The Ponte Sant’ Angelo was constructed in 134, during the reign of the emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138). The bridge was first known as Pons Aelius and served as a triumphal approach from the city to the mausoleum that Hadrian (whose full name was Publius Aelius Hadrianus) had just had built.
The bridge was later called the Pons Sancti Petri, as it was used by pilgrims to reach St Peter's Basilica. It was only at the end of the sixth century that it came to be known as the Ponte Sant' Angelo, following the transformation of the mausoleum into the Castel Sant’ Angelo.
Only the central three arches belong to the original bridge, the other two arches were added at the end of the 19th century when the embankments were constructed.
In 1667 Pope Clement IX (r. 1667-69) commissioned the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) to add ten statues of angels, bearing the Instruments of Christ's Passion, to the parapets of the bridge. Each angel stands on a pedestal which bears an inscription in Latin.
Bernini carved two of the angels himself *, but farmed the rest of the work out to various fellow sculptors, including Ercole Ferrata, Cosimo Fancelli and Antonio Raggi. The master did, however, provide sketches and terracotta models of the whole series to ensure an acceptable degree of conformity.
The ten angels are:
In addition to the ten angels, two statues of Saint Peter (by Lorenzetto, 1490-1541) and Saint Paul (by Paolo Romano, died after 1470) stand at one end of the bridge. The statues of Rome's two patron saints were set up at the behest of Pope Clement VII (r. 1523-34) in 1534.
The inscription below St Peter reads: HINC HVMILIBVS VENIA (Hence pardon for the humble) and that below St Paul: HINC RETRIBVTIO SVPERBIS (Hence retribution for the haughty).
* The two statues that Bernini carved are now in the church of Sant' Andrea delle Fratte, having been replaced by copies.
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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