The importance of a street in XVIIIth century Rome can be guessed by the number of passers-by and carriages which Vasi showed in the etching where he depicted it.
Strada di Monte Cavallo is shown at the right end of this 1756 plate, yet few people used this street to reach Palazzo
del Quirinale, the papal residence, which was located at its end. This situation was due to the fact that the southern section of the Quirinal Hill was almost isolated from the lower parts of the city; the access to Palazzo del Quirinale was easier from the northern side via Strada Pia or from the western one through Via della Dataria.
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) S. Silvestro; 2) Strada di Monte Cavallo. The small map shows also 3) S. Agata dei Goti; 4) S. Bernardino ai Monti; 5) S. Maria del Carmelo alle Tre Cannelle. The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Trevi (left) and Rione Monti (right).
(left) The view in August 2009 from Villa Aldobrandini; (centre) S. Silvestro: bell tower; (right) S. Silvestro:
dome of Cappella Bandini
In 1876 in order to enlarge and smooth the access to Palazzo del Quirinale, Strada di Monte Cavallo (today Via XXIV Maggio) was significantly lowered and S. Silvestro was in part demolished. The view of the church is impaired by modern buildings.
(left) XIXth century front of the building resembling the original fašade; (right) fašade of "coemeterium", an oratory for funerary ceremonies which was part of the monastery
Today the church is at some twenty feet above the street level; the entrance is from a door to the left of the mock fašade: two flights of steps lead to the church, which in addition to the original fašade lost its first chapels. You may wish to see S. Silvestro in a 1588 Guide to Rome.
This small church became important when a conclave was held in Palazzo del Quirinale: the cardinals went in procession from the church to the palace where they secluded themselves until the new pope was elected. The last of such processions occurred in 1846 for the conclave which elected Pope Pius IX. The adjoining monastery had an extensive kitchen garden which bordered on Giardino Colonnese.
Interior: (left) nave; (right) ceiling of the nave (second half of the XVIth century, very similar to that of S. Maria in Aracoeli)
S. Silvestro is a church of medieval origin, but it was almost entirely rebuilt in the XVIth century and there is record of its reconsecration in 1566 after it was assigned to the Theatine Order. The nave is very short because its initial section was demolished. The fine wooden ceiling is decorated with a painted relief showing Jesus giving the keys to St. Peter and a chapel is decorated with frescoes showing Emperor Constantine donating Rome to Pope St. Sylvester I (to whom the church is dedicated). The two events were often associated because the former was the source of the spiritual authority of the Popes and the latter of the secular one.
(left) Cappella Madonna della Catena: altar (1629) with a painting by Giacinto Gemignani (1646); (right) ceiling of the chancel (1600-602)
Many cardinals and high prelates financed the decoration of the church, mainly because of its proximity to the papal residence, which made their pious initiatives easily known to the popes. The church was small and this resulted in its being excessively decorated; on more than one occasion paintings were replaced by new ones. The chancel has an early example of quadratura or illusionistic ceiling which will characterize the ceilings of some of the largest churches of Rome in the late XVIIth century.
Cappella Bandini: (left) S. Marta, perhaps by Francesco Mochi. It portrays St. Martha of Bethany holding a cross in her hand and sprinkling the Tarasque, a beast which terrorized southern France, with holy water; (right) monument to Pier Antonio and Cassandra Bandini: statues attributed to Giuliano Finelli; it shows typical baroque features: the dead are portrayed in the act of praying and the decoration includes many reminders of Death
Pier Antonio Bandini was a Florentine banker who lived in Rome: he was at the head of the Florentine community living near S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini and he granted loans to popes and cardinals. He eventually granted loans to the kings of Spain and France. In 1580-1585 he added a new domed chapel to S. Silvestro. Its decoration was completed by his son Cardinal Ottavio Bandini, who was consecrated Archbishop of Fermo in this church in 1595. He died in 1629 and was buried in the family chapel.
