The Church of Santi Martina e Luca in the Roman Forum
Today is St. Luke's Day. Luke was one of the four Gospel writers, the traditional author of the Book of Acts, a physician (and the patron saint of medicine), and according to pious legend, he was an artist, and remains the patron saint of artists.
One of Rome's magnificent and not quite so well known baroque churches served as the chapel of the Academy of Saint Luke, the painters' guild, in Rome. It sits in the Roman Forum between the old Senate House built by the Emperor Diocletian, and the Forum of Julius Caesar. A church has stood on this site for many centuries, dedicated to the martyr saint, Martina. The Academy of Saint Luke used the Church of Santa Martina as a chapel for generations.
In 1634, the new head of the Academy and the leading Baroque painter in Rome, Pietro da Cortona decided to excavate a burial crypt for himself and his family in the floor of the old church. During the excavation ancient human remains were found and proclaimed to be those of Saint Martina. The discovery changed everything. It was decided to build a new church.
Pietro da Cortona, the leading painter in Rome in the mid 17th century, also had an illustrious career as an architect, and designed the church that we see today. He designed the church to serve as a martyrium for Saint Martina, and to be the artists' church in Rome.
Construction began in 1640 and was completed in 1664. Of the many churches in Rome built by Cortona, this was supposedly his favorite. Cortona lies buried in the church. Cortona was a Florentine and he designed this church with the Baptistery and the great cathedral dome designed by Brunelleschi in mind.
It is remarkable that Cortona, famous for his sprawling painted spectacles on the ceilings of Roman churches and palaces, included so little painting in this church for painters.
The vaults and dome of the church
Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno from 1600 in the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome.
To paraphrase Martin Luther,
Hail Holy Rome! Made glorious by all the artists who ever worked in thee!