Roman churches are full of extravagantly elaborate funerary monuments, but few can match that of Princess Maria Flaminia Odescalchi Chigi, which can be found in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo.
This towering monument was built in 1772 in memory of the young princess, who died in childbirth, aged only 20. It was designed by Paolo Posi (1708-76), an architect from Siena, and executed by the Roman sculptor Agostino Penna (1728-1800).
Posi's design incorporates the heraldic arms of both the Chigi and the Odescalchi families. At the bottom of the monument a white marble lion (Odescalchi) is climbing a mountain (Chigi), while to the right is a smoking incense burner (Odescalchi). A bronze oak tree (Chigi) grows from the mountain. Hanging from its branches is a red robe bearing a portrait of the princess and her epitaph. The robe is hemmed with stars (Chigi) and incense burners. Perched at the top of the tree is a white marble eagle (Odescalchi).
Fifty years later Marie-Henri Beyle (1783-1842), the French writer better known as Stendhal, dismissed the monument as an 'outburst of the execrable taste of the 18th century' (Promenades dans Rome, 1827).
Santa Maria del Popolo contains another monument to a woman who died (1852) in childbirth, albeit one that is much less flamboyant in form: the tomb of Teresa Stefania Pelzer di Aquisgrana is situated in the Cerasi Chapel.
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 walking tours of Rome.
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