In 1756, when Giuseppe Vasi engraved this etching, this corner of Rome was a very modern one where XVIIIth century buildings had replaced a medieval quarter, leaving space also for a small square in front of the 1728 church of S. Paolo alla Regola. Vasi had a special interest in this church and in the adjoining monastery because they belonged to the Sicilian branch of the Franciscan Order and Vasi was very fond of his homeland, although he had left Sicily in 1736.
In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) S. Paolo alla Regola; 2) Strada dei Vaccinari; 3) Convento dei Padri della Dottrina Cristiana (on the rear side of S. Maria in Monticelli). The map shows also 4) Palazzo Spada; 5) S. Maria de' Macellari; 6) Palazzo Ossoli.
2) Strada dei Vaccinari was named after the tanners who worked in this part of Rome; S. Bartolomeo dei Vaccinari, the church of their guild was located along this street; in fact Strada dei Vaccinari was the continuation of Via di Monserrato, the main street of Rione Regola.
(left) Entrance to the Franciscan monastery in November 2006; (right) S. Paolo alla Regola in April 2009
The square is not as large as Vasi showed it in the plate and today the street is almost a dead end, so one does not see S. Paolo alla Regola by chance. A recent restoration has given a very new appearance to the fašade of the church, whereas the portal of the adjoining monastery shows the impact of time (it now leads to premises belonging to the church).
(left) Stucco decoration of S. Paolo alla Regola; (right) marble inlay above the entrance to Convento dei Padri Dottrinari (Christian Doctrine Fathers) depicting symbols of the Passion of Jesus Christ which can be better seen at Ponte S. Angelo
According to tradition St. Paul lived in this area while awaiting trial (some ancient Roman houses have been found under nearby buildings) and a church dedicated to him existed on this site since the XIth century; for a short period during the XVIth century it was a parish church; in 1619 it was assigned to the Sicilian branch of the Franciscan Third Order, which was under the patronage of the King of Spain. This led to the construction of a large monastery (Collegium Siculum) and eventually to the replacement of the old church by a brand new one. The fašade is a work by Giacomo Ciolli and Giuseppe Sardi, to whom in particular the elaborate stucco decoration is attributed.
The Christian Doctrine Fathers are a religious congregation founded in the late XVIth century to promote the education of children; Pope Benedict XIII reorganized the congregation and assigned S. Maria in Monticelli and the adjoining building to its members. The Christian Doctrine Fathers acquired importance after 1773 when the Jesuit Order was suppressed and they took over the management of some Jesuit institutions. The headquarters of the congregation are still in this building.
1701 frescoes by Luigi Garzi in the apse of the church depicting episodes from the life of St. Paul in an unusual sequence: (left) Preaching of St. Paul; (centre) Conversion; (right) Death
(left) Palazzo Spada; (right) statue of Julius Caesar framed by an elaborate decoration
Palazzo Spada is definitely the missing plate in Book 4 which Vasi dedicated to the main palaces of Rome in 1754; he mentioned it and he talked about its decorations, the courtyard, the changes made by Francesco Borromini, but he did not show it. Perhaps the design of the fašade did not suit the taste of the time. We know that in the XIXth century it was viewed with disapproval.
Between the windows of the first-floor are niches with ancient statues: the mezzanini, which come next, are encompassed by a superfluity of stucco ornaments and the windows of the upper story come too near the roof.
Rev. Jeremiah Donovan - Rome Ancient and Modern 1843
Mamma and I went, yesterday forenoon, to the Spada Palace, which we found among the intricacies of Central Rome; a dark and massive old edifice, built around a court. (..) The Spada Palace itself has a decayed and impoverished aspect, as if the family had dwindled from its former state and grandeur, and now, perhaps, smuggled itself into some out-of-the-way corner of the old edifice.
Passages from the French and Italian Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne - May 21, 1858
The palace was built at the expense of Cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro in 1548-550, probably by Giulio Mazzoni who is known to have designed its complex stucco decoration; the central section of the fašade was initially decorated with a coat of arms of Pope Paul III, who died in November 1549 (a coat of arms of his successor Pope Julius III was placed in the courtyard). In 1632 the palace was bought by Cardinal Bernardino Spada, from a noble family of Terni; his heirs replaced the papal coat of arms with that of their family, but they did not touch the references to Cardinal Capodiferro i.e. the circular reliefs portraying a dog sitting next to a flaming column with the inscription Utroque Tempore (which means "at both times" - see also the image used as background for this page).
