Tuesday, February 27, 2018


In the eighth century a small chapel was built here, on the spot where, according to tradition, St. Agnes was exposed naked and was covered by her hair that had miraculously grown, only to be killed shortly afterwards
In 1123 the chapel was converted into a small basilica by Callistus II (1119/24) with entrance from today's Via dell'Anima
Reconstruction began in 1652 by Girolamo Rainaldi (1570/1655) and his son Carlo Rainaldi (1611/91) for Innocent X Pamphilj (1644/55)
Continued in the years 1653/57 by Francesco Borromini (1599/1667)
“While retaining the Greek cross plan designed by Rainaldi, Borromini demolished the previously built part of the façade and built it on a concave plant pushing it back towards the square. Two towers resting on the two side wings indicate the desire to enhance the light mass of the dome set on a high drum. Since then the type of the dome, the prototype of which dates back to that Michelangelo will see a progressive reduction of mass and a tendency to be thinner and slighter if taller” (Carlo Bertelli, Giuliano Briganti, Antonio Giuliano)
“The viewer feels drawn into the cavity of the façade above which looms the concave mass of the drum. Nobody can overlook the fact that Borromini, while employing the traditional grammar of motives, repeated here the spatial inversion of the façade of S. Ivo” (Rudolf Wittkower)
“In architecture Baroque religious art curved forms, concave and convex, appear more and more often to make communicable feelings and actions such as the bodily presence, the attraction, the embrace” (Paolo Portoghesi)
It was completed in the years 1657/72 by Carlo Rainaldi with advice, especially for the interior, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598/1680) for Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj after the death of her husband, the pope's nephew Camillo Pamphilj
It was owned by the Doria Pamphilj family until 1992 when it was granted to the Vicariate of Rome
Antonio Del Grande (about 1625/79) and Giovanni Maria Baratta (known from 1644/d. after 1679) from a design by Francesco Borromini
“Glory of Paradise” 1670/89 by Ciro Ferri (1634/89) for G.B. Pamphilj
Despite the 19 years which he had had to paint it, Ciro Ferri was unable to complete the work and it was finished after his death by his pupil Sebastiano Corbellini
Magnificent “Cardinal Virtues” 1668/71 first frescoes by G.B. Gaulli aka Baciccio (1639/1709):
From the right
Baciccio obtained the commission of the frescoes from the Pamphilj family thanks to Gian Lorenzo Bernini. When they were shown for the first time they were accused of “lust” for the sensuality and the attitude of some of the virtues
Between pairs of pilasters there are “Eight marble bas-reliefs with angels bearing the attributes of saints venerated in the church” 1658/59 by Ercole Ferrata (1610/86) and Domenico Guidi (1625/1701)
In the apses of the altars stuccos with “Angels and putti with attributes of the saints depicted in the marble reliefs below” by Alessandro Algardi (1598/1654) completed after his death by his pupils Domenico Guidi and Ercole Ferrata from designs by Ciro Ferri
Interestingly, the saints represented in the altars were all chosen from among the youngest martyrs of the Christian church
From the right
“Death of S. Alexius of Rome” in front of Innocent I (401/417) after being recognized by the parents 1660/63 by Giovanni Francesco Rossi (known 1640/77)
Statue of “St. Agnes” 1660 by Ercole Ferrata
Represents the moment when St. Agnes remained miraculously unharmed by the flames
The chapel is lined with ancient green Thessalian marble, which overlaps the ancient yellow marble pilasters with capitals of marble from Carrara. The false perspective is also made with extraordinary marbles such as coral breccia or bardiglio
“It reminds for certain aspects the S. Susanna by Duquesnoy, as also here the dress is relatively smooth and supports the structure of the body, while the head is derived as much from Duquesnoy as from classic Niobids. But no artist who worked in 1660 in the orbit Bernini could return to the classical purity of Duquesnoy in 1630. Following the example of the statues of saints by Bernini, Ferrata represented a transitory moment, we are witnessing a dramatic moment: the power of her prayers makes her immune from the holy fire. It creates a formal and emotional restlessness, in stark contrast with the purist trends of the thirties” (Rudolf Wittkower)
Stuccos with “Musical Angels” 1662/64 by Paolo Landini
In the side walls two pairs of “Alabaster oval medallions with faces of saints and popes” not precisely identified
“Martyrdom of St. Emerentiana” 1668/1709 by Ercole Ferrata who made the lower part. It was finished after his death in 1709 by Leonardo Retti (active 1670/1709)
Emerentiana was the foster sister of St. Agnes and she ended up being stoned to death during the funeral of her sister
“The clear and simple tripartite arrangement seems the result of a dogmatic application of Algardi's principles. While the type of the saint also shows here a careful study of the S. Susanna by Duquesnoy, and while some characters are clearly inspired by the relief of Attila, Ferrata returns for the figures of the attackers and of the mother and child to the most classic of Baroque painters, Domenichino. The sculptural principles applied by Retti in the upper half of the survey are in contrast with those of the lower half” (Rudolf Wittkower)
1720/21 from a design by Carlo Rainaldi executed by Francesco Moderati (about 1680/after 1724) with “Four columns of ancient green marble” maybe from the destroyed Arch of Marcus Aurelius on Via del Corso
