A day trip along the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Borrmini and some other sights that we encounter along our route of churches, fountains, statues and squares. We leave the hotel and walk north along the Piazza della Repubblica towards the S. Maria della Vittoria. On our way to this church, we will encounter a large bathhouse that was converted by Michelangelo into a church: Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Pius V [El Greco] declared the ruins a church and a monastery in 1561. Michelangelo was tasked to build a church in a part of the bathhouse. After the Porta Pia, this became the crowning jewel of how this area of the neighbourhood was handled. Unfortunately, much changed in the 18th century and entire parts of the walls and ceiling are covered in a baroque layer of plaster. If you look through this, the simplicity of Michelangelo’s design can still be seen. At entering the church, we first find ourselves in the rotonda (dome).
Michelangelo had to work within the dimensions and existing guidelines he was given (the map of the Santa Maria degli Angeli in the baths of Diocletianus). The dark lines are the additions made by Michelangelo. He used the distance of the large hall (frigidarium, see map; from E to F) as a measure for the main axis that ran from the entrance to the choir behind the altar. This established a Greek cross in the old bathhouse. This way, these heathen thermae, commissioned by the infamous emperor Diocletianus who had many Christians slaughtered, still receive a typically Christian plan. Michelangelo did have to elevate the floor by some two metres.
Because the floor ended up higher than the original one, Michelangelo had no choice but to adjust the columns. The columns still continue below the floor. The visible basement is not what supports the column, but rather encloses it. The cut shows that the base comprises of two parts; placed around the column on the floor. In addition, the rejuvenated part of the column above the basement is not a pink-red granite, but plaster. After this modification, the columns stand at a height of 13.8 metres. The floor to the right still shows the meridian of the city of Rome that was established in 1702.
We leave the church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, and head north along the Via E. Orlando. On our right hand side at the intersection, we see the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, also called the Moses fountain.
Pope Sixtus V, who put a great deal of effort into renovating this neighbourhood, tasked Dom with constructing this fountain at the end of the Felice aqueduct. For the first time since 1586, clean pipe water again entered the city. The sculptor Bresciano was ordered to sculpt a statue of Moses for this fountain. His inspiration was the famous Moses of Michelangelo, found in the San Pietro in Vincoli. Unfortunately, Bresciano was no master of anatomy. The story goes that when Bresciano put the final touches on Moses, the latter began to frown. The Hebrew text of the old testament was poorly understood in the 16th century as well. The horns that adorn Moses’ head are the result of the old testament being wrongly interpreted.
The Romans called the fountain ‘Il Mose ridicolo’, the ridiculous Moses.
“‘Antichi reportedly made the mistake of starting his sculpture without first making a model, and moreover, he did not place the block of marble upright but rather on the ground. The artist is said to have begged Pope Sixtus V to be allowed to correct his work, but the stern pope refused. He wanted the statue to remain as it was, not because he found it so attractive, but so that it would bear witness to Prospero’s hubris and incompetence for a long time to come. Some sources list Leonardo Sormani as the sculptor.”
Cited and translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘SPQR Anekdotisch reisgids voor Rome’ Rainbow, Amsterdam 2019 p. 73