Giuseppe Vasi regarded himself as an architect, rather than as a painter. He was always very accurate in depicting architectural details of palaces and churches, but occasionally he did not pay enough attention to the consistency of the shadows projected by buildings. In this 1753 plate the fašade of S. Clemente is in the shadow and based on the angle made by sunlight on the porch one can assume the view was taken in the afternoon. The house on the left side of the etching and Colosseo at the end of the street are well illuminated and this occurs in the morning. In addition the two gigs project shadows which are not consistent with each other.
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) Anfiteatro Flavio (Colosseo); 2) Ospedale del Padre Angelo; 3) Chiesa di S. Clemente; 4) Monastero dei Padri Domenicani. 1) is covered in another page. The small map shows also: 5) Casino Evangelisti Guidi; 6) Casino Fini; 7) S. Giacomo del Colosseo. The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Monti (upper part) and Rione Campitelli (lower part).
The view in May 2020
The street leading to Colosseo was opened by Pope Sixtus V to facilitate the access to Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano; at Vasi's time it was an important street, but today cars and buses use a modern parallel street, so this corner of Rome is pretty much as it was in the XVIIIth century.
(left) Fašade; (right) side entrance
The Church of St. Clement gives Title to a Cardinal, and this they say was the very House of St. Clement Pope. It was certainly put into the Form of a Church in the first Ages of Christianity; for at the Beginning of the fifth Century Pope Zosimus in his Epistles testifies he held a Council in it.
The Travels Of the Learned Father Montfaucon from Paris thro' Italy in 1702 - Made English from the Paris edition in 1712
An ancient tradition of the church tells us that it stands on the site of the house of Clement, the fellow-labourer of St. Paul, and the third bishop of Rome. (..) Clement XI (Albani), in the beginning of the last century, repaired and restored the whole edifice in its present form. In front is a quadriporticus, surrounding a court 58 feet long by 48 broad, entered by a small portico.
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in Central Italy - 1843
Carlo Stefano Fontana was the architect in charge of the renovation of S. Clemente which mainly concerned the fašade, the ceiling and the side entrance. The architect made large use of the papal coat of arms and heraldic symbols in the decoration of the new parts of the church (the image used as background for this page shows a detail of the ceiling). You may wish to see the church as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome when it had a Romanesque bell tower.
In 1403 Pope Boniface IX assigned the church to the newly-founded Augustinian Congregation of St. Ambrose. In 1643 the congregation was suppressed and the church was assigned to the Dominicans. In 1677, as a consequence of the religious persecution of the Catholics in Ireland, S. Clemente was granted to the Irish Dominicans, to whom it still belongs.
Lower church: XIth century fresco depicting events of the life of St. Alexius (from "Rome, its Churches, Monuments, Art, and Antiquities" by Francis Wey - 1903 English edition); learn more about the life of the saint, who was not recognized by his father after seventeen years of absence "Non Pat(er) Agnoscit Misereri"
Of all the churches of Rome
S. Clement's has suffered fewest alterations in its original construction; and it is therefore the most perfect illustration in existence of the plan of an early
Rev. J. Donovan - Rome Ancient and Modern and its environs - 1842
Before 1857, when people wished to give the idea of a Constantinian church arranged as in primitive times, they chose St. Clement. (..) A few years ago the real Constantinian basilica was discovered, buried under the present church. (..) As the diggers removed the earth with which the crypts were filled up, they perceived by the light of their torches the walls gradually peopling themselves with strange forms resuscitated from the darkness (..) the church underground being a gallery of paintings. (..) It is not without an emotion above ordinary curiosity that you prepare in one of the low naves, while the guides are lighting their torches, to descend (..) down to a monument of a yet more venerable antiquity. F. Wey
Fr Joseph Mullooly, O.P., became superior of S. Clemente in 1850 and in 1857 he began excavations under the present basilica and within ten years he brought to light a IVth century Christian basilica and an even earlier level.
Lower church: "The Translation of St. Cyril's Remains" from Rodolfo Lanciani "Pagan and Christian Rome - 1892". The fresco was paid for by Maria Macellaria for Timor Dei (Fear of God) et Remedio Animae (Salvation of the Soul) in the XIth century
The Caelian quarter as a whole has never recovered from
the state of desolation to which it was reduced in 1084. The few roads which traverse this silent
region are practically the same as those through which
Gregory VII. had been hurried from the castle of S.
Angelo to the Lateran; only their present level is higher,
the layer of debris from the burnt edifices having
considerably raised the level of the whole district. We
have evidence of this in the two churches of S. Clemente,
one above the other. The lower church shows the level
of the city before, and the upper that after, the fire.
