S. Pietro in Montorio is a XVth century church with very small chapels, not much larger
than a niche in the wall. The right side of the church is adjoining the cloister of the monastery so it is not possible
to modify the chapels on that side. On the left side there were no other buildings, so in the early XVIIth century Carlo Maderno
expanded one of the chapels and in 1642-46 Gian Lorenzo Bernini did the same to build a chapel
for the Raimondi family.
Since his early works for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Bernini had been interested in the effects of light over a sculpture and had given clear indications on how his sculptures ought to be positioned to obtain the effect he had planned for them. His sculptures are often referred to as pictorial sculptures for the use of light (and sometimes color).
Usually a chapel was conceived like a little church and thus received light from the lantern of the chapel dome. Bernini was unhappy about this central light and for this chapel he designed four lateral windows and making use of the thickness of the walls he directed the light of two of them towards the very end of the chapel.
Cappella Raimondi: seen from the exterior and overall view
Funerary monuments were in general of two types: one, derived from the Roman and medieval tradition, showed the dead lying on a sarcophagus, the other, derived from Michelangelo's Medici tombs in Florence, had a triangular shape with the dead between two other statues. Only a large chapel could accommodate such monuments and so the decoration of the walls of the chapels was in general made of paintings (either frescoes or canvasses). For this chapel Bernini adopted a different solution, by designing a funerary monument which did not require a lot of space and marble. Only the upper part of the body of the dead is visible as if he were behind a kneeling-stool. On the altar there is a relief by a Bernini scholar (Francesco Baratta) showing the Assumption of St Francis. Reliefs were very popular in the XVIIth century as they were seen as a perfect combination of picture and sculpture: Bernini himself was not very celebrated for his reliefs, but his rival Alessandro Algardi excelled in this technique.
The monuments to Francesco and Girolamo Raimondi
Of the two busts (again by a Bernini's scholar, Andrea Bolgi) the one on the right side is very interesting because it looks towards the entrance of the chapel, as if he was inviting you to enter. Bernini's sculptures with very few exceptions always show an action: a classic example is the comparison between Michelangelo's (or Donatello's or Verrocchio's) David and Bernini's David, whom we see in the act of throwing the stone. Another interesting feature of these monuments is the space for a small relief: in this case the reliefs are not related to the lives of the dead, but this design will be adopted in many other funerary monuments, in particular the papal monuments in St Peter's to celebrate a particular episode of their lives.
(left) Estasi di S. Francesco by Francesco Baratta; (right) details of the reliefs of the monuments
The details of the reliefs shown in the picture announce the great number of skeletons which for more than a century will jump out of most of the funerary monuments in Rome and elsewhere.
Other pages dealing with Baroque sculpture:
Statues in the act of praying
Monuments showing the dead in a medallion
Three chapels by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Representation of Death in Baroque sculptures
Three busts by Alessandro Algardi
Baroque Monuments to the Popes
Bernini's Exiled Statue
Baroque High Reliefs
Statues Close to Heaven
Embittered Andrew (the statues in St. Peter's octagon)
Playing with Colours