Monday, December 1, 2014

Sant'Andrea delle Fratte

Today's photos:


1. The bell tower as seen from behind the church.

2. The center painting in the apse depicts the martyrdom of St. Andrew on his x-shaped cross.

3. The chapel of the Madonna del Miracolo.

4. Bernini's angel with the Crown of Thorns.

5. Bernini's angel with the INRI plaque.

6. The tomb of the Swiss artist Angelica kauffmann and her husband.


Many visitors to Rome pass in front of the church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte because it is on the well-beaten path between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, but very few think to enter it. The church deserves much more than a casual glance because of its interesting history and two very special works of art.


The name itself is interesting and needs some explanation. The Italian word fratte means "groves" or "woods", so it translates as St. Andrew of the Groves. When the church was first built, probably in the 12th century, this part of Rome was indeed a wooded area at the outskirts of the city. Its original Latin name was Santus Andreas de Hortis (St. Andrew of the Groves). The Latin de hortis soon became the Italian alle fratte, hence Sant'Andrea alle fratte.


The church was rebuilt beginning in 1604 through the generosity of a wealthy benefactor, Paolo del Bufalo, who had a residence in the neighborhood. The work, however, went along very slowly and was finished only in 1691. Several architects had a hand in the rebuilding, the most famous of whom was Francesco Borromini. To him we owe the apse, the drum of the dome, and especially the bell tower (photo 1).


Considered one of Borromini's masterpieces, the bell tower of this church is similar to the one he designed for the church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza near Piazza Navona. It is a two-storied tower, circular on the lower level and convex-concave on the upper part, typical trademarks of the Borromini style.


A curiosity


Some of the decorations on the bell tower refer to St. Andrew, but looking carefully you will see several buffalo heads to recall the sponsor of the work, Paolo del Bufalo.


Because the church is in a location crowded with other buildings, it is impossible to see the bell tower from the front. However, you will have a good view of it if you walk up to the end of Via di Capo le Case, the street just to your left as you face the church. It was from this vantage point that the photo above was taken.


A curiosity


There is a curious phenomenon about this bell tower. When the bells are ringing the tower appears to oscillate. The Romans, quick to invent clever nicknames, call it la ballerina, "the dancer". Although I have not (yet) personally witnessed this oddity, it is mentioned in my sources.


When you first walk into the church, your eyes will immediately be drawn, not to the apse, in the center of which is a painting of St. Andrew on the x-shaped cross (photo 2), but to one of the chapels on the left side. It appears to be a "church within a church" as it has its own set of pews in the main aisle facing it. The chapel (photo 3) is dedicated to la Madonna del miracolo, "the Madonna of the miracle" for a miraculous event which took place on January 20, 1842. On that day a man of the Jewish faith, Alfonso Ratisbonna, entered the church to admire the architecture of Borromini. The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to him, smiling and inviting him to kneel and pray; he obeyed and the apparition vanished. Because of this religious experience Ratisbonna converted to Catholicism and was baptized less than two weeks later on January 31 by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Costantino Patrizi.


The most famous works of art inside the church are two magnificent marble angels by Gianlorenzo Bernini. The great baroque artist had been hired to decorate, with statues of angels, the bridge in front of Castel Sant'Angelo. Each of the ten angels seen on the bridge today is holding one of the symbols of the Passion of Christ. All the statues on the bridge are copies carved by various artists from the school of Bernini. The master himself, however, personally carved two of the angels: the one who holds the crown of thorns (photo 4) and the one who holds the plaque with the letters INRI (photo 5). These two originals are the statues we see in the church, placed there for safekeeping. They are, of course, far more beautiful than the copies on the bridge, as anyone who has seen them can tell you. The story of how they came to be in the church is told in the following account.


A curiosity


Pope Clement IX Rospigliosi (1667-1669) decided that the two statues carved by Bernini were too valuable to be left out in the open on the bridge. He did not, however, move them into the church, but rather into his family home, Palazzo Rospigliosi, intending to transfer them to the city of Pistoia, his birthplace. The Pope, however, died before the statues could be moved out of Rome. His family, apparently fearing the wrath of the Romans, decided not to transfer the statues out of the city. They remained in Palazzo Rospigliosi until a nephew of Bernini bought them and donated them to the church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte in 1729. They have been in this same church ever since, one on either side of the single aisle, near the main altar.


In the church are the tombs of the Swiss artist Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) and her husband Antonio Zucchi (photo 6). When the husband died his wife arranged for his burial in the church. She herself composed the inscription on the tombstone, which states that although she had the right, as a famous artist, to be buried in the Pantheon, she preferred that her final resting place be in this church with her husband.


(For related stories, see The Sights of Rome, Chapter 3, Bernini, Borromini, Innocent X, and Chapter 19, Ponte Sant'Angelo).


Post a Comment