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Title

: Algardi’s Relief of Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes

Author

Rudolf Wittkower

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
In 1617, Paul V transferred a beautifully carved epigram written by Pope Damasus (366-84) from the old basilica to a permanent new home in the Vatican Grotto. The inscription, written in an artificial and difficult Latin style, may be translated as follows: “The waters girded the hill and slowly found their way to the bodies, ashes and bones [of the Vatican cemetery]. Damasus could not bear it that, of those who had been interred there, some should suffer such disgrace. Immediately he set out on a great work. He lowered the height of the immense hillside, penetrating into its interior and investigating the bowels of the earth. He dried whatever the water had wetted and provided the font which conveys the blessings of salvation. Of his Mercuries, his faithful priest, took care.”1With the passing of time Damasus’ work fell into disrepair. It was Pope Innocent X (1644-56) who soon after his accession to the papal throne restored the aqueducts built by Damasus and commissioned a fountain to be erected in the courtyard of the palace, the “Cortile di S. Damaso.” The Acqua Damasiana which was here given its principal outlet still feeds the papal apartments and the Sacristy of St. Peter’s.2 Innocent X entrusted the work of the fountain to the sculptor Alessandro Algardi.3Algardi was born in 1595 in Bologna, where he received his training mainly in the circle of the Carraci Academy. In 1625 he settled in Rome, and for the next twenty-nine years, until his death in 1654, he headed an ever-growing studio in the papal city, which he never left for any length of time. His most important period coincided with Innocent X’s reign, for at this time his great rival, Bernini, was temporarily out of favor. It was then that Algardi executed, among other works, the enormous marble relief of Attila and Leo I in St. Peter’s (1646-53) as well as the over-life-size bronze statue of the Pope in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitol (1649-50). Compared with such monumental commissions the fountain for the Cortile di S. Damaso was a minor though by no means negligible task.4The Cortile di S. Damaso is now surrounded by arcades on three sides. Originally Bramante had planned the west wing with Raphael’s loggie, looking out over the piazza, as the façade of the papal palace. At that time, early in the sixteenth century, the papal garden, the giardino segreto, occupied the area of the present cortile.5 The change of plan dates from 1563, when Ligorio began to construct the north wing6 and thus transformed the palace façade into an internal court front. In documents of the period the new courtyard appears as “Cortile della Cisterna,”7 which indicates that a tank for the storage of water existed there before Innocent X’s activity. It was only after the restoration of the Acqua Damasiana that the cortile was given its present name.8 The new name indicates to what an extent Innocent X cherished the memory of his venerable predecessor.Although many documents concerning the fountain are preserved in the Roman State Archive,9 no written program has been found. It seems a fair assumption that Algardi was requested to interfere as little as possible with the architecture of the court. The new fountain was placed in the center arcade of the north wing (figure 1). Algardi created a simple architectural frame of two columns which carry a balustraded balcony.10 Both vertically and horizontally these motifs are in harmony with the older architecture. Underneath the balcony, on which a magnificent papal coat of arms is displayed, Algardi made room for a long inscription which proudly records Innocent’s work of restoring the Damasian spring and constructing the new fountain.11 The open arcade shelters a low basin fed with water from ornamental dolphins at either side. Originally there was a water-spouting lily in the center of the basin, but this important feature no longer exists.12 The lily, together with the doves and olive branches in the spandrels between the inscription tablet and the arch, refers to the papal patron, since these are the symbols on the Pamfili coat of arms. The front of the basin is decorated with a marble relief, and it is the relief that mainly concerns us (figure 2). Before returning to it, the information supplied by the documents may be reported. The technical preparations of conducting the water to the selected spot were carried out between November 1645 and November 1646; the marble was purchased in June 1646 and in October of the same year the stonemason Domenico Guidotti received a first payment for working on it. On 27 April 1647 Algardi was paid for drawings for the fountain; but long before that date he must have had a fairly good idea of the general design, or else the correct quantity of marble could not have been bought. The details of the relief seem to have been settled much later, for it was not until 6 May 1648 that he was paid a large sum for “modelli e designi deversi”—“models and various designs” for the relief on the fountain. Soon after, on 29 July 1648, Guidotti was given a further payment; and from then on he worked continuously until April 1649, as the steady flow of payments proves. In other words, in May 1648 the model of the relief had been chosen from among a number of designs and a studio hand was engaged in preparing the marble. The coat