When Giuseppe Vasi published this etching in 1759, the interior of S. Luigi dei Francesi had just been renovated with large use of stuccoes, gold and precious stones; this improvement followed the placement in 1746 of four statues in the niches of the façade and the enlargement in 1716 of the adjoining hostel for French pilgrims.
Although France's political influence declined throughout the XVIIIth century, its cultural supremacy reached its peak and French became the language spoken by the upper classes of all European countries.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Parte dell'Ospizio (Palazzo di S. Luigi); 2) Convento dei PP. Agostiniani; 3) Parte di Palazzo Patrizi. 2) is shown in another page. The map shows also 4) Palazzo Giustiniani; 5) S. Luigi de' Francesi; 6) S. Agostino; 7) Collegio Germanico. The dotted line in the map delineates the borders among Rione Ponte (upper left corner), Rione Parione (lower left quarter) and Rione Sant'Eustachio (right half).
The view in June 2011
The view is not much different than it was in 1759 apart from the enlargements of Palazzo di S. Luigi (XIXth century) and of Collegio Germanico (late XVIIIth century); the small houses shown in the etching were replaced by larger buildings. Today the area is reserved to pedestrians and is subject to police surveillance because Palazzo Madama, the building shown in the left side of the image, houses the Senate of the Italian Republic.
(left) Façade; (right) coat of arms of the Kings of France by Nicolò Pippi; the two statues are thought
to have originally been at Porta Pia, holding
the coat of arms of Pope Pius IV; they are now replaced by copies
The construction of the national French church started in 1518, but it was completed only in 1589 after Queen Catherine de' Medici donated some properties she had near Palazzo Madama which belonged to her family; the façade was designed by Giacomo della Porta, but it was actually built by Domenico Fontana. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to King Saint Louis and to St. Denis, patron saint of Paris and France, who was confused with St. Dionysius the Areopagite for a long time. Eventually it was referred to only as S. Luigi dei Francesi. You may wish to see its façade as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome.
(left) Charlemagne by Pierre de L'Estache, Director of Accademia di Francia; (centre) salamander by Jean de Chenevières; (right) King Saint Louis by Pierre de L'Estache
The initial project for S. Luigi dei Francesi was drawn by Jean de Chenevières, a French architect and sculptor, who devised a circular church, to some extent similar to Tempietto del Bramante; the project was eventually abandoned, but two reliefs by Chenevières were placed on the final building; they portray a salamander, the animal emblem of King Francis I of France and that of enduring faith; the motto "Nutrisco et extinguo" means "I nourish (the good) and I extinguish (the bad).
The chapels were decorated in the XVIIth century by some of the best artists of that period;
that dedicated to St. Louis was designed by Plautilla Bricci, a female architect and painter (in other pages of this web site you can see a detail of the chapel and Villa del Vascello, a very extravagant building she designed).
Cardinal Mathieu Cointerel (It. Contarelli) was a great supporter of the construction of S. Luigi dei Francesi and in 1585 he was buried in a chapel near the apse; his heirs commissioned Caravaggio the decoration of the altar and of the two side walls with paintings showing episodes of St. Matthew's life; it was one of the first commissions Caravaggio received for paintings to be placed in a church; he portrayed Matthew as a peasant being actually helped by the angel in writing his gospel; the painting was refused and Caravaggio had to replace it with a more traditional portrayal of the Evangelist; the refused painting (it opens in another window) was bought by Vincenzo Giustiniani; it was lost in Berlin during WWII.
Ceiling fresco portraying "Death and Glory of King Saint Louis" by Charles Natoire
The interior was redesigned in the XVIIIth century by Antoine Dérizet, an architect who designed also SS. Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni, another French church, and SS. Nome di Maria; the ceiling fresco was commissioned to Charles Natoire, another Director of Accademia di Francia (you may wish to see other ceilings of Roman churches).
The image which appears in the background of this page shows the symbol of the French Republic with the motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.
