Michelangelo did more than just steer away from vitruvian rules, his architecture is also dynamic. He expressly involves the space around the building. Furthermore, he bases his designs on the person walking through the building. It is not designed, as would be custom in those days, from the perspective on paper. Michelangelo often used clay for his designs. Perspective only works if you look at the design from one angle, like you have seen in the S. Ignazio or the Il Gesù with the ceiling pieces. Such an approach is by definition static. After all, one must stand on the porphyry disc in the S. Ignazio to be able to see the ceiling piece properly. Michelangelo had a grand plan that never reached fruition. It was too costly, and probably impossible to carry out.
Vasari describes how masons and sculptors working on the Palazzo Farnese made an important discovery, namely:
[…] in the thermae of Antoninus [Teg: Caracalla] a block of marble was uncovered, with each side measuring seven ell [Teg: 4 meters] and in which the ancients carved a Hercules in relief who held a bull by the horns atop a mountain, assisted by another figure, and adorning the mountain were a myriad figures of shepherds, nymphs and animals – most definitely a work of extraordinary beauty, so perfect were these figures, carved from a single block of stone, of which people assumed it was a fountain – and Michelangelo advised to bring this stone to the second courtyard [Teg: of the Palazzo Farnese] and have it restored to make it spout water again like before: this was deemed an excellent idea. […] And during this same time, Michelangelo planned to have a bridge cross the Tiber straight across from this palace [Teg: Farnese], so one could move from here to their other palace [Teg: bordering the Villa Farnesina] and their garden in Trastevere. […].
This is the reason why Michelangelo designed a spacious vista at the back of the courtyard. For the ground floor and the piano nobile, he designed an open loggia of three bays to offer an exquisite view over the garden, the fountain, the bridge and the family’s other palace. The artist for the engraving was likely a Northern painter. He depicted a landscape with ruins as was popular in those days. In addition, Michelangelo also made a design for the paving in front of the Palazzo Farnese facade. His design illustrates clear lines in the paving that lead to the entrance, and a spectacular vista up to the other side of the Tiber. Naturally, this massive undertaking was halted. Not even the Farnese family’s money pouch was big enough. Vignola and Della Porta have modified the loggia on the piano nobile in some of the chambers and closed two of the three openings on the ground floor.
“The two statues of Hercules featured in this engraving may have been copies of classical statuary (the caption calls them “exact images”). The one on the right is recognizable as the so-called Farnese Hercules, a 3rd century Roman sculpture copied from a 4th century BCE original by the ancient Greek sculptor Lysippos or one of his circle. It was recovered from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome by Alessandro Farnese and moved to the Farnese Palace in 1546, where it stood in its own room for generations. In 1787, the statue was moved to Naples and now is in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. The statue on the left strongly resembles a Hellenistic or Roman bronze reduction of Hercules found at Foligno, Italy, and now in the collection of the Louvre.”
‘The Loves of the Gods is a monumental fresco cycle, completed by the Bolognese artist Annibale Carracci [Self-portrait with easel] and his studio, in the Farnese Gallery [Gallery Carracci] which is located in the west wing of the Palazzo Farnese, now the French Embassy, in Rome. The frescoes were greatly admired at the time, and were later considered to reflect a significant change in painting style away from sixteenth century Mannerism in anticipation of the development of Baroque and Classicism in Rome during the seventeenth century.’
It could be that we visit the Villa Farnesina earlier than is indicated here, because of the opening hours. If it would take too much time because of the route we’re following, there is one option left: you can visit the Villa on your day off, namely Friday.
This street was commissioned by Sixtus IV (Day 6: Piazzo del Popolo and the new streets). At our left hand side we finally arrive at the Villa Farnesina.
This villa was constructed by Baldassare Peruzzi between 1508 and 1511 in commission by Agostino Chigi. We enter through the back entrance. In the 16th century, one would enter via the Loggia. It used to be open, but these days the arches are closed off with glass. We don’t just visit this palace because of its architecture, but mainly for the couple of famous frescos by painters like Raphaël, Peruzzi, Sebastiano del Piombo and Sodoma (Bazzi). Our first stop is the Sala di Galatea (see layout; the first floor has the frescos by artists like Peruzzi). This gallery, too, used to be connected openly to the adjacent garden. The arches were later closed off and given windows. The ceiling, the lunettes and the walls of this sala have frescos by artists like Peruzzi, Beccafumi, Sebastiano del Piombo and Raphaël.