of arms was placed in position in June 1649; and although final payments for the fountain dragged on until December 1650,13 the date 1649 at the end of the inscription shows that the fountain was finished in the fifth year of Innocent X’s reign.14None of Algardi’s designs for the relief seems to have survived, but a terra cotta model—no doubt the one chosen for execution in May 1648—has recently come to light and has been purchased by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (figure 3). This is an event of unusual importance, not only because of the intrinsic quality and interest of the work and because models by Algardi are extremely rare, but also because only one other major piece by his hand, the marble bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, can be studied in America.The Minneapolis model, hitherto unknown, appeared on the Roman art market. As to its domicile during the last three hundred years, no satisfactory clue can be offered. It may have survived unobserved in the private apartments of the Palazzo Pamfili, or it may have passed through Ercole Ferrata’s collection. Ferrata, who was devoted to the older Algardi, was an avid collector of models. The inventory of his studio made after his death in 1686 lists hundreds of models by many hands. Algardi’s name appears often, once as the author of a relief representing the Baptism of Constantine.15 So far as is known, Algardi never sculpted a Baptism of Constantine; but the relief on the fountain of the Cortile di S. Damaso has sometimes been mistakenly identified as such, and the reference in Ferrata’s inventory may therefore be to the Minneapolis model.IIIn his “Life” of Algardi the learned antiquarian Bellori,16 who knew the artist, described the relief as representing S. Damasus Baptizing Christians. G. F. Chattard incorporated this identification, with reference to Bellori, in his three-volume Description of the Vatican (1766),17 and modern art historical literature has accepted the title.18 The text of Damasus’ inscription quoted at the beginning of this article would seem to lend support to this identification of the scene. Yet, strangely enough, the document of 6 May 1648 talks of the “basso rilievo di S. Liberio”—Liberius being Damasus’ predecessor on the papal throne. Should we assume that the scribe of the document substituted Liberius’ name for that of Damasus? This would be without precedent. Nor is there any reason to believe that the authorities responsible for payment were misinformed.In trying to clear up this mystery I turned to investigating the information available about S. Damasus at the time of Pope Innocent X. Seven years before work on the fountain was put in hand, a book on S. Damasus had appeared with the title S. Damasus papae opera quae extant (Rome, 1638), which contributed most valuable new information about the fourth-century pope. The author, Sarazani, published not only all the inscriptions then known and attributed to S. Damasus, with a learned commentary, but in addition two versions of a “Life” of the Pope from a manuscript in the Archivo Canonicorum of St. Peter’s. This early Life, which is printed in the Patrologia latina19 with the title Gesta Liberii Papae, contains a story, the gist of which is as follows: The Emperor Constantius (the son of Constantine the Great) had exiled Pope Liberius (352-66) from Rome, and the Pope went to reside near the Priscilla catacombs on the Via Salaria outside Rome. At the approach of Whitsun he was inconsolable, because he was prevented from administering the Sacrament of Baptism in Rome to the crowds of both sexes who waited to be baptized (Easter and Whitsun were the traditional periods for mass baptism in the early Church). Damasus, at the time a presbyter, suggested to Pope Liberius that he baptize at St. Peter’s, which lay outside the city gates. Liberius pointed out that the basilica had no water for this purpose. Whereupon Damasus declared that he would provide a spring (“ego dabo tibi venam fontis emanentem”). The Pope was delighted. “Go,” he said, “and construct an ample font so that all may be reborn who wish to be sons of the Church.” Damasus then cleansed the place to the right of St. Peter’s and built the font. He cut down the nearby hill with his own hands and abundant water began to flow, filling the font he had constructed.20 The Pope, overjoyed, assembled the presbyters and other clerics at the font and during the Sabbath and Sunday of Whitsun baptized almost 8,000 people.It cannot be doubted that this is the scene represented by Algardi. Damasus remains the key figure, since it was he who made baptism possible at St. Peter’s; but Pope Liberius performed the rite. Most of the features of the relief are straightforward illustrations of the text, such as the crowds of clerics and catechumens; and, as the text indicates, baptism takes place outside the basilica. Behind the kneeling neophyte is a large basin into which gushes the Damasian spring from a rocky landscape representing the Vatican Hill. It seems permissible to recognize Damasus in the figure lifting the papal mantle; this figure is singled out among the clerics as next in importance to the Pope himself. His vestment is clearly characterized as a dalmatica and, true to the function of a presbyter, he is acting as the Pope’s assistant.The document of 6 May 1648 receives a final contemporary support from Paolo Aringhi’s Roma subterranea novissima, two weighty tomes which appeared in Rome in 1651 with a dedication to Pope Innocent X. Aringhi21 reports Innocent