The Baroque church of Sant' Agnese in Agone was commissioned by Pope Innocent X (r. 1644-55) and stands on the site of a much older church dedicated to St Agnes, who, according to popular belief, was martyred on this spot.
Work began in 1652 under the Roman architects Girolamo Rainaldi (1570-1655) and his son Carlo (1611-91), but the pair were soon replaced by Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), who came up with the magnificent design of the curved façade.
In 1655 Innocent X died, but Borromini did not find favour with the pope’s successor Alexander VII (r. 1655-67), and he was replaced by his collaborator Giovanni Maria Baratta (c.1627-c.1680), who duly finished the façade and the two bell towers.
The layout of the interior takes the form of a Greek cross with a beautiful central dome. The fresco in the cupola depicts The Apotheosis of St Agnes and is mostly the work of the Roman painter Ciro Ferri (1634-89). However, Ferri died before finishing it and this task fell to his pupil Sebastiano Corbellini.
The pendentives of the dome were painted by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639-1709), better known as il Baciccio (or il Baciccia), and depict allegories of the four Cardinal Virtues.
All of the altars are decorated with bas-reliefs and statues rather than paintings, the work of a range of Baroque sculptors. The relief of the Holy Family with St John the Baptist, St Elisabeth and Zachariah (1688) on the main altar is the work of Domenico Guidi (1625-1701).
A small chapel, entered from the south side of the church, displays a silver reliquary containing what purports to be St Agnes' tiny skull.
St Agnes (c.291-c.304) was martyred when she was only twelve or thirteen years old. Her attribute is a lamb, probably on account of the similarity of her name to the Latin word for a lamb (agnus).
St Agnes is the patron saint of maidens and virgins. Her feast day is on January 21st. There is a solitary statue of the saint perched high up on the facade of the church.
Pope Innocent X, who is buried in Sant' Agnese in Agone, was born Giovanni Battista Pamphilj, and his family's coat of arms, a dove holding a sprig of olive tree in its beak, is omnipresent both inside and outside the church.
Blogging about Rome,
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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