Hidden Art Treasures in Rome, Rome

Hidden Art Treasures in Rome (Self Guided), Rome

Rome is one of the world's top living museums, replete with some of the most iconic pieces of art on the face of the planet. Famous artists, such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, Bernini, to mention but a few, had lived and worked here and left indelible marks in the city.

Needless to say that the abundance of masterpieces makes Rome crowded with tourists anxious to see them, causing the local museums to charge hefty fees. Still, there's also a surprising number of hidden art gems in Rome that are free to look at and routinely passed by tourists totally undetected.

Indeed, Rome has numerous layers and the density of its art scene is truly mind-boggling even for a discerning traveler or culture vulture. Luckily, with a bit of insider knowledge, one can find and enjoy the works of art by renowned masters completely free of charge. Here are some of the “secret spots” worth checking out:

Saint Mary of Peace Church – rededicated to the Virgin Mary after a miraculous bleeding of a Madonna image in 1480; among other features here is the “Sibyls Receiving Angelic Instruction” fresco by Raphael.

Basilica of St. Augustine – known for plentiful artwork by Caravaggio, Raphael, Guercino and Bernini, as well as the Buongiovanni Chapel (in the left transept) decorated by Giovanni Lanfranco and the "St Thomas of Villanova Distributing Alms" sculpture by Bernini's assistant Ercole Ferrata;

Church of St. Louis of the French – a small basilica just one block from Piazza Navona; a hidden gem absolutely worth a stop, if only for the spectacular Contarelli Chapel housing the in-situ triptych by Caravaggio depicting life of St. Matthew;

Elephant and Obelisk Statue – the red granite obelisk from Egypt, dated circa 580 BC, set upon the marble elephant carved by Ercole Ferrata;

Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church – renowned, in part, for housing the Cristo della Minerva, aka “Christ the Redeemer” or “Christ Carrying the Cross” marble sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

If you’re an art lover, traveling on a budget, and willing to be whisked off the beaten path for some unusual findings in Rome, take this self-guided walk and ferret out its less touristy and overlooked, but nonetheless just as magnificent, landmarks that are still under the radar.
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Hidden Art Treasures in Rome Map

Guide Name: Hidden Art Treasures in Rome
Guide Location: Italy » Rome (See other walking tours in Rome)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Saint Mary of Peace Church
  • Basilica of St. Augustine
  • Church of St. Louis of the French
  • Elephant and Obelisk Statue
  • Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church
  • Basilica of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte
  • Church of the Most Holy Trinity on the Mounts
  • Santa Maria del Popolo Church and Cerasi Chapel
Saint Mary of Peace Church

1) Saint Mary of Peace Church

Located not far from Piazza Navona, the Santa Maria della Pace church sits on the foundations of another, pre-existing church of Sant'Andrea de Aquarizariis. The current church was built in 1482, commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, and was rededicated to the Virgin Mary in honor of the miraculous bleeding of a Madonna image that took place here in 1480.

The interior of the dome is articulated with octagonal coffering and a series of ribs radiating from the lantern. This is an early example of combined dome decoration that was later employed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in his work at Ariccia and Castelgandolfo churches.

Carlo Maderno designed the high altar (1614) to enframe the venerable icon of the Madonna and Child. The first nave chapel on the right-hand side is the Capella Chigi; above the arch here is the Sibyls Receiving Angelic Instruction (1514) fresco by Raphael. The painting shows four sibyls (prophetesses or oracles in Ancient Greece), namely: Cumaean, Persian, Phrygian and Tiburtine, accompanied by attendant angels, revealing a "striking" parallel between the figures of the Sybils and the practice sketches of Michelangelo.

The second chapel on the right, the Capella Cesi, was designed by Antonio da Sangallo Junior, and has a very fine Renaissance decoration on the external arch by Simone Mosca, as well as two small frescoes, The Creation of Eve and The Original Sin, by Rosso Fiorentino.

The first chapel on the left (Capella Ponzetti) has noteworthy Renaissance frescoes by Baldassarre Peruzzi, who is better known as an architect. The second chapel is made of marble from the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.

The tribune carries paintings by Carlo Maratta, Peruzzi, Orazio Gentileschi, Francesco Albani and others.