X’s recent restoration of the Damasian spring and, with reference to our text, mentions “the most beautiful fountain” on which is represented the story of Pope Liberius baptizing crowds of people.Some interesting features of the relief remain to be interpreted, for which the Gesta do not supply sufficient guidance. It can be shown that the relief takes place within contemporary textual criticism. Where exactly did Damasus build his baptismal font? The indication of the Gesta was inadequate. Contemporary scholars gave two different answers. Tiberio Alfarano, whose late sixteenth-century researches remained unpublished until 191422 but were well known in the seventeenth century, regarded it as an established fact that Damasus erected the font at the far end of the right transept of the basilica. He published an often reproduced plan of the old basilica which was used by all later scholars and is still today a document of the greatest value. The precise location of Damasus’ large alabaster basin is indicated by the number 31 in the plan (figure 4).23 It was this basin, according to Alfarano, for which Damasus wrote his inscription and where Pope Liberius baptized 8,800 pagans at Whitsun.Antonio Bosio, the author of the monumental Roma sotterranea posthumously published in 1632, offered another hypothesis.24 He maintained correctly that the old cemetery of St. Peter’s over which the basilica was erected extended west beyond the apse of the church. In this area behind the church and on the ground of the cemetery stood a baptismal font dating back to the first popes, hence its name “cimiterio Fontis Sancti Petri.” This font, he claims, had fallen into disrepair and its water had inundated the cemetery. It was this font behind the apse of the basilica that Damasus repaired before his papacy, and where Liberius baptized.The same view is held by Paolo Aringhi,25 whose work is by and large a Latin translation of Bosio’s Italian Roma sotterranea. But later in the century, Giovanni Ciampini in his De sacris aedificiis a Constantino Magno constructis, Rome, 1693,26 followed Alfarano; and Philippo Bonanni, whose Numismata summorum pontificum appeared first in 1696, mixed up the two traditions, placing Damasus’ font both in the right transept and in the cemetery behind the basilica.27Aringhi’s Roma subterranea confirms the authority attributed to Bosio’s work towards the middle of the seventeenth century. It is only to be expected that Bosio’s location of Damasus’ font should have guided Algardi’s advisor. The relief shows that the rite is performed at a place behind which the Vatican Hill rises steeply. This was precisely the position of the old cemetery before the re-building of St. Peter’s led to its complete destruction.28 Sixteenth-century views of this area still convey a good idea of the abrupt gradient of the hill (figure 5).29Moreover, the building in the right background is additional proof for the deliberate pin-pointing of the locality. Alfarano included in his plan, behind the old cemetery, the church of S. Stefano Maggiore further west. This church, today the only surviving medieval structure in this area, was completely rebuilt under Clement XI; recently the eighth century interior has been restored but Antonio Valeri’s façade of 1706 was left intact.30 According to Alfarano’s plan the old church had a four-columned portico in antis, and this is what Algardi intended to show in his relief.31 In other words, the relief propounds a theory regarding the precise place where Liberius administered baptism—a theory which accepts the guidance of Bosio’s work.Whoever Algardi’s advisor was (the name of Luca Holstenius, Innocent X’s learned librarian, offers itself as a tempting hypothesis), he must have paid close attention to Damasus’ famous inscription. In any case, the three nudes cutting down the hill with shovel and axe fit the inscription rather than the text of the Gesta. In addition, the Gesta combined with the inscription32 and other archeological evidence seemed to confirm the early Christian tradition that the catechumens were not allowed to enter the church before baptism. The large basin shown behind the neophyte is not explicitly described in either the text or the inscription. But its existence in the relief testifies to a knowledge of, and insistence upon, another early Christian custom: the basin, constantly fed by the spring as was the rule, is large enough for baptism by immersion practiced at that time, and the catechumens are undressed or undressing so as to be prepared for the sacramental bath. The shape of the basin is reminiscent of ancient baths. It is certainly meant to reproduce the big alabaster conca which was supposedly built by Damasus.33 This basin was still in existence at the time of Nicolas V.34It is worth recalling that the assumptions of the early writers regarding Damasus’ enterprise have not stood the test of time. Baronius in his fundamental ecclesiastical history already surmised that Damasus built not only a baptismal font but also the fountain in the atrium of old St. Peter’s which Pope Symmachus decorated with the famous pine cone.35 Alberto Cassio36 in the mid-eighteenth century went a step further by proposing to identify the fountain in the atrium with Damasus’ baptismal font, and by refusing to accept the story of the Gesta since the font was evidently built after Damasus had ascended the papal throne. In fact, the story told in the Gesta is difficult to reconcile with Damasus’ inscription, the wording of which suggests that Damasus