In several plates Vasi portrayed a stray dog; in this case perhaps he did it as a reference to St. Vitus whose help was sought by those who had been attacked
by rabid dogs; the church of the Cistercian monastery was dedicated to Sts. Vitus and Modestus, two IVth century martyrs. The main objective of the view is the ancient arch which
with some artistic licence Vasi used to frame Trofei di Mario, the ruins of an ancient monumental fountain.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) SS. Vito e Modesto; 2) Arco di Gallieno; 3) Trofei di Mario; 4) Monastero delle Viperesche. 3) is shown in another plate. The small map shows also 5) S. Antonio Abate; 6) Auditorium di Mecenate.
The view in February 2009
The building which housed Monastero delle Viperesche has been widely modernized, the church underwent many changes and was given a medieval appearance it never had, the Roman ruins are no longer visible, yet the view is very picturesque even today. This because the site is almost hidden by late XIXth century tall apartment blocks and it comes as a surprise.
Viperesche was not a reference to venomous nuns, but to Livia Vipereschi who founded an institution (1688) which cared for young women in danger, spinsters and widows.
At Vasi's time the small monastery adjoining the church housed a few Cistercian monks (their main Roman monastery was at S. Croce in Gerusalemme, which is not very far away).
(left) Fašade; (centre) 1901 fašade and a modern fountain which symbolizes Rione Monti; (right) the apse and a XVth century window
A church dedicated to Sts. Vitus and Modestus is recorded in the area in the early IXth century. It was entirely rebuilt in the vicinity of the old location in 1477 by Pope Sixtus IV. In 1901 the orientation of the church was changed and a new fašade was built on Via Carlo Alberto, a modern street. In 1973-977 the church was brought back to its original orientation and it was given a medieval looking fašade.
(left) 1483 fresco of the school of Antoniazzo Romano; (upper right corner) lintel with the (erased) coat of arms and name of Pope Sixtus IV; (centre) 1565 tomb of Carlo Visconti who was cardinal titular of the church; (right) 1620 coat of arms of Federico Colonna di Paliano and inscription celebrating the improvements he made to the church and his own recovery from the bite of a rabid dog (thanks to St. Vitus)
The two changes of orientation greatly impacted on the design and decoration of the interior which is now very bare, after the removal of all early XXth century additions. It retains however a good Renaissance fresco which was paid for by three families of Florentine origin (Peruzzi, Machiavelli and Federighi) and some memories of the church history.
(left) Arco di Gallieno; (right) inscriptions on the arch: "Gallieno Clementissimo Principi Cuius Invicta Virtus Sola Pietate Superata Est Et
Saloninae Sanctissimae Aug.." (above) and "Aurelius Victor V(ir) E(gregius) Dicatissimus Numini Maiestatique Eorum" (below)
The arch was originally a gate (Porta Esquilina) of the Servian Walls; at the time of Emperor Augustus the gate was given a monumental appearance with two minor arches at the sides of the major one; there is evidence of an erased inscription of that time. In 262 the arch was dedicated to Emperor Gallienus and his wife Salonina who owned a large estate outside the gate. In the new inscription the emperor was celebrated for his military leadership which was exceeded only by his piety. The two minor openings were demolished when the church was built.
(above) Medieval inscription written in "onciale" script and stating that the church was built
by Cardinal Pietro Capocci; (left) XXth century fašade; (right) detail of the XIIIth century portal of the hospital by the Vassalletto,
a family of mosaicists and stonecutters who are known for their Cosmati works
In 1259 Cardinal Pietro Capocci founded a hospital to cure those affected by herpes zoster, which in Italy was called St. Anthony's Fire and therefore it was dedicated to that saint (in other countries St. Anthony's Fire indicates ergotism or erysipelas).
The Capocci were an important family at that time and they had their fortified houses in this part of Rome. In the following century a church was built on the premises of the hospital. The complex was modified many times until in 1932 it became the Pontifical Seminar for the Russian-Byzantine rite (thus now it is called Russicum). The portal of the hospital is today placed at the centre of the church fašade (you may wish to see the church as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
S. Antonio Abate (St. Anthony the Great) is the patron saint of pack-animals, so once a year horses and donkeys were brought to the square in front of the church to be blessed. The ceremony was briefly described by J. W. Goethe in his Italian Journey (January 18, 1787). The ceremony now takes place at S. Eusebio.
Late XVIth century frescoes by Giovan Battista Lombardelli showing some of the temptations St. Anthony had to deal with. The image used as background for this page shows a detail of a frame decorating the frescoes with two symbols of the saint: the "tau" or Cross of St. Anthony which is visible on his stick handle and a small bell which the saint used to announce his arrival and to chase the evil spirits away
The interior of the church has been largely modified to adapt it to the Russian-Byzantine rite; the accesses to the main altar and to some chapels have been closed by iconostasis panels, but still some of the frescoes describing the continuous struggle between St. Anthony and the tempting devils can be seen.
Musei Capitolini: large "opus sectile" panel depicting a tiger attacking a calf
Junius Annius Bassus was a Roman officer at the time of Emperor Constantine and in 331 he was appointed consul. He built a small basilica in an area which was eventually included in the garden of the hospital of S. Antonio Abate. The building was perhaps a library or a small tribunal. In the late Vth century it was turned into a church dedicated to St. Andrew. The building was deconsecrated in the XIIIth century and it was used as a small warehouse for the hospital. In 1686 the apse collapsed and soon after some of the "opus sectile" panels which decorated the original basilica were acquired by the Massimo (and later on by the Del Drago) or moved to Musei Capitolini.
