The church of Santa Maria della Pace started off life as a small chapel, which was home to a fresco of the Madonna. One day the image was struck by an irate gambler, or a drunken soldier (the details vary), and blood began to spurt from the Virgin's breast. In honour of this miracle, the church was renamed Santa Maria della Virtu.
A few years later, Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-84) prayed in front of the fresco and pledged that if a war between Florence and Rome could be avoided he would build a new church. When the war was duly averted he fulfilled his promise and gave the church its present name. The architect is unknown, but it is often attributed to Baccio Pontelli. The miraculous fresco adorns the high altar and still bears signs of the damage.
The beautiful cloister of Santa Maria della Pace was commissioned in 1504 by Cardinal Oliviero Caraffa and designed by Donato Bramante.
In 1656 the Baroque facade, with its semi-circular porch, was added by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), at the behest of Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67).
The inscription is taken from Psalm 72: 'SVSCIPIANT MONTES PACEM POPVLO ET COLLES IVSTITIAM' ('The mountains shall bring peace to the people and the hills justice'). The quotation is a reference to the 'montini' on the coat of arms of the Chigi family, to which the pope belonged.
The short nave of the church is home to three beautiful chapels. The first chapel to the right is the Cappella Chigi with its famous frescoes by Raphael.
The Cappella Cesi (second chapel to the right) was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger for Angelo Cesi, a lawyer who acquired the rights to the chapel in 1515. The ornate marble decoration is the work of Simone Mosca. However, the statues of St Peter and St Paul, and the reliefs of the Prophets and Angels, are the work of Vincenzo de' Rossi. Rossi also created the tombs of Angelo Cesi and his wife Francesca Carduli. The frescoes on the exterior of the chapel are by Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, better known as il Rosso Fiorentino (the red Florentine).
The frescoes in the Cappella Ponzetti (first chapel on the left) are by the Sienese painter and architect Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536). The altarpiece depicts the donor Cardinal Ferdinando Ponzetti, the Virgin, St Bridget and St Catherine of Alexandria. The two busts to the right of the altarpiece are of Beatrice and Lavinia, two of the cardinal's nieces who died of the plague aged six and eight. Ponzetti was physician to Pope Innocent VIII (r. 1484-92).
The short nave opens out into a large octagon. The design of the cupola has been ascribed to Antonio da Sangallo the younger with stuccoes by Pietro da Cortona.
The church's beautiful cloister was commissioned in 1504 by Cardinal Oliviero Caraffa and designed by Bramante.
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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