Museo di Roma a Palazzo Braschi: 1666 etching by Pietro Sante Bartoli showing the ephemeral decoration of the façade for the death of Queen Anne of Austria, widow of King Louis XIII of France. It reflects the fashion of the time for gruesome references to Death
S. Luigi dei Francesi is one of the French religious institutions in Rome (Pieux Établissements de la France) which include also S. Nicola dei Lorenesi, S. Ivo dei Brittoni, SS. Andrea e Claudio dei Borgognoni and SS. Trinità dei Monti. You may wish to see a directory of national churches in Rome.
(left) Balcony and main window; (right) coat of arms of the Kings of France
Palazzo di S. Luigi is a large block made up of buildings of different periods; the side on Via di S. Giovanna d'Arco is by far the most interesting one with a complex façade designed by Carlo Bizzaccheri in 1707-712. The 1748 map shows that there was a small square (Piazza del Pinaco) opposite the entrance; this square does not exist any longer and the narrowness of the street makes it difficult to notice the elaborate design of the main window.
(above) Inscriptions and coats of arms in the courtyard of the palace; (below-left) relief by Jean de Chenevières showing symbols of Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry and Music. That of Arithmetic shows a magic square 618, 753, 294 in which the sum of each column, each row and the two diagonals is the same (15); (below-right) inscription celebrating the first consecration of S. Dionigi Aeropagita
The palace houses several offices of the French community in Rome; its large courtyard is decorated with reliefs and inscriptions from lost French churches, i.e. S. Salvatore in thermis, S. Maria della Purificazione and S. Dionigi Aeropagita.
(left) Main façade; (right-above) inscription above a window with a quotation from Horace (Odes - Book 4 - Poem 5 To Augustus) "(te multa prece, te prosequitur mero
defuso pateris et) Laribus tuum miscet numen" (He worships you with many a prayer, with wine poured out, joins your name to those of his household gods - translation by A. S. Kline); (right-below) details of the cornice with the heraldic symbols of the Giustiniani (tower and eagle)
The Giustiniani were a family of Genoese origin who accumulated a fortune by trading in the Levant where they controlled the island of Scio (today's Chios); after the island was conquered by the Ottomans in 1566 Giuseppe Giustiniani settled in Rome where in 1590 he bought a palace which he and his heirs enlarged and modified in the following years, although the façade retained its original neat design; there is uncertainty among art historians about the involvement of Carlo Maderno and Francesco Borromini in the design of the interior.
Athena Giustiniani in Braccio Nuovo at Musei Vaticani (maybe you may wish to see a page on Roman Feet and Sandals). The statue was found inside a large nymphaeum on the Esquiline Hill aka Tempio di Ercole Callaico. The snake is a symbol of Erichtonius, a legendary ruler of Athens, half-man and half-serpent, who was raised by the goddess
The Giustiniani embellished their palace with a very fine collection of ancient statues and reliefs. J. W. Goethe admired in particular a statue of Athena which was bought in 1817 by Pope Pius VII, after most of the Giustiniani collection had been sold abroad. The Giustiniani had a villa near S. Giovanni in Laterano and another palace at Bassano. Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani promoted the redesign of S. Prisca and of Cappella della SS. Annunziata at S. Maria sopra Minerva.
Musei Vaticani: "Pozzo (Well) Giustiniani", a circular altar with Dionysiac scenes which was part of the Giustiniani Collection
(left) Façade; (right) window showing the heraldic symbols of the Aldobrandini
The façade of Palazzo Patrizi was built in 1611, but there is uncertainty about the architect who designed it; at that time it belonged to Olimpia Aldobrandini, niece of Pope Clement VIII, whose stars and stripes decorate the windows. It was eventually bought by the Patrizi who had another palace in Rione Sant'Angelo and a villa outside Porta Pia. In recent years the palace was one of the first buildings to be repainted in the light colours which prevailed in the XVIIIth century (you may wish to see a page on the changes which have occurred in the colours of Rome in the last ten years).