According to Pliny "opus sectile marmoreum" (facing of floors or walls by using pieces of marble) was introduced to Rome in the Ist century BC. Geometric examples of this technique can be seen at many places in Rome and its environs (e.g. Villa Adriana at Tivoli and Domus del Ninfeo at Ostia), but the use of "opus sectile" to depict scenes was rather rare. The panels of Basilica di Giunio Basso were the largest known examples of this "painting" technique until the reconstruction in 2005 of those which had been found at Casa dell'Opus Sectile at Ostia in the 1960s.
The reliefs which were made for Arco di Costantino (not those taken from other monuments) suggest a major decline in sculpture in the early IVth century. The "opus sectile" panels of the basilica indicate that the decline did not affect all aspects of art. Small pieces of mother-of-pearl were used to give visibility to the nymphs' bracelets; the design of the bodies and in particular that of Hylas impressed many Renaissance artists who visited the basilica and copied its decorations.
Auditorium di Mecenate: general view
In 1874 an unusual ancient building was unearthed in a garden along Via Merulana, the street opened by Pope Sixtus V to link S. Maria Maggiore with S. Giovanni in Laterano. The area was known as the likely site of a suburban villa built by Gaius Clinius Maecenas, a friend of Emperor Augustus, and a patron of poets such as Virgil and Horace. The building is a large rectangular hall having at one end an apse with a series of circular steps. These were believed to seat a small audience, hence the name by which the building is usually referred to. Maecenas left all his fortune to Augustus and his villa was utilized and modified by Emperors Tiberius and Caligula.
Auditorium di Mecenate: (left) apse; (right) details of the frescoes and white and red floor mosaic
The building might have been used for different purposes by its owners, but there is a general consensus that the steep and narrow steps were part of a nymphaeum, a monumental fountain. Its water ended into a small canal at the centre of the hall, which in summer was perhaps used as a coenatio, a banqueting hall. The fresco decoration recalls in many aspects those at Villa di Livia and at the House of Augustus.
Auditorium di Mecenate: (upper left corner) fragments of Forma Urbis Romae (a marble plan of the Ancient City) showing a circular pond
which is believed to have been inside Maecenas' property; the other images show fragments of lintels and reliefs found near the building
Nunc licet Esquiliis habitare salubribus (it is now possible to live salubriously on the Esquiline Hill) is a verse by Horace (Sermones Book VII) praising Maecenas that has helped archaeologists in identifying the ancient owner of the building. Actually Maecenas' villa replaced a cemetery which stood immediately outside the Servian Walls.
Another reference by Horace (Carmina XXIX) indicates that Maecenas built a tower from which he enjoyed a commanding view over Rome:
Molem propinquam nubibus arduis/ Omitte mirari beatae/ Fumum et opes strepitumque Romae (leave../ Those piles, among the clouds at home;/ Cease for a moment to admire/ The smoke, the wealth, the noise of Rome! - Translated into English verse by John Conington). According to tradition Emperor Nero watched the 65 AD fire of Rome from this tower.
Musei Capitolini: (left/centre) part of a fountain (early Ist. century AD); (right) statue of a dog sculptured in a rare green marble from Egypt (serpentina moschinata)
The exact size and location of Maecenas' property are difficult to be determined as well as the changes in its ownership. Musei Capitolini has dedicated a hall to the sculptures which were found in its assumed site. Many of them decorated gardens (horti) and they might have been made at the time of Maecenas.
Musei Capitolini: (left) herm resembling a caryatid (early Ist. century AD); (centre) central part of a IInd century AD floor mosaic portraying Orestes with Iphigenia, his sister who holds a statue of Artemis, a scene from "Iphigenia in Tauris" by Euripides; (right) Marsyas, Roman copy from a Greek original; a reddish marble was chosen to render the effect of the satyr's flayed body (you may wish to see some larger images - it opens in another window)
The Romans were familiar with Greek history and myths well before they conquered that country in 146 BC. The subjects depicted in the works of art which decorated their residences were very often related to Greece and in the case of statues they were copies of ancient Greek originals.
Imperial portraits: (left) Salonina Matidia, niece of Emperor Trajan (Musei Capitolini); (centre) Vibia Sabina, Matidia's daughter and wife of Emperor Hadrian (Musei Capitolini); (right) Annia Galeria Faustina, Matidia's granddaughter and wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius (Centrale Montemartini). In my view Annia Faustina has the looks of a Victorian age lady
A number of statues of Roman emperors and their relatives were found in the vicinity of Maecenas' gardens. The heads of statues in the images above show a sort of female dynasty who ruled the Empire in the IInd century AD. It continued with Annia Galeria Faustina the Younger, Matidia's great granddaughter, who married Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Molto antica ed ancora di somma venerazione Ŕ questa chiesa, perchŔ da quello, che si legge, quivi
fu il macello Liviano, in cui furono poi martirizzati moltissimi Cristiani: perci˛ sono in essa de' corpi di
santi Martiri, e la pietra sopra cui furono uccisi a guisa di bestie da macello: onde fu detto questo
luogo macellum martyrum. Custodiscono questa chiesa li Monaci Cisterciensi, e vi risiede il di loro