Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Old St Peter’s revisited

The funeral today of the Pope Emeritus on the steps of St Peter’s reminded thrviewer of thelong continuity of the Papacy and the way in whic it bound up with the historic churches of Rome. This is especially true of what are now termed the Papal - formerly Patriarchal -  basilicas. Ancient foundations adapted, renovated, restored in the case of St John Lateran and Sta Maria Maggiore, entirely reconstructed after a disastrous fire in the early nineteenth century in the case of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, but in the case of St Peter’s completely replaced from 1506 onwards. 

There are paintings and reconstructions of Old St Peter’s but for the vast majority who visit it there are the Roman remains underneath around the tomb of St Peter and then there is the Renaissance symbol of Papal claims above - of the intervening millenium or more there is little to see, and I imagine it needs hunting out.

A new exhibition about medieval Rome seek to correct this, drawing together a hundred and sixty surviving pieces from the medieval centuries of Roman history. There is a report about it from Art and object at Rome's Missing Medieval Past

Looking at the medieval mosaics that survive from Old St Peter’s and which it illustrates and are dated  to the end of the thirteenth century I was reminded of George Holmes’ very readable Rome, Florence and the Origins of the Renaissance which begins with a look at the last years of Papal Rome before the Avignon Papacy. In particular he draws attention to the artistic commissions associated with the Franciscan Pope Nicolas IV and the monumental statues commissioned by Pope Boniface VIII with their classical references. In particular he suggests artists were looking at uncovered paintings from the Imperial period and seeking to imitate or emulate them in the 1290s. Such resonances are surely there on the mosaics featured in this new exhibition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anyone interested in the history, past personalities and architecture of Rome from ancient times to the present (well, the early 1900s!), should read "Ave Roma Immortalis" by F Marion Crawford (1898).

Of course it is now long out of print, but PDF and other format copies can be downloaded from Gutenberg at:

Vol 1 - https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28614

Vol 2 - https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28600

For a more up-to-date account, in the form of fascinating "day in the life" vignettes of individuals through the ages, I also highly recommend the similarly named (but a lot racier in places!) "Rome: Eternal City", by Ferdinand Addis (2018)


John R Ramsden