Showing posts with label San Giovanni in Laterano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label San Giovanni in Laterano. Show all posts

25 August 2021

Alessandro Galilei - architect

After frustrations in England Florentine made mark in Rome

Giuseppe Berti's portrait of Alessandro Galilei
Giuseppe Berti's portrait of
Alessandro Galilei
The architect Alessandro Galilei, best known for the colossal Classical façade of the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, was born on this day in 1691 in Florence.

From the same patrician family as Renaissance polymath Galileo Galilei but not a direct descendant, Galilei’s father was a notary, Giuseppe Maria Galilei. Though his father considered the family to be noble still, their standing had fallen somewhat under Medici rule.

Alessandro studied mathematics and engineering at the prestigious Accademia dei Nobili in Florence, where he was instructed in building techniques and perspective among other things. 

As he sought to develop a career, Galilei met John Molesworth, son of Viscount Robert Molesworth, who spent three years in Florence as an envoy to the Medici court. Molesworth used his time there to indulge his interests in architecture, art, music, literature and poetry and developed a close friendship with Galilei, whose designs he admired.  He sponsored Galilei to spend time studying in Rome and when his posting in Italy was at an end, invited him to return to England with him.

Galilei’s designs had a Classical bent that put him at odds with the fashion for Baroque that was still dominant in Italy but appealed to Molesworth and to his father, who was keen to launch a new architectural movement, to which the subscribers included Sir Thomas Hewitt and Edward Lovett Pearce, who Galilei had met in Florence while Pearce was in Italy to study the architecture of Andrea Palladio.

The facade of Castletown House, home of Irish politician William Conolly, was designed by Galilei
The facade of Castletown House, home of Irish
politician William Conolly, was designed by Galilei
Although Galilei’s time in London yielded few commissions as Molesworth’s movement failed to take off, he had more success in Ireland, where Robert Molesworth introduced him to William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the wealthy owner of Castletown House, a palatial house near Dublin. He invited Galilei to design a new façade, and though the Italian did not remain in England to execute his plans, they were carried through by Pearce.

Before he returned to Florence, Galilei also designed the Doric portico on the east front of Kimbolton Castle in Huntingdonshire for Charles, Duke of Manchester.

In 1719, Galilei was appointed engineer of court buildings and fortresses to the courts of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, Cosimo III and Gian Gastone de' Medici. Again, however, his severe, heavily Classical designs failed to win him the grand projects he hoped to secure.

His fortunes changed in 1730 when a Florentine Cardinal, Lorenzo Cortini, was elected as pope, taking the name of Pope Clement XII. He called Galilei to Rome in 1731 to build his family's chapel, the Cappella Corsini, in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Pope Clement XII gave Galilei his most prestigious project
Pope Clement XII gave Galilei
his most prestigious project
At around the same time, Clement XII announced ambitious plans to renovate the basilica, which was the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal basilicas in the city but had suffered neglect after twice being damaged by fire in the 14th century, before being rebuilt in the 16th century.

He announced a competition for a new façade. Designs were submitted by 26 architects and the award of the commission to Galilei attracted raised eyebrows, especially since the consensus was that Luigi Vanvitelli’s entry was far superior.

Galilei completed the project in 1735, after which the sheer scale of his design, topped with enormous statues of saints, attracted more controversy, with critics complaining that it was far more suited to a palace than a church. It was not until Neoclassicism became popular in subsequent years that his work earned the appreciation that was missing in his lifetime.

Also responsible for the Baroque façade of the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome, Galilei died in Rome in 1737, at the age of just 46. A portrait of him by his contemporary, Giuseppe Berti, today hangs in the entrance hall of Castletown House.

Galilei's façade of the Basilica di San
Giovanni in Laterano was controversial
Travel tip:

Although the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is in the Appio/San Giovanni neighbourhood of Rome, southeast of the city centre, some 4km (2.5 miles) southwest of the Vatican, because it is a property of the Holy See, the basilica and its adjoining buildings enjoy an extraterritorial status from Italy, in accordance with the terms of the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The oldest and most important of Rome’s four major basilicas, it is officially Rome’s cathedral.  The church’s history can be traced to the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who converted the Lateran Palace to a church in 324 after he had converted to Christianity.  

The church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini overlooks the Tiber
The church of San Giovanni dei
Fiorentini overlooks the Tiber
Travel tip:

The church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini can be found in the Ponte district of central Rome, overlooking the Tiber, just across the river from Castel Sant’ Angelo and about 10 minutes’ walk from Piazza Navona. It was conceived after Pope Leo X organised a competition in 1518 for a new church on the site of the old church of San Pantaleo. The architects who submitted designs included Baldassare Peruzzi, Jacopo Sansovino, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Raphael. Although Sansovino won the competition, the building was constructed by Sangallo and Giacomo della Porta, with Carlo Maderno taking over in 1602. Galilei’s façade was not added until 1734.