The reconstruction of S. Clemente was undertaken, after
the withdrawal of Robert Guiscard, by Cardinal Anastasius, who died in 1126 or 1128, leaving the completion of the work to Cardinal Pietro Pisano.
Rodolfo Lanciani - The Destruction of Ancient Rome - 1899
In 1863 Fr Mullooly discovered the Tomb of St. Cyril, who, with his brother Methodius, in 868 brought the remains of St. Clement from the shores of the Black Sea to Rome (the saint was executed by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea). Cyril died in Rome and his body was buried in S. Clemente. He is best known for having devised the alphabet which is still used by most Slavic nations.
Lower church: XIth century frescoes: (left) Daniel in the lions' den; (right) St. Blaise picking a thorn from the throat of a child (from "Rome, its Churches, ...)
Eventually the various phases of the life of the lower church were reconstructed. The frescoes which most impressed the first visitors are dated late XIth century, most likely after 1084 when Robert Guiscard sacked this part of Rome. Their life span was very short because the upper church was consecrated in 1118.
Unfortunately they were damaged by humidity after their discovery. We therefore mainly know them through the drawings which were made in the late XIXth century.
Lower still are the remains of a Roman building with
walls some of which go back to the time of the kings, forming part of a domestic building which is supposed to have been the dwelling of S. Clement himself, in which
the original "ecclesia domestica" held its meetings. Beyond
it is a subterranean temple of Mithras, whose statue, and
a sculpture of the familiar slaying of the mystic bull, have
been found there.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1913
The excavations led to the discovery of a Roman building under the IVth century basilica. It housed a mithraeum (it is shown in the historical section). Mithraea were designed so that they had the appearance of a small cavern (spelaeum), therefore they did not have windows and very often they were located underground. Usually the god was portrayed in a relief, rather than in a statue; this because the relief could include references to various aspect of Mithraism. It is thought that the sacrifice of the bull was a reference to Taurus, a zodiacal constellation, and to the gradual shift in the orientation of Earth's axis of rotation away from that constellation. It is interesting to note that Mithra never looks towards the bull, an additional indication that the sacrifice was a metaphoric one.
The IIIrd century AD was the golden age of this religion, which had many points in common with Christian practices and beliefs: Mithra was born out of a virgin during the winter solstice; the followers went through various steps of initiation; ceremonies included forms of baptism and the consumption of bread and wine. The cult of Mithra had also points in common with that of Sol Invictus, the worship of the Sun as the only god, which was very popular among the ranks of the Roman legions.
Ravens had positive connotations: the raven was the link between Mithra and the Sun and the name given to the first step of the initiation ladder; ravens had positive associations also in accounts about the lives of early saints: a raven gave a loaf of bread to St. Paul the Hermit every day and a raven prevented St. Benedict from eating poisoned food.
You may wish to see mithraea beneath S. Prisca, near Palazzo Barberini (with frescoes) or at Ostia.
The well-known church of S. Clemente on the Celian was destroyed during the sack of Rome by Robert Guiscard. The Popes instead of re-building or restoring it, built an entirely new church on the top of the ruins, using again some of the old materials, among which were the Coro, or schola Cantorum with its ambos, the door of the atrium and various antique sculptures. (..) Below the present church is the older one. (..) It is so much wider than the church above, that the old nave is equal to the nave and south aisle of the upper building, and a wall had to be intruded to carry the south arcade above. On the north side the columns of the upper church stand over the old, and the north wall is over that of the lower building. The intervals of the lower columns were walled up for strength. Graham Jackson
A step leads up to it from the nave; and it was
rebuilt in the IX. century by John VIII., whose
monogram is seen externally, encircled in a wreath,
on the first marble panel to the right and left of
the choir. Donovan
The west side of the choir walls has Cosmatesque inlays, but the others are very Byzantine in style. They bear the monogram of "Johannes," who afterwards became Pope Giovanni II, 532. Graham Jackson
The beautiful schola cantorum of the lower, larger basilica was relocated to the new one and because of this it occupies more space than one would expect. Some of the monograms were replaced by Cosmati decoration.
Details of the interior (from "Rome, its Churches, ..)
