Monday, February 29, 2016

Baroque Wonder: San Girolamo alla Carità and the beautiful Spada Chapel.

Not too far from the beautiful Palazzo Farnese, on the Via di Monserrato, is located the church of San Girolamo alla Carità.
According to an old Roman tradition this was the location of the house of Paola, a matron who hosted St. Jerome from whom the church takes its name. During the Middle Ages it was briefly used by the Franciscans who were then relocated to San Bartolomeo all'isola in 1536.
Pope Clemens VII granted the church to a company that he instituted for charitable purposes. 
St. Philip Neri lived here for thirty-three years, between 1551 and 1583, before he started his oratory where the saint entertained other great minds of his time such as St. Charles Borromeo and St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The façade

The church was rebuilt in 1654 and rededicated to St. Jerome: S. Hieronimo nel Rione Regola. 
The lovely façade was designed by Carlo Reinaldi in 1660 and donated by Fantino Renzi, it surely is a charming one. The church has a single nave, the ceiling has refined wooden carvings. 
One of the most amazing features of this church is the beautiful Spada Chapel, by Francesco Borromini, it is the first one on the left. 

The interior

The Cappella Spada is decorated with several types of marble, carved in numerous and sophisticated ways, in the centre there is a precious 15th century painting of a Madonna with Child. 

The Cappella Spada

The altar rail is made of a marble drapery held by two angels whose wings act as gates to the chapel. 

Detail of the elaborate altar rail of the Spada Chapel

The decorative medallions resemble the motifs on the façade of the nearby family's Palazzo, the tombs of the family are on the two sides of the altar and there are also two small decorative urns which are incredibly elegant. In this marvellous space, opulence and yet harmony, create a wonderful combination - it is one of the great masterpieces of the Roman Baroque.

Detail of the elaborate marble decorations of the Spada Chapel

Elaborate marble decorations of the altar frontal in the Spada Chapel

Elaborate marble decorations and urn in the Spada Chapel

The motif of the decoration of the chapel is inspired by the façade of the Palazzo Spada, there are little swords in the details, that is because "Spada" means sword

The late Renaissance façade of the Palazzo Spada

The high altar, designed by Carlo Rainaldi, used to host the Last Supper by Domenichino, now in the Vatican Museums, the wonderful altarpiece is substituted by a copy.

The high altar

The original altarpiece in the Vatican Museums

Another interesting characteristic of this church is the Antamori chapel, designed by Filippo Juvarra, on the left to the high altar, its Roman Rococo style, called "Barocchetto Romano" plays in a magical way with the light, it hosts a statue of St. Philip Neri by Pierre Legros.

The Antamori Chapel

Unfortunately this beautiful church is only open on Sundays from 10 to 12, if you really want to visit it you can call the nuns in advance.

Baroque Wonder: Sant'Agnese in Agone by the Reinaldis and Francesco Borromini.

The beautiful Piazza Navona is a Baroque showcase, with several masterpieces by both Bernini and Borromini, all commissioned by the Pamphilj family. This is probably the most charming piazza of Rome, it boasts great works: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers and the Pamphilj palace, designed by Reinaldi and Borromini, with its “chapel”: Sant’Agnese in Agone, a splendid Baroque building, its harmony and extravagance glowing in the Roman sun surely make this one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of the world. 

The Palazzo Pamphilj

The church’s construction began in 1652 under the architects Girolamo and Carlo Reinaldi, though after many quarrels the project was commissioned to Francesco Borromini by Pope Innocent X whose family palace is adjacent to the church, in fact the church is a sort of chapel to the palazzo, there is an opening near the dome where the family could attend the religious ceremonies without leaving the palace.

The façade

The name of the church “in Agone” comes from the Greek and it meant “in the site of the competitions”, and it is referred to the old use of the Piazza Navona as an ancient stadium. The name then changed from Agone to Navona (but that's another story). In this stadium St. Agnes was martyrised and the church was built on that exact spot, part of the Medieval church can still be found in the crypt.
Girolamo Reinaldi and his son Carlo designed the church with a centralised Greek cross plan, they reoriented the main entrance of the church from the Via Santa Maria dell’Anima to the Piazza Navona, it is thought that the original project would have included a narthex between the two towers, but this idea received much criticism and it was later substituted with that of a concave façade, this made the stairs of the church not intrusive of the space of the square, creating a sense of great harmony. The idea of the twin towers and a dome might have come from the then design of St. Peter’s basilica with the two Bernini’s towers. This design later became very influent on Northern European architecture. 

