee is said to have been made by Michelangelo, who upon completion, struck the statue with his hammer and exclaimed “Perche mi guardi e non favelli!” (Why, look at me and he speaks! or Why do you not speak?).

Vasari said that after the unveiling, Rome’s Jewish population “flocked to the church like starlings every Sabbath”.

Moses is over eight feet tall, seated. A monumental work.

Michelangelo’s Pieta

Originally created for the Chapel of Santa Petronilla in the ancient basilica, Michelangelo’s Pieta
was completed in 1499 when the sculptor was 24 years old. The Pieta is probably the world’s most
famous religious sculpture, and it is very likely one of the most recognizable sculptures of any kind.

It was installed in 1500 for the Jubilee Year, and Michelangelo stood by proudly when
his masterpiece was unveiled (it was after all only his third completed sculpture). To his
dismay, he overheard someone who attributed his work to Cristoforo Solari. Picking up
his hammer, he immediately carved the following into the sash across Mary’s breast:

(Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence Created This)

He later regretted that his emotions got the better of him, vowing to never sign work again.


Pieta St. Peter’s 7772

This image of the Pieta made Michelangelo’s reputation, and it was just one of several he created during his career (the theme was not his, as it originated in 14th c. Germany, but his was the first sculpture to depict the Pieta with such elegance). The finish on the sculpture is superb. Note the plasticity of the skin under the arm of Christ. Michelangelo never again finished a sculpture to this level of refinement. Michelangelo was criticized for portraying Mary as a young woman, and was accused of heresy (dangerous in the age of the Inquisition). He responded by saying that chastity preserved her youth.


Pieta St. Peter’s 7760 M

The Pieta was originally intended to be viewed from the right, which foreshortens
the elongated limbs of Christ’s body, and Mary’s arm extends towards the viewer.

Michelangelo depicted the signs of the Crucifixion by small nail marks and a slight
indication of a wound in Christ’s side. He did not display marks of the Passion as
he did not want his sculpture to represent Death, but instead the composure of
the sculpture was intended to show the “religious vision of abandonment”.

The composition forms a pyramidal structure with the apex at Mary’s head.

All of the landscape (horizontal) large version images linked from the thumbnails are 1500 pixels wide.
Portrait (vertical) images are 1200 pixels tall (1290 pixels with title bar). Images designated with an “M”
in the shot number are 5:4 aspect ratio, 1500 x 1290 with a title bar, or 1500 x 1200 without a title bar.
Some of the portrait images are also designated as “M”, and are 1500 pixels tall (plus the title bar).


Michelangelo Christ the Redeemer 8476 M

Known as Cristo della Minerva (it is called the Risen Christ on the documentation in the church), this is the second version of Michelangelo’s Christ the Redeemer. He completed this in 1521 for the left of the altar (the original sculpture from 1516 is in the church of St. Vincent the Martyr in Bassano di Sutri). The original was abandoned when he found a black vein in the marble (he gave the first statue to the patron for his garden).

The bronze drapery was added after the Council of Trent and Pope Paul IV condemned nudity in religious art (while many bishops and cardinals maintained their personal collections of nude art). The funny thing is that the “fig-leaf” campaign was started by Cardinal Carafa after Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment with nude figures in the Sistine Chapel. This campaign finally resulted in Pope Paul IV’s decree that all nude statues and paintings had to be covered. The decision irreparably ruined a large number of superb works of art.


John the Baptist Obici 8486 M

Giuseppe Obici sculpted his John the Baptist in 1858. It stands opposite Christ the Redeemer on the right of the Altar. Obici must have been a bit dismayed to find that his work was to be placed opposite Michelangelo. What had to have been a major commission probably turned a bit sour. Obici’s statue is done in the Neo-Classical style, striking a dramatic pose which falls flat in comparison to the elegant contrapposto and relaxed pose of the Cristo della Minerva.

Michelangelo did not finish the statue. He gave the work to an assistant (Pietro Urbano), who damaged the toes, fingers, beard and one of the nostrils. Federigo Frizzi had to finish the work, and Michelangelo was never happy with the results. He actually had his friend Leonardo Sellajo at the unveiling, to let people know that Michelangelo had not done the finish work.


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St. Peter’s 8023

A view of the facade and dome of St. Peter’s Basilica from Via della Conciliazione.

St. Peter’s is built over the burial place of St. Peter, and there has been a church on the Vatican hill since 322, when the first basilica was built by Constantine atop an existing cemetery (within which a tomb was found from the second century burial of the Julii family containing the earliest Christian mosaics — on the ceiling vault is the earliest representation of Christ, the mosaic known as Christ-Helios). It was the site of Caligula’s Circus, where Nero crucified St. Peter. Constantine built his original apse over the grave of St. Peter, using considerable labor to cut into the rock of the hill and extend a level platform to the south. He oriented his basilica in the reverse of the direction that later Christian churches would take... he put the entrance to the east so the rising sun would fall on the high altar (Constantine was a sun-worshiper when he was younger, and Roman Christians associated Christ with the god of the rising sun).

The present basilica was started in 1506 under Julius II (by Donato Bramante, to the top of the piers) and completed in 1626. Michelangelo is the most significant artist and architect associated with St. Peter’s (he swept away the corrupt clan who had been supervising the construction under Bramante and Sangallo). It was Michelangelo who abandoned the concept of corner towers, and changed the shape for the design of the dome to that which we see today. Quite a bit of the work had been done by Bramante and Sangallo (although Sangallo altered Bramante’s original design, intending to create a ring of chapels that made little sense to anyone but Sangallo... this was squelched by Michelangelo, and he simplified the interior by reducing it from multiple components to a single congruous part, while adding light with the attic windows). The facade was designed by Maderno (a lot of controversy was associated with his design). Numerous other famous artists were involved in the design and construction, including GianLorenzo Bernini.


St. Peter’s Sunset 7823

Carlo Maderno’s facade is 376 feet wide and 149 feet tall, with enormous Corinthian columns
and a central pediment, surmounted by a large attic topped with 13 sculptures and two clocks.

While Maderno was faithful to Michelangelo’s design, many critics consider the attic to weighty,
the facade too wide for its height, and too far in front of the dome. To alleviate the height issue,
Maderno planned twin bell towers, but this project had to be stopped when the ground subsided
in 1621. Bernini tried to restart the project in 1646, but cracks in the facade stopped the project.

Bernini’s rival Borromini accused him of making mistakes in the calculations for the towers, and
convinced the Pope he was right. Bernini had to pay the costs to demolish the bell towers down
to the level of the attic (which made the facade even wider than it already was). The columns of
the only tower which had been completed were used in the churches in Piazza del Popolo, and
in 1790 Giuseppe Valadier designed the twin clocks standing above the corners of the facade.


St. Peter’s Ponte sant’Angelo 7077

The view of Ponte sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica from Castel sant’Angelo.

This was a very difficult hand-held shot, taken with an 85mm lens at 1/8 second, f/4.
Several other night shots of St. Peter’s Basilica are on the St. Peter’s Exteriors page.


