Compared with the second and third quarter of the sixteenth century, its last decades
saw an immense extension of artistic activity. The change came about during the brief
pontificate of the energetic Sixtus V (1585-90). It is well known that he transformed
Rome more radically than any single pope before him. The urban development which
resulted from his initiative and drive reveals him as a man with a great vision.
Rudolf Wittkower - Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750
(left) Piazza S. Giovanni in Laterano and Spedale di S.Giovanni seen from Sala di Salomone on the left corner of the first floor (Piano Nobile) of the Lateran Palace; (right) enlargement showing Colosseo, the tower of Campidoglio and the Dome of S. Pietro; Pope Sixtus V planned to open a straight street from the Lateran to the Vatican and he ordered to pull down the ancient amphitheatre, but Cardinal Giulio Antonio Santorio and other members of the Papal court succeeded in persuading him to spare it
It has rightly been claimed that the creation of long straight avenues, of star-shaped squares, and the erection of fountains and obelisks as focusing points for long vistas anticipate seventeenth-century town-planning ideas. In the historic perspective it appears of decisive importance that after more than half a century a pope regarded it as his sacred duty - for the whole enterprise was undertaken "in majorem Dei et Ecclesiae gloriam" - to turn Rome into the most modern, most attractive, and most beautiful city of Christianity. Wittkower
Courtyard of the Lateran Palace
To be sure, this was a new spirit; it was the spirit of the Catholic Restoration, but the artists at his disposal were often less than mediocre, and few of the works produced in those years can lay claim to distinction. After the 1527 Sack of Rome a proper Roman school had ceased to exist, and most of the artists working for Sixtus were either foreigner or took their cue from developments outside Rome. In spite of all these handicaps something like a "style Sixtus V" developed, remaining in vogue throughout the pontificate of Clement VIII and even to a certain extent during that of Paul V. This style may be characterized as an academic ultima maniera, a manner which is not anti-Mannerist and revolutionary in the sense of the new art of Caravaggio and the Carracci but tends towards dissolving Mannerist complexities without abandoning Mannerist formalism. It is often blunt and pedestrian, on occasions even gaudy and vulgar, though not infrequently relieved by a note of refined classicism. This characterization applies equally to the three arts. It is patently obvious in architecture. Sixtus gave the rebuilding of Rome into the hands of his second-rate court architect Domenico Fontana although the much more dynamic Giacomo della Porta was available to him. Fontana's largest papal building, the Lateran Palace, is no more than a dry and monotonous recapitulation of the Palazzo Farnese, sapped of all strength. Wittkower
"Sala del Trono or delle Stagioni", because of the decoration of its ceiling (see below)
The ruins of the ancient Lateran buildings were removed by order of Sixtus V., in 1585; and on its site was erected, by Domenico Fontana, the magnificent palace, which we now contemplate. The new edifice was occasionally inhabited by Clement VIII, but was abandoned by his successors and Innocent XII in 1693, converted the main body of the building into an hospital for the reception of poor female orphans, on whose transfer to S. Michele, at the Ripa Grande, the palace became once more deserted.
Rev. Jeremiah Donovan - Rome Ancient and Modern and its environs - 1843
Pope Sixtus V himself enlarged a small palace on the Quirinale hill which soon became the usual residence of the Popes. The abandonment of the Lateran Palace and its use as an orphanage had a major impact on its maintenance. Only a few rooms on the first floor retain their original painted walls whereas the decorated ceilings of the courtyard portico, of the two grand staircases and of most of the first floor are those commissioned by Pope Sixtus V.
Courtyard portico: coat of arms of Pope Sixtus V
This first venerable seat of the Western Patriarchate has, however, been recently rescued from vicissitude and neglect, by the reigning Pontiff Gregory XVI, the entire edifice has been put into thorough repair, under the professional eye of the architect Luigi Poletti, and it is now appropriated to the noble purpose of enshrining objects of sacred and profane antiquity and art, which are accessible to the Public. The palace presents three stories and its spacious court, corridors and porticos at once bespeak a royal residence. The court measures 276 feet in length by 256 feet in breadth and the arabesques and other frescos that adorn the lofty porticos and lengthening halls are by the first painters of that time. Donovan
The Basilica of St. John Lateran, with its cloisters, baptistery, and Scala Santa, and the Lateran Palace form nearly an equilateral triangle with the Colosseum and the Baths of Caracalla. Their situation is beautiful, but it is the beauty of desolation. The tide of population has ebbed away from them, and left them surrounded with the silent and open spaces of the country.
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in 1847-1848
The entrance faces the obelisk in the Piazza di San Giovanni. The palace is always shown, but the terrible cold which pervades it makes it a dangerous place except in the late spring months, and a visit to it is often productive of fever.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Walks in Rome - 1875
Very few of the visitors to the Vatican Museums went to see the Lateran collections. In 1970 new facilities were built near Pinacoteca Vaticana and the collections were moved there.
