Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Church of S. Maria dell'Anima in Rome

The church and the brotherhood of S. Maria dell’Anima.
Short history of the building.
The origins of the church of S. Maria dell’Anima can be found around the jubilee year of 1350 when the papal guard Johannes Peter from Dordrecht and his wife Katerina bought some houses to be used as an hospice for “the health of the body and soul” of pilgrims and sick people coming from the “nation Alamannorum”.
According to Schmidlin[1] the hospital of St. Andrew, which was founded at the end of the 13th century to help the German poor, later converted into a women hospice, was soon absorbed by the Dordrecht’s hospice. In 1399 the brotherhood obtained papal approval of pope Bonifatius IX and soon became a fraternity with statutes. The name of the church derives from the discovery of an ancient icon of the Virgin with two praying souls which was found in the area. To commemorate the event, in the tympanum of the portal a sculpture can be seen representing the Virgin Mary invoked by two souls in purgatory.
The figures, traditionally ascribed to Andrea Sansovino, are in fact a later copy by Lorenzetto, perhaps assisted by Raffaello da Montelupo.
The first enlargements of the buildings, paid almost completely by Koenrad de Hal from Brabant, seem to go back to the ‘30 of the 15th century, and were directed by an architect of Siena, maybe Pietro Pisanelli, who gave to the building a gothic aspect. The construction site was closed in 1446.
In 1499, in view of the Jubilee, the reconstruction of the church was decided by three important German citizens: the Master of ceremonies Johann Burchardt, the Rota notary Sander (in 1508 also his own house next to the church was completed, and to be donated to the brotherhood after his death), and Wilhelm van Enckenvoirt, later a cardinal very close to Pope Adrian VI. Although the gothic complex was not falling apart at all, it was decided to build a new church, following the examples of other nations who where constructing churches and hospices following the modern Renaissance style. The hospice’s administrators asked advice to Bramante, Andrea Sansovino and Giuliano da Sangallo. The 11th of April 1500 the first stone was placed with the blessing of the Archbishop and sponsored by Emperor Maximilian I. The works were going fast, and the rebuilding and demolition were carried out simultaneously. In 1510 the main altar was consecrated. The next year, following Sangallo’s project, the building of the façade was started and between 1516 and 1518 the constructions ended with the construction of the bell tower.
The church was strongly raped by the “lanzichenecchi” during the Sack of Rome in 1527 and suffered other damages during the short adventure of the Roman Republic. During the French Revolution many valuables disappeared from the church and the hospice. After this the church became mainly Italian until 1859 when the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria had the statutes rewritten and the College was founded.
In 1906 finally the Anima became officially the National Church of the German speaking Catholics.
The brotherhood through the centuries.
According to the old statutes of the Anima, valid until the end of the 17th century, the management of the brotherhood and the hospice was carried out by four “Provvisori”. To become a member they had to donate on a regular basis a certain sum of money and a legacy was expected. From this income the houses were financed, where pilgrims, both men and women, used to get free board and accommodation for three to four days[2]. Sufficient funds were left to make the hospital into “the best hospital of Rome”, as Martin Luther wrote in his diary during a visit to Rome.
As mentioned earlier, in 1399 pope Bonifacius IX, together with the papal eapproval, gives the foundation the status of brotherhood with the name of “S. Maria dell’Anima” . Later he grants special indulgences to those who decide to help with the building of the hospice, especially after the large donations of Teodorico[3] (or Dietrich) of Nyem, first rector of the hospice, Papal notary in Avignone, later also abbreviator and scriptor at the Cancelleria with Gregorius XI. He died in Maastricht in 1406.
With two documents of May and June 1406 Pope Innocent VII puts the brotherhood under papal protection, making it exempt from charges and obligations to other municipal or ecclesiastic institutions. The Pope also grants the Anima the right to bury their death on their grounds, which is a useful source of income. With the bull of December 4th,1444 of Eugene IV the brotherhood receives the right to administer sacraments to their countrymen exactly like a real parish: S. Maria dell’Anima becomes officially the church of the Empire’s subjects.
How should we explain this instantaneous success, considering the difficult situation of the Roman Church after the Western Schism and also taking into consideration the presence of the much older brotherhood of “S. Maria della Pietà in Camposanto dei Teutonici e dei Fiamminghi” which had more or less the same activities. The answer can be found in the fusion of the Anima, shortly after the grant of the Dordrecht couple, with the “Confratria Alamannorum”, which had developed in Avignon. The majority of this brotherhood’s members where born in the “Nederduitsland” i.e. the part of the Empire including Holland, Belgium and the German Low-Rhineland. Coming back to Rome in 1377 the Pope is attended by some members of the “Confratria Alamannorum”, brotherhood that always remained faithful to the roman faction.
From the beginning the Anima does not seem a typical German organization, especially if we consider the present Germany borders. The Dutch seem to play an important role, even more with the rise of Protestantism in Germany and also because of the fact that the church became the bury-place for Pope Adrian VI, who gave in his short reign many benefits to the brotherhood. This Dutch lead of the foundation is confirmed by a census of the members in 1585-1586: 55 members were Belgians, 44 where Dutch and only 6 came from the lands of Westphalia.
In 1599, after the death of Philip II, during the Dutch War of Independence, the Flemish were thrown out and after the Treaty of Rijswijk also the French Alsatians had to leave. With these events once and for all the Dutch hegemony of the Anima institutions draws to an end.
