Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The "Very British" (?) church of San Paolo Dentro le Mura

San Paolo Dentro le Mura or better, Saint Paul Within the Walls, is an Episcopal church of the USA, built in 1873 by the will and support of reverendo Robert J. Nevin.
It's the first non-Catholic church being built in Rome after the Unification of Italy.

It was designed by the English architect George Edmond Street, a popular practitioner of the Victorian Gothic revival, known for his work on the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand in London.
In the colourful pick for the stonework of the facade, the sturdy yet charming composition of the groin vaults of the lateral naves combined with the unexpectedly simple vault of the middle nave and the touching use of stained glass window we can see in this tiny, yet flowery church a nice example of Neo-gothic architecture with Neo-romanesque insertions.
The first thing that we have to pay attention to are the mosaics decorating the facade of the church.
They are the work of George W. Breck, an American mural artist known at the time for being the director of the American Academy in Rome.
Around the rose window we can spot the angelic creatures rappresenting the Four Evangelists: the angel of St. Matthew, the lion of St. Mark, the ox of St. Luke, and the eagle of St. John.
Over the West entrance, is a mosaic portraying Saint Paul while preaching to the people in Rome: it's kinda moving how even the Roman soldier posted with guarding him looks as if enjoying the Saint's teachings:
Here are a few shots of the inside of the church.

As my cheap digital camera can't understand the complex light of a shadowy church, the pictures came out kinda crappy. Sorry guys.

After this first look around we continue with checking out the mosaics of Breck.
On the rear wall of the church you can find the rappresentation of the Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Kings.
The borders of the rose window is decorated again in the inside, sporting the celestial cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem under a starry sky.

We talked about stained glass windows and here we go.
As you know, it's quite impossible to use glass walls in a church with the climate of Italy without turning it into a sort of greenhouse, so the architect used these tiny yet charming windows to give the idea of the "romantic" gothic style.
The windows were commissioned to the British firm of Clayton & Bell, and I'm delighted by how they turned out, the general vibe coming out from the simply decorated walls:

Of course the stained glass windows rapresent the moments of Saint Paul's life, from his young days to his conversion, his preaching around the world and his execution in Rome.

And now, dulcis in fundo, the reason for my interest in this church: the preraphaelite mosaics of my beloved Sir Edward Burne-Jones!
From the next picture you can get a better idea of the mosaics and their concept.
The first arch is dedicated to the Annunciation. Burne-Jones decided to set the scene at sunset, to suggest the hour of the Angelus.
The second arch rapresents the "Tree of Life", how the sacrifice of Jesus is a mean for salvation and forgiveness, symbolized the moving devotion of Adam, Eve and a baby Cain.
Finally, the "Christ Enthroned" of the apse, showing the glory of a thriumphant Christ in front of the Heavenly City, guarded by his angels and supported by the Saints.
An interesting detail is given by the gate at the right of Jesus, left unguarded, as the others are dutifully guarded by his archangels: that's a reminder of Lucifer's betrayal and the empty spot that he left.
For a more detailed interpretation of the works I suggest you to read about them on the website of the church, at this page.

Quite interesting are the rapresentations of the ascetics, matrons, saints, virgins and warriors in the lower register of the mosaic:

Following the Reinassance tradition, Burne-Jones took some of the illustrious personalities of his times as "models" for his saints-- General Grant and Abraham Lincoln give the due American tribute to a church that feels very British at heart.

Markets of Rome: Campo dè Fiori

I wanna start this series of posts about some of the most interesting and "traditional" shopping places in Rome with one of my favourites, the mercato of Campo dè Fiori.
The place is called like this ("Field o' Flowers") because originally it was occupied by a meadow filled with flowers, closed on a side by a series of buildings owned by the Orsini family.
After a series of reconstructions and urban rearrangements during the Middle Age and the early Reinassance, the style of the square is difficult to classify and recognize, but besides the market it still offers a good amount of places of interest to spot: the architecture buffs can enjoy the fifteenth-century Palazzo Orsini Righetti and the Reinassance design of Palazzo della Cancelleria; those of you who have a soft spot for anecdotes can take a peek at the Fontana della Terrina and even dare to look for its "original", now placed in front of the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella; the fan of historical gossip may enjoy a look at the gate of the old Taverna della Vacca, owned by Vannozza dei Cattanei, the lover of Pope Alexander VI, whom she bore four children, the famous Cesare, Lucrezia, Giovanni and Gioffre Borgia; the religious spirits may take a stroll along Via del Pellegrino, part of the "Papal Road" from Lateran to Vatican's churches, after checking out the church of Santa Brigida by , once facing the square-- and last but not least, those of you who support freedom of thought, may take a moment to pay a silent tribute by looking at the intense statue of Giordano Bruno, the Dominican friar and philosopher, burnt at the stake in that very place in 1600, that now looks down the market in the morning and the roman movida at night, in my opinion not so very pleased by "the century predicted by him"--