Cherub Holy Water Font St. Peter’s 7594 M

A cherub at the Holy Water Font on the right of the nave...


Cherub Holy Water Font St. Peter’s 7595 M

... by Giuseppe Lironi and Giovanni Battista de Rossi.


St. Peter 7655 M

Arnolfo di Cambio’s sculpture of St. Peter, c. 1300. Placed against the Pier of St. Longinus, this highly venerated sculpture has feet worn down from centuries of pilgrims kissing and rubbing them. St. Peter is seated on an alabaster throne, and is mounted on an alabaster base. The right foot protrudes from the base and is the most worn of the two.

The alabaster base was created in 1757 by Carlo Marchionni. The statue has long been regarded as having been created in the 5th century, commissioned by Pope Leo I (440-461), but modern analysis has dated the statue to the 13th-14th century.


St. Peter 7657 M

Behind the statue is a mosaic designed to resemble brocade drapery, installed in 1871 along with a medallion of Pius IX, the first pope to exceed the 25 year term which was attributed to St. Peter. The mosaic and medallion honor this feat.

The style of the statue including the antique snail curl design in the hair and beard and the shape of the eyes and ears are consistent with the style of Arnolfo di Cambio’s later works. It is one of the few surviving pre-Renaissance bronze statues.

Pier Sculptures

In the enormous crossing space under Michelangelo’s Dome, GianLorenzo Bernini placed his monumental bronze Baldachino. As part of his design for the use of the space, he had the huge piers supporting Michelangelo’s Dome hollowed out to form niches, and had staircases built into them leading up to four balconies to display the four most precious relics of the basilica. There was much consternation over whether the dome might fall, but everything worked out as Bernini planned. The Loggias of the Relics were adorned with eight of the Solomonic Columns donated to the 4th century basilica by Emperor Constantine and decorated with bas-reliefs which were related to each relic. In the niches, over-life-size statues were to be placed of St. Andrew, St. Veronica, St. Longinus and St. Helena, each associated with one of the relics. Below are those statues.


St. Andrew 7714

Francois Duquesnoy’s sculpture of St. Andrew was the first to be started, but it took a long time to complete. After the four blocks of marble were delivered to his workshop, the stucco model was moved from the niche back to his workshop, but it fell and shattered, requiring a new stucco model. He carved the marble between 1635 and 1639, and it was unveiled in 1640 while the sculptor was still applying finish work. St. Andrew is shown with his characteristic X-shaped cross.


St. Veronica 7628 M

St. Veronica, by Francesco Mochi. She is displaying the Veil of Veronica (vera icona, or true icon), which she used to wipe Jesus face on the Way of the Cross. The frantic activity shown in her pose is vastly different than that of the other sculptures, and caused considerable controversy and criticism when it was unveiled in 1640. Bernini asked where the wind had come from that disturbed her garments, and Mochi replied that it came from the cracks Bernini had caused in the dome.


St. Longinus 7612

Made from four blocks of marble, Bernini’s St. Longinus exhibits Bernini’s famed sense of theatricality in the extension of the arms, occupying a large portion of the niche,  and the complex folds of the drapery, easily visible at a distance. Longinus holds the spear with which he pierced the side of Jesus on the Cross. The outstretched arms were a first in monumental sculpture, and were a source of controversy when later critics began to denigrate Bernini’s accomplishments.


St. Helena 7615

St. Helena of Constantinople, sculpted by Andrea Bolgi (a Bernini pupil). Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine who traveled to the Holy Land and by tradition, discovered the True Cross and the nails of the Crucifixion, which she placed in Constantine’s helmet and the bridle of his horse. Helena founded several churches in the East and in Rome, and stored a number of relics in her palace, which was converted into the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (in Rome).


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Bernini’s Baldachino

When Pope Urban VIII was appointed Pope in 1623, he had already been aware of Bernini’s work. Bernini had come to the attention of Maffeo Barberini (Urban VIII) when as a boy he helped his father work on several major projects in Rome, including the Borghese Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore. Bernini was noticed by Pope Paul V (Borghese) as he had commissioned the chapel. The Pope’s nephew (Cardinal Scipione Borghese) bribed Bernini to create sculptures for the gardens at Villa Borghese. Maffeo Barberini arranged for Bernini to study the sculptures at the Vatican Museum, and encouraged him to try greater things, such as David and his Apollo and Daphne, both created for Cardinal Borghese and both revolutionary sculptures for their time.

One of Urban VIII’s early actions as Pope was to appoint Bernini as the master of the Vatican Foundry, as he needed to learn more about the technical aspects of art and architecture. He then placed Bernini in charge of the Aqua Felice, getting him ready for work with the Reverenda Fabbrica, the organization in charge of creating decorations for St. Peter’s.

Soon after this, in late 1623, he commissioned Bernini to create an enormous Baldachino. There had been a canopy in the ancient basilica over the high altar which was supported by the Solomonic Columns donated to the basilica in the 4th century by Constantine (detail below), but in the new basilica there was no such arrangement. The high altar had been moved from its spot over the Tomb of St. Peter to the western wing and nothing but the tomb occupied the crossing. Paul V built a small baldachino over the tomb, but Urban VIII wanted to one-up Paul V and create something spectacular.

He figured that Bernini was just the fellow to do the job, and he prepared him for it by his assignments to the foundry and the aqueduct project, getting him used to working with bronze and thinking in terms of architectural construction. He gave Bernini a commission to create a spectacular permanent Baldachino.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7652 M

Bernini’s 98 foot canopy used 100,000 lbs. of bronze from the portico ceiling of the Pantheon and the same amount from the dome ribs to create the world’s largest bronze structure.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7654 M
1200 x 1650 (697 KB)

Atop the canopy are four enormous volutes rising from behind each corner angel to an
upper cornice which supports a bronze orb (symbolizing the world) topped with a cross.
This was originally to be a gigantic statue of the Risen Christ, but the engineering issues
this design entailed caused Bernini to rethink the design. He filled in the hollow shafts of
the columns with concrete to increase the stability of the structure and switched to the
volutes, orb and cross. He attached the canopy structurally to the column cornices.

The Baldachino stands under Michelangelo’s Dome in the vast space of the
crossing under the dome and acts as a visual centerpiece to the nave.
It provides a visual intermediary between the human scale and the
enormous architectural scale of the basilica, and fits perfectly
into the space. Along with his Cathedra (which can be seen
behind the Baldachino in this image), he created two
artistic elements which were perfectly proportioned
to the enormous space in which they were placed.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7603 M
1500 x 1290 (687 KB)

This image shows two of Bernini’s works and part of a third. Lower left center is a balcony and
niche in the pier below the spandrel medallion of St. Luke. This is the Loggia of the Relics, one
of four Bernini created (one on each pier) to house the four major relics of the basilica. Each is
associated with a major statue related to the relic stored in the Loggia above (detail is below).
The relics are: a fragment of the blade of the Spear of Longinus, fragments of the True Cross,
a piece of the Veil of Veronica, and until 1966, the relic of the Head of St. Andrew, which was
given to the City of Patras (1966) by Pope Paul VI (the city where St. Andrew was martyred).

