San Nilo Abbey, Chapel of the Founder Saints frescoes
Grottaferrata, Rome, Italy
Domenico Zampieri, known as Domenichino (1581, Bologna – 1641, Naples), in Rome from 1601, pupil of Annibale Carracci
Religious architecture, Abbey
Commendatory Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (1573, Parma– 1626, Parma)
Grottaferrata Abbey was founded in 1004 by the Basilian monks Nilus (c. 910–1004) and Bartholomew (981–1055) both of whom were from Rossano Calabro. Built on the foundations of a Roman villa where an apparition of the Virgin Mary had been witnessed, it is the only Byzantine-Greek monastery to have survived around Rome. The chapel beside the nave was reconstructed, re-consecrated and dedicated to the founding fathers by Cardinal Farnese who entrusted the decoration and probably also its architectural design, to the young Domenichino (whom it is known was in Rome from 1601) possibly on the recommendation of his master, Carracci.
The rectangular chapel has a marble mosaic floor, a carved wooden ceiling and a Serlian triumphal arch that stands on pairs of columns that divide the room from the sanctuary. The Chapel is surmounted by a small cupola on pendentives where the Four Evangelists reside, painted with mock white and gold stuccowork, with the Eternal Father in the centre. The iconographic scheme combines the stories of the Founder Saints, represented as paintings reproduced in the middle register, with the celebration of the Virgin, the patron saint of the church. The patron is also celebrated: with coats of arms and fleurs-de-lis, as well as by allegorical representations of his virtues and reputation, and the patron saints Eustace and Edward, on either side of the altar. All of the decoration is part of a mock architectural chiaroscuro division in perspective, comprising pilaster-strips, cornices, corbels and a long architrave that separates the two sections. The colours chosen are light and pale, with no strong contrasts, such as to highlight the sharp profiles of the architectural structure. The whole, which constitutes a profound reflection on the location, and which makes a feature of the natural light, reveals a considered narrative clarity in which the expressive gestures of the individuals does not adversely affect the spring-like joy of the chromatic range and the almost ingenuous freshness of the story. Furthermore, in an expression of classicism rendered with marked naturalness, it achieves remarkable balance, only apparently easy and spontaneous, between illusionism and abstraction, between the miraculous and the commonplace, and between commemoration and simple storytelling. In this work, Domenico Zampieri is revealed as a genuine exponent of the early 17th-century classicism that was rooted in Bologna. He presents a devotional historical tale, free of rhetoric, in which he tells a sober and austere story that has none of the heroic overtones that characterise paintings from the previous century.View Short Description
The iconographic scheme of the frescos in the Chapel of the Founder Saints – which was probably designed by someone familiar with Basilian traditions – combines the stories of the Founder Saints (Nilus and Bartholomew) with the theme of the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of the church.
Mignosi Tantillo, A. M., “Domenichino a Grottaferrata. La decorazione della Cappella dei Santi Fondatori”, Domenichino 1581–1641, Milan 1996, pp. 197–223
Mignosi Tantillo, A. M., "Domenichino a Grottaferrata. La decorazione della Cappella dei Santi Fondatori", Domenichino 1581–1641, Milano 1996, pp. 197-223.
Mignosi Tantillo, A. M., "Abbazia di S. Nilo", I principi della chiesa, Milan 1998, pp. 148–152.
Laura Indrio "San Nilo Abbey, Chapel of the Founder Saints frescoes" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;BAR;it;Mon13;12;en
Prepared by: Laura Indrio
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: IT1 12
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