Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chiesa Nuova

St. Philip Neri, the 'Apostle of Rome' was so much admired in his own lifetime (though of course not yet a Saint) that the then-Pope gave him the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, which he completely rebuilt and expanded into the form seen above, renaming it the Chiesa Nuova. It was only after the Saint's death that Borromini's Oratory (partly visible in this picture) came to be built next door.

Inside the Chiesa Nuova, ceilings were frescoed by Pietro da Cortona, the same Baroque heavyweight who conceived that miraculous ceiling my daughter loved so much in the great hall at Palazzo Barberini.

The central panel at the top of the vault shows St. Philip's Vision of the Virgin. According to the guide book, "it tells how in a dream St. Philip saw the church roof about to fall. On waking he found it miraculously hanging in mid-air. The fresco shows the Virgin holding the splintered beams aloft."

Three giant-sized paintings by Rubens surround the High Altar, the only works in Rome by this master that still hang in the church they were painted for. Above is one of them: Saints Gregory, Marius, and Papianus with Saint Domitilla. Saint Domitilla (on the far right) was clearly a fashion plate of the first order, at least according to Rubens. He cleverly elongated her figure by having her satin train hang down over the step she is standing on.

Above the High Altar Cortona frescoed the apse with an Assumption. The blue that predominated in his color scheme seemed to glow almost supernaturally. Perhaps the wide bands of gilding helped that effect along.

The dome contained Cortona's group portrait of the Trinity. Jesus and God the Father repose upon their cloud-seats along the lower rim, with the Holy Spirit painted high up inside the lantern as a mystical dove illuminated by natural sunlight. When I took this picture the beam of light from the lantern was falling inside the dome and landing precisely at the foot of the floating Cross, a disposition that I have no doubt Cortona anticipated.

One final curiosity at the Chiesa Nuova was this side chapel featuring an excellent 17th century copy of Caravaggio's Deposition. After being so memorably mesmerized by the original in the Vatican Pinacoteca, I was especially grateful for this chance to imagine more vividly how the genuine Caravaggio might have appeared if fate had sent it down to us dominating a side chapel in the typical manner.