Rome: Santa Maria in Campitelli

Santa Maria in Campitelli.

The seventeenth-century church of Santa Maria in Campitelli was specifically built to house an icon, the Madonna del Portico. This icon is famous for two reasons. Not only is it credited with having stopped a plague in the 1650s, it is also quite special because of the way it was crafted. The Madonna del Portico is not a painted icon, but an icon made of enamel. Opinions are divided about the age of the object. Although it has been claimed that it dates from the sixth century, this is not very likely. In fact, it is much more plausible that it was made in the thirteenth century.

The icon was originally in the church of Santa Galla Antiqua. That church was previously called the Santa Maria in Portico, and that in its turn explains the name given to the icon. The Santa Galla was demolished in 1928 by order of Mussolini, who had many buildings torn down to make way for his grand boulevards (see Rome: A fascist past). When the Madonna del Portico was held responsible for ending the plague, Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) decided to have a new church built where the icon could be set up. Alexander hired Carlo Rainaldi (1611-1691) to act as lead architect. Rainaldi worked on the church between 1659 and 1667, together with the architect Giovanni Antonio de’ Rossi (1616-1685). Although the building was structurally finished in 1667, the interior still had to be done. That explains why the consecration of the church only took place in 1728.

Interior of the church.

Altarpiece by Luca Giordano.

Madonna del Portico.

The façade of the church is made of travertine. On it we read the Latin text:


This text refers to both the Roman city council and Pope Alexander VII. The city council fulfilled a vow (votum solvit) by financing the construction of the church. At the end of the text the year 1665 is mentioned. Apparently that was when the façade was completed.

The church has a nice Baroque interior (see the image above) and several chapels where we mostly find works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Artists who contributed to the decoration of the church were, among others, Giovanni Battista Gaulli, nicknamed Il Baciccia (1639-1709), Ludovico Gimignani (1643-1697) and Giacinto Calandrucci (1646-1707). One of the best-known works in the church hangs in the second chapel on the right, which is dedicated to Saint Anne. I am referring to an altarpiece by Luca Giordano (1634-1705) featuring Saint Anne, her husband Joachim and their daughter the Virgin Mary.

In the next chapel is a replica of a pagan altar dating from Antiquity. The original was used as an altar in the church of Santa Galla Antiqua. When that church was demolished, a new church of Santa Galla was built elsewhere in Rome (it can be found near the Garbatella metro station). For sixty years the original altar stood in the church of San Giorgio in Velabro, but in 1988 it was moved to the new Santa Galla, where it can still be admired. The text on the altar, both on the original and the copy, is manifestly Christian and was added much later. It refers to Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and Pope Gregorius VII (1073-1085).

Copy of the pagan altar.

Cappella Altieri.

Of the chapels on the left side of the church, I found the Cappella Altieri to be the most interesting, especially because of two funerary monuments. The monuments commemorate Angelo Altieri and his wife Vittoria Parabiacchi. Whereas Angelo has a hand on his chest and is looking at the altarpiece, Vittoria is looking towards the viewer. The two spouses are people who apparently need very few words: the monument of the husband only has the text NIHIL (‘nothing’) and that of his wife the word VMBRA (‘shadow’).

The bust of Angelo was made by the French sculptor Michel Maille (ca. 1643-1703), that of Vittoria by Maille and – after his death – Antonio Lavaggi (ca. 1666-1718). The chapel is, by the way, dedicated to the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. Ludovica was a Roman noblewoman who, after the death of her husband, became a Franciscan tertiary and dedicated her life to caring for the city’s poor. She died in 1533 and was beatified in 1671. On the altarpiece by the sculptor Lorenzo Ottoni (1658-1736) she too has been depicted. We see her experiencing a vision of the Holy Family (the chapel is co-dedicated to Saint Joseph).

Source: Churches of Rome Wiki.

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