The hall was named after Raphaël’s famous fresco titled Galatea. It is a rather strange hotchpotch. The intent was to only depict mythological stories on the walls and that the ceiling would be painted a sky-blue. One of the lunettes has a monochrome face.
The story goes that Michelangelo made this was Raphaël was working on his Galatea. He wanted to know is his young rival would be a threat. Michelangelo dressed up as a farmer and headed for the villa. After insisting for a while, and a small bribe, the farmer managed to get inside. He then allegedly used a piece of charcoal to create the head in the lunette and …
When Raphaël returned and saw the drawing [Teg: see the above image] he asked who had been in this chamber while he was gone. The guard said no one, just a farmer, and that he only allowed him entry because he persisted for so long. He did not know who it was. “Then let me tell you who it was,” Raphaël said. “It was Michelangelo. Because there is no one who can draw this sort of thing!” as he pointed to the drawn head. When the client, Agostino Chigi, later on expressed wanting that particular round plane to be painted, Raphaël refused: he pointed out that the drawing was of such an expert level that no one could improve it, that he would not dare touch it and that it was to stay intact as a full-fledged piece of art.
The head in the lunette is currently attributed to Peruzzi. Contrary to what Houbraken writes about Raphaël, Agostino Chigi does intervene at times. For instance, he had the nude Polyphemes (in the lunette) covered with a blue mantle. Allegedly, his wife was not very fond of a nude, large giant.
This hall was named after Raphaël’s fresco for a reason. In a letter from 1514 addressed to Castiglione, Raphaël comments that he required many other beautiful women to paint this beauty. This clearly has a resemblance to the story about the Greek painter Zeuxis. In that regard, Raphaël is a vastly different painter than Caravaggio. Raphaël was a child of the Renaissance like Michelangelo. In those days, nature was to be displayed in perfection, as Michelangelo’s statues show.
Raphaël placed the face of Galatea in the dead centre of the image. She is pulled along, standing on a shell, by two dolphins. Her body is displayed in a rather complex contrapposto. The stance is far from being realistic if you imagine being dragged along the waves on a small shell. Looking at the composition, you will see it is made up of various diagonals. For instance, pay special attention to the cupids with their readied bows and arrows. The arrow of the left angle continues into the reins used by Galatea to steer the dolphins. The arrow of the other angel continues into the harassed woman: a water spirit. The tritons to the left and right blow their horns to announce Galatea’s arrival. Raphaël’s final work in this hall was admired by all. But it was not so obvious to make, because in those days…
[…] the artist has a friend whom he dearly loved. The client for the paining, wealthy banker Agostino Chigi, noticed that Raphaël was getting a little distracted. Not knowing what else to do, he allowed the beloved to live in the palace. And so the assignment reached a satisfactory end. After a wild night, Raphaël allegedly met the girl in a bakery where he stopped to buy something to eat. The girl, la fornarina, became the ‘ideal model’ for his painting of sea god daughter Galatea on a giant shell.
Most frescos on the ceiling were designed by Raphaël, but painted by his students including Giulio Romano ,Francesco Penni, Del Colle and Giovanni da Udine. These frescos were restored very recently. And that was a good thing, as some parts of the chalk layer were beginning to get loose from the surface. Prior restorations had attempted to solve this problem by adding t-shaped copper clamps to the loose chalk layers.
Looking at the vault, you will see how Raphaël came up with a pretty nice frame to tell the story of Psyche. He paints a pergola, kept together by garlands of flowers and fruit. The centre has painted canvases to shield against the bright sunlight.
