Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle – a foundation full of splendor and elegance
The church was built during Counter-Reformation – in times of struggles and ideological quarrels inside the Church also over the rule of souls – in this case it was about the souls of those who left the true faith, meaning Protestants. In face of the moral decay and wealth which brought a wave of criticism from advocates of the Reformation upon the various orders, the owners of the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle by leading an exemplary life, the severity of their rule and asceticism, were building a new face of Catholicism. In the area of re-Catholicization of the lands found in Protestant hands, Jesuits played a leading role, but Theatines were right behind them as far as missions increasing the authority of the Church. It can even be said that the rivalry between the Jesuits, who built the magnificent Church of Il Gesù nearby, and the Theatines who did not want to lag behind, found its symbolic dimension here. The effect was the building of this magnificent church, of which construction began in 1591.
Initially the construction of the church and the monastery was supervised by Giacomo della Porta, as well as a Theatine monk, who was well-versed in geometry, Francesco Grimaldi. After the death of Cardinal Alfonso Gesualdo, the first significant benefactor of the church, the Theatines found another, this time the nephew of Pope Sixtus V – Cardinal Alessandro Peretti de Montalto. His financial input allowed for further works under the supervision of Carlo Maderno, but also for greater constructional splendor, which was testified to by the colossal dome designed by the architect, smaller only than the one in the Vatican Basilica (San Pietro in Vaticano). Works on the church lasted until 1650, when it was consecrated. It lacked only a façade to be finished, and it was created thanks to the funds of another cardinal – Francesco Peretti, but also thanks to the support of Pope Alexander VII. It was finished in 1666, albeit according to Maderno’s plans but with numerous of his own modifications by Carlo Rinaldi. The principal change was doing away with the typical for his predecessor volutes combining the upper and lower parts of the façade. Rinaldi’s idea assumed, mounting figures of angels on the protruding lower parts of the elevation. And he must be congratulated, because it is hard not to appreciate the beautiful forms and proportions of this innovation – the façade is appropriately wide, artistically divided by enormous columns, with a strongly accentuated central axis. On the cornice we will notice and inscription of dedication, commemorating the role of Pope Alexander VII in the construction of the façade: While the dome is one of the best architectural undertakings in Rome, the church campanile is one of the worst.
The enormous church interior was a challenge for many artists – the effect of their efforts leaves us breathless. Not a single person entering the church would not be left saying: wow….what excess! The church has no naves – it opens up in front of the enterer with one hall space, letting him direct his gaze deep into the monumental interior, at the end of which an altar stands. On both sides it is surrounded with only side chapels, which are a final resting place of Roman dignitaries. The whole is covered with a barrel vault floating on high arcades. At the crossing of the nave with the transept an over-eighty meter dome arises, full of windows. Among a group of artists who worked on the interior decorations, we would be amiss not to focus on those who were at that time considered the most outstanding painters in the city. Both came from Bologna and were previously friends, but when submitting their designs, they were mortal enemies. There were also, typical for that time, acts of violence between the artists, until finally a decision was reached: Giovanni Lanfranco received the commission for frescos on the church dome, while Domenichino on its pendentives and the apse.
The frescos on the dome depict the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, concentric rising into the infinity of the heavens rows of saints give it a dimension of infinity, which makes the already high dome seem even higher. With this work Lanfranco in 1627, inaugurated a new, illusionist way of painting in Rome, using bold perspective foreshortenings, while at the same time opening the church space onto the vastness of the heavens. While the saints seem to glide in otherworldly space, the dignified, monumental figures of the four evangelists by Domenichino are rather set in the earthly sphere. Another work of this artist, perhaps his best, are the frescos in the topping off of the apse, in which the painter used his talent in painting landscapes, placing the scenes in a broad, coastal, but at the same time antique landscape, thus adding decorativeness and splendor. However, they are not the ones that draw our gaze; the most eye-catching are the enormous paintings found on the walls of the apse, the work of a lesser-known but skilled fresco painter by the name of Mattia Preti (known as Il Calebrese), a painter from Calabria, active mainly on Malta. They show the martyrdom of St. Andrew – from putting the apostle on the cross, to laying his body into the grave. The concept of the altar itself is also worthy of our attention – it does not have the typical baldachin and nothing disturbs the viewer from contemplating the painting vision. The man whom we have to thank for it is the designer of this part of the church - Carlo Fontana.
The frescos of the nave vault are generally omitted in church descriptions, since they are from the XIX century. The depict the scene of the Immaculate Conception as well as the vision of the beatified mystic Orsola Benincasa.
In the church we will find many magnificent artistic objects. The oldest of these are multi-story tombs (on the left and right sides of the nave) of two popes from the times of the Renaissance - Pius II and Pius III from the Piccolomini family. They were created in 1479 and 1503 respectively and were initially located in the old Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano, having been moved here at the beginning of the XVII century.
Chapels which should be visited:
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