The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
S. Gregorio Magno (S. Gregorio al Celio)
The Atrium and its Renaissance Monuments
The Three Chapels
Tribuna di SS. Giovanni e Paolo
Exhibits from the Museums
In the XVIIIth century the Caelian Hill, one of the seven historical hills of Rome, was remote from the centre of the city and it
housed almost only monasteries which had been built next to very ancient churches, exception made for Villa Mattei sul Monte Celio. S. Gregorio and the adjoining chapels were redesigned in the early XVIIth century.
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) Triclinio di S. Gregorio (aka S. Barbara); 2) SS. Marta e Andrea (best known as S. Andrea); 3) S. Silvia; 4) Tribuna (apse) di SS. Giovanni e Paolo; 5) Clivo di Scauro. 5) is shown in another plate. The small map shows also 6) S. Gregorio Magno (aka S. Gregorio al Celio).
The view in June 2009
The area has retained most of the aspect it had in 1756 at the time Vasi made this etching; the view over S. Gregorio Magno and the three chapels is almost unchanged.
A view from the Aventine Hill (Monument to Giuseppe Mazzini)
From the northern side of the Aventine which overlooks Circus Maximus it is possible to include S. Gregorio Magno and the apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo in the same view. The image shows that the actual church of S. Gregorio Magno is preceded by an atrium and that the imposing fašade is a theatrical entrance to the latter.
View towards the Palatine Hill from the staircase leading to S. Gregorio Magno
Today the valley separating the Caelian from the Palatine is larger and deeper than it was at Vasi's time, owing to changes made in the late XIXth century and in 1933.
Monastery: (left) corridor leading to the church; (right) detail of the courtyard
The monastery was founded by St. Gregory the Great in ca. 575 by modifying his father's house and a nearby theological school (Biblioteca di Agapeto) built by his relative Pope St. Agapetus I. The site chosen was facing the Palatine, which at the time was the residence of the Byzantine governors of Rome. The monastery was for a long time assigned to the Benedictine order; in 1573 it passed to the Camaldolese, a branch of that order, named after the hermitage of Camaldoli near Arezzo (see their website - it opens in another window). The monastery was redesigned in 1715 and its decoration makes reference to the heraldic symbols (three mountains and a star) of Clement XI, the reigning pope.
14th November 1644. We went to St. Gregorio, in Monte Celio, where are many privileged altars, and there they showed us an arm of that saint, and other relics. Before this church stands a very noble portico.
John Evelyn's Diary and Correspondence
In 1629-1633 Giambattista Soria designed an atrium which was preceded by a staircase and a grand fašade at the request of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. An illustration in a 1588 Guide to Rome shows that the church had a small bell tower on its left side.
Details of the fašade showing the heraldic symbols of Cardinal Scipione Borghese
During the French occupation of Rome some coats of arms of popes and cardinals were erased by the French troops; this occurred to the coats of arms of Cardinal Borghese at the top of the fašade and in the garden of the monastery. The soldiers did not realize that his heraldic symbols were everywhere in the decoration of the fašade (or maybe they did not dare to erase them). So eagles and dragons were spared. They show the power and wealth Cardinal Borghese retained even after the death of his uncle (Pope Paul V) in 1621.
Interior: (left) main nave; (right) chapel at the end of the left nave
The interior of the church was redesigned in 1725-1730 by Francesco Ferrari, an architect who is best known for the use he made of stucco decorations, e.g. at SS. Ildefonso e Tommaso. This was due to a general lack of resources and materials (there were no longer many columns and marbles to be taken from the ancient buildings). Because of the redesign some XVIth century funerary monuments were relocated to the atrium whereas others were moved to the monastery.
Cappella Salviati: (left) main altar; (right) ceiling
Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati belonged to a rich family from Florence. He promoted the renovation of Spedale di S. Giacomo in Augusta and for the Jubilee Year 1600 he commissioned the construction of a large side chapel at S. Gregorio Magno. Similar to S. Giacomo in Augusta it was designed by Francesco da Volterra and completed by Carlo Maderno. The ceiling was painted by Giovan Battista Ricci who was involved in the decoration of many Roman churches and chapels, including the transept of S. Giovanni in Laterano.
Cappella Salviati features a fine marble altar which was made in 1469 and stood in the church until its redesign by Ferrari. In its upper section it most likely shows Castel Sant'Angelo as it was prior to the changes made by Pope Alexander VI at the end of the XVth century. In a fresco by Ricci the castle is shown in another moment of its long history.