(left) Façade; (right) courtyard
(left) Façade; (right) S. Maria Novella in Florence
The Renaissance façade of S. Agostino was designed by Giacomo da Pietrasanta
for Cardinal Guillaume d'Estouteville (learn more about him) in 1483; he utilized some of the travertine blocks which had fallen from Colosseo. The architect came from Tuscany and he based his project on a pattern established by Leon Battista Alberti in Florence's S. Maria Novella
(you may wish to see a page comparing works of art in Rome and in Florence).
You may wish to see the church as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome.
St. Thomas of Villa Nova giving Alms to a Woman, in Marble. The Woman is the best Modern Statue I ever saw; she is young, and extremely beautiful; an Air of a Head, Great, but wonderfully Gentile, and a Turn of the Neck I think as beautiful as that of the Venus of of Medicis. The Drapery is entirely Modern, of Silk, but in such Great Folds, and that shew the Naked so well, that I prefer it to any of the Antique that I have seen. (..) Her Hair is tied up in something a different manner from the Venus but as delicate. She presses to her a Child with her Left-arm, and holds out her Right to receive the Money. This Groupe was finish'd by Ercole Ferrata so that I can't judge what fsare of the Honour of it belongs to him that began it till I have seen more of the Latter; however the Design is His, which is as Noble, and Gentle, as any Body has ever made, either in Painting, or Sculpture.
Jonathan and Jonathan Richardson - Account of Some of the Statues, etc. in Italy - 1722
S. Agostino contains several interesting works of art; two statues in particular represent Renaissance and Baroque styles: Madonna del Parto by Jacopo Sansovino and The Charity of St. Thomas of Villanova by Melchiorre Caffà. The posture of the statue by Sansovino is clearly inspired by classical models (a statue of seated Apollo according to Mary D. Garrard) and it is placed in a niche similar to a triumphal arch. The group of St. Thomas by Melchiorre Caffà, one of the most talented pupils of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is a perfect example of the Baroque attempt to create a link between the fictitious world of art and real life (R. Wittkower - Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750).
(left) The Prophet Isaiah by Raphael (you may wish to see the Sibyls he painted at nearby S. Maria della Pace); (centre) ceiling of Cappella di S. Nicola da Tolentino by Giovan Battista Ricci; (right) Madonna dei Pellegrini by Caravaggio
Those more interested in painting will find works in S. Agostino which are representative of different periods and styles: a fresco by Raphael, fully decorated late XVIth century chapels and a painting by Caravaggio, which caused a scandal because of the true to life dirty feet of a pilgrim.
(left) Coat of arms of Cardinal d'Estouteville; (centre) Monument to Cardinal Gerolamo Veralli (d. 1555); (right) Monument to Alberto Splawski, a Polish knight (d. 1596/aged 22)
S. Agostino houses the imposing funerary monuments of Cardinals Lorenzo and Renato Imperiali, but the Imperiali were not the only ones who wanted to be buried in the church of the Augustinian Order. Cardinals Gerolamo and Fabrizio Veralli were buried in S. Agostino in two identical monuments and with them many other members of the upper Roman society. Some old funerary monuments were moved to the sacristy in order to make room for new ones.
