All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in October 2009.
S. Maria in Dominica (Book 3) (Map B3) (Day 1) (View C10) (Rione Campitelli) and (Rione Monti)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
S. Maria in Dominica
S. Tommaso in Formis and Arco di Dolabella
S. Stefano Rotondo
The Plate (No. 52)
This plate shows several interesting subjects belonging to different periods of the history of Rome: a pillar of a Ist century AD aqueduct (Aqua Claudia), an Early Christian church (S. Stefano Rotondo), a series of medieval buildings (Hospital of S. Tommaso in Formis) and a Renaissance church (S. Maria in Dominica).
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) S. Stefano Rotondo; 2) Ruins of Acqua Claudia; 3) Entrance to Villa Mattei; 4) S. Maria in Dominica (or Domnica); 5) S. Tommaso in Formis; 6) Ancient inscription (Arco di Dolabella). The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Campitelli and Rione Monti (lower right quarter).
Apart from the cars, this part of the Celio hill has retained the peaceful appearance it had in the XVIIIth century.
S. Maria in Dominica
The church is one of the oldest deaneries in Rome, rebuilt by Pope Paschal I in 817 (see a fine mosaic of that period). Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici erected the portico during the pontificate of Pope Innocent VIII. In 1513 the cardinal became Pope Leo X and he added his papal coat of arms and several heraldic symbols of his family in various parts of the church (the lion heads on the arches of the portico - image used as background for this page - were a symbol of the pope).
Three ostrich feathers, very similar to those in the emblem of the Prince of Wales, were another heraldic symbol of Pope Leo X. One of his mottoes was (jugum Christi) Semper Suave (Jesus Christ's yoke is always sweet).
You may wish to see the building as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome, where the church was called S. Maria della Navicella. Dominica and Domnica are a corruption of Latin Domini which means "of the Lord".
Navicella=little ship is a copy made by order of Pope Leo X of a Roman marble found in the area. In 1931 the orientation of the small monument was changed; it was perpendicular to the façade of the church and it became parallel to it.
The theme of the little ship appears again in the beautiful late Renaissance wooden ceiling of the church, which was built by another Cardinal de' Medici in 1566. Ferdinando de' Medici, however, was not very interested in an ecclesiastical career. At the death of his brother Francesco in 1587, he became Grand Duke of Tuscany and in 1589 he married Christina of Lorraine which meant he had to give up his cardinal's hat.
S. Tommaso in Formis and Arco di Dolabella
The XIIIth century buildings shown above were part of the hospital and of the monastery annexed to the church of S. Tommaso in Formis. The hospital belonged to the Trinitarian order which was devoted to ransoming Christian slaves. The elegant portal is a work by Jacopo di Lorenzo and his son Cosma who also designed the portico of the Cathedral of Civita Castellana. The mosaic medallion shows Jesus Christ between a white and a black slave; the inscription says the image was the symbol of the order (Signum Ordinis Sanctae Trinitatis et Captivorum). In 1379 the Trinitarians left the hospital and the monastery; in the XVIIth century they built S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and in the next century Chiesa della SS. Trinità in Via Condotti.
The inscription mentioned by Vasi in the plate celebrates the erection of an arch (most likely a gate of the old republican walls) by the consuls Dolabella and Silliano in 10 AD. Eventually the arch was included into the aqueduct. The street under the arch leads to SS. Giovanni e Paolo.
The small medieval church of S. Tommaso in Formis (in formis is a corruption of in fornices which means in the archway) was modified in the XVIIth century.
The gigantic pillar shown in the plate belonged to the aqueduct built by Emperor Nero to bring water to his Domus Aurea; because it was a branch of the aqueduct built by Emperor Claudius a few years before, Vasi calls it Acqua Claudia (another stretch of the aqueduct can be seen near Porta Maggiore).
St. John of Matha, the founder of the Trinitarian order lived from 1209 to his death in 1213 in two narrow rooms constructed by making use of the aqueduct pillars above Arco di Dolabella.
The current entrance to Villa Mattei is not that shown in the plate. It is the former main entrance to Villa Giustiniani and it was moved to this site in the 1920s when Villa Mattei was bought by the State and opened to the public. This entrance dates back to the early XVIIth century and it was designed by Carlo Lambardi. The Villa is also called Celimontana with reference to its location on the Celio hill (Mons Celius).
The largest circular church in Rome was erected at the close of the Vth century by Pope Simplicius by making use of materials from previous buildings existing in the neighbourhood (most likely Macellum Magnum, a covered market built by Emperor Nero). Pope Nicholas V restored it and reduced the size of the church by leaving out the outer ring (a small part of it was turned into a portico).
Recent excavations under the church found evidence of a Mithraeum, a temple of the monotheist religion the Christians saw as a competitor.
Because the church was thought to be a former monument of Ancient Rome, it attracted the interest of many Grand Tour travellers and Giovanni Battista Piranesi engraved two views of S. Stefano Rotondo which showed its exterior and interior (see above).
The church has always suffered from humidity problems which have damaged its frescoes: a lengthy and careful restoration of the roof and of the interior was completed in 2009.
In 1583 Pope Gregory XIII commissioned a series of frescoes which portrayed the death of the Apostles and of some early martyrs. They were the first of a long series of paintings having as subject torture and death scenes.
You may wish to read what Charles Dickens thought of these paintings.
You may wish to see S. Stefano Rotondo as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 3: SS. Giovanni e Paolo