Cardinal Capodiferro chose this motto and the symbol of the dog to proclaim his loyalty to the Catholic Church at a time of great religious conflicts; the motto was taken from Exodus 13, 21: Dominus autem praecedebat eos ad ostendendam viam per diem in columna nubis, et per noctem in columna ignis: ut dux esset itineris utroque tempore. (And the Lord went before them to shew the way, by day in a pillar of a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire; that he might be the guide of their journey at both times. Douay-Rheims Bible).
When Giulio Mazzoni was decorating the courtyard of Palazzo Spada, the Roman Catholic Church was in the process of developing a response to the Reform, but the Renaissance love for the Classic World was still permeating the cultural circles of Rome. Cardinal Capodiferro did not see any
contradictions between his role as a Prince of the Church and the decoration of his palace with naked statues of the Pagan gods.
Giulio Mazzoni was a pupil of Daniele da Volterra, who in turn was an assistant to Michelangelo; his stuccoes show the influence of the great master.
Coats of arms of King Henri II of France in the courtyard (left) and of Cardinal Spada in the inner portico (centre) and in the fake fašade opposite the entrance (right)
Cardinal Capodiferro represented the Pope to the King of France and he placed a coat of arms of King Henri II in the courtyard. When Cardinal Spada bought the palace he commissioned a coat of arms which had an oval support similar to that of the king, but for the coat of arms which he placed on a wall opposite the palace he preferred a mosso (Music: with animation/lively) design, typical of the taste of his time.
Cardinal Bernardino Spada enlarged the building, but he did not touch the courtyard and its decoration; he did however enlarge the view one had from it; Virgilio Spada, the cardinal's elder brother, was a member of Oratorio dei Filippini and he knew well Francesco Borromini to whom are generally attributed the "tricks" which expanded the views from the courtyard and in particular Galleria Prospettica, a short gallery which seems much longer. The fake fašade on the side of Palazzo Ossoli opposite the entrance to Palazzo Spada provided a viewer standing at the centre of the courtyard with a deeper perspective.
In the cortile is a curious piece of architectural jugglery, a covered portico with Doric columns, gradually diminishing in height, thus enhancing the real effect of the perspective. The success of the experiment is quite complete, for, though only about thirty feet in length, the portico seems to the eye to be at least twice as long; and, after walking through it and ascertaining its exact dimensions, we feel a little as if we had been imposed upon, somewhat in the same mood as when we learn that our compassion has been roused by a feigned tale of distress.
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in ca 1847-1848
The doorway to our left, on having entered the courtyard, commands a view of Borromini's fantastic colonnade of Doric columns, constructed for sake of perspective, from which Bernini is said to have borrowed his idea of the Scala Regia, or rather, according to Milizia, of the noble colonnades of St. Peter's. J. Donovan
In the XIXth century Bernini and Borromini were regarded as champions of bad taste, yet the ingenuity of some of their works could not be denied.
Friezes on the fašade (above) and in the courtyard (below); you may wish to see a similar decoration in the Papal Apartment of Castel Sant'Angelo
First Room with a large portrait of Cardinal Spada by Guido Reni and to its left one by il Guercino. They were made when the Cardinal was Legate (Governor) of Bologna
From this anteroom we passed through several saloons containing pictures, some of which were by eminent artists; the Judith of Guido, a copy of which used to weary me to death, year after year, in the Boston AthenŠum; and many portraits of Cardinals in the Spada family, and other pictures by Guido. There were some portraits, also of the family, by Titian, some good pictures by Guercino; and many which I should have been glad to examine more at leisure; but, by and by, the "custode" made his appearance, and began to close the shutters, under pretence that the sunshine would injure the paintings, an effect, I presume, not very likely to follow after two or three centuries' exposure to light, air, and whatever else might hurt them. However, the pictures seemed to be in much better condition, and more enjoyable, so far as they had merit, than those in most Roman picture galleries. N. Hawthorne
Cardinal Spada spent many years in Bologna where he protected Guido Reni and il Guercino; his gallery of paintings in Palazzo Spada has been kept as it was. This was made possible by a clause (fideicommissum) in the will of a descendant of the Spada which did not allow to sell piecemeal the works of art of the palace.