undertook his extensive work of drainage during and not before his papacy.But it was only Duchesne37 who revealed the tendentious purpose of the Gesta and proved that they had to be dismissed as historical documents. At about the same time Christian archeologists collected evidence according to which Pope Damasus constructed a baptistry rather than a baptismal font only.38 To be sure, modern research agrees with Baronius by accepting two Damasian structures, the fountain in the atrium and a baptistry in the transept of the old basilica.39It is well known that Bosio’s Roma sotterranea laid the foundation of Christian archeology as a discipline. From then on, biblical and early Christian representations often drew inspiration from this rising branch of literature. Algardi’s relief is a case in point. As we have seen, one can only do it justice by interpreting it within the context of early Christian research. If this be granted, an important point requires comment. Archeological punctilio did not influence Algardi’s style of representation. The style is “modern” and “contemporary,” and the artist made no attempt to give the scene a period appearance. This approach contrasts to a certain extent with High Renaissance scenes illustrating mythology or ancient history, for such scenes often show a stylistic affinity with classical antiquity. Although Algardi was backed by a critical archeological discipline, his interpretation recalls the late medieval period where correctness of setting without historical “atmosphere” was also sought.IIIMany of the details so important for the correct deciphering of Algardi’s relief are hardly visible in the marble. But in its pristine state the marble must have shown almost all the features of the Minneapolis terra cotta. Taja,40 in his mid-eighteenth-century Description of the Vatican, already complained that the relief was illegible. The water flowing over the rim of the low basin had corroded the marble. Modern cleaning has saved what we see today. A gilded bronze in the Louvre41 of indifferent quality, made after the marble and not from the Minneapolis model, gives all the details the marble originally contained (figure 6). The Louvre bronze has therefore at least documentary value for a comparison between the marble and the Minneapolis model.Format and size of the model and the marble correspond almost exactly (22 ½ x 35 ½ inches),42 although the marble tapers slightly towards the bottom. In addition, there is general agreement of the figures and the composition. All this would indicate that the model served for direct transfer into marble. Yet a close study reveals that the differences between the model and the execution are not negligible. The composition consists of two clearly separate main groups. On the right is the dominating figure of the baptizing Pope with two attendants and other members of his train further back; on the left is the crowd of people, partly preparing to receive baptism, with two men and the beautiful figures of the woman and child in bold relief. In the open central area attention is focused on the kneeling neophyte. He occupies the exact center of the composition, and his importance is emphasized by two kneeling figures, a man and a woman, on either side who echo his emotions. By their attitudes and gestures these figures also mediate between the center and the main groups.Compared with the model, the main protagonists are considerably enlarged in the marble. This has had two rather disturbing consequences. First, there is in the marble much less overhead space than in the model. The upper edge of the relief now lies just above the entablature of the temple front, instead of including the entire pediment. Algaradi evidently sacrificed some of the open-air quality of the model. Secondly, in the process of enlarging, the figures also gained in volume, so that they had to be pushed closer together, and lack the “breathing space” they have in the model. Notice, for instance, how the kneeling man next to the neophyte partly disappears behind the standing figure, and how the knee on the ground is hidden behind the neophyte’s heel. Such squeezing together of the entire composition was the inescapable consequence of the increased size of the figures.The Minneapolis model even allows us to catch Algardi at the moment he contemplated the change. About two inches under the upper edge he scratched a line across the model, indicating where he wanted the execution in marble to end. But this does not mean (as one might easily infer) that he intended to alter the format of the relief. Since the ratio between height and width was to remain that of the model, it meant that he was to add two inches to the height of the figures, which would implicitly lead to abandoning two inches of the landscape background at the top. Why did Algardi decide to impair in the marble the loose and ample composition of the model? There is only one answer, the courtyard is large, and he had therefore to aim at an effect for distance. The model had the intimate quality of a picture seen and studied from a near standpoint. When he considered the practical issue of location, Algardi must have felt that all he could do was to enlarge the figures at the expense of the beauty of the composition. A complete change of design did not recommend itself; since the requirements of the story considerably curtailed his freedom.If our observations are correct, it was the Minneapolis model that served as a basis for Algardi’s final considerations. In fact, there is no reason