Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Artists' Church in Rome

 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 Church of Santi Martina e Luca; the Senate is to the immediate left of the church, the remains of the Forum of Julius Caesar are in the foreground; the columns on the right are what remain of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, once the centerpiece of Caesar's Forum.

The facade of the church; like all Roman churches from this time, the facade includes a blessing window above the door for the Pope to bless the crowds when he visits the church in his capacity as Bishop of Rome.

The remarkable interior; a relatively austere ground level gives way to a spectacular dome and vaults filled with magnificent relief carving.   There is very little painting in the church.

The vaults and dome of the church

Over the high altar is a painting of Saint Luke as an artist at work by Antiveduto Grammatica.  Below is a striking sculpture of the martyred Martina by Niccolo Menghini.

Menghini's sculpture of the martyred Martina recalls an even more dramatic sculpture of the martyred Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno from 1600 in the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome.

In the crypt of the church below the dome is the shrine of Saint Martina.

St. Luke by Guercino; I love this painting because Guercino shows Luke not as a humble pious painter, but as a proud Maestro Grandissimo, feeling entitled to our applause and the angel's admiration as his due reward for his hard and brilliant work.

To paraphrase Martin Luther,
 Hail Holy Rome!  Made glorious by all the artists who ever worked in thee!


Counterlight said...

I wish I had a name like Antiveduto Grammatica.

JCF said...

Thanks, Doug.

Gerrit said...

Antiveduto Grammatica? Must be an Italian racehorse

Gerrit said...

But seriously, thank you for pointing out Maderno's St Cecilia, Never saw it before.