(left) Polidoro da Caravaggio: events of St. Catherine's life (1525-1527) in the first left chapel: (right) early XVIIth century gravestone of a member of the Savelli Orsini family (branch of Ariccia)
The initial reconstruction of the church was promoted by Popes Leo X and Clement VII, both of the Medici family; the latter entrusted the decoration of a chapel with Polidoro da Caravaggio, who is best known for having painted the fašades of Palazzo Ricci and Palazzo Milesi. His frescoes at S. Silvestro show how he combined a religious subject with the depiction of a landscape with an imaginary ancient building. His example was followed by other painters who placed events related to saints and prophets in a corner of a large landscape fresco (e.g. Tarquinio Ligustri at S. Vitale and Gaspard Dughet at SS. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti).
(left) Outer fašade; (right) detail of the fašade: stucco relief by Francesco Ferrari portraying the saint carrying her excised breast
(more on martyrs' sufferings and deaths)
The church was most likely founded in the Vth century by Ricimer, a Goth general who was the
actual ruler of Rome and Italy. The Goths were evangelized in the IVth century, mainly through the action of Ulfilas, a bishop who adhered
to the Arian doctrines, which at that time were supported by Emperor Constantius II.
S. Agata was built to become the see of the Arian Bishop of Rome and it was used for this purpose until 592 when
Pope Gregory the Great was successful in converting the Goths to the Nicene Creed
(i.e. the doctrines which condemned Arianism).
The current fašade of S. Agata dei Goti was built in 1726 by Francesco Ferrari and it is slightly concave.
The atrium which precedes the church was designed in the XVIIth century and it replaced a medieval porch; the well at its centre belongs to the early XVIth century when the aqueduct of Acqua Felice had not yet provided the Quirinal with an ample supply of water.
In 1928-1932 a major redesign of the interior tried to bring the church back to its medieval aspect. In particular the ancient columns were freed from the stuccoes which covered them. Their capitals had on top a pulvino, a piece in the form of a truncated pyramid, which is typical of Byzantine architecture.
(left) Bell tower (XIIth century); (centre) reconstructed XIIIth century canopy; (right) detail of the Cosmati work pavement
(left) The church and Via Panisperna leading to S. Maria Maggiore; (right) detail of "The Glory of the Franciscan Order",
fresco by Bernardino Gagliardi
S. Bernardino da Siena is located very close to S. Agata at the starting
point of Via Panisperna, a long and straight street leading to S. Lorenzo a Panisperna and to S. Maria Maggiore.
The church was built in 1625 almost at the same time as SS. Domenico e Sisto and S. Caterina a Magnanapoli which are located in the same area, but because this church belonged to Franciscan nuns it has a very simple fašade, whereas the others are lavishly decorated.
The interior is rather bare, exception made for the ceiling fresco. The image used as background for this page shows a detail of it, i.e. an angel placing his sword back in the sheath. In Rome this indicates the end of the pestilence of 590 which was announced by an angel at Castel Sant'Angelo, but in the fresco it refers to the end of a pestilence at Siena in 1400 during which St. Bernardino helped the sick. See a large church dedicated to him at L'Aquila where he died in 1444.
(left) Fašade; (right) detail of the fašade
S. Maria del Carmelo is quite close to Piazza Venezia which is
considered the central point of today's Rome, but few people know it because it is hidden by modern buildings.
Similar to S. Bernardino this church was built in the early XVIIth century, but it was completed in ca 1750
when Michelangelo Specchi designed its fašade.
The church was founded by Confraternita del Carmine (a corruption of Carmelo, i.e. Mount Carmel in the Holy Land); the members of this brotherhood every year attend the procession of la Festa de Noantri.
Museo Nazionale Romano: bronze statues found in 1885 in an area adjoining S. Silvestro al Quirinale
The work of excavation had not even begun, when I received a letter from an old digger of antiquities, warning me to watch carefully the building of the new theatre, on account of some rare bronzes which he thought were buried there at a great depth.