The partial Bernini work is seen at the lower right. You can just see the top of the Gloria over
the Cathedra Petri (shown on the St. Peter’s Interiors page). The other major Bernini work is
the upper part of the Baldachino. He created the upper part to resemble the ancient canopy
cloth of the first basilica, thus creating a true Baldachino rather than the small temple within
a temple of the medieval Ciborium. He topped the canopy with four gigantic bronze angels
bearing floral festoons (a string or chain of flowers). The angels were created by Francois
Duquesnoy, who sculpted St. Andrew on the Pier (seen earlier). On the 4 sides are 8 putti,
some carrying the Keys and Tiara of St. Peter and others the Sword and Book of St. Paul.

The term Baldachino (baldachin, or baldacchino in Italian) is a general term for a canopy over
an altar or throne. The name is derived from a luxurious cloth from Bagdad, which was often used
to make the canopies. The formal name in ecclesiastical architecture is Ciborium, but as that is also
the name used for containers or tabernacles used to house the Hosts of the Eucharist, many people use
the general term Baldachin or Baldachino for these canopies, as will I for those shown on these pages.


Loggia of the Relics 7603c
(detail crop — no linked image)

Eight of the original Solomonic Columns that were donated to the Basilica of St. Peter in the early 4th century by Emperor Constantine are used in the four Loggias of the Relics which are mounted on the four piers that support Michelangelo’s Dome. Three of the columns were lost (possibly during the demolition of the original basilica by Bramante), and one is  displayed in the Treasury Museum (image shown to the right). The column in the Museum is the legendary “Holy Column”.

Reliefs on the Loggias show Angels carrying the Relics.


St. Peter’s Solomonic Column 7731 M
1000 x 1600 (361 KB)

In the medieval period, this was known as the “Holy Column” because it was said to have been leaned against by Jesus when it stood in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. It is actually 2nd century Greek marble and was brought to Rome from Greece by Emperor Constantine as part of the group of 12 columns which he donated to the first Basilica of St. Peter.


Altar of the Lie Roncalli 7647 M

“The Punishment of the Couple Ananias and Saphira”

Pietro Paolo Cristofari and Pietro Adami created a mosaic reproduction (1727) of the canvas by Cristoforo Roncalli (Pomerancio, 1604). Early Christians shared their property, but this couple (who had converted) kept some of the sale proceeds and lied to St. Peter about it. After lying, they each fell down dead. In the background two men carry off Ananias’ body covered in a shroud. Moral: do not lie to St. Peter. Brutal.


Altar St. Jerome Cristofari Domenichino 7605 M

“The Last Communion of St. Jerome”

Pietro Paolo Cristofari created a mosaic reproduction (1744) of the canvas by Domenico Zampieri (Domenichino, 1614). The canvas was considered a masterpiece only surpassed by Raphael’s Transfiguration (the original canvas was seized by Napoleon and returned to the Vatican in the 19th c.). The saint is depicted with a lion (one of his attributes). Domenichino researched the work of other artists before creating it, causing accusations of plagiarism by jealous rivals which proved false.

Pietro Paolo Cristofari was the first Director of the Vatican Mosaic Studio (from 1727). He was responsible  for the creation and maintenance of 10,000 sq. meters of mosaics on the domes, altars and inscriptions in the basilica. The paintings by many of the prominent 15th to 17th century artists were being damaged by the humidity and were replaced with exact, detailed copies in Smalti Filati, a micro-mosaic technique which was developed by Cristofari and other mosaic artists in Rome. Multi-colored glass is melted in a crucible and stretched into rods as thin as a millimeter. After they cool, the 15-20 inch rods are cut to the desired lengths and inserted into the glazing putty. The technique is used by only 30 artists today, and can create extremely fine mosaics that depict highly detailed scenes, which at normal viewing distances are nearly indistinguishable from paintings.

Smalti Filati (filament micro-mosaic) is the most refined of the mosaic techniques. The ancient technique evolved into the two Byzantine direct  methods: (1) apply lime cement and set the glass stones (tesserae)  directly into the cement; (2) apply into clay or lime, then glue cheesecloth or gauze onto the mosaic. Once the cloth dries, the mosaic can be removed from the clay and moved as a unit to the site and mounted (this was primarily used for portraits where the stones may have to be adjusted). The second method evolved into the indirect method developed by Cimabue (13th c.) for the mosaics of the Florentine Baptistry. The artist glues the tesserae face-down with water-soluble glue on  paper prepared by cutting up a cartoon of the mosaic (in the Florentine  Baptistry, the cartoon was drawn on canvas). When the glue dries, the sections are put in place as units and when the cement dries, the mosaic is wet down to remove the cartoon substrate. This technique revolutionized mosaic art after 1280.


Monument Pius VII 7648 M

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Monument to Pius VII (1823-31). The Danish sculptor was a pupil of Canova, and created the monument with two small winged spirits which represent History (left) and Time, and on separate bases are allegorical figures of Fortitude (left) and Wisdom (with the owl and book).


Monument Alexander VII 7636 M
1000 x 1600 (592 KB)

The final masterpiece of GianLorenzo Bernini: the Monument to Alexander VII (1678). Bernini, who was the Chigi Pope’s favorite, created the monument with the assistance of several talented artists in his studio. The Pope is surrounded by the allegorical statues of Justice, Prudence, Charity and Truth.

Pope Alexander was by Michele Maglia, with a billowing cloak created by Domenico Bassanoma;
Justice was sculpted by L. Balestri; Prudence was created by Giulio Cartari (Bernini’s favorite pupil);
Truth by Lazaro Morelli (finished by Giulio Cartari), and Charity by Giuseppe Mazzuoli. Prudence is
hidden on the upper level (left), Justice is on the upper right. Pope Innocent XI ordered Bernini to
cover the statues of Charity (front left) and Truth (front right). Bernini created lead draperies and
painted them to resemble marble (Innocent XI was the pope who ordered that all statues had
to be covered... no breasts or genitals allowed). The monument is swathed in an enormous
drapery of Jasper which defined the shape of the base, and Bernini used the Jasper over
the door (an exit from the basilica) in an innovative way. He has a skeletal representation
of Death holding an hourglass (clypsedra) in one hand and the drapery with the other. The
skeleton’s placement is a theatrical device used to imply that the exit is the Door to Eternity.


Angel of Death detail Alexander VII 7636
1200 x 1050 (541 KB)

The statue of Truth on the right also represents Faith. Truth holds a symbol of the sun and has
her foot placed on the globe, directly over England, where Alexander VII had so much trouble
in his attempts to reduce the spread of the Anglican Church and return England to Catholicism.
Bernini’s three-dimensional skeleton was unprecedented in tomb construction and the idea very
likely came from a mass Bernini attended in 1639 at the Chiesa del Gesu, where mechanized
skeletons with crowns and swords were used in a theatrical production during the services
to symbolize Death’s dominance over the world. This must have strongly influenced him,
because with this monument Bernini strayed from the normal representation of the
skeleton as the body of the deceased and clearly made his 3D skeleton as a
representation of Death, holding up the draperies to the Door of Eternity.


