Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sant’Andrea della Valle: Domenichino’s Evangelists

Lanfranco and Domenichino's works in Sant'Andrea della Valle

Wandering around Rome? Looking for something different not far from Piazza Navona? On Corso Vittorio Emanuele II there is a big, magnificent Baroque church: Sant’Andrea della Valle. Walk directly towards the apse, there you can see Domenichino’s Evangelists: the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John painted in the pendentives.

Almost in response to Lanfranco’s Assumption of the Virgin, who painted the apse, Domenichino decided to develop colossal figures that were able to contrast with the illusionism of the undefined contours of Lanfranco’s work. The evangelists, the result of his remarkable ability, were a common subject used in many other circumstances by other artists. In fact, during the Byzantine period and the Middle Ages the evangelists were considered the most representative figures of the Catholic faith and of the Church, because they professed the word of Christ on earth. They were represented in the churches decorated by frescoes or mosaics, shown writing the Gospels, sitting at a desk, or standing up with their manuscripts or a roll of parchment, and with their appropriate attributes, such as in the façade of St. Francesco d’Assisi Basilica. Sometime their single attributes were represented instead of the evangelists themselves, symbolizing the Gospels, the foundation of the Catholic faith, as in the mosaic of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (ca 425-430).

When Domenichino received this commission, he was already known in the Roman environment for his previous commission, the Assumption of the Virgin in Sta. Maria in Trastevere (Rome), commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini (1571-1621). The pendentives differ from this previous commission; they are considered a sign of artistic maturity.

Domenichino's Evangelist - Saint Andrea della Valle by Simona
Domenichino's Evangelist - Saint Andrea della Valle by Simona
Domenichino's Evangelist - St. Andrea della Valle by Simona
Domenichino's Evangelist - St. Andrea della Valle by Simona

In his representation Domenichino decorated the four evangelists all engaged in their own thoughts, except for Luke, who turns his attention outside the frame of his pendentive. They all sit on top of a cloud, surrounded by angels. The work realized by Domenichino, totally opposite to the work offered by Lanfranco, who believed in producing a more explicative work and a faster one, where the result is different and less researched, probably because he wanted to express new ideas.

The Evangelists are vibrant and larger than the normal standard size, filling the entire space. In his work Domenichino has clearly made reference to Michelangelo and especially to the ignudi painted in the Sistine Chapel. He has imposed the figures of the evangelists, who seem coming out of the frame of the pendentives to give a sense of spatiality and perhaps even superiority, in front of Lanfranco.

Enlarging the figures to this colossal scale, the artist demonstrated his competence both as a painter and as an architect, finding the right solution for the intersection between the longitudinal nave and the vertical thrust of the dome.

Going to Rome soon...don't miss out on that!!

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