to assume that the Minneapolis model was superseded by an ultimate one corresponding exactly to the execution. The relation between model and marble throws an interesting light on Algardi’s procedure. He can have used the model only as a guide for the execution; the change of scale of the figures excluded any mechanical methods of transfer. Like Bernini, Algardi chiselled his figures straight into the marble after the block had been prepared by a studio hand. The method also explains minor discrepancies throughout, for the marble was a new creation rather then a copy after the model.This can be demonstrated further by another purposeful modification. Consistent with its pictorial quality, the model vigorously emphasizes the third dimension in the attitudes of the principle figures. The marble, by contrast, shows a deliberate if ever so slight adjustment of most figures so as to conform more distinctly with the plane of the relief. Thus the raised arm of the man on the left who undresses in preparation for the baptism no longer juts out at the elbow; and the right arm of the man next to him remains in the frontal plane instead of crossing the body in depth. The chest of the kneeling man further back is turned more to the front, while the neophyte is given slightly more in profile, and so forth. It would be wrong to underestimate the effect of the sum of these seemingly insignificant changes. They demonstrate Algardi’s desire to turn to a more classical relief interpretation in the execution.In comparing Bernini and Algardi, the point is usually and correctly made that the latter stands for the classicizing wing of the Roman Baroque. Our relief lends support to this view. The classic-idealist theory of art had first been formulated by Leon Battista Alberti in his book On Painting (1435), and during the following centuries it became almost canonical for classically inclined artists of all shades that a composition should not contain more than nine or ten figures. The figures in a pictorial composition were likened to the characters in a tragedy: only by rendering sharply and decisively the reactions and emotions of a few protagonists could the dramatic tension be sustained. At the time of Algardi’s relief this problem caused lively discussions among Roman artists.43 The position of the classicists was attacked by the partisans of a more ebullient Baroque, who likened pictorial compositions to the epic with its many characters, many episodes and quick changes of scene. Algardi’s relief clearly reveals where he stands. His composition is subordinated to the main theme and consists of three groups of three figures each. These nine figures dominate the foreground and are given in high relief; the remaining figures in low relief are relegated to the background and play the part of the chorus in classical tragedy.Finally, it should be noted that the composition and individual figures as well as the composition of the relief with the fine grading of recessions and the almost impressionist indication of the landscape background find close parallels in other works by Algardi. The giant Attila relief of the same period also shows a composition with a central caesura. Moreover, the figures of the pope in both reliefs are remarkably similar, while Attila, who seems to be on the point of stepping out into the beholder’s space, has his counterpart in the woman on the left of the S. Damasus relief. Her head with its graceful and lyrical bend is intimately related to the personification of Plenty on the tomb of Leo XI in St. Peter’s (1634-44). All Algardi’s papal figures have the characteristic ornamental swing of the mantle from under which the arms emerge. In this respect the relation between our relief and the bronze statue of Innocent X on the Capitol is particularly close. A recurrent theme of Algardi’s imagery is the kneeling attendant. In our case he is holding the Bible for the Pope. He appears similarly engaged in the Attila relief, in the relief on the tomb of Leo XI and the statue of S. Philip Neri in S. Maria in Vallicella (1640).44 Like S. Damasus, S. Philip Neri is also represented with a double gesture; in both cases the left and the right hand are engaged in unrelated activities. This is rather characteristic of Algardi who, in contrast to Bernini, is essentially not a dramatic artist.His placid temperament and classicizing leanings are strikingly expressed in the loose joining of the various parts of the fountain. Bernini would have fused together all the elements—the frame, the basin, the inscription tablet and so forth—in a trenchant and dynamic composition. But we cannot share the criticism levelled against Algardi’s fountain ever since Passeri45 gave the lead; for with commendable taste he left the architecture of the court undisturbed and in the relief gave us a first-rate masterpiece which the Minneapolis model allows us to savor even more fully than the marble itself.Endnotes
  1. For the Latin original see G. B. de Rossi and Angelo Silvagni, Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae, Rome, 1935, N. S. vol. II, p. 7, no. 4098, with complete bibliography. More recently: A. Ferrua, Epigrammata Damasiana, Città del Vaticano, 1942, p. 88 ff., with an illustration of the inscription and full commentary. The inscription has often been published, particularly in the 17th century. For Paul V’s accompanying inscription dated 1617 (often printed with the wrong date, 1607), see Forcella, Inscrizioni delle chiese e d’altri edificii di Roma, Rome, 1875, VI, p. 144, no. 527.