The Church and Choir are remarkable for shape, and represent the ancient manner of Christians building Churches. For the Choir, is enclos'd with a Marble Wall, almost as high as a Man, and there is a space to go round in every Way. (..) On each side of the Choir is a Marble Pulpit, that the People standing about the Choir and the Clergy within might both hear the Reader. (..) The Altar is also singular, like an Isle, that the Priests may stand about it. (..) However, this is not thought to have stood so from its first Foundation; for the Church has been mostly rebuilt; but the Repairers always kept the first Form. Montfaucon
S. Clemente was almost totally ignored by XVIIIth century travellers, and Thomas Nugent did not include it in a long list "of Roman churches that are most esteemed for their structure" (The Grand Tour - 1749), but things greatly changed after the discovery of the lower basilica and of the origin of the choir.
The Floor is of Mosaick Work. The arch'd Roof of the Choir is adorn'd with Mosaick Work of about four hundred Years standing (details of the apse mosaic are shown in a page on the golden mosaics of Rome); nor can it be older, because there are in it the Pictures of Dominicans, who are now possess'd of the Church (these were added in the XVIIth century). Montfaucon
The pre-cosmatesque pavement - it long antedates the Cosmati clan of marmorari - presents a new and distinctive layout: a narrow carpet of roundels, worked in green serpentine and porphyry bordered by a guilloche design along the length of the nave, links the portal to the entrance of the schola cantorum and continues up to the sanctuary in the apse; it is flanked on the right and left by panels in multicoloured geometric patterns.
Richard Krautheimer - Rome, Profile of a City, 312-1308 - 1897
(above) Fragment of a dedicatory inscription to Emperor Trajan (now above the entrance door); (below) small Roman funerary inscriptions in the floor
Some fragments of Roman marble funerary inscriptions were used for the decoration of the floor. In a few instances the carved side was used and the text was included in the first attempts to create a directory of Roman inscriptions. In 1603 that mentioning Manneia Lesbia was recorded in Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis romani in corpus absolutissimum redactae cum indicibus by Jan Gruter, a Flemish philologist and librarian. The inscription is interesting because the customary pagan dedication to the spirits of the dead (DIS MANIBUS) was carefully erased.
The high altar, which looks towards the east, is covered with a plain canopy, supported by four columns
of pavonazzetto, and still preserving the four iron
rods, and some of the rings of the curtains that originally veiled the altar, as is still done, in the
Greek church, at the consecration of the Elements, and
at the close of the service. (..) To the right of the tribune is a small tabernacle erected in 1299 by Card.
Tommaso Gaetani, nephew of Boniface VIII., as is
recorded by an inscription over it. Donovan
The medieval use of heavy curtains is documented by some funerary monuments, e.g. at Orvieto and at Arezzo. Elaborate tabernacles/cupboards for the Holy Oil were designed also in the late XVth century, e.g. at S. Maria in Trastevere and S. Gregorio al Celio.
Masaccio, stimulated by his affection and love for art, determined to go to Rome, in order to learn and to surpass others; and this he did. And having acquired very great fame there, he painted for Cardinal San Clemente (Branda Castiglioni) a chapel in the Church of S. Clemente, wherein he made in fresco the Passion of Christ, with the Thieves on the Cross, and the stories of S. Catherine the martyr.
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects - transl. by Gaston Du C. De Vere
The Capella della Passione, on the left of the entrance, contains the interesting frescoes by Masaccio, representing the Crucifixion of the Saviour, and the History of St. Clement (St. Ambrose) and St. Catherine, which have been so often studied in reference to the history of art. They have frequently been retouched, and have consequently suffered much from restorations. Murray
You may wish to see 1905 paintings by Alberto Pisa showing the chapel and the interior of the church.
Chapel of St. Catherine: (left to right) her Dispute with
the Alexandrian Doctors; the Miracle
of her Deliverance; her Martyrdom
Masolino began to give more sweetness of expression to the faces of women, and more loveliness to the garments of young men, than the old craftsmen had done; and he also drew passing well in perspective. Vasari
Today art historians attribute most of the frescoes to Masolino da Panicale, a Florentine painter with whom Masaccio began his career.
(left) Monument to Cardinal Antonio Jacopo Venerio attributed to Andrea Bregno; (right) detail of the Monument to Archbishop Giovanni Francesco Brusati (d. 1485), nephew of Cardinal Bartolomeo Roverella, by Luigi Capponi, a pupil of Bregno
the tomb of Cardinal Venerio (d. 1479) in the upper
church are two elaborately carved shafts with Byzantine
capitals belonging to the lower church, which are said to
have carried the baldacchino over the altar, but seem too
small for that office. Graham Jackson
S. Clemente does not have chapels, but in the late XVth century two cardinals who were titular of the church and one of their relatives chose it to erect their funerary monuments. Andrea Bregno and Luigi Capponi both excelled in low reliefs, see some other works by them at S. Maria in Aracoeli (Bregno) and S. Gregorio al Celio (Capponi).
