San Francesco a Ripa and Bernini
We leave St. Peter’s and walk to the Trastevere district through the Via della Lungara see the old Porta Settimiana, where we will visit San Francesco a Ripa.
Porta Settimiana A. Moschetti ‘Porta Settimiana’ 19th century
Giuseppe Vasi ‘Porta Settimiana’ c. 1750
As we enter this church, the Cappella Paluzzi-Albertoni, also known as the Altieri Chapel or Albertoni Chapel is in the fourth bay on the far left. It can be found here on the internet.
Bernini demolishes the old chapel and deepens the chapel so that daylight can enter (Wikipedia: Blessed Ludovica Albertoni).
Chapel of Albertoni fourth bay on the left
Chapel of Ludovica Albertoni Wikipedia The blessed Ludovica Albertoni
Santa Cecilia main altar Stefano Maderno ‘Santa Cecilia’
In the nearby church, Santa Cecilia, the statue of St. Cecilia is under the altar. Bernini places Ludovica Albertoni on the altar.
The blessed Ludovica Albertoni Clay model Victoria&Albert Museum, London
With this late work Bernini returns to his early period when he worked for the Pamphilis. Just like the Cornaro Chapel, this chapel is also a combination of sculpture, painting and architecture. This chapel was built to commemorate the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni who was venerated in this area. Bernini received the assignment in 1671 and the work was completed in 1674. The chapel was already there, just like the Chigi Chapel, and Gian Lorenzo did not change its structure and frescos. The existing chapel had a square layout featuring a dome on pendants supported by pillars.
Bernini ‘The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni’
What was new was Bernini’s addition of an altar. Located behind and above this altar is a sarcophagus with a bed on top of it in which the saint lies in a state of suffering and religious ecstasy.
B. Gaulli ‘Mary child and St Ann’ Gaulli ‘Self-portrait’ 1639
Putti looking at Ludovica
Above Ludovica hangs a painting by Giovanni Battista Gaulli representing the Virgin Mary with her child and St Ann. Bernini placed a number of putti just outside the painting’s gilded frame. Their gazes are fixed on the woman on the bed.
Light enters the chapel through windows on both sides that cannot be seen when you’re standing in the chapel. Bernini further enlarged the chapel to create more space for these windows. The coffered arch appears to embrace Gaulli’s painting. Behind Ludovica is a frieze with pomegranates that are bursting open. Many of the details are variations on earlier drawings, for instance of the Scala Regia, as demonstrated by the painting’s frame.
Battista Gaulli ‘Ludovica Albertoni distributing Alms’ c. 1670
Ludovica Albertoni (1473-1533) was a rich woman who was forced to marry but was soon widowed. She dedicated her life to the service of the poor and joined the Third Order of St Francis in Trastevere. It was said that Ludovica floated on air when she was praying to God. She died of a fever at the age of 60. She was almost immediately regarded as a saint, even though she was not officially beatified until 1671. However, Ludovica never obtained sainthood. Cardinal Paluzzo Paluzzi Albertoni (portrait), whose cousin had married into the powerful Altieri family, wanted to see his relative venerated. It was he who designated her blessed, the first step toward beatification (Wikipedia).
The statue of the Blessed Ludovica, one of Bernini’s late masterworks, has raised many questions. Is this tormented and exited woman gripped by divine love? Her hand on her chest seems to suggest that. Looking at the folds of the drape, one could imagine her being carried up to Heaven.
Underneath the bed covering the coffin, lies a cloth carved from precious Sicilian jasper. We encountered a similar cloth at the tomb of Urban VIII (The cloth that Death holds up with his hourglass). The original cloth was made of painted wood, but in 1702 was replaced by the current cloth made of jasper. Bernini probably intended to use quartz for this cloth right from the start. In the 17th century, but also earlier, it was customary to cover a coffin with a cloth, often adorned with the deceased’s coat of arms. The Blessed Ludovica’s remains are still in this grave.
To officially seal the beatification witnesses from the area were questioned to ascertain whether the veneration of Ludovica actually had any effect. The nuns of the convent of Tor de’Specchi acted as witnesses. Bernini’s sister was a member of this order.
Bernini ‘Self-portrait’ 1638′ Galleria Borghese
Bernini’s brother Luigi had brutally raped a young man behind the statue of Constantine in the Scala Regia when it had not been completed yet. Luigi Bernini was banished from Rome and his family was sentenced to a hefty fine. Gian Lorenzo, who had to live with the shame, offered to design and build the Altieri chapel free of charge, hoping to partly erase the shame and lower the fine. His plan worked, the fine was lowered and Luigi allowed to return to Rome in 1675. This made this assignment a very special one for Gian Lorenzo. To the deeply religious artist this was a form of atonement.
Giovanni Battista Maini ‘Saint Anna’ Altar Face
Giovanni Battista Maini sculpted the saint Anna in the 18th century for the church, Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, in Rome. Maini has taken the Ludovica of Bernini as an example. He placed her under the altar as usual.
Finally, if the sexton allows it, we are going to have a look at the neighbouring monastery where St Francis’ cell is located (first floor church and monastery). This cell has a portrait of the saint that was painted shortly after his death.
Also really unique is a reliquary holding no less than 18,000 relics. An ingenious mechanism (Youtube 0.10 minutes) allows visitors to admire the relics one by one. To quote a guy called Rob: “it’s a real trophy cabinet”. More information and video: St. Franciscus in Rome -the restoration: click here.
“St. Francis of Assisi’s first contact with this place was in 1209 when he came to Rome to meet Pope Innocenzo III. During this visit, the Roman noblewoman Jacoba de’ Settesoli helped St. Francis to find a place to stay at the monastery-hospital of the Benedictine monks which was located near the banks of the Tiber River.
St. Francis of Assisi was always very fond of this place and stayed here on several occasions during his travels to Rome [The stone believed to be used by St. Francis of Assisi as a pillow]. After the Saint’s death and by order of Pope Gregorio IX, the Benedictine monastery passed over to the Franciscans in 1229.”
Source St. Franciscus in Rome- The restoration
We walk to the Viale di Trastevere where we take the bus or just go on foot to our hotel.
End of Rome day 4
Continuation Rome day 5: Caravaggio intro