These canvases depict the story of Psyche. This used to connect beautifully to the open loggia. The story is based on the Metamorphosis by Apuleius. It is about a woman named Psyche, so beautiful that men admired her more than the goddess Venus. Needless to say, the goddess wasn’t pleased. She was out for revenge and sent her son Eros, god of love, to deal with poor Psyche. Eros was to make her deeply infatuated with a miserable and deformed little man. But as it turned out, the son of Venus became completely captivated by Psyche’s beauty at first glance. He kidnapped her to live together with his new wife. One day Psyche was intent on finding out who her husband really was. She dripped some hot oil from the lamp onto her beloved. Eros woke with a startle and fled. He now had to confess his sins to his mother. After hearing what had transpired, Venus went berserk. The girl had to be punished, one way or the other. But time and again, Psyche, with the aid of other Gods, managed to flee. Eventually Jupiter intervened to ensure the beautiful Psyche would stay safe from harm.
Vasari describes the frescos as follows:
And on the ceiling he made the Council of the Gods in Heaven, wherein, in the forms of Gods, are seen many vestments and lineaments copied from the antique, and executed with very beautiful grace and draughtsmanship. In like manner he made the Marriage of Psyche, with ministers serving Jove, and the Graces scattering flowers over the table. In the spandrels of the vaulting he executed many scenes, in one of which is Mercury with his flute, who, as he flies, has all the appearance of descending from Heaven; and in another is Jove with an air of celestial dignity, kissing Ganymede; and in another, likewise, lower down, is the Car of Venus, and the Graces, with Mercury, drawing Psyche up to Heaven; with more other scenes from the poets in the other spandrels.
Giorgio Vasari, Lives.
For a beautiful website about the 160 plant types that are seen in the pendentives and the spandrels: click here.
We head up the staircase to arrive at the Salone delle prospettive.
This is where Peruzzi painted the walls. We have seen something similar on Sunday in the home of emperor August atop the Palatine. You can clearly see that Peruzzi was influenced by the classic wall paintings. But there is still a big difference: Peruzzi had mastered perspective. His vistas that seem to break through the wall are perfectly executed. This is not true for the painter who worked in Augustus’ house. There is no consensus, but it is likely that classic painters did not yet fully command the laws of perspective.
We leave the villa and continue south, walking towards a church built on a villa from antiquity. As we arrive in the Via dei Genovesi, we take a right turn to stand in the narrow Via di S. Cecilia. We then continue underneath a gate where we stand near an enclosed garden, with a large antique vase in its centre.
This church was likely built on the home of one of the first churches. These were really regular homes from Roman times, used as a Christian church during fixed times. Beneath this church lies a well-preserved home from Roman times. According to some this was the house of St. Caecilia.
Arnolfo looked closely at the text on Saint Cecilia in the Legenda Aurea (which you can read here).
‘During the wedding night, she tells Valerian that an angel is always protecting her virginity. Valerian was keen on meeting that angel. Cecilia said that this could only happen if he was baptised as a Christian. Valerian complied and then went to Cecilia who was in her room talking to the angel. The angel gifted the couple two wreaths, one of roses and one of lilies, from Paradise, the fragrance of which would never disappear. Valerian was so impressed that he convinced his only brother Tiburtius to convert to Christianity. After both brothers then converted a high official, they were beheaded by order of the city prefect Almachius. Cecilia secretly buried their bodies and was subsequently arrested and made to sacrifice to the idols. Needless to say, she refused.
A furious Almachius then had her boiled day and night at her own home, but Cecilia experienced the bath as cold and never broke a sweat. Almachius thus ordered to have her beheaded in her bath.
An executioner struck down on Cecilia’s neck three times, but was not able to separate her head from her body. According to the law, there could not be a fourth attempt and so Cecilia was left alone, barely alive. In the three days she still lived, she donated her palace to the church.’
On the four corners, Cambio places the persons described in the Legenda Aurea: Cecilia, her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius and pope Urban I. There is no conclusive consensus on who is Tiburtius, and who is Valerian (See Ragnhild Marthine Bø ‘The Iconography of the Gothic Ciborium in Rome, c. 1285-137″ download pdf pp. 4 t/m7).
Aside from the Legenda Aurea, Arnolfo also uses the Bible: Matthew 25:1-13. This tells the story of 10 virgins, 5 of whom were sages. The sages had provided the oil lamps with extra oil.
