The floor of the Chigi Chapel, in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, sports a curious image of a winged skeleton holding aloft the coat of arms of the Chigi family. The four enlarged letters of the inscription 'Mors aD CaeLos' (Through Death to Heaven) form the date, in Roman numerals, MDCL (1650).
In 1507 the chapel was granted by Pope Julius II (r. 1503-13) to the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi (1465-1520), one of the richest men of his day. Chigi engaged Raphael (1483-1520), who had worked for him at the Villa Farnesina, to decorate the chapel.
Only Raphael's designs for the mosaics in the dome and for the statues of Jonah and Elijah were used. The mosaics were executed by Luigi da Pace, a Venetian artist. In the central roundel is God the Father, while the eight panels depict the Sun, Moon, and the six known planets, each accompanied by an angel with colourful wings.
The statue of Jonah was carved by Lorenzetto, who also started work on Elijah, which was completed by Rafaello da Montelupo.
In the 1550s Francesco Salviati frescoed the lunettes and the drum of the dome. He also completed the altarpiece of the Nativity of the Virgin, which had been left unfinished by Sebastiano del Piombo in 1534.
In the middle of the 17th century Pope Alexander VII, the great grandson of Agostino Chigi, commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to complete the family chapel. Bernini carved the statues of Habakkuk and the Angel and Daniel and the Lion and completed the pyramidal tombs of Agostino Chigi and his brother Sigismondo, which had been started by Lorenzetto and Rafaello da Montelupo, probably to a design by Rapahel.
The beautiful 'dropped' friezes between the capitals are embellished with festoons of fruit, above which there are a variety of curious images, such as a bearded male head wearing a hat that takes the form of the symbols of the Chigi coat of arms: a star and mounts.
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
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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