Ground floor: ceiling near the passage to the Basilica
The Pope could directly move from the interior of the Basilica (right nave) to the palace and one of the first frescoes of the latter was inspired after the central scenes of Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Their dramatic message however was lessened by their being placed in a frivolous frame of putti and cupids.
Courtyard portico: one of a series of frescoes depicting episodes from the life of St. John the Baptist
Pope Sixtus V belonged to the Franciscan Order and he wanted some episodes of the life of St. Francis to be depicted in the lunettes of the courtyard portico together with other ones portraying St. John the Baptist. The Franciscans had a special devotion for the Baptist and some of their churches were dedicated to him including that of their convent at Ascoli, the main town of Piceno, the region where Pope Sixtus V was born.
(left) One of two grand staircase; (right) ceiling at the top of the staircase depicting the heraldic symbols of Pope Sixtus V with a quotation "Montes et omnes colles .." (Mountains and hills shall be brought low: the crooked paths shall be made straight, ..), a Psalm antiphon
Ecce Crucem Domini!
Fugite partes adversae!
Vicit Leo de tribu Juda,
Radix David! Alleluia!
"Behold the Cross of the Lord! Be gone all evil powers! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, The root of David has conquered! Alleluia!" is an exorcism against Evil's temptations attributed to St. Anthony of Padua, one of the first Franciscan saints.
Pope Sixtus V was of very humble origin and when he reached a major position in the Franciscan Order he designed himself his coat of arms. While the pears were a direct reference to Peretti, his surname, the choice of the lion was perhaps suggested by the exorcism of St. Anthony, which the Pope engraved on the base of the first obelisk he erected, that in Piazza S. Pietro.
Second staircase with landscape paintings
Girolamo Muziano came into prominence under Sixtus V's predecessor, Gregory XIII. Coming from Brescia and steeped in the traditions of Venetian painting, he never fell wholly for the maniera then in vogue. It was really he who introduced into Rome a sense for Venetian colour and a taste for rich landscape settings (see one of his paintings at Galleria delle Mappe Geografiche). This was taken up and developed by Flemings, mainly Paul Brill (1554-1626), whose picturesque northern vedute were admitted even in churches and on the walls of the Vatican Palace. (..) Artists like Cesare Nebbia (c. 1536-1614), one of the busiest practitioners of the period, showed how to reconcile this trend with Federico Zuccari's
academic Mannerism. Wittkower
Muziano and Zuccari worked together at the decoration of Villa d'Este. You may wish to see the large landscape paintings by Gaspard Dughet at SS. Martino e Silvestro ai Monti which depict very small scenes of the lives of prophets and saints.
Sala dei Pontefici, almost the only one which has retained its original wall decoration (see the heraldic symbols of the Pope in its ceiling; the central fresco depicts the two gigantic statues of Piazza del Quirinale which Pope Sixtus V restored and Strada Pia behind them
The prosaic nature of official taste under Sixtus V are demonstrated by
the frescoes of the Vatican Library (which Domenico Fontana had built), by those of the
transept of S. Giovanni in Laterano, and by the monumental chapel erected by Fontana
for Sixtus in S. Maria Maggiore. Although varying somewhat in style and quality, the
painters engaged on these and other official tasks were Antonio Viviani, Andrea Lilio,
Ventura Salimbeni, Paris Nogari, Giovan Battista Ricci, Giovanni Guerra, Arrigo
Fiammingo (Hendrick van den Broeck), and Cesare Nebbia. Wittkower
Cesare Nebbia had a leading role in the decoration of the Lateran Palace because he designed most of the cartoons which his colleagues employed for the frescoes. The team of painters worked in a haste and this shows up when the decoration of this hall is compared with that of other halls of papal apartments, e.g. Sala Paolina at Castel Sant'Angelo.
Sala dei Pontefici: portraits of Popes of the late IInd century / early IIIrd century
The task of the painters was simplified by some of the subjects they were asked to depict. Sala dei Pontefici was decorated with portraits of the first 19 popes starting from St. Peter and ending with St. Sylvester; the painters did not need to bother about verisimilitude neither for the faces nor for the costumes, exception made for St. Peter who had an established iconography.
The hall is also known as Sala dei Patti Lateranensi, because the 1929 agreement between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See, which settled the issues arising from the end of the Papal State, was signed there.
The only Roman Emperors who could be portrayed in a papal residence were Constantine and his successors. Unlike Augustus, Trajan and many other emperors they could not be identified by their facial features or by some particular postures, thus their name was written above the niches which housed their images.
The depiction of the papal court required more care and skill than that of the emperors. It portrays the Pope being shown some ancient gold coins with the image of the Cross which were found during the demolition of the old Lateran palace.
