1902 Encyclopedia > Rome > Christian Rome - From 1200 to 1450, and the Papal Palaces

(Part 34)



From 1200 to 1450, and the Papal Palaces

The 10th and 11th centuries in Rome were extraordinarily barren in the production of all branches of the fine arts, even that of architecture ; and it was not till the end of the 12th that any important revival began. The 13th century was, however, one of great artistic activity, when an immense number of beautiful works, especially in marble enriched with mosaic, were produced in Rome. This revival, though on different lines, was very similar to the rather later one which took place at Pisa (see PISANO), and, like that, was mainly due to the great artistic talents of one family,—the Cosmati, seven members of which, for four generations, were skilful architects, sculptors, and mosaicists.

The following are the names and dates known from existing inscriptions :—

== TABLE ==

Their principal works in Rome are:—ambones of S. Maria in Ara Coeli (Lorenzo) ; door of S. Saba, 1205, and door with mosaics of S. Tommaso in Formis (Jacopo); chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum, by the Lateran (Cosimo) ; pavement of S. Jacopo alia Lungara, and (probably) the magnificent episcopal throne and choir-screen in S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura, of 1254 (Jacopo the younger) baldacchino of the Lateran and of S. Maria in Cosmedin, c. 1294 (Adeodato) ; tombs in S. Maria sopra Minerva (c. 1296), in S. Maria Maggiore, and in S. Balbina (Giovanni). A large number of other works by members and pupils of the same family, but unsigned, exist in Rome. These are mainly altars and baldacchini, choir - screens, paschal candlesticks, ambones, tombs, and the like, all enriched with sculpture and glass mosaic of great brilliance and decorative effect.

Besides the more mechanical sort of work, such as mosaic patterns and architectural decoration, they also produced mosaic pictures and sculpture of very high merit, especially the recumbent effigies, with angels standing at the head and foot, in the tombs of Ara Coeli, S. Maria Maggiore, and elsewhere. One of their finest works is in S. Cesareo ; this is a marble altar richly decorated with mosaic in sculptured panels, and (below) two angels drawing back a curtain (all in marble) so as to expose the open grating of the confessio. The magnificent cloisters of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, built about 1285 by Giovanni, the youngest of the Cosmati, are one of the most beautiful works of this school. The baldacchino of the same basilica is a signed work of the Florentine Arnolfo del Cambio, 1285, "cum suo socio Petro," probably a pupil of the Cosmati. Other works of Arnolfo, such as the Braye tomb at ORVIETO (q.v.), show an intimate artistic alliance between him and the Cosmati. The equally magnificent cloisters of the Lateran, of about the same date, are very similar in design; both these triumphs of the sculptor-architect's and mosaicist's work have slender marble columns, twisted or straight, richly inlaid with bands of glass mosaic in delicate and brilliant patterns. The shrine of the Confessor at Westminster is a work of this school, executed about 1268 (see MOSAIC). The general style of works of the Cosmati school is Gothic in its main lines, especially in the elaborate altar-canopies, with their pierced geometrical tracery. In detail, however, they differ widely from the purer Gothic of northern countries. The richness of eifect which the English or French architect obtained by elaborate and carefully worked mouldings was produced in Italy by the beauty of polished marbles and jewel-like mosaics,—the details being mostly rather coarse and often carelessly executed.