The façade

In 1653 the Rainaldis were substituted by Borromini, Borromini had to make adjustments on the original plan; he positioned columns towards the edges of the dome piers as in his other churches, creating a broad bases for the pendentives of the dome.

The dome

The magnificent concave façade of the church had new curved steps descending to the piazza, they harmoniously play against the concave curvature of the façade, which was to have eight columns and a broken pediment, the flanking towers were designed as single storey, above which there was an arrangement of columns, niches and convex bays, in a style characteristic of Borromini. 

Palazzo Pamphilj and Sant'Agnese

The façade had reached the top of the lower order when Pope Innocent X died in 1655, his nephew, Camillo Pamphilj failed to take interest in the church and by that time Borromini got into depression and he eventually resigned in 1657.

The interior

Carlo Reinaldi was reappointed, he made minor modifications such as an additional storey to the towers, slightly simplifying them. When Camillo died, his wife Olimpia Aldobrandini, commissioned Bernini to take over, he was responsible for the pediment above the entrance and the entablature in the interior. In 1688 Olimpia’s son, Camillo, reinstated Carlo Reinaldi as architect who completed the dome and commissioned the decoration of the same with frescoes to Ciro Ferri, representing the Assumption of Mary, the pendentives of the dome are painted with the Cardinal Virtues, by Bernini’s protégé, Giovan Battista Gaulli.

The dome

There are four altars in the pillars, all with reliefs set in niches. Two more altars in the “transepts” have interesting stucco perspective games in a very Baroque fashion. 

A side altar with the Baroque perspective

The high altar was intended to hold a Miracle of Saint Agnes but the artist, Alessandro Algardi, died shortly after receiving the commission, but he did provide a plaster model now in the Oratorio dei Fillippini near the Chiesa Nuova. 

The high altar

The plaster model in the Oratorio dei Filippini

For some reason the project was dropped and Guidi created a marble relief representing the Holy Family. The tomb monument of Pope Innocent X (1729) by Giovanni Battista Maini is found above the main entrance. In a separate room there is a shrine to St. Agnes with her skull.

The counter-façade with the tomb of Pope Innocent X

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.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Baroque Wonder: Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza by Francesco Borromini.

It is a very calm Thursday afternoon here in Rome, there is nothing special about it, if this can be said about the eternal city... sunny and cloudy weather alternate each other creating fascinating shadows on the ancient walls. If we are around the Pantheon we can just decide to go somewhere more quite, for example the nearby Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, the scenery of this classical Italian piazza is so perfect it could be in a postcard, the whole square is dominated by an extravagant spire, its lines seems to revolve dynamically and somehow chaotic manner - that’s the spire of another masterpiece by Borromini: Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

The spire of Sant'Ivo as seen from the Piazza di Sant'Eustachio

In 1632 Francesco Borromini was nominated architect of Rome’s university La Sapienza. The complex needed a church, the architect imagined an unconventional building at the east end of the charming late Renaissance cloister designed by Giacomo della Porta. Borromini designed a church with a central plan, vaguely resembling a six pointed star. The building’s construction started in 1643, certainly after a long preparatory phase, but it was interrupted in 1655 only to start again in 1659 when the church was finished, it was consecrated a year later. The pre-existence of the cloister made the work for Borromini much harder, but in true Baroque fashion he actually got much freedom and invented a concave facade that isn’t at all squeezed in its context but actually takes the best out of it and dynamically throws itself in the air.

The cloister and Sant'Ivo

The church’s inside is divided by a series of pilasters and thin horizontal frames that underline the many angles, as in San Carlino the dome sits on a series of concave ribs and niches. Outside, the dome presente a tholobate supported by a series of convex ribs and curves, it is topped with a spiral crown and a tall lantern, it is very similar to the one of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte and it clearly has an ascensional feeling.

The inside of the church
The dome

The interior of the church is topped with a single covering, resembling in a totally different key the nearby Pantheon. The focus is on the center of the dome, decorated with a series of stars that become smaller and smaller as they reach the lantern where the Holy Spirit dove is found, the light that comes from the lantern and the lower windows with the effect given by the whitewashed walls render the whole experience of entering the church transcendental.

The dome

The eccentric high altar has an altarpiece by Pietro da Cortona, the great Baroque Master representing Sant’Ivo.