Ceiling with a painting depicting the Glory of St. Clement by Giuseppe Chiari; see a detail of it in a page on the iconography of saints and a page on some of the finest ceilings of Roman churches
The long pontificate (1703-1721) of Pope Clement XI was characterized by major financial difficulties, which in part stemmed from a series of natural disasters (a major flood in 1702, an earthquake in 1703, a drought in 1706) and in part were caused by the Spanish Succession War during which the Papal State was crossed by French and Austrian armies en route to the Kingdom of Naples. The Pope would have liked to associate his name with a major embellishment of Rome, but he had to content himself with the restoration of some ancient churches such as S. Clemente, S. Eusebio and S. Maria in Cosmedin, leaving the honour and the burden to take care of some of the great basilicas (i.e. S. Giovanni in Laterano, S. Croce in Gerusalemme and S. Maria Maggiore) to his successors.
(left) Portal of S. Maria delle Lauretane; (right) an XVIIIth century building near S. Clemente
Padre Angelo (Paoli) was a Carmelite monk who used to visit the sick at Spedale di S. Giovanni in Laterano; towards the end of the XVIIth century he founded an institution to help those recovering from illness. During the pontificate of Pope Clement XI a small church was designed by Giuseppe Sardi. The fašade is the only remaining part of the church and of the buildings which housed the institution.
The restoration of S. Clemente was accompanied by the construction of several new buildings near the church; they have not been significantly modified since then (the image shows that behind the church; that on the other side of the street can be seen in another page).
(left) Overall view; (right) loggia
This elegant building was designed by Giovanni Battista Mola for the Evangelisti family in the XVIIth century; in the XVIIIth century it was modified and bought by the Guidi family (this name appears in the 1748 map at the top of the page); it was recently turned into a hotel. It enjoys a commanding view over Ludus Magnus and Colosseo. The motto on the loggia is a quotation from Cicero Comite fortuna, duce virtute (to be led by virtue while being accompanied by good luck). You may wish to see more Roman Loggias.
A small XVIIth century building (Casino Fini) has lost its original appearance because its closeness to
Colosseo has led to opening too many shops and cafÚs and in addition only half of it was repainted.
Between Casino Fini and Colosseo there was a church (S. Giacomo del Colosseo) with a hospital (a branch of Spedale di S. Giovanni). In 1815 it was pulled down to enlarge the open space around Colosseo.
Next plate in Book 3: S. Maria in Dominica.
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: S. Maria in Dominica.
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Arco di Tito.
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: SS. Quattro Coronati.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
E' questa una delle chiese pi¨ antiche di Roma, mentre si legge, che nella casa paterna di detto Santo fosse eretta, e che vi avesse alloggiato s. Barnaba Ap. quando venne in Roma; perci˛ Ŕ stata sempre tenuta con decoro, come si osserva dall'antico presbiterio con gli amboni, cioŔ pulpiti di marmo, e leggj, ne' quali si leggeva al popolo l'Epistola, e l'Evangelo nel tempo della Messa. Clemente XI. senza rimuovere cosa alcuna, della venerabile antichitÓ, ristaur˛ ed orn˛ la chiesa di pitture, e sofitto dorato. Le pittture nella nave maggiore, che rappresenta s. Flavia, e s. Domitilla sono del Cav. Conca; il Santo Titolare col miracolo dell'acqua, di Antonio Gregorini; lo stesso Santo coll'ancora, di Giovanni Odazzi; la trasiazione del medesimo, e la morte di s. Servolo, di Tommaso Chiari; il s. Ignazio martire, del Piastrini; il medesimo nell'Anfiteatro, del Cav. Ghezzi, ed il s. Clemente nel soffitto, di Giuseppe Chiari. La ss. Vergine, e s. Servolo sono del Rosini, e le pitture nella cappella della passione sono del Massaccio stimatissime, per essere del tempo prima di Raffaello. Sono in questa chiesa i corpi di s. Ignazio vescovo e martire del B. Cirillo, e del B. Servolo paralitico, di cui si leggono a piŔ della porta gli elogi fatti da san Gregorio il grande. Si osserva similmente d' antico il piccolo portico esteriore, ed il convento de' Frati Domenicani. Prima di passare pi¨ oltre, e bene di salire sul monte Celio per osservare le antiche, e profane memorie, che vi si conservano, ridotte poi al sagro culto di Dio.