Arnolfo di Cambio Ciborium detail: Twee wijze maagden met een olielamp
The apse cap and apse arch were donated by Pope Paschal circa 820. Christ is depicted in the apse as a pantocrator. Against a dark blue background, Christ floats down over a colourful carpet of clouds, above him is the hand of God the Father with a laurel wreath. Christ is surrounded on the left by Paul (with book), Cecilia (with diadem) and the founder Pope Paschal with the square nimbus of a living person (with church model) as well as on the right by Simon Peter (with keys), Valerian with martyr’s crown (hidden) and a female saint (also with martyr’s crown), probably Agatha as the patron saint of the monastery, which was founded by Paschal next to the basilica. At the edge of the mosaic we see a fruit-bearing palm, to the top left the founding pope with a phoenix (as a symbol of the resurrection). The monogram of the founder can be seen at the beam on top. The bottom register has six lambs on each side, symbolising the apostles; from the jewel-set cities of Jerusalem (left) and Bethlehem (right) to the Lamb God in the centre. The inaugural inscription continues under the frieze with lambs.
The mosaic text in the apse says:
HAEC DOMVS AMPLA MICAT VARIIS FABBRICATA METALLIS / OLIM QVAE FVERAT CONFRACTA SVB TEMPORE PRISCO / CONDIDIT IN MELIVS PASCHALIS PRAESVL OPIMVS HANC / AVLAM DOMINI FORMANS FVNDAMINE CLARO AVREA GEMMATIS /RESONANT HAEC DINDIMA TEMPLI LAETVS AMORE /DEI HIC CONIVNXIT CORPORA S(ANCTAE) CAECILIAE ET SOCIIS / RVTILAT HIC FLORE IVVENTVS QVAE PRIDEM IN CRYPTIS / PAVSABANT MEMBRA BEATA ROMA RESVLTAT OVANS SEMPER ORNATA PER AEVVM. //
[Constructed with various enamels, this spacious house glitters / which in former times had been broken down: / Paschal, a munificent bishop, has founded in superior wise this hall of the Lord / establishing it on a brilliant foundation. / These golden mysteries of the (Dindyma is a Greek word) of the Church resound with gems. / Rejoicing in God’s love, he united here the holy bodies: / here youth glows ruddy in its bloom for Cecilia and her companions / who formerly rested their blessed limbs in the cemeteries (=Gr. krypta). Adorned for aye, Rome ever exults in triumph.
Source: Tyler Lansford “The Latin Inscriptions of Rome: A Walking Guide” 13.13A.
Cecilia was a proper Christian who converted her husband and brother. The three of them looked after the martyrs. When her brothers convert an officer, things take a turn for the worst. Both are executed. Of course, Cecilia would not escape unscathed either. First the Romans try to end her life as she is sitting in her bath tub. It failed as Cecilia continued chanting hymns. A sword was drawn next against this tenacious Christian lady. The executioner swung his blade three times, but this too caused a lot of problems. Her head was not entirely separated and Cecilia lived for several days more. In that time, she managed to convert many a heathen.
As we arrive inside the church and the main altar to see the famous statue Stefano Maderno, we can see where the sword struck her body. At times you can hear the nuns chanting the hymns of Cecilia. The sound is coming from behind bars to the left in the aisle.On Cecilia’s saint day, many Christian choirs perform cantatas in her name.
The discovery of the grave in the St. Cecilia in 1599
At midnight on 31 December 1599, Pope Clement VIII opened the Porta Sancta in the presence of 80000 faithful, ushering in the Holy Year 1600. Rome looked stunning in that year.
One year earlier, cardinal Paolo Camillo Sfondrati had commissioned a renovation of the St. Cecilia for the Holy Year. That renovation uncovered the grave of Saint Cecilia.
‘In Historia passionis beate Ceciliae by antiquity expert Antonio Bosio, which appeared one year later, this event was described in detail: ‘This coffin contained the body of the virgin martyr Cecilia, covered by a dark silk cloth, and beneath this cloth the gold clothes with specks of virgin blood […] The body was resting on its right side with the legs curled up, the arms outstretched, the face towards the floor as if asleep, likely in the same position as when the executioner struck her three times, after which she lived for three days more.’
