Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another View of Rome: Earlier Romanesque Facades

Our image of Rome today is invariably tied up with the splendour of baroque art, with the commissions of the Barberini pope, Urban VIII, and other popes, as seen through the work of the likes of Bernini and Borromini.

Of course in addition to these splendours, Rome has other faces -- older faces -- which still peer out at us today either in full or in part. Aside from being peppered with the remains of imperial Rome, the Rome of the Emperors, one may also see parts of the face of the Rome of the first millennium and the first half of the second millennium.

One example where these influences come together is the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which tells the tale of different periods and influences within Rome, what with its Romanesque tower soaring up above its baroque facade, and through that same facade one can see the mediaeval mosaics that adorned the earlier facade.

A couple of years ago we briefly touched on this theme when we showed you some images of Old St. Peter's. The Constantinian basilica had been falling into disrepair and was replaced by the present structure of which we are so familiar today -- so familiar is it in fact, that it may strike us as strange to stop and consider that our particular view of St. Peter's is relatively new by comparison with the overall history of that basilica.

Now all of this I mention by way of preface. Recently, I came across some 16th century drawings of some of the most important churches within Rome. These drawings come from a 16th century pilgrim guidebook which show facades we no longer see, or which we see now only in part. No doubt these will be of some interest, particularly for those who have an interest in sacred architecture, or for those who simply have a curiousity as to what kind of city would have be seen by the mediaeval pilgrim.

I have placed these drawings beside engravings which show these churches as we would see them today as a point of reference. (All may be clicked to be enlarged.)

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

Basilica of S. Crucis

The basilicas of St. Paul outside the Walls and St. Lawrence outside the Walls still retain their original Romanesque appearances.

Finally, we conclude with a drawing of the seven pilgrim churches of Rome. (You will note that St. Peter's is seen in the midst of the construction of the new basilica.)

Antonio Lafréry, Seven Churches of Rome (Rome 1575)

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: