Friday, September 27, 2013

Santa Maria della Pace

Santa Maria della Pace

Architect: Donato Bramante and Pietro da Cortona
Location: Rome, Italy
Built: 1482
Renovated: 1656 by Cortona
Original Commission: Pope Sixtus IV
Renovation Commission: Pope Alexander VII

The facade of the structure was redesigned by Pietro da Cortona by Pope Alexander VII. It emulates typical Baroque style with "wings" spanning on either side of the entrance reminiscent of Roman architecture. The effect is that of an amphitheater. From quick observation, you will notice the porch on the ground level surrounded by Doric columns.

The inscription above the porch on the architrave reads, "Suscipiant Montes Pacem Populo et Colles Iustitiam" or "The mountains shall bring peace to the people; and the hills, justice." This inscriptions alludes to the Chigi family crest which contains mountains and an eight pointed star. Alexander VII was a part of this family. Other elements on the facade of the church that pay homage to this family are two mountain shaped statues that flank both sides of the broken pediment on the roof.

The plan of Santa Maria della Pace the cloister is aligned with one of the angles of the octagonal space and forms a square surrounded by a vaulted arcade. The nave is fairly narrow and the sanctuary small. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary after a miracle of the bleeding Madonna happened there. A painting of the Blessed Virgin and the Divine Child hangs over the high altar. An interesting fact of why it was popular at the time was because it was the only church that offered Mass in the afternoons. 


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Bees of Rome

To this day, if you go to Rome you can see the Barberini heraldic symbol of the bees in many important locations. The Barberini family was a family of minor nobility from the Tuscan town of Val d'Elsa. They settled in Florence later where brothers, Carlo and Antonio Barberini became successful merchants of grain, wool and textiles. Antonio Barberini took part in defending the Florentine Republic when the Medici's tried to take control. The Medici succeeded, causing Antonio's leave to Rome.

Success in Rome

In 1552, his nephew, Francesco, son of Carlo Barberini, joined him. Their textile business flourished and so did Francesco. He used his wealth to acquire high titles with the government as well as the Catholic church. This furthered the family wealth, making it easier for him to promote Maffeo Barberini, his nephew, to clerical importance. He was eventually elected as Pope  in 1623 and took the title of Pope Urban VIII.


Pope Urban VIII was the one responsible for changing the family crest from a horsefly, to the bee that is well known all around Rome. Although he was a patron of the arts and was responsible for diplomatic as well as ecclesiastical accomplishments, his triumphs were overshadowed by the acts of nepotism committed. Once under the papal role, brothers, nephews and other family rose to clerical importance.


This led people to despise the Barberini family name. Conflicts arose with other powerful families such as the Farnese. They formed a league and defeated the Barberini in 1644. This, along with the death of Pope Urban VIII, weakened the strong position of the Barberini family. When Pope Innocent X was elected, investigations were raised to investigate the misuse of clerical money by the Barberini. The Barberini fled to Paris where they were protected by French cardinal, Jules Mazarin. All but Taddeo Barberini, who died in exile, eventually returned to Rome.


Baroque Fashion

Similar to the art and architectural characteristics of the era, Baroque fashion emulated excessive grandeur. The period was defined by natural silhouetting curves, flowing lines, gold filigree, rich colors, and voluptuousness while the clothing was embroidered with lace, pearls, ribbons, and golden designs. While Renaissance clothing was cluttered with an over abundance of pattern and decoration, Baroque was concerned with making the excess not too excessive.

A feature that is unique to Baroque culture is the starting of separate pieces of clothing that match. A normal Renaissance dress is two pieces that are mixed-and-matched, but a Baroque skirt would be paired with a matching top usually made of the same fabric (later this would become the modern-day suit). Important happenings during the Baroque era that would help to advance the styles at the time was a creation of a dress-maker's guild by Louis XIV.

Women's Clothing:
A noticeable difference in Baroque women's clothing is its appearance to be more loosely fitted and less constricting. Materials for corsets were changed to be more flexible and less rigid and skirts were layered to create a curtain effect. A lower neckline or "decolletage" was popular for tops and was usually paired with a lace color. Decorative aprons were popular among the middle class. For a time, the period adopted a high waistline and sleeves that gathered at the elbows and turned out to see a different pattern on the inside. Patterns were set aside for more solid colors with lace decoration and pearl jewelry. Shoes were pointed with a heel.

Men's Clothing:
The image above shows the "cavalier" style for men during the Baroque. Similar to women's fashion, it has the high waistline, wide lace cuffs, and lace collar. The shoes paired were leather boots with the tops turned out and wide-brimmed hats with feathers. "Pantaloon" breeches were worn loose and the overall look is similar to that found in "The Three Musketeers". 


Bernini's Power

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, an Italian Architect who can be identified as the greatest sculptor and architect for the Italian Baroque. No one before Bernini was capable to have marble flow and look the way he made his sculptures. The sculptures show life on to cold hard marble, and the characters seem to have the flowing blood within them. The intensity of the moment is shown to the smallest detail, like the indention of the skin. He started his artistic life with a paining for the Pope, which kept Bernini in the eye of the Catholic Church.

Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1614-15

At age sixteen, he completes the Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence and the piece shows the moment where the burning of the flesh created  a pleasing scent which the chronicle describes. The idea that torment becomes ecstasy is depicted.

Bernini’s Statue of St. Longinus

Located in the Transept of Saint Peter’s Basilica, there are four niches each of which contain a statue. Out of these four statues Bernini was only responsible for one, St. Longinus, the others were the work of his students. These colossal statues are almost 10m high, and seem as if they are about to come out of the niche itself. St. Longinus was a Roman soldier who was skeptical of Christ. He was responsible for piercing the side of Jesus with a spear during his crucifixion. The blood from Christ cured Longinus’ blindness, and it was then that he realized that Christ truly is the son of God.

Bernini had redesigned the sculpture of St. Longinus 22 times with clay models before the design was finally chosen. The sculpture depicts St. Longinus after his realization, his arm thrust out holding a the spear he had pierced Christ with. In order for him to achieve such a dramatic gesture he had to add pieces of marble which are hidden by the Saint’s robe. His right leg is standing on the edge of the pedestal and his cloak has fallen back; as the viewer you feel as if you are right in the action. You can see the strain in his muscles as he turns to look toward the alter. This signifies his realization and belief in Christ as well as draws the viewers’ attention toward the alter.  

Bernini was mindful of how the statue would be seen throughout the basilica. He wanted it to be seen. In order to accomplish this he extended the Saints’ arm and foot to peek out of the niche. The statue was also left unpolished in order to catch the light.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rota Porphyretica

In the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican there is a Red Porphyry disc towards the entrance of the Basilica on the center line of the church. It is named Rota Porphyretica (‘The Porphyry Wheel’).  The disc is one of the few remains of the Old Basilica, it dates back nearly 1700 years. It was originally located near the main altar of the old Saint Peter’s Basilica. Charlemagne knelt down on this very stone on Christmas night, year 800 AD. It was there that Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Another 21 Emperors were crowned here.

Porphyry is a very hard rock which consists of purple groundmass containing small crystals of feldspar. The strength of this rock represents the strength of the Roman Empire, and the color represents royalty.

The majority of tourists who visit Saint Peter’s Basilica today have no idea what they are walking over, nor do they pay any attention to it. But centuries ago only the Papacy and Emperors were allowed to step foot on this stone.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How to Have a Wedding at St. Peter's

A step-by-step guide

1. If you can afford a wedding planner, the Vatican totally suggests Regency to help you organize and coordinate. Apparently, they've done this so many times that they know the little details and rules about having your service here.

2. If you're not so fortunate, keep reading for the rules.

3. The wedding will be held in the Cappella del Coro (Choir Chapel) located in St. Peter's Basilica half way on the left-hand side of the nave.

4. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are the only days you can have your wedding.

5. And only at 10:30AM.

6. Chapel seats 100 and 100 can stand around. So, 100 + 100 = 200 maximum guests + a free game of musical chairs!

7. If you're not already associated with a church in your area, now would be the time to do it. It is required that a priest send in a letter showing his consent of the couple's marriage and explicitly requests that they be married in Saint Peter's. Because, go big or go home, amirite?

8. Gotta make a reservation with the church.

9. Also, gotta buy the church's music, flowers, and decorations. Exceptions may be made for the bridal bouquet which is purchased from your handy wedding planner, Regency.

10. But you can pick your own photographer!...If he/she can somehow get authorization from St. Peter's (obviously it means you have to go up to St. Peter himself and ask him politely).

11. You have to request to take photographs at your own wedding. At least 10 days prior.

12. Did I mention that you can only have an organ and tenor vocalist at your wedding as far as music is concerned? And you can't be jamming out to the Bee Gees while your there. No matter how tempted the vocalist would be to belt out to "Stayin' Alive".

13. There's also the question of payment. It has to be made a month prior to the wedding and you have to sit down with St. Peter to iron out the details of the pricing. Hope you've been racking up those karma points!

14. They don't give the exact amount on their website, but if you have to ask how much it is, you probably can't afford it anyways.

15. Happen that you can do all of the above, your future husband then has to prove his love by doing the following:

  1. Ninja into St. Peter's Basilica after hours
  2. Remove the sword from the stone which reanimates the lost city of Camelot.
  3. And slay the dragon in your name behind the treasure chamber doors, one floor down, and two doors to the left.
The last part was a joke. And despite all the meticulous details that the church had specify, you still get an awesome gloating opportunity when it comes to your wedding at St. Peter's. Props to anyone who actually went through the entire process. Seriously, though.


The Rooster and The Reliquary

Saint Peter's Basilica houses some of the most treasured artifacts in Catholic history; these range from the tombs of ancient saints to gold-emblazoned crosses and jewelry. Upon the most strange relics that the treasury contains are a bronze rooster and the reliquary of the holy lance.