The high altar

The building is not still, it reacts vigorously, yet harmoniously in the space which also becomes an element of sculpture. Borromini’s symbology, in the dome for example, that covers the entire church is that it brings everything in the perfection of the circle - the lantern where God is found. Outside, the lantern represents the lighthouse of Alexandria, but in this case it guides the Christian people, and the sculpted flames that decorate it represent the journey. The trinity is found in the triangles, found in several details of the architecture and in a stylised way also in the coat of arms of the Barberini (the one with the three bees), Pope Urban VIII commissioned the church (Maffeo Barberini). In true Borromini’s fashion he mixed Roman Baroque with Gothic elements (such as the mystery and verticality his style has), he was from northern Italy. It is interesting how the inside and the outside of the church relate to each other, like in San Carlino they are very similar but also have different shapes (hexagonal inside, circular inside). An important point of the building is given by the helicoidal movement that it gives in a very light way and it symbolises the aspiration to the infinite. This is Borromini: subliminal transcendence. And you thought only Paleo-Christian mosaics had symbolism!

 The Holy Spirit in the dome's lantern

This masterpiece is definitely worth a visit, open on Sunday 9-11 and Wednesday at 2pm.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Baroque Wonder: San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Francesco Borromini.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

This is quite an average winter afternoon here in the eternal city, the light is not strong, the sun rays make all the baroque sculptures glow and the water in the fountains gets alive, yet there is a mystery to all of this, it is not a strong light, it doesn't unveil all Rome has to offer. It reflects pretty much the darkest side of Baroque architecture perhaps: the art of Francesco Borromini.

Coat of arms of the Trinitarian order outside the façade of the convent

If we walk past the beautiful Piazza Barberini and the beautiful palace located nearby we'll find ourselves in a narrow square, surrounded by four fountains, here we find an interesting church, at a first glance it looks very "messy", many curves and lines that seem to lead nowhere, but then it reveals a certain order, an opulent order which tells the glory of this Baroque age in the heart of Christendom. In this case we will explore Francesco Borromini's first church in Rome: San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Built between 1638 and 1641 for the Trinitarian order and dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo in 1646.

The façade

The relatively tall façade of San Carlo has characteristic undulating lines, tall corinthian columns which define the framework of the two storeys façade, smaller columns give a sense of motion, on the top there is a medallion held by angels and on the lower level, statues of the patron saints of the church and the Trinitarian order to which it belongs: Saint Charles Borromeo and Saint Felix of Valois with Saint John of Matha. The church also has a cloister, both face onto the Via Pia. The facade seems to reproduce in a mono-dimensional way the interior. The church is relatively small and so it was nicknamed San Carlino (Little St. Charles) by the locals.

The interior

The interior is quite spectacular and also very complex. There are two main stories as represented in the façade (although in a less well ordered manner) and the third which is the oval lantern. 
The high altar is on the same axis as the door and there are two altars on two niches on the two sides of the church. One altar is dedicated to Saint Michael de Sanctis and the other to Saint John the Baptist of the Conception. Around the altars sixteen columns seem to carry the building up on high, where the architecture becomes very undulating, where the niches become more and more and where the illusion of Baroque architecture reaches its highest form - it also gives a certain sense of mystery and awe which might be why certain art historians refer to Borromini as a "Gothic" architect, after all he grew up in the Gothic north of Italy. 

The beautiful architecture

The counter-façade

The rhythm of the architecture reaches a relative calm in the pendentives which forms with the nearby niches a sort of cross-like form that leads to the beautiful oval dome. The dome has a "crown" of foliage and is framed with octagons, hexagons and cross that diminish in size towards the center, increasing the sense of deepness, very Baroque. Light floods in from the upper windows in a very mystical way, the lantern with the symbol of the Holy Trinity is the brightest area, the light fades as it reaches the floor - a symbolism that reflects the charism of the Trinitarian order. There are different doors that lead to the cloister, the crypt and to a little chapel outside the church, the Barberini chapel.

The dome

The crypt follows the form of the church but has a very low vault. Little chapels open off this space, on the south-east side there is the one where Borromini intended to be buried. In here there are interesting Baroque marble frontals.

 The crypt

A frontal

The Cloister is another important feature of the church. It has a two-story arrangement, and it is longer than wider in an octagonal shape. There are twelve columns, the curvature of the corners is interesting as well as the inventive balustrade.

The cloister

It is indeed a little jewel that is worth a visit.