A key feature of this church and monastery complex is the Bramante cloister. Built in 1500–1504 for Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, it was the first work of Donato Bramante in Rome. Bramante introduced the High Renaissance style to the city; his plan for St. Peter's Basilica formed the basis of design executed by Michelangelo.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Basilica of St. Augustine

2) Basilica of St. Augustine

The Basilica of St. Augustine (Basilica di Sant'Agostino) in Campo Marzio, commonly known as Basilica of St. Augustine or locally as Sant'Agostino, is a Roman Catholic titular minor basilica dedicated to Saint Augustine of Hippo. It is also the burial place of Saint Monica (d. 387), mother of the Saint.

First conceived in 1286, on the site of a primitive 8th-century church dedicated to St. Tryphon of Campsada, the basilica is noted for its Roman Renaissance style, as well as for the multiple artworks by the likes of Caravaggio, Raphael, Guercino and Bernini.

Among the most prominent paintings here are the early Baroque works by Caravaggio including the altarpiece for the Capella Cavalletti (first chapel on the left), depicting Madonna di Loreto (also known as the Madonna of the Pilgrims).

The church also contains a Guercino canvas of Saints Augustine, John the Evangelist and Jerome; and a fresco of the Prophet Isaiah by Raphael, on the third pilaster of the left nave. The latter was part of the funerary monument of Johannes Goritz. Here, Isaiah holds a Hebrew scroll stating: “Open the doors, so that the people who believe may enter.” (Isaiah 26:2–3).

The sculpture of Madonna del Parto (Our Lady of Childbirth) by Jacopo Sansovino based, according to a legend, on an ancient statue of Agrippina holding Nero in her arms, is reputed by tradition to work miracles in childbirth. The statue is laden with thank-offerings and always surrounded with flowers and candles.

In 1616, the Baroque artist Giovanni Lanfranco decorated the Buongiovanni Chapel (in the left transept) with three canvases and a ceiling fresco of the Assumption.

The church also houses Melchiorre Caffà's sculpture "St Thomas of Villanova Distributing Alms", completed by his mentor Ercole Ferrata.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Church of St. Louis of the French

3) Church of St. Louis of the French

The Church of St. Louis of the French (Italian: San Luigi dei Francesi) is a Roman Catholic church and the national church of France in Rome. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Denis the Areopagite, and St. Louis IX, king of France. Designed by Giacomo della Porta, it was built by Domenico Fontana, between 1518 and 1589, with personal support of Catherine de' Medici, who specifically donated to the project some property in the area.

Giacomo della Porta created the façade as a piece of decorative work entirely independent of the structure's body, a method much copied later. The French character is evident from the façade itself, which has several statues recalling national history, namely those of Charlemagne, St. Louis, St. Clothilde and St. Jeanne of Valois. The interior also contains frescoes by Charles-Joseph Natoire recounting stories of Saint Louis IX, Saint Denis and Clovis.

The Contarelli Chapel features a cycle of paintings by the Baroque master Caravaggio, dated 1599–1600, depicting the life of St. Matthew. These include three world-renowned canvases, such as The Calling of Saint Matthew (on the left wall) – depicting the moment at which Jesus Christ inspires Matthew to follow him; The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (above the altar); and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (on the right wall), showing the saint being murdered by a soldier sent by the wicked king of Ethiopia amid the crowd of onlookers. The figure in the background, about left-center and behind the assassin, is a self-portrait of Caravaggio.

The Polet Chapel contains frescoes by Domenichino, portraying the Histories of Saint Cecilia.

Other works in the church include pieces by Cavalier D'Arpino, Francesco Bassano il Giovane, Muziano, Giovanni Baglione, Siciolante da Sermoneta, Jacopino del Conte, Tibaldi and Antoine Derizet.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Elephant and Obelisk Statue

4) Elephant and Obelisk Statue

The statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk, in Piazza della Minerva, was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and unveiled in 1667.

The red granite obelisk was discovered in 1665 during excavations near the adjacent church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It had probably been brought to Rome in the first century AD for the temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis that used to be located here. Originally, the obelisk was erected by Pharaoh Apries of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt, circa 580 BC, in his capital Sais.