The bronze rooster was commissioned by Pope Leo IV from the 19th century and it was placed on the top of of the bell tower for the old Constantinian Basilica. Its significance is debated among historians. Some try to relate it back to the biblical story of "doubting St. Peter" where the rooster crowed three times after Peter denied Christ, but many dispute this relation to the tale. Scholars agree that the rooster's significance during Medieval times stood as a symbol of vigilance against evil and to announce the break of day after the darkness of night ( This meaning might have been derived from ancient Greek beliefs of the rooster symbolizing victory over the night.

The Reliquary of the Holy Lance is from the 15th century and is made of a gold-plated silver mounting on a six-lobed base supporting a rock crystal sphere. The top resembles the lantern of a dome with six crystal elements. A reliquary is a container holding a sacred object. The Holy Lance refers to the lance that pierced Jesus' side when he was nailed onto the cross; it is also known as the Spear of Destiny or the Lance of Longinus. Strangely enough, the Catholic church makes no comment on the authenticity of the contents of the reliquary. There are claims by various other churches (Vienna, Echmiadzin, Antioch, etc.) that they have the original, but no one knows for sure which of the lances is real.

The Holy Lances in Echmiadzin and Vienna


St. Peter's - Obelisk

From Egypt to Rome

The Obelisk was brought to Rome from Heliopolis, Egypt by Emperor Caligula in 37 BC. It was brought over in a ship that was filled with lentils to prevent from damaging the stone. Pharaoh Mencares ordered the construction of this obelisk originally in 1835 BC in honor of the sun god. It's original location in Rome was on a spot south of the basilica, close to the present day sacristy and it witnessed many saints martyrs, one of which was St. Peter's.

Relocation to the Front of St. Peter's

Under the order of Pope Sixtus V, Domenico Fontana took on the responsibility of relocating this 327 ton monolith that was 83 feet long in 1586. Nobody wanted to take on the responsibility of relocating the obelisk because of the death penalty being sentences if it was dropped or broken. The death penaly was also being issued to anyone who broke the silenced required for such great focus. The move of the obelisk required the help of 900 men and 72 horses and they did this using hemp ropes and iron bars. According to myth, a sailor from Genoa shouted "throw water on the ropes" as he saw that the ropes were about to give. The ropes shrunk back to normal and the task was completed without this sailor being punished for breaking the silence.

 The Question of the Symbolism

In the times of the Ancient Egyptians, obelisks were placed in pairs at the entrances of temples. It symbolized their belief in the sun god Ra. For the Egyptians, the sun was the giver of life, therefore the importance of honoring him in an important way. The Romans took great influence from these obelisks so as a sign of their overwhelming power, they took many of the Egyptian obelisks and relocated them to Rome. Their are now more than twice amount of obelisks in Rome than there are in Egypt. The question is raised that if the meaning of the obelisk to an Egyptian is to honor the sun god, why would they want to locate it in the embracing arms of St. Peter's square? Pope Benedict XVI more recently gave an explanation that the sundial is meant to remind the faithful to make time to pray through out the day.

"Temple of all the gods"

     Pantheon is a Greek word that means "all gods".  The Pantheon is a Roman building in Rome, Italy that was commissioned under the reign of Augustus by Marcus Agrippa.  The building was later rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian.

     The dome of the Pantheon (seen in the two images above) is made of 4.5 tons of concrete that is supported by eight barrel vaults, and is concentrated on a ring of voussoirs.  These structural elements allow the dome to be 142 ft. high at the oculus and the same length in diameter at the widest part.   

     The Pantheon's portico (pictured above) consists of 16 columns that were made in Egypt.  The columns are each 1.5m in diameter, and were transported to Rome using barges and vessels.  These 16 columns support a pediment that has an inscription attributing the Pantheon to Marcus Agrippa.

     The Piazza della Rotonda (seen in the images above) is a rectangular square that has the Fontana del Pantheon and an Egyptian obelisk at its center.  The square gets its name from Santa Maria Rotonda, the Pantheon's informal title.  The fountain was constructed by Giacomo Della Porta under Pope Gregory XIII, and the obelisk was added under Pope Clement XI.

Click here for a video about the Pantheon.

Bernini's Baldacchino


     A Baldacchino is defined as a canopy that is over an altar or tomb, and is supported on columns.  The term is derived from the Spanish word baldaquin, an elaborate material imported from Baghdad that was hung as a canopy over an altar or doorway.  Borromini and Bernini both worked on the baldacchino, with Borromini focusing on the structure, and Bernini on the sculptural elements.  A major criticism of their design was that the columns are traditionally separate from the canopy.  In order to overcome this, Bernini had to separate the cornice from the columns to make it appear as though the canopy was being suspended.  Bernini did so by moving the angels to the top of the supporting columns, so that it would give a visual of the angels carrying the weight of the canopy.

Click here for a virtual experience of Bernini's Baldacchino within St. Peter's Basilica.