Also on this day:

79: The eruption of Vesuvius destroys Pompeii

655: The death of Saint Patricia of Naples

1509: The birth of Ippolito II d’Este

1609: Galileo Galilei demonstrates his telescope


2 February 2019

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina - composer

Prolific writer had huge influence on the development of religious music

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was once sacked by St Peter's for being married
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was once
sacked by St Peter's for being married
The composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who was the most famous representative of the 16th century Roman school of musical composition and whose work is often described as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony, died on this day in 1594 in Rome.

Probably in his 70th year when he died, he had composed hundreds of pieces, including 104 masses, more than 300 motets, at least 72 hymns and some 140 or more madrigals.

He served twice as maestro di cappella - musical director - of the Cappella Giulia (Julian Chapel), the choir at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, a highly prestigious if not well paid position.

Appointed for the first time in 1551, he might have stayed there for the rest of his working life had a new pope, Paul IV, not introduced much stricter discipline compared with his predecessor, Julius III. A decree set down by Paul IV in 1555 forbade married men to serve in the papal choir, as a result of which Palestrina and two colleagues were dismissed.

Palestrina subsequently directed the choir at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano for five years before quitting abruptly in frustration at the limited ability of his singers, compared with St Peter’s.

An engraving from 1544 shows Palestrina presenting Pope Julius III with a mass dedicated to him
An engraving from 1544 shows Palestrina presenting
Pope Julius III with a mass dedicated to him
After a period of unemployment, when he and his family had to live in modest circumstances, he took a position at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where he stayed for seven years before, at the invitation of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, he took charge of the music at the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, a popular summer resort near Rome. He also worked as music master for a newly-formed Seminarium Romanum (Roman Seminary), where his sons Rodolfo and Angelo became students.

By this time, his fame was spreading, but he turned down offers to go to Vienna to become musical director at the court of the emperor Maximilian II, and from the Duke of Mantua, Guglielmo Gonzaga, on the grounds that he preferred not to leave Rome, although his financial demands were considered too high also.

With the death in 1571 of Giovanni Animuccia, who had been musical director at the Vatican since Palestrina left, there was a chance for him to to return to his old post as musical director of the Julian Choir. Offered a much bigger salary, he accepted the opportunity to return and, when Santa Maria Maggiore attempted to rehire him, St. Peter’s again raised his salary.

Palestrina had been born in a house in Via Cecconi in the town of Palestrina, about 35km (22 miles) east of Rome. Commonly known as Gianetto, he became an altar boy and sang in the choir of his local church. By 1537, at around the age of 12, records suggest the was a chorister at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, where he was taught elementary composition.

The first page of Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass, published in 1565
The first page of Palestrina's Pope Marcellus
Mass, published in 1565
It is thought his music was influenced by the northern European style of polyphony, dominant in Italy at the time thanks to two composers from the Netherlands, Guillaume Dufay and Josquin des Prez. Until Palestrina, Italy had not produced anyone of comparable skill in polyphony, a style of composition which consists of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to a musical texture with just one voice, monophony.

At about 20 years old, Palestrina took his first job an organist of the Cathedral of St. Agapito, the principal church in his home town. In 1547, he married Lucrezia Gori, whose father had just died and left her some money as well as a house and a vineyard.

They had three sons, Rodolfo, Angelo and Iginio, and lived a relatively contented life until the series of epidemics that swept through central Italy in the late 1570s sadly took the lives of his wife and their two elder sons. Pelestrina himself became seriously ill and when he recovered, still grieving, he announced his intention to become a priest.

This all changed, however, when he met Virginia Dormoli, the widow of a wealthy merchant, whom he married in 1581. He took over the running of her late husband’s fur and leather business, which had a monopoly to supply ermine trim to the papal court. This gave him financial security for the first time in his life and he invested in property, drawing a further income from the rent on four houses.

A statue erected to commemorate the life of Palestrina in his home town
A statue erected to commemorate the life
of Palestrina in his home town
Despite the now considerable demands on his time, Palestrina continued to compose prolifically, perhaps more so, and maintained a remarkably high standard in both his sacred and secular works.

The Palestrina Style - the smooth style of 16th century polyphony - is usually taught as ‘Renaissance polyphony’ in college counterpoint classes of today.  It is characterised by the strict guidelines that Palestrina followed, namely that the flow of music should be ‘dynamic, not rigid or static’; that the melody should contain few leaps between notes and any leaps be immediately countered by opposite stepwise motion; and that dissonances (lack of harmony) are either passing note or off the beat and, if on the beat, immediately resolved.

His 105 masses embrace many different styles, and the number of voices used ranges from four to eight. Among his most important were his Pope Marcellus Mass, Accepit Jesus calicem, “L’Homme armé, Tu es Petrus and his Ave Maria. 

Palestina died in Rome on February 2, 1594 after suffering with pleurisy. His funeral was held at St. Peter's, and he was buried beneath the floor of the basilica, although his tomb was later covered by new construction and attempts to locate the site have so far been unsuccessful.

