The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
S. Maria in Cosmedin and Bocca della Verità
Palazzo Diaconale di Papa Niccolò I
Tempio di Vesta (di Ercole Vincitore) aka S. Maria del Sole
Fontana della Bocca della Verità
In 1753, when Giuseppe Vasi published this etching, a weekly cattle market was held at Campo Vaccino, on the site of the ancient Roman Forum, which is not far from S. Maria in Cosmedin. This explains the presence of cows, horses, haylofts and of a
watering trough in this plate.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Temple used as a church (S. Stefano delle Carrozze/S. Maria del Sole); 2) Street leading to S. Paolo fuori le mura; 3) Haylofts. The small map shows also 4) S. Maria in Cosmedin; 5) Palazzo Diaconale di Papa Niccolò I.
The view in June 2015
In the plate S. Maria in Cosmedin had an elaborate façade which was designed by Giuseppe Sardi in 1718, during the pontificate of Pope Clement XI. In the 1890s this addition was pulled down in an attempt to restore the appearance the church had in the XIIth century and the street leading to S. Paolo fuori le Mura was replaced by a lungotevere, a tree-lined avenue along the river. In the 1920s the site of the haylofts was used for a huge white building and at the same time the street in front of the church was widened and the position of the fountain was modified.
(left) Bocca della Verità; (right) façade and bell tower of S. Maria in Cosmedin; (inset) romeartlover's nephew takes the risk
In recent years S. Maria in Cosmedin has become a "must see" in most tours of Rome and Hop-on-hop-off buses stop at the church. The reason for this interest lies in an ancient circular relief which was placed in the porch in 1632; most likely it was the slab of a drain of nearby Cloaca Massima; it portrays a human
face with an open mouth which is believed to close upon the hand of any perjurer.
The XIIth century bell tower is one of the finest Romanesque bell towers of Rome.
Records about the church say that it already existed in the VIth century when it was used by the Greek officers of the Byzantine administration of Rome; for this reason it was called in Schola Graeca. In 782 it was enlarged and embellished by Pope Hadrian I and at this time it was called Kosmidion (embellishment in Greek), the origin of the church's current name.
The church was damaged in 1084 when Robert Guiscard sacked Rome and its interior was redesigned in the early XIIth century. The finely decorated canopy was made in 1294, whereas the Easter chandelier comes from another church and was moved to S. Maria in Cosmedin in 1716.
Cosmati decoration of the floor
The pavement of the church has a very fine XIIth century decoration, which however is largely the result of a late XIXth century restoration. As a matter of fact the floor does not show much evidence of damage which occurs naturally over the passage of time, unlike that of S. Benedetto in Piscinula.
(left) VIIIth century mosaic from S. Pietro Vecchio in the sacristy. It was moved to S. Maria in Cosmedin in 1639; (right) IIIrd century AD column which belonged to "Statio Annonae" (office for the distribution of basic commodities), a Roman building upon which the church was erected
Palazzo Diaconale di Papa Niccolò I
On the right side of the church Pope Nicholas I (858-867) built a small palace which he used as a temporary residence; it was fortified with an external wall for fear of raids by the Saracens; later on it was converted into a small monastery and some of the rooms were assigned to the deacon of the church. It has a XVth century window similar to those of Palazzo Venezia. It was eventually turned into a hayloft.
(left) The temple; (right-above) the sacred image which gave the name to the church; (right-below) detail of a column
This ancient temple was shown by Vasi also in plate 94 and plate 95. Owing to its circular shape it was thought to be dedicated to Vesta, but the real temple to the goddess of the sacred fire was found during the excavations of the Roman Forum in the late XIXth century. It has now been identified with a temple dedicated to Hercules (Aedes Herculis Victoris): the god/hero was involved in a legendary episode of the history of Rome which took place in this part of Rome. Hercules was celebrated also in nearby Arco degli Argentieri.
The temple was built in the IInd century BC and it was one of the first Roman buildings where Pentelic marble was used; it was restored by Emperor Tiberius and on that occasion Lunense marble was employed to replace some columns. During the Middle Ages the temple was turned into a small church dedicated to St. Stephen. According to tradition it was named S. Maria del Sole after a sacred image of the Virgin Mary was found in 1560 on the nearby river bank; the painting sent out rays of light (It. sole means sun).
Musei Capitolini: (left/centre) statue of Hercules which was found near the temple during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus IV; (right) inscription with a prayer to Hercules, descendant of Alcaeus, by L. Fabius Cilus Septiminus, consul in 204 AD; you may wish to see the Temple to Hercules at Ostia
This beautiful gilded bronze statue of Hercules departs from the traditional iconography (it opens in another window) because the hero is portrayed without the skin of the lion he killed in his first labour and because he is clean shaven, rather than bearded. If it were not for the club and the three apples he holds in his left hand (a reference to his labour in the Garden of the Esperides) the statue could as well depict a wreathed winner of ancient games.
Fontana dei Tritoni aka Fontana della Bocca della Verità
The fountain was commissioned by Pope Clement XI. It was designed by Carlo Francesco Bizzaccheri and its subject recalls Fontana del Tritone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bizzaccheri was a talented architect, but the faces of the two tritons by Francesco Moratti are expressionless.
The basin has the shape of a star and the tritons support a shell with inside a mountain; a star and a mountain were the heraldic symbols of the pope, whose coat of arms was carved on both sides of the shell (you can see it in the image used as background for this page).
(left) Watering trough; (right) coat of arms of Pope Clement XI
The watering trough which is shown in the plate was relocated to a small garden near the river.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Colla parola greca cosmedin, che significa ornamento, fu chiamata questa celebre chiesa,
cred'io, perchè era ricca di sagri ornamenti; si disse ancora scuola Greca, non tanto per
li monaci Greci, che quivi stettero, quanto perchè quivi anticamente si insegnava quell'idioma.