The obelisk is 5.47 meters tall and is the smallest of the 13 ancient obelisks present in Rome these days. Together with the pedestal and the elephant, the statue stands 12.69 meters high. The obelisk is considered to be one of a pair, the other being in Urbino.

Various preparatory drawings done by Bernini for the elephant statue still exist. One version, in Windsor Castle, UK, was probably done in the 1630s when Cardinal Francesco Barberini wished to place an Egyptian obelisk in front of his family palace, the Palazzo Barberini. Nothing came of this specific project, but Bernini revived the idea in the 1660s, when Pope Alexander VII, Fabio Chigi, wished to build a similar monument after another Egyptian obelisk had been discovered in Rome.

The marble elephant was probably carved by Bernini's assistant Ercole Ferrata. The statue turned out to be the last commission Pope Alexander VII would ask of Bernini, as the pope died in May 1667.

In modern times, Salvador Dali's painting The Elephants, depicting two elephants with elongated legs facing each other while bearing fragmented obelisks, made visual references to this statue.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church

5) Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church

Situated just behind the Pantheon in Rome, the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, is more than just a temple but a true hidden gem packed full of art. The former Roman headquarters of the Dominican order, if there is only one thing in particular for which this church is worth visiting, it is the Michelangelo's statue Cristo della Minerva and the late 15th-century (1488–93) cycle of frescoes in the Carafa Chapel by Filippino Lippi.

Otherwise known as “Christ the Redeemer” or “Christ Carrying the Cross”, the marble sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, to the left of the main altar, was finished in 1521. The work was commissioned in June 1514. Michelangelo worked on its first version around 1515, but abandoned it in a roughed-out condition upon the discovery of a black vein in the white marble.

A new version was hurriedly substituted in 1519-1520. Michelangelo entrusted the final touches to an apprentice, who, unfortunately, damaged the work. Despite that, the second version quite impressed the contemporaries, earning some of their most curious praises like “the [statue's] knees alone were worthy of more than the whole Rome”.

Originally, Christ was shown by Michelangelo unclothed in a standing pose. His sexual organs were exposed in order to demonstrate that his sexuality was uncorrupted by lust and completely controlled by his will, so that in his resurrected body he shows triumph over both sin and death. However, in 1546 a floating bronze loincloth was added, shielding the genitals from view.

Christ's leg is flexed and his head turned back, according to the principle of contrapposto. Compared to the first version, the more active pose allows more varied impressions when the statue is seen from different angles, "not only activating the space around him, but also suggesting an unfolding story".

While many other medieval churches in Rome have got Baroque makeovers, covering their Gothic features, the Minerva church has survived pretty much unscathed in its original guise, featuring several magnificent stained-glass roundels including that of Mary surrounded by saints – easily the best stained glass in all of Rome, and the ceiling painted deep blue with golden stars.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am-7pm; Sat: 10am-12:30pm / 3:30pm-7pm; Sun: 8:10am-12:30pm / 3:30pm-7pm
Free admission
Basilica of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte

6) Basilica of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte

Sant'Andrea delle Fratte ("Saint Andrew of the Thickets") is a 17th-century basilica church in Rome, dedicated to St. Andrew.

The current church was built over a pre-existing one, erected in 1192, called infra hortes ("amidst the orchards", whence the name fratte, "thickets", comes from Byzantine Greek word phráktē which means "hedge") for it was located in a countryside area on the northern edge of the inhabited area of medieval Rome.

The interior has a single nave with three chapels on each side, and two small chapels on either side of the entrance. The third chapel on the left, by Domenico Bartolini, is dedicated to the Madonna of the Miracle to commemorate the place where, on 20 January 1842, the Blessed Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a young Jewish man, Maria Alphonse Ratisbonne, leading him to convert to Catholicism. In honor of this apparition, the pews of the church are oriented to this altar. In 1950 the chapel was completely renovated by the architect Marcello Piacentini and enriched with precious marble.

At the sides of the presbytery there are two angels (1667-1699) by Bernini, the "Angel with the Crown of Thorns" and the "Angel with the Scroll". The former statue was started in 1667 and completed in 1669. A terracotta modello for it is now held at the Louvre museum in Paris.