Chiefly to the 13th century belong the large number of beautiful campanili, which are the most conspicuous relics of the mediaeval period in Rome. The finest of these are attached to the churches of S. Maria Nuova, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and S. Maria Maggiore. Others belong to the basilicas of S. Lorenzo fuori and S. Croce in Gerusalemme, and to S. Giorgio in Velabro, S. Maria in Cosmedin, S. Alessio, S. Giovanni ad Portam Latinani, S. Cecilia, S. Crisogono, and S. Pudentiana. They occupy various positions with regard to the church, being all later additions ; that of SS. Giovanni e Paolo stands at some distance from it. In design they are very similar, consisting of many stages, divided by brick and marble cornices ; in the upper stories are from two to four windows on each side, with round arches supported on slender marble columns. They are decorated with brilliantly coloured ciotole or disks of earthen-ware, enamelled and painted in green or turquoise blue, among the earliest existing specimens of the so-called majolica (see POTTERY, vol. xix. p. 624 sq.). Sometimes disks or crosses made of red or green porphyry are inlaid in the walls. In most cases on one face of the top story is a projecting canopied niche, which once contained a statue or mosaic picture. The walls are built of fine neat brick-work. One campanile (that of S. Maria Maggiore), the largest and once the handsomest of all, has string-courses of enamelled and coloured terra-cotta. The slender columns of the windows have often proved insufficient to support the weight, and so many of the arches are built up.

Domestic Architecture

Though but little used for churches, the Gothic style, in its modified Italian form, was almost universally employed for domestic architecture in Rome during the 13th and 14th centuries. Tufa or brick was used for the main walls, the lowest story being often supported on an arcade of pointed arches and marble columns. The windows were usually formed of large marble slabs with trefoil-shaped heads or cusped arches. As a rule the upper stories projected slightly over the lower wall, and were supported on small ornamental machicolations. The top story frequently had an open loggia, with rows of pointed arches. When vaulting was used it also was of the pointed form, usually in simple quadripartite bays, with slightly moulded groin-ribs. The finest existing specimen of this style is the palace built about 1300 by Boniface VIII. (Gaetano family), enclosing the tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Via Appia, with a graceful little chapel within the precincts of the castle. This building is very worthy of study ; the remaining part is well preserved. Many houses of this period, though generally much injured by alterations, still exist in Rome. They are mostly in out-of-the-way alleys, and, not being mentioned in any books, arc seldom examined. The Ghetto and the quarter near the Ponte Rotto contain many of these interesting buildings, as well as some of the most crowded parts of the Trastevere district; all are rapidly disappearing under the wholesale destruction of old streets now in progress. Among those which may possibly escape for a while is the 13th-century house where Giulio Romano lived, near the Palazzo di Venezia, and the Albergo del Orso, at the end of the Via di Tordinona, of the same period, which was an inn in the 16th century and is one still ; this has remains of a fine upper loggia, with rich cornices in moulded terra-cotta ; the lowest story has pointed vaulting resting on many pillars. Another graceful but less stately house exists, though sadly mutilated, opposite the entrance to the atrium of S. Cecilia in Trastevere. Very few now remain of the once numerous lofty towers built by the turbulent Roman barons for purposes of defence. The finest, the Torre della Milizia on the Viminal, was built in the 13th century by the sons of Petrus Alexius; of about the same date is the Torre dei Conti, near the forum of Augustus, built by Marchione of Arezzo ; both these were once much higher than they are now ; they are very simple and noble in design, with massive walls faced with neat brickwork, much resembling that of the 2d century.

Lateran Palace

Till the 14th century the Lateran was the usual residence of the pope ; this was once a very extensive building, covering four times its present area. The original house is said to have belonged to the senator Plautius Lateranus in the reign of Nero ; but the existing part on the line of the Aurelian wall is of the 3d century. This house, which had become the property of the emperors, was given by Constantino as a residence for S. Sylvester; it was very much enlarged at many periods during the next ten centuries ; in 1308 a great part was burnt, and in 1586 the ancient palace was completely destroyed by Sixtus V., and the present palace built by Doinonico Fontana. The Cappella Sancta Sanctorum (see list of Cosmati works) is the only relic of the older palace. The present palace has never been used as a papal residence ; in the 18th century it was an orphan asylum, and is now a museum of classical sculpture and early Christian remains.