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Images are in a number of Galleries in the Italy Collection.

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Rio de la Plata Fontana Navona 7880

‘Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi’ in Piazza Navona, designed and built by GianLorenzo Bernini 1651. This is an absolute masterpiece, and the dramatic effect (especially at night) is high. Bernini was not even considered for the competition for this design as his competition had ‘poisoned the mind of’ the
Pope against him, but he was convinced to create a model by Prince Ludovisi, whose wife was the Pope’s niece, and he arranged for it to be snuck into the Palazzo and installed in a room the Pope had to pass on his way from dinner.


Rio de la Plata Fontana Navona 7888

The Pope saw the model after dinner, and offered the design to Bernini. The work was hidden from the public (as a festival was planned for the unveiling). Reports say the people were overwhelmed when it was unveiled.

Paraphrased from Baldinucci’s “Life of Cavaliere Bernini”

The Agonalis Obelisk was made in Egypt (hieroglyphs were  cut in Rome) by order of Domitian for the Temple of Serapis.


Roman Mosaic Santa Maria in Trastavere 6963 M

1st century Roman Mosaic from Palestrina
(Seaside scene with Fishermen and Dolphins)


Madonna Child Santa Maria in Trastavere 6974

A late medieval Byzantine-style portrayal of the
Virgin Mary and Child, with ornately gilded halos
and accents on the clothing (the Christ Child is
holding a gilded ball-shaped object as well).


Santa Maria in Trastavere Nave Ceiling detail 6937 M
1000 x 1600 (1020 KB)

Cardinal P. Aldobrandini commissioned Domenico Zampieri to create this coffered ceiling. Along with Guido Reni, he was the premiere painter in Rome at the turn of the 17th c. In 1616, he designed this complex ceiling  (completed in 1617) and painted the central coffer with the “Assumption  of the Virgin”.


Santa Maria in Trastavere Apse Mosaics 6947 M
1000 x 1600 (781 KB)

The primary mosaic in the vault of the apse was created in 1140-48 during  the rebuild by Innocent II. The vault mosaic depicts the “Coronation of  the Virgin” (descriptions below).

Both of these are highly detailed images (note file sizes)

“Coronation of the Virgin” mosaic, left to right:

               •  Pope Innocent II holding a model of the church;
               •  St. Lawrence and Pope St. Callixtus;
               •  Mary and Jesus Enthroned, with the hand of God emerging from a wreath overhead
               •  St. Peter, Pope St. Cornelius, Pope St. Julius, and St. Calepodius
               •  The frieze below depicts the Lamb of God surrounded by the disciples.

The frieze below the Coronation mosaic depicts 12 sheep(Disciples) surrounding the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

All of the mosaics below the sheep and outside of the apse vault area are the work of Pietro Cavallini (1290-1291), depicting Scenes from the Life of Mary. These mosaics break with Byzantine tradition in their use of a wide palette of color and more realistic shapes (predating the frescoes of Giotto which established Renaissance painting styles).

The mosaic left of the central apse window is a Nativity scene, and the one to the right of the window is the ”Gifts of the Magi” (visit of the Three Wise Men to the Infant Jesus 12 days after birth). Below the central window of the apse is the Dedication mosaic. Cavallini depicted Saints Peter and Paul presenting the donor of the mosaics (Bertoldo Stefanaschi) to the Virgin Mary (who is represented in a rainbow-framed medallion).

At the top right outside of the arch is a mosaic of the Prophet Isaiah. Above the Prophet Isaiah is the Angel of Matthew. On the opposite side of the outside of the arch is the Eagle of John, which can be seen in the images below.

On the keystone of the arch is an ornate cross with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega (Omega represented as a W) and on the underside of the keystone is the Chi-Rho, an early Christian symbol using the first two Greek letters of Christ.


Santa Maria in Trastavere Apse Mosaics detail 6946
1500 x 1092 (803 KB)

The landscape image shows additional Cavallini mosaics outside the Apse.

Left of the sheep, below the Prophet Isaiah, is Cavallini’s “Birth of the Virgin Mary”.

Pietro Cavallini predated Giotto di Bondone of Florence, who is generally credited with ending the Byzantine style of ‘flat’ representation of space and rediscovering naturalism and the use of perspective, beginning the Renaissance style of painting. The concepts of perspective and naturalism were present in these mosaics, and in recently rediscovered frescoes of Cavallini’s in Santa Maria in Ara Coeli which were thought to have been lost. Many of Cavallini’s works have been lost over the years, because he was considered to be the best fresco artist of his day and worked on the most prestigious churches, which were also the ones likely to be renovated, causing his work to be repainted or otherwise destroyed. The recent discoveries are likely to cause the rewriting of art history books.


Altar Nome di Maria detail 6657 M

12th-13th c. icon of Mary (painted on wood) on the High Altar.

The Baroque Gloria surrounding the icon was inspired by the Gloria behind the Cathedra Petri in St. Peter’s Basilica by GianLorenzo Bernini. A number of Glorias based on Bernini’s design were installed in churches after it was unveiled.


Maria Raggi Bernini 8479

GianLorenzo Bernini’s monument to Maria Raggi (1647-53) introduced portrait sculpture on tomb monuments. Maria Raggi was forced to marry at an early age, but was widowed at 18 when her husband was captured by Turkish forces. She became a nun the following year and moved to a  home near Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where her tomb is located.


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San Clemente Apse 8237 M

The lowest section of the apse is panels with papal keys and other decorative elements, such as the Agnus Dei. Above that is a frescoed floral motif, then a 14th c. fresco of Christ, the Virgin and the Apostles. On the right is a medieval tabernacle, in French Gothic style by Arnolfo di Cambio (1299) with a portrait of Pope Boniface VIII. The 6th century baldachino over the altar was brought from the 4th c. church (see info below).


San Clemente Ceiling Apse 8248 M

Pope Clement XI had Carlo Stefano Fontana (the nephew of papal architect Carlo Fontana) renovate parts of the church in the early 1700s (primarily the ceiling and facade). The Papal Coat of Arms and heraldic devices of Clement XI are in deep coffers in the gilded ceiling, proclaiming Clement’s role.

Originally a private Roman home where clandestine Christian meetings were held (the religion was outlawed at  the time as a Jewish sect), the site was also used in the 2nd century as a Mithraic cult temple. The house belonged to the first Roman of the Senatorial class to convert, Titus Flavius Clemens.

Titus Flavius  ClemensΒ  was a great nephew of Vespasian, and a second cousin to Titus  and Domitian. Clemens married Vespasian’s granddaughter, Flavia Domitilla. Roman Consul in 95 AD, Clemens and Domitilla had two sons (both Titus Flavius) who were adopted by Domitian as his heirs.

The current church was built in 1080-1099 over a 4th century church dedicated to St. Clement. There are two traditions regarding Clement, one Jewish and one Christian (both have Consul Clemens killed by Emperor Domitian).