  2. R. Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, London, 1895, p. 121; de Waal, Römische Quartalschrift, XVI, 1902, p. 58 ff.
  3. Bellori, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti, Rome, 1632, p. 396; Passeri, Vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti, ed. J. Hess, Vienna, 1934, p. 209.
  4. Further on Algardi, R. Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 1600 to 1750, Harmondsworth, 1958, p. 175 ff.
  5. F. Ehrle and H. Egger, Studi e documenti per la storia del Palazzo apostolico Vaticano, Rome, 1935, vol. II, p. 75.
  6. James Ackerman, The Cortile del Belvedere, Rome, 1954, p. 102.
  7. Ibid.
  8. It is not generally realized that the name “Cortile di S. Damaso” is of such relatively recent date. The literature on the Vatican is almost silent on this point, but G. F. Chattard, Nuova descrizione del Vaticano, Rome, 1766, II, p. 465, noted explicitly that the courtyard was named after the fountain erected by Innocent X.
  9. Published by O. Pollak, Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Architektur, IV, 1911, p. 61.
  10. A measured drawing of the fountain in P. Letarouilly, Le Vatican, Paris, 1882, II, Pl. 4.
  11. The inscription published by Forcella, op. cit., p. 156, no. 578, Pollak, op. cit., p. 78, and elsewhere.
  12. The lily is still shown in Letarouilly’s drawing, see note 10.
  13. The document of 22 December 1650 was not published by Pollak.
  14. Last line of the inscription: “AN. DOM. MDCXXXXIX PONTIFICATUS SUI V.”
  15. V. Golzio, “Lo ‘studio’ di Ercole Ferrata,” Archivi d’Italia, II, 1935, p. 4
  16. See above, note 3.
  17. Op. cit., II, p. 485 ff.
  18. See A. Muñoz, in Atti e memorie della R. Accademia di S. Luca, Annuario, II, 1912, p. 54; Hess in his commentary to Passeri (see note 3); A. Riccoboni, Roma nell’arte, Rome, 1942, p. 180, and elsewhere.
  19. Migne, PL, VIII, col. 1387 ff., mainly col. 1392. In Sarazani’s work the relevant passages are on p. 45 ff. and p. 63 ff. The Gesta, written c. 500, were known before Sarazani’s publication, but he focused attention on them.
  20. I am following Sarazani’s second version (p. 69) where this passage reads: Damasus “exinanivit locum illum, qui est ad dextram introeuntibus in Beati Petri Basilicam. Habebat enim ibidem fontem, qui non sufficiebat. Tunc cecidit montem Damasus manu sua, et introivit plusquam conseutum est, et construxit fontem…” According to medieval usage, fons should be translated as “baptismal font” (see Du Cange, s.v.).
  21. Vol. I, Lib. II, Cap. IV, p. 223 f.
  22. M. Cerrati, Tiberii Alpharani de Basilicae Vaticanae antiquissima et nova structura, Rome, 1914, p. 49 f. Alfarano died in 1596. His plan of St. Peter’s engraved by Bonifacio da Sebenico, is dated 1590.
  23. Ibid., p. 186.
  24. Libro II, Cap. II, p. 26 f.
  25. See note 21.
  26. P. 59 f.
  27. Pp. 31, 37, 119, 120, 121.
  28. See no. 1 in Alfarano’s plan; no. 15 on the plan published by Bonanni (derived from Alfarano) on p. 28, pl. 7.
  29. E. g., H. Egger, Römische Veduten, Vienna, II, 1931, pl. 120; also the Du Pérac-Lafreri plan of Rome of 1577; see F. Ehrle—H. Egger, Piante e vedute di Roma e del Vaticano del 1300 al 1767, Bibl. Vaticana, 1956, pl. 34.