The market can be visited from 6 am to 2 pm, on every day but Sunday.
Originally this market was placed by the Capitol Hill, in the so-called Piazza del Mercato, now Piazza d'Aracoeli.
In 1478 it was moved to Piazza Navona, contributing to develop the area into a major "shopping point" even at the time.
The definitive moving to the current location happened in 1869, in an attempt to valorize the area and try to forget its infamous past as an execution ground during the centuries of the Inquisition.

Here are some shots of the market, took some time ago:

Be aware, though!
Despite being the "heart" of popular Rome, you can't escape some "tourist traps" like the multi-coloured pasta (seriously-- did you ever spot an Italian eating such things?) or the infamous "fettuccine all'Alfredo", that after being "bought" by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in 1920, spread everywhere in the world in the most demented combinations to please the uncultured taste of tourists:

Of course, besides the food, you can find the fortuitous stand with cheap souvenirs, expecially t-shirts.
Here are those that I found funnier: please note the square of the market depicted into one of the shots of the "Vice City"'s t-shirt:

And I finally close this post with an example of "popular justice" concerning food:
"The ladies who will be caught while feeling the fruit, will be felt up in return."

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The "Chick" of Minerva's

Not many people knows, but the sculpture that decorates the obelisk in front of the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is nicknamed by the locals as "chick" ("pulcino"), which doesn't really refer to a baby chicken, but it's actually a mispronunciation of "piglet" ("porcino"), because of its chubby body and funny expression.
The story of the "chick" is actually a pretty interesting and fun one.

First of all, the obelisk.
This was originally placed by the Temple of Isis and Serapis, located in the area now occupied by the church.
It was found during the building of the church by the Dominican friars: Pope Alexander VII decided to place it in front of the church and he announced a contest to design the support of the obelisk.
One of the contestants was friar Domenico Paglia, one of the friars of the church and confratello of the Pope: he designed a base featuring the six hills of the coat of arms of the Chigi family (the family of Alexander VII), each corner guarded by a dog, symbol of the Dominican order (the preaching zeal against heresy of the Dominicans earned them the nickname "Hounds of God" ["Domini Canes"]), but the Pope refused this concept, as he wanted a monument to celebrate knowledge and wisdom as a tribute to the history of the place, not something to celebrate himself.

In the end the design of Gian Lorenzo Bernini was picked: the sculptor designed an elephant holding the obelisk on its back, and wrote on its basement "Sapientis Aegypti/ insculptas obelisco figuras/ ab elephanto/ belluarum fortissima/ gestari quisquis hic vides/ documentum intellige/ robustae mentis esse/ solidam sapientiam sustinere", which means something along the lines of "To those who notice the symbols of the Egyptian knowledge, held on the back of the elephant, the strongest animal: this is the proof that you need a strong mind to support a deep knowledge".
Bernini was inspired by a popular romance of the time, "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili" ("Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream"), where the protagonist, at a certain point of the story, met an elephant holding an obelisk on its back.
Alexander VII was in awe for the project, but the envious friar Domenico, bothered by the fact that his idea was rejected, forced Bernini to add a cube under the body of the elephant, asserting that "niuno perpendicolo di pondo non debi sotto a sé abere aire overamente vacuo, perchè essendo intervacuo non è solido né durabile" or "Perpendicular weights shouldn't be placed on an empty space, as because of the emptiness, the structure wouldn't be solid nor durable".
Bernini proved that his project was more than stable, but in the end the Pope decided to support the opinion of the friar, so Bernini had to add a cube of cement under the tummy of the elephant that he tried to hide with by decorative caparison (sporting the coat of arms of the Chigi!), but the whole design was overall "overloaded", thus the locals nicknamed it the "piglet".

But Bernini knew how to get proper revenge.
He placed the statue in a position where this is what friar Domenico had to see whenever he had to get out of the convent, placed next to the church:
The famous satirical poet Quinto Settano (pseudonym of Monsignor Lodovico Sergardi) composed the epigram "Vertit terga Elephas, versaque proboscide clamat: Kiriaci fratres hic ego vos habeo", which roughly translates as "The elephant turns around and shouts out from its bending trunk: Dominican friars, this is your place!"