All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in November 2009.
S. Maria in Vallicella (Book 7) (Map C2) (Day 4) (View D5) (Rione Ponte) and (Rione Parione)
In this page:
Vallicella means small valley and it is a reference to a depression which existed at the time of Ancient Rome and which was thought to be an entrance to Hades, the Underworld. Excavations have identified the remains of Ara Ditis et Proserpinae, a platform with an altar dedicated to Dis (Pluto) and Proserpina. The depression was still noticeable in the XIIth century when a church built in this location was recorded as S. Maria in Vallicella. When in 1575 Pope Gregory XIII assigned the church to S. Filippo Neri the building was almost buried in the ground, because floods had raised its level. It was therefore decided to build a new church (chiesa nuova) on the site of the old one. For this reason the church became (and is) more commonly known as Chiesa Nuova (this is also the name of the square in front of the building).
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Oratorio dei Filippini; 2) Palazzo Sforza Cesarini. 2) is shown in another page. The map shows also 3) Piazza dell'Orologio; 4) S. Maria in Vallicella; 5) Palazzo di Sora; 6) Palazzo Boncompagni Corcos; 7) Palazzo Cerri; 8) Palazzo Capponi Stampa; 9) Palazzo Caccialupi. The dotted line in the small map delineates the border among Rione Ponte (upper part), Rione Regola (left lower quarter) and Rione Parione (centre).
Piazza della Chiesa Nuova was enlarged in the 1880s by pulling down the buildings located on its southern side; this had no impact on the church and the adjoining monastery. In 1910 the square was embellished with a monument to Metastasio, an XVIIIth century poet and librettist, who was born in nearby Via dei Cappellari and in 1925 Fontana della Terrina was relocated from Campo dei Fiori to this square.
S. Maria in Vallicella
The construction of the new church was completed in 1606 and several architects were involved in its design (the fašade is by Fausto Rughesi). Cardinal Pier Donato Cesi and after his death in 1586, his brother Angelo made significant donations. They had large possessions in Umbria.
You can see the fine ceiling of the church in a page covering the ceilings of many Roman churches, its organ in a page covering organs and cantoria and a detail of its altar in a page dealing with Baroque sculpture.
Oratorio dei Filippini
S. Filippo Neri founded a congregation of Catholic priests and lay-brothers, whose members are commonly referred to as Oratorians, but in Italy for some time they were called Filippini, after the name of the founder. The congregation acquired a large membership and it was decided to build a series of facilities (including a library) next to S. Maria in Vallicella. In 1637 Francesco Borromini was charged with the design and construction of these facilities; as a sign of modesty the congregation required that neither marble nor travertine were to be used for the decoration of the building, yet the architect was asked to give an imposing appearance to the side adjoining the church. In order to achieve this objective Borromini designed a fašade which is not related just to the small oratory, but it includes also the library and other parts of the complex.
Oratorio dei Filippini was the second large commission received by Borromini (the first being S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane).
In the design of the fašade Borromini made use of a combination of concave and convex lines which characterizes many of his works. He also experimented new designs for the windows and made use of heads of cherubs as an architectonic element. For the decoration of the fašade he used small flat bricks similar to those employed by the ancient Romans and he embellished it with stuccoes.
In 1647-50 Borromini designed a small fašade of the Filippini complex overlooking a square in Via dei Banchi Nuovi (a street named after Palazzo del Banco di S. Spirito). While the design of the lower part is very sober, the turret with the clock is again characterized by concave and convex lines.
In his guide of Rome, Vasi mentions tre magnifici palazzi (three magnificent palaces) in Piazza dell'Orologio. The most famous one was Palazzo di Santo Spirito, designed by Borromini as headquarters for Banco di S. Spirito, the papal bank. Eventually the offices of the bank were located in another palace by the same name and the palace built by Borromini was bought by Cardinal Spada. Unfortunately in the XIXth century it was almost totally modified and only the courtyard retains some traces of the old building (you can see its former appearance in an etching by G. B. Falda - external link).
Palazzo Boncompagni Corcos
The second palace Vasi had in mind is Palazzo Boncompagni Corcos. In the second half of the XVIth century the Jews living in the Papal State, in addition to laws forcing them to live in restricted areas in Rome and Ancona, had to face a strong pressure aimed at converting them. In 1582 Solomon Corcos, a rich Jew, abandoned his faith and his name and became Gregorio Boncompagni after the name of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni. His heirs built in the XVIIth century an elegant palace in Piazza dell'Orologio. The palace is decorated with many dragons, the heraldic symbol of the Boncompagni and its interior has some fine paintings by Carlo Cesi.
The third palace has various names, due to its many owners. Initially it belonged to the Orsini, then it was acquired by the Capponi, an important Florentine family. Its elegant stucco decoration was added by the Stampa, a family from Milan, in the early XVIIIth century (you can see a detail of the portal in a page dedicated to the Laughing Masks of Rome).
Palazzo di Sora
Palazzo di Sora was built at the beginning of the XVIth century and Vasi wrote that it was designed by Donato Bramante, but today this attribution is thought to be inaccurate. The palace was regarded as a sort of architectural summary because it was decorated with the three classical orders. In 1579 it was bought by Pope Gregory XIII for his son Giacomo Boncompagni, Duke of Sora, a town in the Kingdom of Naples; the full name of the palace should have been Palazzo Boncompagni di Sora, but it was shortened in Palazzo di Sora.
Palazzo Cerri, similarly to Palazzo di Sora lost nearly half of its original size and it was given a new fašade overlooking Piazza della Chiesa Nuova.
The original entrance is in what today seems a narrow street, but at the time seemed a large one and thus was called
Via Larga. It was opened in 1627. As a matter of fact if one looks at the 1748 map the street is larger than the other ones. The design of the palace
is generally attributed to Francesco Peparelli. The most important member of the Cerri family was Cardinal Carlo Cerri who was portrayed by Jakob Ferdinand Voet (see the portrait at the National Gallery of London - external link).
Next plate in Book 7: Chiesa di S. Maria Maddalena
Next step in Day 4 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Tommaso in Parione
Next step in your tour of Rione Ponte: Chiesa dei Santi Celso e Giuliano
Next step in your tour of Rione Parione: Chiesa di San Tommaso in Parione