Detail from the Nile Mosaic in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina, near Rome
Detail from the Nile Mosaic in the Museo Archeologico
Nazionale di Palestrina, near Rome
Travel tip:

Palestrina is a pretty town of narrow, flower-bedecked streets and is full of history. In Etruscan times, then known as Praeneste, it was home to a spectacular terraced temple, the Santuario della Fortuna Primigenia, which covered much of what is now the centre of the town. It has long since been built over but there is a model in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina, the town’s hilltop museum, which also contains many exhibits of Etruscan remains, among them the Nile Mosaic, which once decorated the heart of the temple, depicting the course of the Nile through the Egyptian landscape, complete with attendant lions and crocodiles, until it reaches the sea. Outside the museum, within its grounds, there are some exposed sections of the original temple.

The Fontana dell'Ovato is one of the profusion of fountains in the gardens of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli
The Fontana dell'Ovato is one of the profusion of fountains
in the gardens of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli
Travel tip:

The Villa d'Este is a 16th-century villa in Tivoli, about 32km (19 miles) east of Rome, famous for its terraced hillside Italian Renaissance gardens, often referred to simply as the Tivoli Gardens, and for its profusion of fountains, more than 50 in total. A former Benedictine convent, the villa and gardens were designed by the Mannerist architect Pirro Ligorio for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, who had confiscated it as his residence. It is now an Italian state museum, and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

More reading:

Ruggiero Giovannelli, a composer of religious music thought to have been Palestrina's pupil

How Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci became an authority on Palestrina's work

Carlo Maderno, designer of the great facade of St Peter's in Rome

Also on this day:

1723: The death of anatomist Antonio Maria Valsalva

1891: The birth of former prime minister and president Antonio Segni

1925: The birth of Olympic showjumper Raimondo D’Inzeo

(Picture credits: Statue by Sergio d'Afflitto; Mosaic by Camilia.boban; Fountain by Dnalor.01)


7 September 2017

Kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

When the Pope was slapped down by a disgruntled landowner

Boniface VIII had a long-running conflict with Philip IV of France
Boniface VIII had a long-running
conflict with Philip IV of France
An army, representing King Philip IV of France and the anti-papal Colonna family, entered Anagni in Lazio and captured Pope Boniface VIII inside his own palace on this day in 1303.

The Pope was kept in custody for three days and was physically ill-treated by his captors until the local people rose up against the invaders and rescued him.

Boniface VIII returned to Rome, but he was physically and mentally broken after his ordeal and died a month later.

The Pope had been born Benedetto Caetani in Anagni in 1230. He became Pope Boniface VIII in 1294 after his predecessor abdicated. He organised the first Catholic Jubilee Year to take place in Rome in 1300 and founded Sapienza University in the city in 1303, the year of his death.

But Boniface VIII is mainly remembered for his conflicts with Philip IV of France. In 1296 Boniface VIII issued the bull Clericis Laicos which forbade under the sanction of automatic excommunication any imposition of taxes on the clergy without express licence by the Pope. Then in 1302 he issued a bull proclaiming the primacy of the Pope and insisting on the submission of the temporal to the spiritual power.

The 'Anagni slap' as depicted by French  artist Alphonse de Neuville
The 'Anagni slap' as depicted by French
 artist Alphonse de Neuville
Philip IV countered this with an order forbidding all exports of money and valuables from France to the Papal States along with the expulsion of foreign merchants.

The squabble escalated until Boniface VIII excommunicated the King of France and released a decree stating that every human creature was subject to the Roman pontiff.

He sent mercenaries to destroy other people’s castles and declared the anti-papal Colonna family’s property forfeited. He then shared their land out among his own family members.

An army representing the powerful Colonna family and accompanied by Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip IV’s minister, marched into Anagni where the Pope was spending the summer at his palace. They kidnapped the Pope and demanded that he abdicate.

When he refused he was allegedly slapped by Sciarra Colonna, which famously became known as the 'Anagni slap' - lo schiaffo di Anagni. The Colonna family wanted to kill the Pope but de Nogaret wanted to take him to France to try him for his crimes in front of a General Council.

According to many accounts Boniface VIII was subjected to ill-treatment over a period of three days until he was rescued by local people. He survived the attack only to die a month later after he had returned to Rome.

The writer Dante Alighieri had been personally exiled by the Pope for supporting the limitation of papal powers, so when he wrote his Divine Comedy he had his revenge by placing Boniface VIII in hell.

Boniface's papal palace in Anagni
Boniface's papal palace in Anagni
Travel tip:

Anagni is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio. It is south east of Rome in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear, named ciocie, favoured for many years by people living in the area. Boniface VIII was the fourth Pope produced by Anagni but after his death the power of the town declined and the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII, where he received the Anagni slap, is near the Cathedral.  Close by there is a restaurant named Lo Schiaffo.

Part of the Giotto fresco commemorating the Jubilee
Part of the Giotto fresco
 commemorating the Jubilee
Travel tip:

The Papal Archbasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome houses a small portion of a fresco cycle painted by Giotto for the Jubilee of 1300, called by Pope Boniface VIII after he was elected to the Papacy.