Both statues were originally intended for the Ponte Sant'Angelo, but Pope Clement IX considered them too valuable to be exposed to the elements and so they were replaced on the bridge with copies. The originals were donated to the sculptor. In 1729, the heirs of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who lived nearby, donated the angels to this church.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Church of the Most Holy Trinity on the Mounts

7) Church of the Most Holy Trinity on the Mounts

The church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, or simply Trinità dei Monti (French: La Trinité-des-Monts), is a Roman Catholic late Renaissance titular church in Rome, best known for its position above the Spanish Steps. Both the church and the surrounding area (including the Villa Medici) are a French State property.

In 1494, Saint Francis of Paola, a hermit from Calabria, bought vineyard in the area and then obtained authorization from Pope Alexander VI to establish a monastery for the Minimite Friars. In 1502, Louis XII of France began construction of the church of the Trinità dei Monti next to this monastery, to celebrate his successful invasion of Naples.

The present Italian Renaissance church was built and consecrated in 1585. In front of it stands the Obelisco Sallustiano, one of the many obelisks in Rome, moved here in 1789.

Inside, the first chapel to the right is adorned with a Baptism of Christ and other paintings depicting life of John the Baptist created by the Florentine Mannerist painter Giambattista Naldini. In the third chapel on the right is an Assumption of the Virgin by Daniele da Volterra, another Mannerist painter and sculptor, better known as Daniele da Volterra. A pupil of Michelangelo (the last figure on the right here is said to be a portrait of Michelangelo himself), da Volterra is best remembered for his association with the late Michelangelo. After Michelangelo's death, Daniele was hired to cover the genitals in his Last Judgment with vestments and loincloths which earned him the nickname Il Braghettone ("the breeches maker").

In a niche along a corridor, that opens onto the cloister, is the fresco (reputed to be miraculous) of the Mater Admirabilis, depicting Virgin Mary, painted by Pauline Perdreau, a young French girl, in 1844.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Santa Maria del Popolo Church and Cerasi Chapel

8) Santa Maria del Popolo Church and Cerasi Chapel

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo is a famous church in Rome situated on the site of a walnut tree that was believed to have attracted demons and ghosts. The current Baroque look of the church emerged in the 17th century following the renovation by Bernini. After Bernini's intervention, the church became a favorite burial place for the rich people of Rome.

The church stands on the north side of Piazza del Popolo, hemmed in between Porta del Popolo (the ancient Porta Flaminia) and the Pincio hill, and is a home to the works of art by the likes of Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Alessandro Algardi, and others.

Here, Raphael designed the centralized octagonal Chigi Chapel, and decorated its dome with mosaics, called the Creation of the World.

Another, Cerasi Chapel or Chapel of the Assumption (Italian: Cappella Cerasi, Cappella dell'Assunta), in the left transept of the Basilica, is adorned with two large Baroque canvases by Caravaggio, the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter, being the most important works of art here and unrivaled high points of Western art in general. A third painting, set on the altar, the Assumption of the Virgin by Annibale Carracci, who was another important master of the Italian Baroque, is also quite significant.

Caravaggio's dramatically lit and foreshortened paintings are intended to be viewed from the side rather than straight-on, and draw the eye to Carracci's frontally presented Assumption, so that the chapel is aesthetically united despite the very different styles of the two artists. The light on the Caravaggio paintings comes from the painted heaven on the vault of the anteroom, inhabited by the dove of the Holy Spirit.

The chapel is decorated in exuberant Baroque style. The frescoes on the short barrel-vault of the chancel depict the Coronation of the Virgin (central medallion) and the visions of Saints Peter and Paul, Domine Quo Vadis and Saint Paul Transported to the Third Heaven (side panels), both set in rich gilded stucco frames. The paintings were executed by Innocenzo Tacconi, an assistant of Annibale Carracci, while the coronation scene was painted by Carracci himself.

Outside, in the piazza, make sure not to miss the sculpture of Neptune with his trident. Additionally, the Museo Leonardo da Vinci features a number of Leonardo's inventions built to scale, some of which can be operated by the public.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 7:15am-12:30pm / 4pm-7pm; Fri-Sat: 9am-10pm / 2pm-6:30pm; Sun: 9am-10pm / 4:30pm-6:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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