Sacristy: (left) Monument to Cardinal Alessandro Oliva, a member of the Augustinian Order (d. 1463); (right) XVIIIth century clock indicating the "Italian hour"
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Nell'uscire dal portone del divisato cortile, ci viene incontro il ricchissimo palazzo Giustiniani, non meno per la copiosa scelta di quadri de' primi valenti uomini, che per la quantità di statue, busti, e marmi preziosi trovati nelle rovine delle accennate terme di Nerone, passando il numero di 500. le statue antiche, oltre le moderne, distribuite negli appartamenti, nelle scale, e nel portico con magnificenza di colonne di granito, collocate tra nicchie, e spartimenti con bassirilievi, correndone le stampe in due gran tomi per piacere degli eruditi e dilettanti; onde questo si rende singolare fra i palazzi di Roma. A destra evvi il palazzo Patrizj, ed incontro la
Era quivi anticamente un priorato di Monaci Benedettini spettante alla Badia di Farfa, e vi era unita la prossima e piccola chiesa collo spedale detto s. Giacomo in Thermis. La nazione Francese fece la permuta l'an. 1589. con altra, che altrove possedeva, e colle limosine di Caterina de' Medici Regina di Francia fu eretta la nuova chiesa col disegno di Giacomo della Porta, in onore di san Dionisio Areopagita, e di san Luigi Re di Francia. Anni sono è stata tutta incrostata di marmi, ed ornata mirabilmente di pitture e stucchi dorati. È celebre in questa chiesa la seconda cappella a destra, dedicata a s. Cecilia, non solo per il quadro dell'altare copiato da Guido Reni dall'originale di Raffaello, ma altresì per le pitture ne' laterali, e nella volta fatte a fresco dal gran Domenichino. Evvi nella cappella, che siegue la B. Gio. di Sciantal dipinta da Monsù Parosel, e nell'altare maggiore l'Assunzione della ss. Vergine è di Francesco Bassano, il s. Matteo con i laterali nella cappella, che siegue sono del Caravaggio, l'adorazione de' Magi, del Cav. Baglioni, il s. Luigi, di Plautilla Bricci, ed il s. Niccolò nella penultima, del Muziani; i laterali però sono di Girolamo Maffei, il quale fece ancora il quadro nell'ultima. Nella sagrestia poi vi è il s. Dionigi dipinto da Gio: Miele, una Madonna del Correggio, e l'abbozzo del san Erasmo, che sta nella Basilica Vaticana fatto del Pussino. Ufizia questa chiesa un collegio di Preti nazionali, i quali abitano nel magnifico casamento laterale, ove è anche l'ospizio per li pellegrini di loro nazione.
Senza andar cercando dove sia questo, basta incamminarsi a sinistra, che dopo pochi passi
si vede la gran mole del nuovo convento, fatto con disegno del Cav. Luigi Vanvitelli Romano,
il quale ha rinnovato ancora la chiesa, che per la vecchiezza minacciava rovina,
particolarmente la cupola, la quale vantava il primato fra tutte le moderne di Roma.
Fu questa eretta l'anno 1483. con disegno quasi gotico di Giacomo Pontelli, servandosi
de' travertini caduti dal Colosseo, e furono trasportati in essa tutti i corpi de' santi
Martiri, che erano nell'antichissima chiesa di s. Tritone, ora affatto soppressa per la
nuova fabbrica del convento. Sono in questa nobilissime cappelle ornate di marmi,
depositi, e pitture celebri, fra le quali tiene il primo luogo un Profeta con due putti
dipinto sopra un pilastro della nave da Raffaello da Urbino, fatto a somiglianza delle
opere di Michel Angelo Bonarroti; il s. Agostino nell'altare della crociata è del
Guercino da Cento. L'altare maggiore ornato di marmi preziosi è disegno del Cav. Bernini,
e li Angioli furono terminati da Gio. Fancelli sotto il mentovato Bernini; le pitture
nella cappella di s. Agostino, e di s. Guglielmo sono del Lanfranco, il s. Tommaso di
Villanuova, del Romanelli, il medesimo Santo scolpito in marmo, è di Melchior Gafar Maltese,
terminato per causa di morte da Ercole Ferrata; il deposito del Card. Imperiali è opera di
Domenico Guidi; la deposizione dalla Croce è di Giorgio Vasari; il quadro del B. Giovanni,
è di Giacinto Brandi; la s. Appollonia, del Muziani; l'Assunta, dell'Abbatini, e
la s. Casa di Loreto, del Caravaggio, ed altre molte pitture, e sculture, che si
tralasciano per brevità.