According to tradition St. Gregory rested on this marble chair. It is dated Ist century BC and it is decorated with a relief showing a bearded genius holding two elaborate baskets between two winged lions. It might have been part of the furniture of the Roman houses which have been found under nearby SS. Giovanni e Paolo. You may wish to see Sedia Corsini, another ancient chair/throne.
Interior: (left) sections of the church Cosmati pavement (XIIIth century); (centre) fragment of a fresco in the monastery; (right) gravestone of a bishop which was moved from the church to the monastery
(left) Funerary monuments which were relocated from the church to the atrium in the XVIIIth century; (right) monument to Sir Edward Carne (1561)
Many of the funerary monuments which were relocated to the atrium are related to members of foreign communities; their long inscriptions sometimes shed light on political events of the XVIth century.
Sir Edward Carne was a Welsh diplomat who was involved in missions to Emperor Charles V and to Pope Paul IV. After the death of Queen Mary I of England in 1558 he chose not to serve under Queen Elizabeth I and to remain in Rome: the design of his sarcophagus follows a pattern first introduced by Michelangelo in the Medici tombs at Sacrestia Nuova di S. Lorenzo in Florence, but which can be noticed also in works attributed to him in Rome, e.g. the monument to Cecchino Bracci in S. Maria in Aracoeli.
Monument to Antonio and Michele Bonsi by Luigi Capponi (1500)
Antonio and Michele Bonsi were two Florentine brothers: in 1498 Antonio was the Republic's Ambassador to Pope Alexander VI; his brother Michele was the owner of a fine collection of antiques he gathered in Rome. Their monument is a work by Luigi Capponi, the preferred pupil of Andrea Bregno who was the leading sculptor in Rome until the arrival of Michelangelo. Both Bregno and Capponi excelled in low reliefs.
Monument to Andrea Gentili (1525)
Andrea Gentili was from Genoa: he died at the age of 59. He was portrayed in his sleep in line with a traditional way of depicting the dead; in this case however the posture of Gentili is that of someone having a nap, rather than being immersed in his eternal sleep (it might have inspired the XIXth century funerary monument to Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn). During the Renaissance there was little room for the gruesome symbols of death which characterized many monuments of the following century.
Monument to Lelio Guidiccioni (1643) which makes use of a former monument to Imperia, a courtesan
The monument to Canon Lelio Guidiccioni (d. 1643) is rather peculiar because while its lower part shows a flying hourglass, which is typical of XVIIth century monuments, the reliefs in its upper part have a Renaissance grace. They are thought to come from the tomb of Imperia, a famous courtesan. She lived in a palace in Via Giulia where she died at the age of 26 in 1512. Her beauty was such that Gian Francesco Vitale, a minor poet who knew her wrote: "The gods made two gifts to Rome: Mars gave the Empire and Venus Imperia". Agostino Chigi, a rich banker, is known for having been one of her lovers and it is said that she posed for Raphael in The Triumph of Galatea, a fresco at la Farnesina, Chigi's villa.
Exorcism by St. Gregory, fresco traditionally attributed to il Pomarancio (see another fresco portraying a vision of St. Gregory)
In 1614 Pope Paul V approved the publication of Rituale Romanum, a comprehensive revision of all ceremonies and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. It included guidelines for exorcisms: it is interesting to note that the foreword to these guidelines had a word of a caution about the appropriateness of exorcisms: In primis, ne facile credat, aliquem a daemonio esse obsessum (First of all, one should not easily believe that a person is possessed by evil spirits). The atrium is decorated with a cycle of paintings showing events of the life of St. Gregory including one where an exorcism is performed. One of the preferred formulas is said to have been introduced by St. Benedict: Vade retro Satana (Step back Satan).
(left to right) S. Barbara, S. Andrea and S. Silvia
In the little graveyard of the monastery two medieval chapels dedicated to St. Barbara and St. Andrew were restored by Cardinal Cesare Baronio in 1602-1603; he added a third chapel dedicated to St. Silvia, mother of St. Gregory, in order to compose a symmetrical complex. Cardinal Baronio played a major role in the decoration of many churches during the pontificate of Pope Clement VIII, e.g. S. Cesareo in Palatio and SS. Nereo e Achilleo. Cardinal Scipione Borghese completed the restoration.
(left to right) S. Barbara, S. Andrea and S. Silvia
S. Barbara is aka Triclinio di S. Gregorio because St. Gregory used it as a soup kitchen; for this reason the lintel bears the inscription Triclinium pauperum (Dining room of the poor). St. Gregory is known for having developed an effective system for managing estates of the church to increase their revenue in order to assist the starving population of Rome.