The surmise was not based on any real knowledge; the spot had never been explored before; and no human being could foretell
the chances or the results of such an excavation. Strange to say, the prophecy of my humble correspondent, Signor Giuseppe Gagliardi, proved
to be correct beyond expectation: the two bronze statues discovered there in March and April, 1885, must be classed among the finest masterpieces
ever brought to light from the soil of Rome.
The excitement created by this extraordinary discovery had scarcely abated, when, about a month later, a second bronze statue was dug up, under the same circumstances as related above. The discovery took place between the second and third foundation walls, at a depth of eighteen feet below the level of the platform. Being notified at once, we assembled this time on the spot and were present when only the head of the figure appeared above the ground, and consequently we could follow and study the minutest details of the discovery. (..)
The most important piece of evidence collected in witnessing and following the removal of the earth in which the masterpiece lay buried is that the
statue had not been thrown in there, or buried in haste, but had been concealed and treated with the utmost care.
The figure, being in a sitting posture, had been placed on a stone capital of the Doric order, as upon a stool; and the trench, which had been opened through the lower foundations of the temple of the Sun, to conceal the statue, had been filled up with sifted earth, in order to save the surface of the bronze from any possible injury.
On Saturday, February 7, 1885, toward sunset, a workman engaged in clearing away the rubbish which filled up the space between the first and the second foundation walls, discovered the forearm of a bronze statue, which was lying on its back, at a depth of seventeen feet below the level of the platform of the temple (some of its walls can be seen inside Giardino Colonnese). The news was kept secret by the contractor of the works until the following day; and when the government officials met on the spot the statue had been already removed from its place of concealment, and consequently we were not able to study and take notice of the circumstances of the discovery, which, however minute and uninteresting they may appear at first sight, sometimes throw an unexpected light on problems otherwise very hard to deal with. This noble figure is seven feet four inches high, two feet wide at the shoulders, and represents a nude athlete, or at least a man of the athletic type, in the full development of his strength, whose features are evidently modelled from nature; in other words, it is a portrait statue.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries - 1888
Illustration from Lanciani's book
The excitement created by this extraordinary discovery had scarcely abated, when, about a month later, a second bronze statue was dug up, under the same circumstances as related above. The discovery took place between the second and third foundation walls, at a depth of eighteen feet below the level of the platform. Being notified at once, we assembled this time on the spot and were present when only the head of the figure appeared above the ground, and consequently we could follow and study the minutest details of the discovery. (..) The most important piece of evidence collected in witnessing and following the removal of the earth in which the masterpiece lay buried is that the statue had not been thrown in there, or buried in haste, but had been concealed and treated with the utmost care. The figure, being in a sitting posture, had been placed on a stone capital of the Doric order, as upon a stool; and the trench, which had been opened through the lower foundations of the temple of the Sun, to conceal the statue, had been filled up with sifted earth, in order to save the surface of the bronze from any possible injury.Lanciani
Museo Nazionale Romano: (left) the "Prince", perhaps a king of Pergamum; (centre/right) the "Boxer at Rest" and some details of it
I have witnessed, in my long career in the active field of archaeology, many discoveries; I have experienced surprise after surprise; I have sometimes and most unexpectedly met with real masterpieces; but I have never felt such
an extraordinary impression as the one created by the sight of this magnificent specimen of a semi-barbaric athlete, coming slowly out of the ground,
as if awakening from a long repose after his gallant fights. His body is bent slightly forward; his elbows rest on his knees; his attitude is that of a boxer (pankratiastes) exhausted by the numerous blows received, the traces of which are visible all over his body. The face, of the type of Hercules, is turned towards the left; the mouth is half open; the lips seem to quiver, as if speaking to someone; in fact, there is no doubt that the statue belongs to a group. Every detail is absolutely realistic: the nose is swollen with the effects of the last blow received;
the ears resemble a flat and shapeless piece of leather; the neck, the shoulders, the breast, are seamed with scars.