“Three putti” by G.B. Maini (1690/1752) holding a cartouche with the phrase Among born of women there is none greater than John for G.B. Pamphilj (Innocent X) who had wanted the main altar to be dedicated to the saint who bore his name
“Angels” in 1856 stucco on the pediment by Antonio Della Bitta (1807/about 1879)
Altar “The two holy families” 1677/83 masterpiece by Domenico Guidi (1625/1701)
Continuing from the high altar towards left:
“Martyrdom of St. Cecilia” visited by Urbano (222/230) 1662/66 by Ercole Antonio Raggi (1624/86)
The relief was originally commissioned in 1660 to Giuseppe Peroni (about 1626/63), a pupil of Algardi who died leaving the life-size model that was taken up by Raggi
“The influence of Algardi is to be located in the middle division and in the differentiation between the calm faith of the pope and the excited crowd on the right. The individual style of Raggi is evident in the extremely elongated proportions of the figures, the slender build, the elegant movements as well as in the fall of drapery, which reveal a restless and nervous temperament. Contrary to Ferrata, Raggi refused the lessons learned by Domenichino. Compared to the terse composition of the relief of St. Emerentiana, the figures in the work of Raggi appear crowded in complicated groups almost confused. It goes to show his indifference for the classical dogma of clarity expressed with a minimum number of figures. On the other hand, the magnificent angel with a palm, absolutely Bernini-like shows the sweetness and tenderness of feelings, characteristic of the art of Raggi” (Rudolf Wittkower)
Statue of “St. Sebastian” 1717/19 by Pietro Paolo Campi (known 1702/40), a student of Pierre Legros
“St. Eustace among the beasts” 1666/69 by Melchiorre Caffà (1636/67)
The poor young Maltese sculptor died shortly after the start of the work which was finished by Ercole Ferrata with Giovanni Francesco Rossi in a rather academic way, a far cry from the plastic feeling of the brilliant Caffà
The model in terracotta of this relief is in Palazzo Venezia
“Caffà can be considered the most important personality of the generation after Bernini, but he died too young to achieve a leading position and to exert a role in the development of Italian sculpture. (...) His teacher, Ercole Ferrata, had introduced him to the style of Algardi, but far more decisive for him was the impression created by the works of Bernini: that character in them of final achievement was certainly of great importance for the process of maturation of the younger artist. Once convinced of the validity of the style now developed, he was bent on perfect it to virtuosity, soften it, refine it in aesthetic terms. (...) Since this, the oldest known of his works, Caffà goes beyond Ferrata, adopting the illusionistic 'bottom to top' typical of Bernini's reliefs. In the apparent recklessness of the model, in which constantly the level of projection changes, and in the dissolution of the constituent links, there is in embryo a new concept - which is late Baroque - of the relief” (Rudolf Preimesberger - Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani Treccani)
Restored 1859 by Andrea Busiri Vici (1818/1911) with decorations by Annibale Angelini (1812/84)
Vault “Virgin Mary receives S. Filippo Neri in heaven (known as St. Philip Neri in English)” about 1663 by Francesco Allegrini (1587/1663)
From the chapel it is possible to enter the crypt of the monumental tombs of Pamphilj arranged in 1864 by Andrea Busiri Vici
Here, according to tradition, the saint was baptized
Fresco “St. Frances of Rome assumed into heaven” by Francesco Cozza (1605/82)
Altar and baptismal font of St. Agnes consisting of a block of stone from the old oratory. At the sides “Angels” by Andrea Bolgi (1606/56)
Marble relief on the altar “St Frances of Rome shows the rule book flanked by an angel” by an artist of Algardi's school, maybe Domenico Guidi
The Pope's body was buried in the crypt of the Pamphilj to the right of the altar. For days after his death the corpse had been in a warehouse for tools of the Basilica of St. Peter at the mercy of mice to the neglect of the family
Above beautiful “Choir” by Carlo Rainaldi 1659/62 with “Angels caryatids” by Domenico Poli and Isidoro Baratta
Organ of 1914 that replaced the seventeenth century one of which some elements were reused
1658/66, designed by Francesco Borromini
Fresco on the vault “Glory of St. Agnes” 1664 Paolo Gismondi aka Paolo Perugino (1612/85)
Frescoes in the presbytery “Stories of Mary” 1660 by Francesco Allegrini (1587/1663)
Angels and holy water fountain 1666 by Andrea Baratta (about 1595/1666)
Three rooms derived from the Circus of Domitian (81/96) with fornix (from fornix derives the verb fornicate) which is traditionally considered the brothel of the story of St. Agnes
The three rooms were rearranged in 1885 by Andrea Busiri Vici (1818/1911)
It is believed to be the place where, according to tradition, Saint Agnes was killed with a sword thrust in her throat immediately after she revived the young man who had fallen dead during an attempted rape against her
“Roman floor mosaic”
On the walls
“Traces of medieval frescoes” maybe of the thirteenth century, covered in 1893 by Eugenio Cisterna (1862/1933), who imitated the style of early Christian art deemed appropriate in those spaces, and perhaps inspired by the earlier thirteenth-century frescoes
Above the altar
Relief “Miracle of the hair of St. Agnes” designed in 1653 by Alessandro Algardi (1598/1654) and executed in 1663 by Giovanni Buratti

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