Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sant' Andrea della Valle

Above the awnings of the Campo dei Fiori I spotted the dome of Sant' Andrea della Valle, the highest in Rome after St. Peter's itself.

From the front, the church looks like nothing much, with busy streets buzzing around it and the ubiquitous Roman scaffolding blocking the main entrance. Curiosity caused me to poke around until I found a small green-painted wooden door on the side. It opened when I pushed ...

... and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a perfectly preserved early Baroque church overflowing with natural light and as empty of people as if the last trumpet had already sounded.

Every element, wherever the eye turned, made its own harmonious contribution to the overall effect and earned the space it occupied.

Legions of early 17th century hotshots had a hand in this masterpiece. The Evangelists in the pendentives (triangular spaces supporting the dome) were painted by Domenichino.

According to the guidebook, "The gigantic frescoes above and on either side of the high altar, showing the Martyrdom of St. Andrew, were executed by the decorative artist Mattia Preti several decades later."

Of course that phrase "decorative artist" means that you are not supposed to admire them very much – but to my mind, like the statues, seen in context they were exactly right.

My happiness was complete when I discovered a side chapel with a heavy grille in front of it and a sign asserting in Italian that it was the very chapel where Puccini set the first act of Tosca, a location set designers have reproduced before my eyes any number of times, where the heroine's boyfriend Mario is painting his blond-haired version of the Virgin. In the chapel at Sant' Andrea, hanging high over the small altar, once could supposedly see the very same Madonna that made the black-haired Tosca so jealous – which I had no hesitation about believing.