  30. See G. Giovannoni, “La Chiesa Vatican de San Stefano Maggiore,” Atti della Pont. Accad. Romana di Archeologia, Serie III, Memorie, vol. IV, 1934-38, p. 1 ff.
  31. See G. Giovannoni, p. 11, reconstructed the portico, no doubt correctly, as a low structure with a sloping roof. Algardi’s temple front is, of course, pure fantasy, but it seems to reflect the 17th-century belief in the great age of the building. According to Maffeo Vegio’s mid-15th century description of St. Peter’s (Acta SS. XXVII, App., p. 72, ch. 115, 116), Hadrian I had restored an earlier church and in Vegio’s own days Sixtus IV restored the medieval church. Through Alfarano, Vegio’s comments reached 17th-century writers. No early views of the church seem to exist, and in any case they would only show the church after Sixtus IV’s alterations. If the generic representation of the Du Pérac-Lafreri plan of 1577 (figure 5) is correct, S. Stefano no longer had a portico at that time.
  32. As interpreted by Bosio.
  33. See Alfarano’s text (Cerrati, op. cit., pp. 49 f., 186, no. 31).
  34. Ibid.; also Bonanni, op. cit., p. 121; Cassio, Corso dell’acque antiche, Rome, 1756, p. 421.
  35. Caesare Baronius, Annales ecclesiastici, Antwerp, 1601, IV, p. 498, anno 384.
  36. Op. cit., p. 417 ff.
  37. Liber pontificalis, Paris, 1886, I, p. CXXII f.
  38. T. P. Kirsch, Römische Quartalschrift, IV, 1890, p. 118 ff. Some of the author’s textual interpretations are open to doubt. He believes that the last line but one of Damasus’ inscription, “Invenit fontem, praebet qui dona salutis” (which I translated: “he provided the font, which conveys the blessings of salvation”), refers to the construction of a baptistry. A new hypothesis about the location of this baptistry (never accepted, so far as I know) was published by de Waal in the article quoted in note 2.
  39. M. Armellini, Le chiese di Roma, 2nd ed., Rome, 1942, p. 891 ff. Armellini (p. 894) accepts the tradition that Damasus’ baptistry was in the center of the north transept. But the excavations conducted after the war showed that no vestiges of Damasus’ baptistry survive there since, where according to tradition the baptistry had been, a large trench for the burning of lime had been dug at the time of the construction of the new church; see B. M. Apollonj Ghetti—A. Ferrua—E. Josi—A. Kirschbaum, Esplorazioni sotto la confessione di San Pietro in Vaticano, Città del Vaticano, 1951, I, p. 156.
  40. Descrizione del Palazzo Vaticano, Rome, 1750, p. 491 f.
  41. Mentioned by Posse in Thieme-Becker I, p. 283. Hess in his commentary to Passeri (see note 3), p. 209, note 2, was unable to trace the relief.
  42. I have to thank Dr. K. Noehles of the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome, for checking the measurements of the marble relief.
  43. Further to this problem, Wittkower (see note 4), p. 171 ff.
  44. See also the Baptism of Christ in the nave of S. Giovanni in Laterano (1650), where, moreover, a woman and child appear at the left border, a sister of the group in our relief; but here they are turned inwards and seem to hurry into the depth of the relief.
  45. See above, note 3.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Inside cover. Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes (detail),
    Terra cotta model,
    The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Miscellaneous Purchase Funds, 1959
  2. The Cortile dio Belvedere, Vatican, with Algardi’s Fountain
  3. Alessandro Algardi:
    Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes, 1649,
    Marble relief on the fountain in the Cortile di Belvedere
  4. Alessandro Algardi:
    Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes, 1648,
    Terra cotta model,
    The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Miscellaneous Purchase Funds, 1959
  5. Alfarano’s Plan of Old St. Peter’s,
    Engraving of 1590 (arrow indicates location of Damasus’ baptismal font)
  6. The area of St. Peter’s,
    Detail from the Du-Pérac-Lafreri Plan of Rome, 1577
  7. Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes,
    Gilded bronze relief after Algardi’s marble,
    Louvre, Paris
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Source: Rudolf Wittkower, "Algardi's Relief of Pope Liberius Baptizing Neophytes," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 49, no. 2 (July-December, 1960): 28-42.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009