An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XX

Central Nave of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome (LEO Design)

Join me on my summer holiday as I travel (mostly) through Italy—as always, in search of beautiful sites, sculpture and all things sculpture-ish. 

Can one have a favorite basilica in Rome? Can one choose a favorite child? I suppose Saint Peter's will always be my favorite (how could it not be?)—though the Archbasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano would have to be in second place. It is the cathedral seat of the Pope (as "The Bishop of Rome") and is the oldest and highest-ranking of the four basilicas major. And just look at that massive, deeply-coffered ceiling!

Sculpture of Apostle Saint James the Greater by Camillo Rusconi in San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome (LEO Design)

Consecrated in 324 AD, it has been renovated and redecorated numerous times through the centuries. Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) reworked the main central space (the "nave"), leaving 12 large niches along the sides. In the Eighteenth Century, Pope Clement XI commissioned twelve colossal statues of the twelve apostles to fill the niches. The theatrically posed apostles were designed and sketched by Baroque painter Carlo Maratta (to give the twelve a uniformity of aesthetic) and seven accomplished sculptors were selected to carve either one, two or four sculptures apiece. Six of the sculptors followed Maratta's design as requested; only Frenchman Pierre LeGros refused to follow the assigned designs (for Saints Thomas and Bartholomew).

The apostle James the Greater (shown above) was carved by leading Baroque sculptor Camillo Rusconi between 1715 and 1718. The saint is shown carrying his walking staff—the "emblem" (or iconic symbol) which denotes Saint James the Greater, patron saint of travelers. It stands nearly 14 feet tall and (alongside his eleven brethren) helps provide impressive punctuation in the enormous archbasilica.

All twelve sculptures are wonderful, but James will have to remain my favorite: I love dynamic sculpture, I love traveling, and my given name is James. So this work will always have a special place in my heart.

We'll continue our summer holiday tomorrow. 


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