The Christian tradition says that Clemens told Domitian he had converted to Christianity to put off the Senate vote on the edict Domitian had issued for the extermination of all Jews and Christians in the Empire. Domitian immediately went to the Senate, denounced him, and had him put to death. Stephanus, the servant who killed Domitian (the steward to Clemens’ wife Flavia Domitilla. niece of Emperor Domitian), was supposedly exacting revenge for Clemens’ death.

The Jewish tradition states that Clemens was introduced to the non-Roman religion by Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, whom he had befriended on a ship returning to Rome from the Middle East (the Rabbi was bringing the newly-appointed Emperor Domitian a gift of soil from the Temple Mount).

Domitian was not impressed with what he saw as a chest of dirt, and sentenced the Rabbi to death for the perceived insult. Clemens explained to Domitian that as Holy soil, it could be useful in defeating the Chatti (a central German tribe who were attacking Mogontiacum (Mainz). The Rabbi was allowed to stay with Clemens while Domitian tested the ‘power’ of the dirt (his  armies were successful in the defense).

Clemens later converted to Judaism, and when Domitian issued an edict to have all Jews and Christians in the Empire killed, Clemens went to Domitian as Consul and told him he was a Jew. Domitian immediately went to the Senate and  denounced Clemens, and the Senate sentenced him to death.

This may have directly led to Domitian’s assassination, as the chief  conspirators in the killing of Domitian were Stephanus and Parthenius, Domitian’s chamberlain. Both were enlisted by Marcus Cocceius Nerva (the Senator that would become the next Emperor, and who had planned the assassination).


San Clemente Apse detail 8237 M
1500 x 1325 (1085 KB)

•  Note the file size  —  highly detailed image  •

Above the frescoed figures is a cornice, then the mosaic begins with Christ and the Apostles
represented as the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and twelve sheep, followed by an inscription which
describes the mosaic. Above the inscription are people and animals by a river which represents
the Garden of Eden. Above this is a central Acanthus plant with spreading tendrils which swirl
through the mosaic. Above the Acanthus is a Crucifixion scene, with the Virgin and St. John
Evangelist flanking the cross. Above the cross, the Hand of God emerges from a wreath.
The Doves on the cross represent the 12 Apostles (one is obscured by the Acanthus).

At the top of the  apsidal arch is Christ Pantokrator, flanked by symbols of the four  Evangelists (an Angel and an Eagle carrying large wreaths (left and right center), and in the upper corners a winged leopard (left) and a  winged bull (right), both are holding books). Below Christ, under the keystone of the arch, is the Chi-Rho symbol with Alpha and Omega, an early Christian symbol often seen on the older mosaics.

On the left side of the arch, St Lawrence is receiving instruction from St Paul. St Lawrence is sitting with his feet on an iron grille, the  instrument of his martyrdom. Paul is identified by the inscription AGIOS PAULUS. Agios = Saint in Greek. On the right are Saints Peter and Clement (the inscription AGIOS PETRUS is Saint Peter, and the inscription below is partially obscured by elements of the ship, but Clemens is clearly visible). Below these are the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, both holding scrolls.


San Clemente in Glory Chiari 8229 M

During the renovations by Clement XI, this Baroque painting of “St. Clement in Glory” (1715) was painted by Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari, the primary pupil of Carlo Maratta and the head of Accademia di San Luca (the Roman Painter's Guild).


San Carlo al Corso
Fall of the Rebel Angels 7993 M

The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Giacinto Brandi (1674-79). The fresco dominates the central nave vault (designed by Pietro da Cortona), filling nearly the entire ceiling of the Baroque Lombard church of San Carlo al Corso (1612).


San Luigi dei Francesi Nave detail 6540 M

The nave is a riot of Baroque decoration, with gilded stucco everywhere. Catherine of Medici paid for the gold and work. The 16th c. Baroque National Church of France in Rome, it stands on the site of the Baths of Agrippa.


San Luigi dei Francesi Natoire St. Louis 6537 M

The Apotheosis of St. Louis IX in the vault of the
central nave, by Charles Joseph Natoire (1754-56).


Chiesa del Gesu Altar Apse 6601 M
1000 x 1600 (709 KB)

The marble and alabaster in the nave was added between 1858-61 and the high altar was built by Antonio Sarti (who also covered the apse in marble). The antique yellow marble columns support a Neo-Classical pediment over which are two angels (Francesco Benaglia and Filippo Gnaccarini) on  either side of the aureole containing the IHS monogram with three smaller angels below the aureole (by Rinaldo Rinaldi). The altarpiece is the Circumcision by Alessandro Capalti.


Chiesa del Gesu Altar Apse 8465
(under artificial lighting at night)

The apse vault frescoes, by Giovanni Battista Gaulli. The main vault depicts the Adoration of the Mystical Lamb, in which the reclining lamb is surrounded by a group of raptly gazing figures. The fresco in the arch vault has musical angels playing a harp, trumpet, viola and a tambourine while watching another group of three angels, floating overhead carrying a Latin inscription reading “Calling the Name of Jesus”.

Chiesa del Gesu
(Church of the Gesu: the Jesuit Mother Church)

“The most Baroque church in all of Rome”.

Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesω all'Argentina (Church of the Holy Name of Jesus) is the
mother church of the Jesuit Order, and introduced the Baroque style into architecture. Its facade,
the first truly Baroque facade, was first designed by the Florentine architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio
then modified by Michelangelo Buonarroti, who offered to design the church for free. Instead, the
Cardinal Alessandro Farnese funded the project (to continue the association of his family name
with the church, as his grandfather Pope Paul III authorized the founding of the Jesuit Order).


Chiesa del Gesu Apse Vault detail 8465 M
1500 x 1290 (821 KB)

A large detail crop of the image shown above right, detailing the entire apse vault and arch.
In the apse vault is Adoration of the Mystical Lamb, and the arch vault has figures of musical
angels playing a harp, trumpet, viola and tambourine while watching a group of three angels
hovering overhead carrying a Latin inscription which reads: “Calling the Name of Jesus”.


Chiesa del Gesu Triumph Name of Jesus 6588 M
1000 x 1600 (705 KB)

Triumph of the Name of Jesus
by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Baciccia)

Considered to be the finest ceiling fresco in Rome other than the Sistine Chapel. Gaulli received the commission to create his masterwork when he was only 22 years old. His patron, GianLorenzo Bernini (the foremost Baroque artist in Rome), was successful in recommending him for this most prestigious  job. Gaulli, Antonio Raggi and Leonardo Reti decorated the entire dome, lantern and pendentives, vault, transept ceilings and window recesses with frescoes and the foreshortened trompe-l’oeil stucco and wooden figures used to create the 3D effects that make the fresco work so striking.