Third Room which was decorated by Michelangelo Ricciolini at the beginning of the XVIIIth century: (above) Spada coat of arms; (below) Africa and America
Some of the rooms were redesigned at the end of the XVIIth century by Tommaso Mattei. The palace was bought by the Italian State in 1927. Not all the paintings on display in the museum are exactly in the same place they were at the beginning of the XXth century. They were rearranged in order to recreate the aspect of the rooms which were described in detail in some XVIIth century guides to Rome.
(left) IInd century AD bust of a Roman woman, perhaps an empress; (right) XVIIth century head based on that of Laocoon
In addition to paintings the Spada had a small collection of ancient or pseudo-ancient statues.
(left) Fašade; (right-above) ancient cornice above the entrance; (right-below) courtyard
This small palace was built at the beginning of the XVIth century; its elegant design shows the hand of a talented architect, maybe Baldassarre Peruzzi. The tiny courtyard is worth having a look at. The palace is named after the Ossoli who acquired it in the XVIIth century.
(left) Gathering of members of the butchers' brotherhood on Palm Sunday 2009; (right) fašade; (inset) the badge of the guild showing the sacred image inside the church
In 1507 Pope Julius II assigned a small church known as S. Nicol˛ de Curte and which was almost falling apart to the horse merchants who exercised their trade at nearby Campo de' Fiori; they came from Maremma and they were devoted to S. Maria della Querce (Oak), a sanctuary near Viterbo, which was built by the Pope and by his uncle Pope Sixtus IV. For this reason the name of the church was changed and a holm oak was planted in the small square in front of the church. The tree has been replaced repeatedly, the last time in May 2016.
Detail of the fašade with a window which resembles those at S. Sisto
A few years later the church was assigned to the brotherhood of the butchers, (macellari, in modern Italian macellai) which still owns it and uses it for gatherings and celebrations. Similar to what occurs today, the butchers were doing pretty well and in 1727-730 the church was redesigned by Filippo Raguzzini.
Early XVIIIth century organ (see a page on this topic)
In 1800 the guild was abolished but the church continued to be maintained by the brotherhood. In 1864 the interior was decorated with fake marbles having very bright colours.
(left) Wooden sculpture showing Madonna and Child in a frame of oak branches; (right) the modern standard of the brotherhood. You may wish to see a directory of churches belonging to a guild
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Dopo l'ospizio de' Pellegrini segue quest'antica, e bella chiesa, la quale dalla contrada, si dice corrottamente alla regola, in vece di arenula. La tennero per molto tempo i frati di s Agostino riformati; ma poi avendola nell' anno 1619. conseguita quelli del Terz'Ordine di s. Francesco della provincia di Sicilia, vi stabilirono un collegio di studj, e vi fabbricorano di nuovo la chiesa col disegno di fra Gio. Batista Borgonzoni; le pitture nella tribuna sono del Pacieri, e la s. Anna di Giacinto Calandracci allievo del Maratti, il quale, dicesi, che vi abbia fatto qualche cosa: le pitture in alto sono del Cav. Monifilio; ed il s :Francesco incontro di n. n.
Fu questo palazzo edificato dal Card. Girolamo Capo di Ferro col disegno di Giulio Merisi da Caravaggio,
e fu ornato tanto nel prospetto, che nel cortile di statue e bassirilievi di stucco lavorati da Giulio
Piacentino. Evvi una magnifica scala, e tre deliziosi giardini, in uno de' quali una bellissima prospettiva
con colonne di rilievo, creduta opera del Borromino in concorrenza della scala regia fatta nel palazzo
Vaticano dal Bernini. Negli appartamenti terreni e superiori sonovi de' quadri e statue di sommo pregio,
fra le quali evvi la statua di Pompeo il Grande, come dicemmo, trovata nel Pontific. di Paolo III. nel
vicolo de' liutari, accanto alla chiesa di s. Lorenzo in Damaso, per la quale succedette una graziosa
lite, poichŔ fu scoperta sotto un muro divisorio di due cantine, in una delle quali stava il capo, e
nell'altra il rimanente; perci˛ ciascun padrone di quelle due case, pretendeva la statua intera;
allegava uno, che avendo egli il capo, a lui conveniva il resto; e l'altro, che tenendo egli la maggior
parte della statua, a lui spettava anco il capo; su di ci˛, fu dal giudice decretato, che ognuno
tenesse la sua parte. Udito questo dal Card. Capodiferro, ne dette pronto ragguaglio al Papa, il
quale, come sommo dilettante dell'antichitÓ, compr˛ per 500. scudi la statua, e per gradimento della
notizia, la don˛ al detto Cardinale.