Santi Luca e Martina, Rome

(1635-1664)
   In 1588, the Accademia di San Luca purchased the chapel of Santa Martina, a small seventh-century structure that stood by the Roman Forum. In 1634, Pietro da Cortona became the academy's director and obtained permission to build his own funerary chapel in the old structure. During construction, the saint's body was unearthed so, to celebrate the event, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII and the academy's protector, commissioned Cortona to design a whole new church. Since the building now belonged to the academy, the new church was dedicated to both Sts. Luke (in Italian, Luca) and Martina. Cortona opted for a Greek cross plan with longer and narrower arms than customary and placed the façade to overlook the ancient forum, fitting for the theme of the triumph of Christianity over paganism common to the Renaissance and Baroque eras. His is the first church façade ever created to utilize curvilinear planes, an element that was to be repeated many times throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The pairing of colossal columns and jutting steps that emphasize the main entrance and invite the viewer into the interior are common to churches built during the Counter-Reformation era. The structure's crowning glory is the dome, a ribbed construction over a tall drum pierced by large windows with rhythmic undulations, characteristic of Cortona's style. The interior is a silvery monochrome, with doubled columns supporting the entablature. Textures increase as the building rises. The windows feature garlands, scrolls, shells, and female heads, and the vaulting and dome are coffered and trimmed with the Barberini bees and laurel, lilies of chastity, and palms of martyrdom. Aside from asserting Barberini patronage, this decorative crescendo glorifies the sacrifice of St. Martina who suffered torture and martyrdom at the hand of Alexander Serverus for refusing to bow to pagan idols.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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