Triumph of the Name of Jesus (also known by several similar names) was created within a gilded frame which is supported by stuccoed angels and unveiled on Christmas Eve, 1679 to a stunned audience. A horde of floating children surround the  luminous golden monogram IHS, and the children are in turn surrounded by older figures clamoring for a view. Men and women, Kings and peasants surround the outer group, sitting on clouds and staring at the spectacle. An angel peeks out of the lower cloud at the scene of trompe-l’oeil figures of fallen angels and heretics tumbling in disarray out of the  lower edge of the composition. The scene can give you a pain in the neck as you strain to take it all in. A masterwork of Baroque theater.

Raggi’s foreshortened wood and stucco figures were attached to the ceiling and then painted by Gaulli so they seemed to be a part of the fresco. You really have to look twice when you first see it. There were a number of classic double-takes by people who walked over to look while I was  shooting (I understood completely). The effect must have been astounding in the 1680s when people first saw it.


Chiesa del Gesu Triumph Name of Jesus detail 6581 M
1500 x 1290 (757 KB)

Detail of the upper section of Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s masterpiece
Triumph of the Name of Jesus showing the wood and stucco trompe-l’oeil
figures created by Antonio Raggi, which were placed in a U-shaped arrangement
around and through the fresco and painted by Gaulli to create a 3D illusion.
The superb shading makes the illusion seem extremely realistic.


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Santa Sabina Apse Triumphal Arch 6855 M

The Triumphal Arch mosaic was replaced in 1559 by a fresco painted by Taddeo Zuccari which retained the design motif of the original mosaic. Note the mosaic windows of selenite.

Taddeo Zuccari’s fresco of “Jesus, the Apostles and Saints buried in the Basilica” was painted using the motif of the original mosaic decoration in the apse. Note the chalices surrounding the Selenite windows in the apse, continuing the pattern displayed in the spandrels over the columns. The front of the marble altar is decorated with a red porphyry slab. The figures shown in the medallions on the Triumphal Arch are Christ in the center, flanked by Apostles, Prophets and Popes frescoed in sepia in 1919-1920 by Eugenio Cisterna based on descriptions of the originals from the 17th century, when the original mosaic medallions were replaced with Baroque painted copies. The towers on either side of the Triumphal Arch represent Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Like most early churches, there used to be mosaics on the Triumphal Arch and in the apse, as well as above the arcade, but these were removed (probably during the Baroque-era modifications, when Zuccari painted the current apse fresco using the same motif as the original mosaic). These mosaics were said to have been spectacular, but during the Baroque era many churches were modified to the tastes of the period, destroying numerous Byzantine and early-Renaissance artists work. Some of these works were recovered in churches where they were simply plastered over, but the loss of these mosaics is permanent.

During the early 20th century restoration, a large number of the original window grates were recovered and were reproduced to allow a consistent reconstruction of all of the windows around the nave. Santa Sabina is one of the few churches that did not have the windows walled up when it was decided that darker churches were more suited to prayer and introspection. The churches of Rome are notoriously dark, and  the character of the light in Santa Sabina was a welcome relief, especially as I had arrived near sunset, when most other churches in Rome would have been as dark as a cave (many Roman churches are not much brighter even in full daylight).


Santa Sabina Cappella d'Elci 6862

Santa Sabina all’Aventino
(Santa Sabina at the Aventine)

Santa Sabina, built between 422-432 AD atop the Aventine Hill, is a classical rectangular basilica. It was built at the site of the original Titulus Sabinae, a church in the home of Sabina, who was martyred (c. 114 AD). The tituli were the first parish churches of Rome. Santa Sabina, unlike most of the Roman churches, retains the character it had when it was first built in the 5th century. It has restored 9th c. windows (very large, made of selenite, a gypsum crystal) that provide quite a bit of light (most early churches walled up their windows as they thought that less light would be more conducive to introspection and prayer). I arrived near sunset, so it was still pretty dark, but brighter than expected.

It has its original 5th c. door (see the Ancient Churches page), the early style of simple horizontal wooden ceiling, and Rome’s only surviving mosaic tomb (dated 1300) in the center of the nave. Everything about Santa Sabina evokes a feeling of being in an earlier time.

Santa Sabina Cappella d'Elci

Cardinal Rainero d’Elci had this chapel dedicated to Saint Catherine of Siena built in 1671 by Giovanni Battista Contini, a pupil of Bernini, after he became the Bishop of Sabina. It features the 1643 “Madonna of the Rosary”, the masterwork of Giovanni Battista Salvi (Sassoferrato).

Mary holds the infant Jesus on her left knee and hands a rosary to St.  Dominic with her right hand (Santa Sabina is a Dominican basilica). Jesus hands a rosary to St. Catherine, who is kneeling to Mary’s left. Angels are hovering overhead in an arc, and hazy figures are looking down from a cloud.


Santa Sabina Cappella d'Elci Spandrel Frescoes 6868
1500 x 1150 (511 KB)

The spandrel frescoes, which were also created by Giovanni Odazzi, depict
“St. Catherine in Glory” (at left) and “The Coronation of St. Catherine” (right).


Santa Sabina Cappella d'Elci Dome 6860
1500 x 1092 (496 KB)

The dome of Cappella d’Elci features the “Triumph of St. Catherine of Siena” by Giovanni Odazzi.


Madonna of the Rock Raphael's Tomb 7456 M

Madonna del Sasso (Madonna of the Rock), stands over the Tomb of Raphael. Created by Lorenzo Lotti (Lorenzetto, Raphael’s pupil) in 1520-24 by commission from Raphael, the statue gets its name because one foot is resting on a rock.


Pantheon Madonna of the Girdle 7467

Madonna of the Girdle and St. Nicholas of Bari, painted in 1686 by an unknown artist. I am not sure why St. Nicholas is in this scene, since the story (as I read it) has the Virgin giving the girdle to St. Thomas. This painting is mounted in the niche to the right of the Chapel of the Annunciation, named for the Annunciation by Melozzo da Forli, which is shown below.


Pantheon Annunciation 7470

Painted by Melozzo (Ambrosi) da Forli during his Roman period between 1480 and 1484,
the Annunciation is one of the most recognizable and famous works in the Pantheon, partly
because it is one of the few remaining works by Melozzo da Forli, one of the most influential
artists of the Forlivese School, as his works exhibited an early use of geometric perspective.
Introduced by Brunelleschi c. 1425, geometric perspective was gradually picked up by artists,
 in Florence and later in Rome. Melozzo influenced Raphael, Michelangelo and Donato Bramante.


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Santa Maria Maggiore
Baldachino Apse Mosaic 7539 M

The Papal Baldachino, supported by Porphyry columns and entwined with gold  leaves, stands in front of the 13th century apse with mosaics by the Franciscan monk Jacopo Torriti. On the left of the medallion, you can see part of St. Peter beside St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi (left of the Porphyry column).


Santa Maria Maggiore Apse Mosaic 7565 M

In the 1290s, Pope Nicholas IV (the first Franciscan Pope) had the apse moved back several meters and created the new mosaics for the Jubilee Year of 1300. Above the altar painting (The Nativity, by Francesco Mancini,  c. 1750), is the central mosaic depicting the Assumption of Mary.