The Vatican

The Vatican palace also appears to have originated in a house which existed in the time of Constantine. This was rebuilt by Innocent III. (c. 1200) and enlarged by Nicholas III. (1277-80). It did not, however, become the fixed residence of the popes till after the return from Avignon in 1377. In 1415 John XXIII. connected the Vatican and the castle of S. Angelo by a covered passage carried on arches. But little of the existing palace is older than the 15th century ; Nicholas V. in 1447 began its reconstruction on a magnificent scale, and this was carried on by Sixtus IV. (Sistine chapel), Alexander VI. (Appartamenti Borgia), Julius II. and Leo X. (Bramante's cortile and paintings by Raphael), and Paul III. (Sala Regia and Cappella Paolina by Antonio da Sangallo). Sixtus V. and his successors built the lofty part of the palace on the east of Bramante's cortile. The Scala Regia was built by Bernini for Urban VIII., the Museo Pio-Clementino under Clement XIV. and Pius VI., the Braccio Nuovo under Pius VII., and lastly the grand stairs up to the cortile were added by Pius IX.

The Quirinal

The Quirinal palace, now occupied by the king of Italy, is devoid of architectural merit. It stands on the highest part of the hill, on the site of part of the baths of Constantine. This palace was begun in 1574, under Gregory XIII., by Flaininio Ponzio, and was completed by Fontana and Maderna under subsequent popes.

Ecclesiastical Gothic

The only important church in Rome which is wholly Gothic in style is S. Maria sopra Minerva, the chief church of the Dominican order. This was not the work of a Roman architect, but was designed by two Dominican friars from Florence—Fra Ristoro and Fra Sisto—about 1289, who were also the architects of their own church of S. Maria Novella. It much resembles the contemporary churches of the same order in Florence, having wide-spanned pointed arches on clustered piers and simple quadripartite vaulting. Its details resemble the early French in character. It contains a large number of fine tombs ; among them that of Durandus, bishop of Mende (the author of the celebrated Rationale divinorum officiorum), by Giovanni Cosmas, c. 1300, and the tomb of Fra Angeiico, the great Dominican painter, who died in Rome, 1455. The most elaborate specimen of ecclesiastical Gothic in Rome is that part of S. Maria in Ara Coeli which was rebuilt about 1300, probably by one of the Cosmati, namely, the south aisle and transept. For at least two centuries after the death of Giovanni Cosmas no native Roman appears to have excelled in any branch of the fine arts. The sculptured effigy and reredos of Cardinal Alencon in S. Maria in Trastevere, executed about 1400 by a certain Paulus Romanus, is a fair example of the decadence which took place during this period ; the effigy is a very clumsy and feeble copy of the fine recumbent figures of the Cosmati.


An excellent account of the Cosmati is given by Boito, Architettura del Medio Ero, Milan, 1880, pp. 117-182.
2 The chief signed works of Jacopo and his brother Luca are at Anagni and Subiaco.
3 See De Montault, Les Cloches de Rome, Arras, 1876.
4 For many centuries wall-facing of small tufa stones was used, e.g., in the mediaeval part of the Capitol; this was called "opera saracinesca" from its supposed adoption from the Saracens ; it is largely employed in the walls and towers of the Leonine city, built by Leo IV. (848-852) to defend the Vatican basilica and palace against the inroads of the Moslem invaders. The greater part of this wall is now destroyed and built over, but a long piece with massive circular towers well preserved exists in the gardens of the Vatican.
5 The house of Crescentius, popularly called the " house of Rienzi," near the Ponte Rotto, is perhaps the sole relic of the domestic architecture of an earlier period,—the 11th century. Its architectural decorations are an extraordinary mixture of marble fragments of the most miscellaneous sort, all taken from classical buildings ; it has a long but somewhat unintelligible inscription over the doorway.
6 The great mosaic in the adjacent apse is a modern copy of that which once decorated the triclinium of Leo III. (795-816).

1 The absence of a triforium is one of the chief.reasons why the large Gothic churches of Italy are so inferior in effect to the cathedrals of France and England.

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