They shew us yet the place and the table where this holy Man, in recompence of his charitable hospitallity to the poor, deserved to have an Angel, and the Lord of Angels for his Guests, he treated daily here twelve poor Men in honour of the twelve Apostles. In one of the Chappels, you see a fine Statue of white Marble of S. Gregory in his Pontifical Robes; it was erected to his honour by Cardinal Baronius, who was a devout admirer of him.
Richard Lassels' The Voyage of Italy, or a Compleat Journey through Italy in ca 1668
The chapel was built in the XIIth century above ancient Roman structures. Its current aspect is the result of the restoration commissioned by Cardinal Baronio. According to tradition St. Gregory had arranged the table for twelve poor when an angel in disguise made his appearance. After having eaten his meal he told St. Gregory how much God praised what he was doing.
The monastery where St. Gregory spent part of his life was dedicated to St. Andrew and
Cardinal Borghese commissioned two large frescoes depicting his martyrdom. The two painters who made them (Domenichino and Guido Reni) were among the leading ones of their time and
until the mid of the XIXth century their works were "must see" for all foreign travellers, in particular those of Reni who was referred to simply as Guido.
I am extremely fond of all this artist's (Guido Reni) pieces. There is a tenderness and delicacy in his manner; and his figures are all exquisitely beautiful, though his expression is often erroneous, and his attitudes are always affected and unnatural.
Tobias Smollett - Travels through France and Italy - 1766
S. Andrea: details of the frescoes by Domenichino (left) and Guido Reni (right)
In 1786, on his way to Rome, J. W. Goethe stopped at Bologna, the hometown of Domenichino and Reni:
The main obstacle to understanding these painters is their absurd subjects, which drive me mad, though I would like to admire and love them. (..) It is always the same, even with a genius like Guido. You find yourself in the dissecting room, at the foot of the gallows, on the edge of the corpse pit. His heroes always suffer and never act. Italian Journey - translation by W. H. Auden and E. Mayer - Collins 1962.
One of the first things Goethe did in Rome was to see the ceiling painted by Domenichino at S. Andrea della Valle with scenes of the life of St. Andrew.
(left) Portal of the enclosure of the three chapels; (right) Biblioteca di Agapito
In 1607 Flaminio Ponzio designed a new portal (you can see the inscription on its lintel in the image used as background for this page) on the site of the old entrance to the monastery (which was rebuilt to the right of the church); the ruins of a basilica stand between this portal and the three chapels. They are known as Biblioteca di Agapito and they are thought to have been built by Pope St. Agapetus I; the lower part of the walls belong to an earlier building.
Apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo
The body of the church has been entirely modernized (..) but the portico, pavement
and apse of the 12th century remain, and the latter has a
good exterior arcaded gallery, the only case, so far as
I know, where this Pisan and Lombard feature appears
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque architecture - 1920
The left part of the plate shows the apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo which was decorated in the early XIVth century with a gallery in Lombard style. The brickwork of the cornice is dated XIIth century.
Musei Capitolini: Temple to Mars
In 1878 minute fragments of painted terracotta were found during the enlargement of the street which linked Piazza del Colosseo with S. Gregorio Magno. The fragments which archaeologists were able to piece together indicated that they were part of the front decoration of a IInd century BC temple made by Etruscan artists. These had achieved a high level of skill in making terracotta statues and sarcophagi. Based on the statue at the centre of the tympanum some archaeologists believe it might have been a temple dedicated to Mars. A similar earlier temple with terracotta statues was found near S. Omobono in the 1930s.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Siede questa chiesa sul pendio del monte Celio, anticamente chiamato Clivus Scauri, dove propriamente
il s. Pontefice ebbe la casa paterna, la quale egli ridusse in monastero, e vi abit˛ anche egli da religioso,
menando una vita sý austera, che solamente si cibava di una scodella di legumi, macerati nell'acqua,
mandatigli ogni giorno da santa Silvia sua madre abitante alla cella nuova. Vi eresse ancora una chiesa
in onore di s. Andrea Apostolo; ma dipoi essendo riedificata, fu dedicata al medesimo s. Gregorio.
Il Card. Scipione Borghese nel 1633. vi fece il gran prospetto e portico con disegno di Gio. Batista
Soria, ed ultimamente i monaci Camaldolesi, che vi risiedono, hanno rinnovato il chiostro, e la chiesa;
sotto i portici sonovi varj depositi ornati di marmi, e di metalli, e nella chiesa delle pitture di buona mano.
Il quadro nella seconda cappella Ŕ di Franc. Imperiale; quello sull'altare maggiore di un Bolognese, e
quello nell'ultima e di Pompeo Battoni.