Sala di Samuele
The ceilings of three adjoining halls were decorated with scenes depicting events related to the lives of the Kings of Israel. In that of Samuel an episode of the war against the Philistines gave the painters the opportunity to celebrate one the Pope's main achievements, i.e. the relocation of an obelisk to the centre of Piazza S. Pietro (see it in an etching by Giovanni Guerra).
Sala di David: (above) the killing of Goliath; (below) David followed by King Saul
The ruler should promote the worship of his Creator in every possible way: even in a time of war David prepared all that was necessary for the building of a magnificent temple, gave orders that the service of the tabernacle should be revised, and improved the religious services, increasing the number of voices and instruments. (..) David refused the armour Saul offered him because wearing it he felt as if he were in a sack and feared he would lose his agility and skill. (..) David would not go to war nor engage in any important matter until he had considered what might be the Divine Will.
Giovanni Botero - The Reason of State (1589) - translated by P. J. and D. P. Waley
Botero (1544-1617) was a Jesuit and an assistant to Cardinal Carlo Borromeo. His The Reason of State is a political philosophy work, but its many references to King David testifies to the positive image of the king in the eyes of Counter-Reformation writers and theologians. David was portrayed also in the transept of S. Giovanni in Laterano and in the marble casing of the Holy House at Loreto at approximately the same time as the frescoes in Lateran Palace.
Sala di Salomone: (above) The Dream of Solomon; (below) Solomon meets the Queen of Sheba
Solomon prayed to the Lord that he should neither be granted great wealth nor be allowed to fall into extreme poverty. Botero
King Solomon who asked God for Wisdom is the symbol of the righteous ruler who recognizes his power as a gift from God. His meeting with the Queen of Sheba was often depicted as part of the Story of the True Cross, e.g. by Piero della Francesca at Arezzo.
Sala di Daniele: Daniel being thrown into the lions' den
Daniel was the last of the four great prophets who anticipated the coming of Christ. He was often portrayed in a praying posture flanked by two worshipping lions in many early Christian sarcophagi, e.g. those found at S. Agnese and S. Paolo fuori le Mura. The depiction of the lions' den in the Lateran Palace was meant to be a dramatic one, similar to those showing the martyrdoms of the early Christians in many churches of Rome, but the neutral light and the use of light pastel colours makes it a sort of illustration from a fable book.
This hall is the only one with a ceiling decoration which does not have a specific religious connotation, with the exception of some mottos, e.g. Lux orta es iusto (Light dawns for the righteous - Psalm. 96, 12.). The hall was most likely used for banquets.
XVIIIth century copy of an original Gobelins tapestry depicting the marriage of King Louis XIV of France to Princess Maria Theresa Hapsburg, in November of 1658
In 1662, the Gobelins workshops were purchased by Jean-Baptiste Colbert on behalf of Louis XIV and made into a general upholstery factory, in which designs both in tapestry and in all kinds of furniture were executed under the superintendence of the court painter, Charles Le Brun, who served as director and chief designer from 1663-1690. King Louis XIV commissioned Le Brun to depict some of his most illustrious accomplishments.
Louis' marriage to a Hapsburg princess was a political victory, as it secured him a reasonable claim to the Spanish throne during the War of Spanish Succession.
This and other tapestries which today decorate the empty halls of the Lateran Palace were on display in the Basilica of S. Giovanni in Laterano which was under the patronage of the Kings of France.
See the ceilings of the Vatican palaces.
Other Days of Peace pages:
A Sunny Day in Villa Borghese
At the Flea Market
At the Beach
Voicing Your Views ..... and feeling better
Christmas in Rome
Celebrating the Foundation of Rome
A visit to Roseto di Roma
The procession of La Madonna de Noantri
Running the Marathon
Watching the Parade
Finding Solace at the Protestant Cemetery
Attending 2007 July Events
Rome's Sleepless Night
Attending Winter Ceremonies
Jogging at Valle delle Camene
Sailing on the River to see the Bridges of Roma
An October Outing to Marino
Attending a Funeral ...and enjoying it!
A Special Spring Weekend
Embassy-hunting in Parioli
Celebrating Eritrean Michaelmas in Rome
Visiting Rome at Dawn
Visiting Rome in the Moonlight
Visiting Rome on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
Visiting Multi-ethnic Rome
Playing in the Snow at the Janiculum
Watching the Pride Parade
Visiting the Movie Sets at Cinecittą
Reading Memoirs of Hadrian at Villa Adriana
Walking the Dog at Valle della Caffarella
Reading Seneca at the Baths
Spending the Last Roman Day at St. John Lateran's Cloister
Reading Ovid at St. Peter's
Keeping up with new discoveries at Museo Ninfeo