Saturday, February 27, 2016

Baroque Wonder: Sant'Andrea al Quirinale by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

On this rainy Saturday morning, perfect for relaxing at home, we may also want to take a little stroll in one of Rome's hills: the Quirinal one, home of one of the grandest palaces of Europe, once a papal palace, then the see of the Italian monarchy and now that of the president. Located not too far from San Carlino, the huge palazzo's main façade opens on a large square, on the other side of the piazza we can find the Scuderie del Quirinale (the former palazzo's stables), an important art museum, the entrance of the Colonna Palace gardens and that of the magnificent Palazzo Rospigliosi-Pallavicini, both still owned by those families in all their Baroque opulence. 
If we go along the Via del Quirinale which follows the whole length of the palace we pass by Bernini's response to the nearby Borromini church of San Carlino: Sant'Andrea al Quirinale. A little Baroque masterpiece which truly gives some colour to this rainy day.
Bernini received the commission of the church in 1658 which was completed by 1661, the interior decoration was completed only in 1661. Previously, on the site there was another church dedicated to Saint Andrew. 
The church was commissioned by former Cardinal Camillo Francesco Maria Pamphilj, with the approval of Pope Alexander VII. This was the third Jesuit church to be built in Rome, after the Gesù and Sant'Ignazio and it was to serve the novitiate, founded in 1566.  
Bernini's son reminds us how pleased of this church was his father, he sat for hours in it admiring what he had made.
The façade

The main façade of the church faces onto the Via del Quirinale, just like Borromini's San Carlino, though Sant'Andrea is set back from the street and is enclosed in adjacent walls. The dome is encased in an oval cylinder and large volutes transfer the lateral thrust. The façade has an aedicular shape with a semicircular porch with two Ionic columns. Above it is the coat of arms of the Pamphilj family.

The Pamphilj coat of arms

The church has an oval form and the high altar is just opposite the entrance. The oval space is framed by columns, pilasters and niches which also define the side chapels and the golden dome above. Larger columns and a deeper niche define the main sanctuary.

The interior of the church

Unlike the dark side chapels, the high altar is well lit from a Baroque game of light, a hidden source, which is a small lantern surrounded by sculptures of angels that create a celestial and theatrical link between the high altar and the heavens. The main altarpiece represents the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew (1668) and is by the French Master Guillaume Courtois, the painting is encased in the beautiful and trascendental golden Baroque "macchina" by Bernini, a convulsed spiral that leads up on high to the light, represented in the lantern by a dove representing the Holy Ghost. 

The Baroque sculpture above the high altar

Saint Andrew is also represented in a white marble statue by Antonio Raggi above the high altar pointing the dome, therefore the Holy Ghost.  Here the Baroque genius combines architecture, sculpture and painting: the Baroque theatre, in a similar way to the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria. 

The high altar

No other style combines all forms of art so well, of course, music should be considered as well, but unfortunately nowadays Roman Catholic liturgy doesn't offer great music anymore, we can still imagine what it would have been like though. The opulence of the golden dome is well balanced by the white statues surrounding it, it covers the entire shape of the church and it opens on a small lantern from whence the light shines through, other windows illuminate the rest of the church.

The dome

The chapels also have great works of art, for example the Chapel of Saint Francis Xavier has three canvases by Baciccio with stories of the life of the saint and the painting above the funerary monument Madonna with Child and Saint Stanislaus Kostka is by Carlo Maratta.

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