Cited & translated from: Frits Scholten,’ Een schilderachtige beeldhouwkunst’ in Mus. Cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Rijksmuseum, Caravaggio-Bernini Vroege barok in Rome, Wenen, Amsterdam 2019 p. 31
Stefano Maderno ‘Santa Cecilia’ detail
The remarkable discovery of St. Cecilia had to be eternalized in the church devoted to her. The remains of Cecilia were buried below the main altar. Cardinal Sfondrati commissioned the sculptor Stefano Maderno to carve a statue of Cecilia. Stefano Maderno, who had attended this burial, immediately drew up a sketch. He used this drawing for his statue.
“The statue of Cecilia was highly inventive in its simplicity, and due to its naturalism it was overwhelming and touching. Exactly as Bosio had described it, Maderno depicted the stains with her shrouded face diverting its gaze down. It was a brilliant idea, which made the coldness of the marble suddenly obvious: a dead body in dead stone, both cold and hard. The theme and material in perfect synergy, which gives Cecilia a great naturalness and, paradoxically, a liveliness that is enhanced by the absence of the face. It is only up close that one notices the incisions made by the executioner’s sword in the martyr’s neck, which make the transformation from marble to human skin even more tangible: a drop of blood runs down from the wound. As the only ‘moving’ part of the sculpture, it is a subtle reference to the last bit of life that has left the body after three days of agony, but also to the blood of Christ that lives on as wine during the consecration at the altar above.”
Cited & translated from: Frits Scholten,’ Een schilderachtige beeldhouwkunst’ in Mus. Cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Rijksmuseum, Caravaggio-Bernini Vroege barok in Rome, Wenen, Amsterdam 2019 p. 31
A porphyry inlay in the floor in front of the reliquary made by the sculptor Stefano Maderno in 1599. The text reads:
See the body of the most blessed virgin Cecilia Whom I witnessed in the grave For you I shaped this marble into her Exactly as she was witnessed
The white marble sculpture was placed in a black-marble niche below the main altar. This niche was part of a shrine that used multi-colour marble and bronze. “The contrast between the white woman’s figure and the dark surroundings create a dramatic, pictural lighting effect; related to the chiaroscuro in Caravaggio’s paintings.” Frits Scholten says.
Stefano Maderno, ‘St. Cecilia’, 1600, marble, length 130 cm Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
Unfortunately, we cannot see the work of 13th century painter Cavallini at this hour (on Tuesdays and Thursdays only from 10-11 AM and Sundays from 10-12 AM). Ring the bell here, left side of the courtyard, for a visit to the frescos (picture: nightingaleshiraz). The Web Gallery of Art has a digital version of the fresco.We can probably still see the work by 17th century Dutch painter Paulus Bril.
We walk towards the back to the right aisle, with a door leading to what was likely the bathroom of Cecilia. This is where she was allegedly cemented in for her to suffocate, but that never happened. You can still see the terracotta pipes used by Romans as piping for their baths. Next to a fresco by Bril we see a fresco by Pomarancio.
Insula home from Antiquity below the church
Finally, we head for Cecilia’s home under the church. We first walk back to the entrance. To the right, in the aisle, we can access a small staircase leading down. In the church it is S. Cecilia who watches over the faithful, but in the ancient villa below the church is it the goddess Minerva who watches over the visitor.
As we arrive downstairs, we first look at the crypt where St. Cecilia lies buried. Unfortunately, everything has changed quite drastically around 1900. Our Dutch catholic writer Godfried Bomans was not very pleased, judging by his commentary. He wrote:
one of Rome’s horrors, a sight for those who value the deepest, to which clerical bad taste may ruin it.
You should see for yourself if Bomans was right. Cecilia was first buried in the catacombs of Calixtus (and according to some others in Praetextatus). In 821, her body was transferred to the crypt we are now standing in. In the late 16th century, by rule of Clemens VIII, her sarcophagus was opened and to their amazement her body was still intact and wrapped in a gold blanket. The sculptor Stefano Maderno was present and he immediately sketched a drawing. He used this drawing for his statue. Finally, we take a look at Cecilia’s house, which is still in good condition. Although, to some, it’s been restored a bit too nicely.