For more than four centuries the brotherhood will survive under the protection of the Habsburg family, starting with Ferdinand’s election in 1556 until the fall of the Empire in 1918. An imperial edict of 1824 limits the membership only to the citizens of the Empire, of any language. The fact that the Empire was supranational brought in many non-German speaking members, especially Hungarians and Italians. During the 19th century, when part of northern Italy was under Vienna’s control, the Italian-speaking members were so many that during a visit to Rome the Emperor realized that not even one priest could speak German! In 1859 Pius IX reorganized the brotherhood: the membership had to be open to any catholic believer who was part of the German Confederation. The Emperor kept however, together with the Curia, the right to elect the Rector. In 1906 the Anima becomes officially the parish church of the Germans in Rome.
Pope Johannes XXIII reorganizes the foundation once more. The Austrian bishops, together with the German bishops obtain the right to elect the Rector. The archbishop of Köln chooses the priests of the German Parish in Rome. A catholic Dutchman has to be member of the administration, the chair is usually reserved to the rector of the Dutch College.
The church.
Taking a right turn after leaving piazza Navona trough via S. Agnese in Agone, We will be in via S. Maria dell’Anima, after a few steps we will see the elegant Renaissance facade of the German church: S. Maria dell’Anima with on the right hand side of the building the beautiful bell tower with double lancet windows and colored majolica, whereas the pinnacles and a conic cusp on the top are an example of gothic stile on a Renaissance building.
Entering the church we sense immediately a non-Roman atmosphere: the three naves have the same vertical height, typical device of the German Hallenkirchen. On the main altar there is the famous Fugger Altarpiece, painted by Giulio Romano in 1523ca. The painting represents a Holy Conversation. The Madonna and Child are in the middle with three little angels, with on the sides images of St. Mark, St. Joseph, St. Jacob and St. John as a child. The setting has a classical taste and reminds of Vitruvius studies, Vasari talks about a “casamento che gira ad uso di teatro[4]”. On the back an old spinning woman comes out of a little door, close to her a hen and her little chicks are perking up the landscape. On the right hand side we see the monument of Pope Adrian VI (1522-1523), conceived by Baldassare Peruzzi with marbles made by Michelangelo Senese and Tribolo. Adrian Florensz, son of an Utrecht’s carpenter, later Charles V’s tutor, has been the last non-Italian Pope before John Paul II. Shortly after his election, on his way from Spain to Rome,. He immediately took the first steps for church reform. During his short pontificate he tried to reform the Curia and blocked many artistic works except the Fabbrica of S. Pietro .He was not at all fond of Humanists and Poets like Leo X before him. Speaking about the Laocoon, found some years before in the Domus Aurea, he said that is was a “useless image of pagan idols”, he even thought about plastering Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, scandalized by all that nudity.
Adrian’s tomb was commissioned by Cardinal van Enckenvoirt, also buried in the Anima church. His monument, made by Giovanni Mangone or maybe by Michelangelo Senese, is placed on the right side of the main entrance. On the sides of the aisles the are eight chapels, four on each side. The first chapel on the right, the St. Bennon chapel, gives hospitality to a painting (1618) by Carlo Saraceni representing the saint receiving from a fisherman the keys of Meissen’s Cathedral, found in a fish belly. After that, the chapel of St. Anna has on the altar a Holy Family by Giacinto Gimignani, on the right of it we can see the tomb of Cardinal Sluse (+1687) with a bust made by Ercole Ferrata. The third chapel is known as the St. Mark chapel, or better as the Fugger chapel, it was paid by the famous bankers family known for their close friendship with the Habsburgs. The walls are painted in fresco by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta with stories taken from the Life of the Virgin Mary (the frescoes are dated either 1550ca. or 1560-63). On the altar a crucifix by G. B. Montano (1584) replaces Giulio Romano’s painting, moved in the 16th century to the main altar of the church. A Pietà very similar to the one made by Michelangelo for St. Peter is placed in the fourth chapel of the right aisle. It was begun by Lorenzetto and completed by Nanni di Baccio Bigio.
In the left aisle on the third pillar is the tomb of Ferdinando van der Eyden (+1630) made by F. Duquesnoy. The first chapel on the left, like St. Bennon’s in front, hosts a painting by Carlo Saraceni (1618) representing the Martyrdom of St. Lambertus; the next chapel, dedicated to St. John Nepomucenus is decorated by Ludovico Seitz at the end of the 18th century (Seitz is also the author of the Saints painted on the central nave’s vault). The chapel of St. Barbara, the third one, commissioned by Cardinal W. van Enckenvoirt, has on the walls stories of the saint made by the Dutch painter Michael Coxcie. The fourth chapel is decorated with wonderful mannerist frescoes (1530 ca) painted by Francesco Salviati. Particularly noted is his Deposition of Christ placed on the altar.
It is also possible to get into the church passing trough the German College’s entrance at number 20 of piazza S. Maria della Pace. Once entered we can admire a beautiful cloister full of antique marble, crossing it we can get into the sacristy were on the vault is painted an Assunta by G. F. Romanelli (1636), on the side there is a rare example of 15th century wood sculpture of the German School representing a Madonna with St. Anna and the Child.

[1] Schmidlin Joseph, Geschichte der deutschen Nationalkirche in Rom : S. Maria dell'Anima, Wien, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1906.
[2] The documents about the brotherhood and its buildings did not suffer of many deprivations and are easily found in Fiorani Luigi, Storiografia e archivi delle confraternite romane. Ricerche per la storia religiosa in Roma, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, Roma, 1985, pp.175-413.
[3] The brotherhood after his death receives an inheritance of 7 buildings.
[4] Vasari Giorgio, Le Vite dei più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architetti, Ed per il Club del Libro, 7 volumi, Milano 1964-1966 (Firenze, 1568), volume V, pp. 273-272

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