At the end of this short street you will see the Santa Maria della Pace. The original church was built by Pontelli for Sixtus IV in 1480. The church was built as a token of gratitude for the peace with Florence, hence the name pace (peace). In the mid-16th century, Pope Alexander VII wanted to radically renovate this section of the district that was difficult to negotiate for horses and carriages. Three narrow streets [Santa Maria della Pace 599] Vicolo della Pace, Arco della Pace and the Via della Pace) converged where Pontelli had built the church, with two of them leading to the busy Piazza Navona. See Nolli Map 1748 Standford.edu interactive.
Pietro da Cortona was commissioned to address the situation. The first thing this architect did was demolish some of the houses, as can still be seen on this old drawing by Cortona. This created the space he needed to build a square that would offer carriages an opportunity to make a turn or comfortably drive past the church.
Cortona deliberately marked out the square and made the portico project deeply into it. To a visitor entering the square, it would appear they were already inside the church. The unity of square and church is also emphasized by the fact that the facades of the houses in the square match the façade of the church (corner church and houses). The houses all have two floors with a final low third floor, the attic. The cornice and parapet of this attic floor along the houses continue at the wings and are repeated in the concave rear wall of the church. The curved ‘walls’ that ‘belong’ to the houses are also articulated by the pilasters that can be seen on the top floor of the church. So the church is a separate entity but also forms part of the square.
The curved lines that Borromini used for some of his facades give the impression that they embrace the urban space. In reality, this is hardly ever the case with the exception of the arms of St Peter’s and the façade of Cortona’s Santa Maria della Pace. This façade, which forms the backdrop to the square, as if it were a theatre, consists of several elements. The top of the façade is almost an exact copy of Cortona’s SS. Luca e Martina: a church that Cortona had built earlier. And then there is the projecting portico, a reference to Bramante’s Tempietto.
Bear in mind that the inner courtyard (left of the Santa Maria della Pace) was also designed by Bramante. Here, his little round temple has become a half temple compressed into an ellipse. Just like Bramante’s Tempietto, it was built in a location that is always in shadow. It represents everything that this façade does not want to be, namely an isolated building in an inner courtyard. And yet, the enclosure formed by the inner courtyard is crucial to Bramante’s little temple, and this also goes for the portico of the Santa Maria della Pace. Cortona’s temple, however, is not isolated in this space: it is directly affected by and connected to the facades in the square.
So something strange is happening here as a result of the combination of a classical Bramante Tempietto with – at the time – modern Baroque. Pietro Cortono places Baroque and Classical language in direct opposition, and this, of all places, in the classically oriented city of Rome.
If you look to the left and right of the church, you will see two passages in the walls to two narrow streets leading to the Piazza Navona. After discussing the façade and the square, we will enter the church. We will look at a famous fresco by Raphael in the Chigi Chapel the first chapel on the right. There is another extraordinary painting of the Virgin Mary (Madonna della Pace) here by an unknown artist. This painting used to hang in an old chapel that was here before the church was built. A drunken soldier pierced the painting with his sword, exactly through the Virgin Mary’s heart. Immediately a thick jet of blood squirted out of the Madonna’s chest. Such a painting naturally was given a prominent place in this church, right above the main altar. Lastly, we will take a look at the courtyard of Bramante’s monastery.
We pass under the passage to the immediate right of the church and enter a narrow street with on the right an originally Dutch church: de Santa dell’Anima (clic here for a map 600). The Dutch Pope Hadrian VI lies buried here in a tomb designed by Peruzzi.
This church was built in 1386 and, among other purposes, used to provide a bed to poor Dutch pilgrims. The church is now shared with the Germans and Austrians. For more information on this church see Wikipedia. We enter the Piazza Navona and turn left into the Corsia Agonale and immediately turn right into the Corso del Rinascimento, where we will find an old university with a famous church.