Unearthing a Lost Chapel
In 1959, an architect working in Palazzo Colonna made, by chance, a remarkable discovery in the adjacent church of Santi XII Apostoli.
Clemente Busiri Vici, the architect in question, unearthed a set of Renaissance frescoes that had been lost for centuries. The frescoes belonged to the funerary chapel of Cardinal Bessarion (1403-72) and were painted between 1464 and 1468 by Antoniazzo Romano (c. 1430-c. 1510) with the help of Melozzo da Forli (c. 1438-94).
For some reason the frescoes had disappeared beneath a coat of lime less than a century later and the chapel itself was lost when the Cappella Odescalchi was constructed in its place between 1719 and 1723. Rather than demolishing the existing structure, the builders simply constructed the later chapel inside it, leaving a very tight space between the old walls and the new.
The funerary chapel of Cardinal Bessarion, a Greek scholar and humanist, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and saints Michael, John the Baptist and Eugenia.
In spite of the depredations of time, the surviving frescoes remain remarkably colourful and impressively detailed.
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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 walking tours of Rome.
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