The modelling of the muscles of the arms and of the back is simply wonderful. The gallant champion is panting from sheer fatigue,
but he is ready to start up again at the first call. The details of the fur-lined boxing-gloves are also interesting, and one wonders
how any human being, no matter how strong and powerful, could stand the blows from such weapons as these gloves, made of four or five
thicknesses of leather and fortified with brass buckles.
The bronze statues are dated IInd century BC; they most likely decorated the Baths built by Emperor Constantine on the Quirinal, but this was just their last Roman residence, because archaeologists believe they initially embellished another public building. You may wish to see a relief at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens showing two "pancratiasts", a floor mosaic at Ostia depicting two "pancratiasts" wearing their boxing-gloves and the Riace Bronzes, two gigantic bronze statues of athletes/warriors.
Florence - Galleria degli Uffizi: sarcophagus depicting the Rape of Proserpina (or Kore/Persephone) which was in the premises of San Silvestro before being moved to Florence. You may wish to learn more about this subject or to see a very similar sarcophagus from the Albani Collection or another sarcophagus in Spain
Next plate in Book 7: Chiesa del Gesù.
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Chiesa dei SS. Domenico e Sisto.
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Giardino Colonnese.
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Palazzo Rospigliosi.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Era questa chiesa antica parrocchia, ma essendo poi dal Pontefice Paolo IV. l'an. 1555. conceduta ai chierici regolari chiamati Teatini, quelli coll'ajuto de' benefattori la rinnovarono, e adornarono con marmi, e pitture diverse. Quelle della prima cappella dedicata a s. Silvestro Papa, sono di Avanzino Nucchi; quelle nella seconda, di Giacomo Palma Veneziano; il quadro, che fa ornamento all'immagine della ss. Vergine nella cappella, che siegue, Ŕ di Giacinto Geminiani, e le pitture a fresco di Cesare Nebbia. Il san Gaetano nella crociata Ŕ di Antonio da Messina allievo del Domenichino. I due quadri, che si vedono a lato dell'altare maggiore furono coloriti da fra Bartolommeo da Savigliano Domenicano; ma il s. Pietro, perchŔ lasciollo imperfetto, fu terminato da Raffaelle da Urbino. Le pitture della prima volta sono di Gio: Alberti, fuor degli Angioli, che reggono le armi fuori dell'arco, i quali sono di Cherubino Alberti, e le altre pitture nella volta del coro sono del P. Zoccolino Teatino; le figure per˛ sono di Giuseppe Agellio da Sorrento. Il quadro dell'Assunta nell'altra cappella della crociata Ŕ opera di Scipione Gaetani fatta sopra lavagna; li quattro tondi negli angoli della cupola sono del Domenichino, e le statue di s. Giovanni, e di s. Maria Maddalena sono dell'Algardi. La nativitÓ del Signore nella cappella, che siegue Ŕ di Marcello Venusti, e le pitture a fresco di Raffaello da Reggio; il s. Domenico, e s. Caterina da Siena colla ss. Vergine nell'altra cappella sono di Mariotto Albertinelli; l'istoria per˛ di santa Maria Maddalena, e le pitture nella volta sono del Cav. d'Arpino, e li paesi sono di Polidoro, e di Maturino da Caravaggio. Le pitture nell'ultima cappella sono del Novari, e quelle sulla porta maggiore sono del padre Caselli, fuorchŔ gli Angioli di sotto, fatti dal P. Filippo Galletti entrambi Teatini.
Molto antica e celebre Ŕ questa chiesa, fin da' tempi di s. Gregorio Magno. Ora sta in cura de' monaci di
Monte Vergine, e fu rinnovata dal Card. Barberini. Le pitture nella tribuna, e nella nave di mezzo sono di
Paolo Perugino; li due Santi coll'immagine della ss. Vergine sono di Alessandro Francesi Napoletano.