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The Capocci Tabernacle in S. Maria Maggiore

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 August 2013

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The decade between 1250 and 1260 is for a variety of reasons, mainly political and financial, a bleak period in Roman art. The tomb of cardinal Fieschi and some other Cosmatesque work survives in S. Lorenzo fuori le mura, the former in a gravely damaged state. It is the purpose of this paper to discuss a monument of greater significance for Roman mediaeval art than either of these. The monument is precisely dated and significant portions of it survive. Ignorance of its original aspect has denied it all but the most summary attention in even the most specialized monographs.

Before the reconstructions of the eighteenth century, two tabernacles stood in the apse of S. Maria Maggiore. Both were probably dismantled during Ferdinando Fuga's remodelling of the nave of the basilica. Only that to the right of the apse, generally termed the Tabernacolo delle Reliquie is our concern here. A certain amount is known about its history. It was erected in 1256 by Giovanni Giacomo Capocci and his wife Vinia, and this fact was recorded in an inscription. Capocci and his wife were represented on a small mosaic panel on the side of the tabernacle. After the dismantling of the tabernacle this panel was subsequently removed to the small church of S. Michele at Vico in Lazio, where it still remains in a chapel to the left of the choir (Pl. XXXIV). The four porphyry columns which supported the tabernacle were transferred to the Cappella del SS. Crocifisso in S. Maria Maggiore.

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Copyright © British School at Rome 1970

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1 Cf. pp. 225, 228 below.

2 On the Capocci in general see Cecchelli, C., I Margani, I Capocci, I Sanguigni, I Mellini (Le Grandi Famiglie Romane IV), 1946Google Scholar, with further bibliography. The belief that Giovanni Giacomo Capocci was a Senator of Rome in 1256 seems to be without foundation.

3 Forcella, V., Iscrizioni delle Chiese e degli altri edifici di Roma dal secolo XI fino ai giorni nostri, Rome (1869) Vol. ix, p. 10, no. 3Google Scholar. ‘IACOB’ IOHANNIS CAPOCCI ET VINIA VXOR EIVS FECER VNT FIERI/HOC OPVS PRO REDEMPTIONE ANIMARVM SVARVM ANNO DNI. M.C.C. LVI.’ Forcella's source was Gualdi, Vat. Lat. 8254, p. 1, f. 40.

4 Cappella del Spirito Santo. