Download Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History PDF

TitleRome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History
File Size10.5 MB
Total Pages552
Table of Contents
Other Books by This Author
Title Page
Later Empire
Pagans Versus Christians
Medieval Rome and Avignon
Rome in the Seventeenth Century
High Baroque (Bernini, Borromini, Etc.)
Eighteenth-Century Rome, Neo-Classicism, and the Grand Tour
The Nineteenth Century: Orthodoxy Versus Modernity
Futurism and Fascism
Rome Recaptured
Photo Inserts
Illustration Credits
Document Text Contents
Page 2










Page 276

Vittoria, is quite shallow. Its focus is, of course, the marble group of Teresa and
the angel. This is framed inside a niche, a sort of proscenium with a pediment
that breaks forward on a curve and is framed on each side by a pair of darkish-
green Breccia Africana columns. The dark surround makes the white figures of
angel and saint even more apparitional, especially since they are lit from above
by a source we cannot see. In a chimney or light well that is hidden from view,
light cascades from a yellow glass window. (At least, it used to; the glass is now
so dimmed by dust and pigeon droppings that the Carmelites had to install an
electric bulb to replace the sun.) The “real” light falls on fictitious light—a burst
of gilded sun rays, fanning down behind the figures.
On the side walls of the chapel are two symmetrical niches, designed in false

perspective to give the illusion of deep space running back. In them are seated
white marble effigies of eight members of the Cornaro family: Cardinal
Federigo, the donor, with his father, the Doge Giovanni Cornaro, and six earlier
Cornaros, all cardinals, too—a conclave of pious family power, spanning several
generations. Leaning forward in fascination at the miracle before their eyes, they
turn to one another, talking and arguing (or, since this is a church, whispering in
awe) about it and its meaning; their astonishment parallels our own and increases
it. This was the largest and most complicated essay in group sculptural
portraiture (individual lifelike portraiture, not merely figure groups) ever done.
And it reminds the viewer, as so much of Bernini’s work does, that he had a
background in theater: he relished designing stage setups, theater sets, and
special effects like floods and sunrises, though we have little idea of how
realistically they might have worked. We do know that they impressed and likely
fooled the audience.3 No wonder the Cornaro Chapel keeps its magic of illusion
even in an age of photography and film, and retains its talismanic power as a
mixed-media masterpiece, melding sculpture, theater, architecture, and colored
marble surfaces in an inspired unity, a “total work of art” that Wagner might
have dreamed of.
Nobody of Bernini’s genius can remain out in the cold in an age of public

patronage for very long, and certainly Bernini did not. His restoration to papal
favor came through the very pontiff who had revoked it: Innocent X Pamphili.
No great Roman family was more bound up with an architectural feature of
Rome than the Pamphili clan with Piazza Navona. It was “their” square—
actually, an elongated horseshoe which almost exactly followed the track of the
ancient Stadium of Domitian, which lay beneath it. Because footraces had been
held in this stadium in ancient times (it was not a venue for either chariot races
or the murderous rites of the gladiators), it was relatively short and lacked a
central divider or spina. A place of intense physical striving, it had become

Page 277

known as the Circus Agonalis or which became changed by
Roman dialect into “Piazza Navona.” A grand open space, ringed with palaces,
closed at one end by the unwieldy bulk of Palazzo Doria, it had been
distinguished by the pilgrimage church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, built on the
presumed site of the holy child-virgin’s martyrdom, a Roman brothel. It was a
modest church in its first form, but that would presently change by the orders of
various members of the Pamphili family. In 1652, Innocent X decreed a total
rebuilding of Agnes’s little shrine. This work was entrusted to Innocent’s
architect Girolamo Rainaldi. He had designed the Pamphili Palace next door,
and he would work on Sant’Agnese until 1653, shortly before his death, when
the project was taken over by his son Carlo. But in 1653 the work on the
commission was also joined by Francesco Borromini, the depressive genius who
was Bernini’s chief rival. He redesigned the façade of Sant’Agnese as a concave
oval curve between bell towers on either side. The church façade one sees from
the piazza, therefore, is a palimpsest of three architects’ work: Borromini up to
the cornice, then a classical pediment by Bernini (1666), and finally the dome
and the upper parts of the campanili by Rainaldi. It is a horse made by
Nevertheless, the piazza had evolved into one of the greatest festive precincts

in Rome, frequented alike by the grandees taking their evening and
every kind of jongleur, contortionist, pickpocket, pimp, tart, hawker, and
gawker, whose descendants still throng the square as the day’s light is fading. In
a superb demonstration of civic theater, there was until the end of the eighteenth
century a custom of flooding the piazza with water, through which processions
of horse-drawn carriages would festively parade round and round—a spectacle
painted more than once by such artists as Hubert Robert. It must have been quite
a sight, though prolonged immersion in water cannot have done much good to
the wooden chassis and spoked wheels of the But sometimes a Roman
has no choice but to cut a even when his carriage warps. Piazza
Navona in the Baroque era was a center for street theater, replete with
processions and ceremonies such as the Giostra del Saraceno, a jousting contest
in which the target of the riders’ lances was an effigy of a Saracen mounted on a
pole. But none of these delights of the (temporary Baroque)
could compare to what Innocent X, through the ministrations of Bernini, made of
the piazza.
At the beginning, the pope did not mean to use Bernini at all. Piazza Navona

was the Pamphilis’ backyard, their family precinct, and Innocent X was
determined to convert it into a permanent memorial to his reign—the greatest
public square in Rome. He saw to it that every sculptor-architect of proven

Page 551

ill.49 Alessandro Albani, Villa Albani, Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art
Resource, NY

ill.50 Henry Fuseli, The Artist Moved by the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins,
Giraudon/Art Resource, NY

ill.51 Johann Zoffany, Charles Towneley and His Friends in the Towneley
Gallery, 33 Park Street, Westminster, © Towneley Hall Art Gallery and
Museum, Burnley, Lancashire/ The Bridgeman Art Library Nationality

ill.52 Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, Wikipedia/Public Domain
ill.53 Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in the Roman Campagna, ©

U. Edelmann–Städel Museum ARTOTHEK
ill.54 Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at the

Window of His Dwelling on the Corso in Rome, Bildarchiv Preussischer
Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, NY

ill.55 Pennsylvania Station, © 2011 Stock Sales WGBH/Scala/Art Resource, NY

Similer Documents