Santa Maria Maggiore Apse Mosaic Detail 7565 M
1350 x 1475 (1018 KB)

•  Note the file size  —  highly detailed image  •

The central medallion of Torriti's apse Mosaic depicts the Coronation of Mary,
seated on an Oriental throne with choirs of angels at the base of the medallion.
The medallion is surrounded by swirling Acanthus leaves, and on the right are
St. John the Baptist, St. John Evangelist, St. Anthony and Cardinal Colonna.
On both sides of the right window are mosaic Scenes from the Life of Mary.

Inscribed on the underside of the Apse Arch keystone is Constantine’s
Labarum (Chi-Rho, the first two Greek letters in Christ) with Alpha and
Omega, the first and last letters of the Ionic Greek alphabet. This was
an ancient symbol of Christianity, which can be seen on many of the
older mosaics (e.g. San Clemente and Santa Maria in Trastavere).

In front of the keystone is the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God).


Santa Maria Maggiore Pauline Altar 7558 M

The Borghese (or Pauline) Chapel was built by Pope Paul V between 1606 and 1612 (designed by Flaminio Ponzio) to house the Salus Populi Romani (Health of the Roman People, which research dates to the 7th c.). Pope Gregory carried it through Rome in 593 and prayed to Mary to end the Plague.


Santa Maria Maggiore Pauline Altar detail 7558 M

Detail of the altar by Pompeo Targoni, with angels by Camillo Mariani, Stefano Maderno’s relief of Pope Liberius tracing the outline of the basilica in the miraculous summer snow, and the lunette frescoes by Giuseppe Cesari (Cavalieri d’Arpino), who also painted the spandrels of the dome.


Salus Populi Romani
(Vatican image)

As it proved impossible to shoot the icon due to reflections, at left is the Vatican image of the icon (no linked image).

The five foot tall by 39” wide icon is painted on a cedar slab, and by legend was painted  by St. Luke from life on a table Mary carried which was made by Jesus (although the dating of the icon makes this unlikely). Based on this legend, it was brought to Rome by Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother.

After Pope Gregory carried the icon through Rome in 593, praying to it to end the plague which was devastating entire Roman families, legend says Archangel Michael appeared over the Mausoleum of Hadrian and sheathed his sword.


Santa Maria Maggiore Pauline Chapel 7559 M

The Pauline (Borghese) Chapel is richly decorated with exquisite marble, sculptures, reliefs, columns and frescoes created by a host of artists representing the best working in Rome at the beginning of the 17th century. In the image above (showing the left side of the chapel) the statue of Pope Paul V was executed by Silla di Viggiu, and the statue of King David was created by Nicholas Cordier.


Santa Maria Maggiore Pauline Chapel 7562 M

Above is the right side of the chapel. The statue of High Priest Aaron was executed by Nicholas Cordier, and the statue of Pope Clement VIII on the right was sculpted by Silla di Viggiu. The Caryatids above the monuments (beside the reliefs) were created by Pietro Bernini, father of the great Baroque sculptor GianLorenzo Bernini. The putti in the frieze between reliefs were sculpted by Stefano Maderno.


Santa Maria Maggiore Pauline Chapel 7559 7562 M
Composite image  —  1500 x 1290 (794 KB)

The composite shows the left and right sides of the chapel together.
Between the two sides is the altar of the Salus Populi Romani, shown earlier.

On the left is the tomb of Paul V, which was designed by Flaminio Ponzio.
The statue of Paul V was created by Silla di Viggiu. The bas-relief to the
right of the statue of Paul V was sculpted by Ambrogio Buonvicino. The
Caryatids and Coronation relief above were created by Ippolito Buzio,
and the putti in the frieze between tombs were by Stefano Maderno.

The center statues are King David and High Priest Aaron.
Both of these statues were sculpted by Nicholas Cordier.

On the right is the tomb of Clement VIII, also designed by Flaminio Ponzio.
The statue of Clement VIII was sculpted by Silla di Viggiu, reliefs include the
“Coronation of Clement VIII” (above the statue) by Pietro Bernini (father of the
famous Baroque artist GianLorenzo Bernini), who also sculpted the Caryatids.
Other reliefs were created by Ippolito Buzio, Antonio Vasoldo and Camillo Mariani.


Santa Maria Maggiore Pius V Sistine Chapel 7549 M

Tomb of Pope Pius V, by Pierre le Gros the Younger (1698). The reliefs depict Papal Wars such as the "Battle of Lepanto" and "Count Sforza Victorious over the Heretics". The body of the Pope is displayed in the glass-fronted coffin.


Santa Maria Maggiore Sixtus V Sistine Chapel 7552 M

Tomb of Pope Sixtus V, by Giovanni Antonio Paracca (1591). Unlike the reliefs of Pius V, the reliefs around Sixtus V show scenes of the Papal States at peace. Sixtus V is depicted with the tiara removed, kneeling in prayer, facing the altar and Ciborium (unlike gestures of blessing of other Papal tombs).


Santa Maria Maggiore Stairs Sistine Chapel 7578

One of the double stairways leading down to the Chapel of the Nativity and the Nativity Oratory
of Arnolfo di Cambio, where St. Ignatius of Loyola gave his first mass. Note the magnificent marbles
used in the construction. These were taken from the Septizodium of Emperor Septimius Severus which
was demolished by Domenico Fontana under the orders of Pope Sixtus V to make use of the stone.
The existing Nativity Oratory was moved into the crypt when Domenico Fontana built the Chapel.
It houses what may be the oldest Nativity sculptures in existence, a series of high-reliefs by
Arnolfo di Cambio, created between 1288-1291 at the order of Pope Nicholas IV.


Santa Maria Maggiore Pius IX Sistine Chapel 7576

At the base of the stairs, this statue of Pope Pius IX kneels in the Crypt of the Nativity.
It was sculpted by Ignazio Jacometti in 1880 and placed in the crypt by Pope Leo XIII.


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Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
(The Papal Basilica of St. John in Lateran)

The Cathedral of the Roman Diocese and seat of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), St. John in Lateran is the oldest and first among the major basilicas of Rome. The basilica is situated on the site of an ancient Imperial Army fort and the Lateran Palace grounds. The Lateran Palace was home to the Laterani family of ancient Rome, administrators for several emperors, but it was confiscated by Nero and redistributed when Plautius Lateranus was accused of plotting against the Emperor. It became Imperial property when Constantine I married Fausta (the sister of his enemy Maxentius), and was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine in the early 4th century. The first church was known as Basilica Salvatoris (Basilica of the Saviour). The interior was elaborately decorated, and it was sometimes called Basilica Aurea (the Golden Basilica) due to the decorations.

The first church was sacked by the Visigoths (410) and Vandals (455) and restored in 460 by Leo the Great, and again in 590 by Pope Gregory the Great. A major restoration occurred under Pope Sergius I (690s) and again by Pope Hadrian I (770s). In 897, the basilica was the scene of the “cadaver synod” when the body of Pope Formosus was exhumed and put on trial by his successor Pope Stephen VI (instigated by the powerful Spoleto family who hated Formosus). The trial ended in Formosus’ corpse being desecrated and thrown in the Tiber, and the scandal caused Stephen to be imprisoned and strangled soon after. During the trial, the basilica was ominously damaged by a severe earthquake, which further excited the populace.

