Monday, June 15, 2015



1562/69 Giacomo Della Porta (1533/1602) and Giovanni Lippi aka Nanni di Baccio Bigio (about 1513/68) under the patronage of Tommaso Cavalieri (the great love of Michelangelo) for the Confraternita del SS. Crocifisso (Confraternity of the Most Holy Crucifix)

The Confraternity was protected by Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese (after his death in 1565 his brother Cardinal Alessandro Farnese succeeded as protector) and had duties of devotion for the fifteenth century wooden Crucifix kept in the church of S. Marcello al Corso

The Crucifix was believed to be miraculous since it escaped in 1519 the fire that destroyed the church of S. Marcello al Corso and after that the plague ceased in 1522 due to its presence in a procession

Since then, a procession used to move on the evening of every Holy Thursday from here to St. Peter's Basilica

CEILING 1879 with painting in the center “Triumph of the Cross” by Giovanni Gagliardi (1838/1924) grandson of Pietro Gagliardi

The original ceiling of 1584 by Flaminio Boulanger was destroyed in 1798

Decorative scheme on the walls made from 1578 to about 1584 and designed by Tommaso Cavalieri (1509/87) and Girolamo Muziano (1532/92) with a theme derived from the medieval text of the thirteenth century by the Dominican friar Jacopo da Voragine (or Varazze) “Legend of the True Cross”, a real tour de force of unlikely fantasies

According to the story, the wood of the Cross of Christ was already predestined by the time that Adam's son Seth had put into his mouth, on his deathbed, three seeds that would eventually spawn a large tree

After many centuries, the tree was cut by Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem but the wood did not seem compatible with the Temple and it was used for a footbridge over a river. When the Queen of Sheba passed over the bridge had the premonition that the Savior of mankind would have been crucified in the wood and knelt in adoration

The story continues with the battle of Milvian Bridge between Constantine and Maxentius, and the journey of St. Helena, mother of Constantine, in search of the True Cross

St. Helena found a person who knew where it was buried, and to force him to talk, she had him lowered into a pit without bread and water for seven days

She so convinced the reluctant person to talk and she was able to find the three different crosses used on the day of Christ's death. To identify the one on which he died, St. Helena touched with the wood a dead man and he miraculously resurrected

Another chapter is the duel between Heraclius, Byzantine emperor, and Chosroes II, the Persian king

After Heraclius defeated the army of Chosroes in the battle of the Danube in 615 AD, he invited him to be converted and baptized. Chosroes refused and Heraclius drew his sword and cut off his head
Thus Heraclius obtained the restitution of the Cross that was returned to Jerusalem

Compared to the previously built Oratories of S. Giovanni Decollato and of the Gonfalon, the story loses its epic and dramatic dimension and gets a more serene and discursive tone, of wider popular appeal, certainly more consonant with the dictates of the recently completed Council of Trent (1545/63)


Beautiful 1744 organ by the Tyrolean master Giovanni Corrado Verlè

Frescoes with “Stories of the brotherhood”:

On the right

“The Crucifix remains intact in the fire of S. Marcello” and “Foundation of the convent of the Capuchin on Quirinal Hill” by Niccolò Circignani aka Pomarancio (about 1520/98) who succeeded in 1582 to Giovanni De Vecchi (about 1537/1615)

On the left

“Procession of the Black Plague of 1522” by Paris Nogari (about 1536/1601)

“Approval of the statutes of the brotherhood” by Baldassare Croce (about 1553/1628)


Story of the Legend of the True Cross beginning from the right of the altar in clockwise direction:

On the right

“St. Helena tear down the idols” and “Invention of the Cross” about 1579 by Giovanni De Vecchi who also painted the “Sibyl”, the two “Prophets” and the two higher “Stories with angels” and to whom it was initially entrusted the job of completing the whole cycle

“Miracle of the True Cross” 1589 by Niccolò Circignani aka Pomarancio who also did the two “Prophets” and the “Story” above

On the left

“Duel between Heraclius and Chosroes”, “Vision of Heraclius” and two “Prophets” by Niccolò Circignani aka Pomarancio

“Heraclius carrying the Cross in Jerusalem”, two “Prophets” and “Sibyl” by Cesare Nebbia (1536/1614)


In the niche on the right “Magdalena” and on the left “St. John the Evangelist” Cesare Nebbia

In the lunette above the altar “Eternal Father” by Paris Nogari

The wooden “Crucifix” is a copy of the miraculous one preserved in S. Marcello al Corso

“Madonna of the Sun” maybe dating back to the begin of fifteenth century from the chapel at the Monastery of Tor de' Specchi

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