Friday, February 2, 2018

The Pantheon: Part 3

Today's photos:

1. The Renaissance painter Raphael.

2. The tomb of Raphael in the Pantheon.

3. La Madonna del Sasso (Our Lady of the Rock).

4. The Transfiguration, Raphael's last work.

5. A close-up of the sarcophagus in Raphael's tomb.

6. The Annunciation in the first chapel on the right.

7. The oldest Christian item in the Pantheon.

Next to the tombs of Umberto and Margherita is the final resting place of the great artist Raphael Sanzio (photo 1) who died at the very young age of 38.

A cuoriosity

An interesting fact about Raphael's death is that it occurred on the same date as his birth: April 6,1483-April 6, 1520). He died, probably of some sort of venereal disease, after 15 days of agony, on Good Friday.

The Inscriptions

His simple, but dignified tomb (photo 2) is extraordinary for several reasons, not the least of which is the spectacular Latin epitaph which runs across the top of the sarcophagus, or stone coffin. It was composed by Cardinal Pietro Bembo who had been a close friend of the artist. Every time I read it, it sends shivers up and down my spine!


Here lies the famous Raphael. When he was alive, Mother Nature feared that his works were surpassing her works, and when he was dying she feared that she herself was dying.

On the face of the Sarcophagus are seen the words:


The bones and the ashes of Raphael Sanzio of Urbino

The Statue

There is a statue of the Madonna and Bambino in a niche above the artist's tomb (photos 2 & 3). It was Raphael himself who sketched the subject and left instructions that it be carved by his students and placed over his tomb. The statue is often called La Madonna del Sasso (Our Lady of the rock), because she has one foot resting on top of a rock.

To your left as you face the tomb is a niche which holds a bust of Raphael (photo 3). A corresponding niche on the right is empty. It was intended to hold the bust of Maria Bibbiana, the woman who was to be his wife, but she preceded him in death, so it was decided not to include her in the scene.

A curiosity

At the time of his death, Raphael was working on his latest masterpiece, The Transfiguration, (photo 4) which had to be finished later by his students. The unfinished work was placed in his room during the last three days of his agony and was then carried in his funeral procession. Today the original painting is displayed in the Picture Gallery of the Vatican Museums. A mosaic copy four times the size of the original painting can be seen in St. Peter's Basilica.

The Tomb

Some 300 years after Raphael's burial a doubt arose in the minds of many regarding the exact location of the tomb. They knew he had been buried in the Pantheon, but they did not know precisely where. Some, however, believed that he had been buried in the nearby basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Finally, it was decided to carry out excavations inside the Pantheon to search for the lost tomb. The work began on September 9, 1833, directly below the altar of the Madonna del Sasso.

Sure enough, at about one and a half meters below the surface they discovered a wooden casket, inside of which was an intact skeleton. Experts at the time determined that these were indeed the remains of Raphael. At that news, Gregory XVI Cappellari donated an ancient marble sarcophagus from the Vatican Museums to hold the remains (photo 5). This is the sarcophagus which we see today behind glass beneath the Madonna del Sasso.

What else is inside the Pantheon?

There are, of course, many other beautiful and historic works of art in the Pantheon. One of these, and my own personal favorite, is in the first chapel on your right as you enter the building. It is a beautiful fresco: The Annunciation (photo 6) by Melozzo da Forlì (1438-1494). This painting was beautifully restored several years ago, a restoration which revealed its original, magnificent colors.

The oldest religious item in the Pantheon can be seen high up on the wall behind the main altar. It is a Roman-Bizantine work of the Madonna and Child lined in silver and dating back to the 7th century (photo 7). It is therefore conceivable that this small icon was put in place when the Pantheon was converted into a church in 609.

To your left of the main altar, in the second to last chapel is a beautiful 16th century crucifix.

All the statues in the Pantheon today are of Christian saints, but originally they were all statues of pagan gods and goddesses. The large niche in the center, just opposite the main doors, was once home to a statue of Jupiter, king of the gods. It has been replaced by the main altar of the church.

A curiosity

When Agrippa built the original Pantheon he wanted to name it after Augustus. He also wanted to erect in it a colossal statue of the emperor. Augustus, however, refused this honor, so a statue of his deified father, Julius Caesar, was erected instead. Unfortunately, we do not know the fate of this statue or even if it was transferred to the building reconstructed by Hadrian in the second century A.D.

The fourth and final part of this series of posts on the Pantheon will be dedicated to the cupola (dome). Don't miss it!


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