Pope Sergius III had the basilica completely rebuilt before 910 after the earthquake damage and formally dedicated the new basilica to St. John the Baptist. The Lateran Palace was occupied as the residence and official seat of the Pope until 1309 when the French Pope Clement V transferred the Papacy to Avignon, France. During the Avignon Papacy, the Palace and Basilica declined, and two fires ravaged them. After the Pope returned to Rome, the Palace and Basilica were determined to be inadequate due to the damage from the fires and years of neglect, and the Pope set up residency in Santa Maria in Trastavere, and later in Santa Maria Maggiore. Eventually, the Pope moved to the Vatican Palace.

The Palace and Basilica were reconstructed to various degrees several times before the 16th century, when Pope Sixtus V undertook a major reconstruction, tearing down the Palace and creating a new building, restoring the enormous Thutmose III obelisk from the Circus Maximus and moving it to the Lateran, and assigning Domenico Fontana to restore the Basilica. Pope Innocent X performed further renovations on the Basilica in 1646, directed by Francesco Borromini, who created the Baroque style seen in much of the Basilica. The Baroque facade was created by Alessandro Galilei in 1735 after winning the competition which was commissioned by Pope Clement XII.


Lateran Nave 8352
1500 x 1092 (539 KB)

The view down the nave past Borromini’s niches with statues of the Apostles to the
Papal Baldachino (Ciborium) over the High Altar and the Apse with Papal Cathedra.
This shot was taken from the large porphyry disc in the Cosmatesque floor (1421-25).

The baldachino was designed by Giovanni da Stefano in 1367. It stands over the Papal Altar and
by tradition the relic chamber houses the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul. Statues of Peter and Paul
are above each of the columns. The apse contains the Papal Cathedra (Papal Throne, cathedra is
 the Latin for a chair with armrests) and early Christian Mosaics, both of which are detailed below.


Lateran St. James Greater 8337 M

A large detailed image of Camillo Rusconi’s
sculpture: St. James the Greater (1715-1718).


Lateran St. Thomas 8340 M

A large detailed image of St. Thomas
by Pierre le Gros the Younger (1705-1711).
Pamphili Doves (Innocent X) are in the pediments.


Nave Sculptures St. James St.Thomas M
Composite image  —  1500 x 1290 (530 KB)

When Borromini rebuilt the interior of the Basilica in the mid-1600s, he created 12 niches
for sculptures in the walls of the nave that were not filled until the early 1700s, when Pope Clement
held a contest for the 12 sculptures of Apostles to be placed in the niches. Camillo Rusconi did four
of the sculptures, including St. James the Greater (left). Pierre le Gros the Younger did two of the
Apostles, including St. Thomas (right). Camillo Rusconi was the premiere sculptor of the early
18th century (his only contemporary who came close was Pierre le Gros the Younger).


Lateran Baldachino Cathedra 8362 M

A view from the central nave towards the Apse and Papal Cathedra, past the Gothic Baldachino (ciborium) by Giovanni di Stefano (1367), from a design by Arnolfo di Cambio.


Lateran Baldachino 8356 M

A frontal view of the same side of the Baldachino. The section above Barna da Siena’s frescoes is the Relic Chamber, which is said to house the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The term Baldachino (baldachin, or baldacchino in Italian) is a general term for a canopy over an altar or throne. The name is derived from a  luxurious cloth from Bagdad, which was often used to make the canopies. The formal name in ecclesiastical architecture is Ciborium, but as that is also the name used for containers or tabernacles used to house the Hosts of the Eucharist, many people use the general term Baldachino for these canopies, as will I for those shown on these pages.


Lateran Apse Mosaics 8278 M
1134 x 1600 (803 KB)

A 1134 x 1600 detail crop of the four sections of the Apse Mosaics. The  River Jordan is the oldest section, dating from the founding of the  Basilica in the early 4th c. The upper section of the vault is 4th or  5th century. The center section above the River Jordan with the Cross,  Dove, and Saints is 6th c. (restored in the 13th c.), and the lower  section was 13th century work by Jacopo Torriti and Jacopo da Camerino.


Lateran Apse Mosaics 8274
795 x 1290 (542 KB)

Centered below the mosaics is the Papal Cathedra. The cathedra level has  Cosmatesque marble decorations and a gilded niche with trefoil cusped  arch and Solomonic columns.

The apse mosaics are a composite from  several eras. The dark section at the apex of the vault depicting Christ surrounded by nine seraphim dates from the 4th or 5th century, and was carefully preserved and restored in 1880 when the apse was enlarged to  accommodate pontifical functions. The central section from the 6th c. shows the crux gammata, a jeweled cross above which flies a dove  representing the Holy Spirit. From the mouth of the dove flow the four rivers of the Gospels, from which stags and sheep drink. The rivers flow into the Jordan, which symbolizes baptism. Between the streams is the City of Jerusalem, and in the city, a Phoenix (symbolizing rebirth) is perched on the Tree of Life. St. Peter, St. Paul, and an armed Angel are guarding the city.

On either side of the crucifix are saints, looking at the cross. To the left are Mary, with her hand on the head of Nicholas IV (kneeling at her feet), who was responsible for repairing and altering this section of  the mosaics (13th c.). To his left are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Peter, and St. Paul. To the right of the crucifix are St. John the Baptist, St. Antony of Padua, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Andrew. The lower section at the level of the windows contains mosaics of seven Apostles, with the artists Jacopo da Camerino and Jacopo Torriti at their feet (Jacopo Torriti also did the 13th c. mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore).


Lateran Altar Blessed Sacrament 8297 M

The Altar of the Blessed Sacrament created by Pier Paolo Olivieri (c. 1599) is in the south transept commissioned by Pope Clement VIII. It enshrines a cedar table said to be that used by Christ and the Apostles at the Last Supper. Note the gold depiction of the Last Supper above the pediment.


Lateran Altar Blessed Sacrament 8371

The Ciborium tabernacle is an octagonal temple structure of gilded bronze with precious stones, designed by the Roman military engineer Pompeo  Targone and built at a cost of over 22,000 gold crowns. The Ciborium is flanked by four columns of verde antico brecchia from the original ancient basilica.

Above the altar pediment is a 1000 pound gilded silver bas-relief of the Last Supper, supported by two gilded bronze angels by Ambrogio Buonvicino. The bas-relief, designed by Curzio Vanni in 1589 and cast by Orazio Censore (at a cost of 12,000 gold crowns), was built to house and protect the cedar table which by tradition held the Last Supper.

The gilded bronze columns, from the ancient Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill, were recast from the prows of Cleopatra’s ships lost at the Battle of Actium between Marcus Agrippa (who was commanding Octavian-Augustus' navy) and Marc Antony.

There are many more images and more information on the St. John in Lateran page.


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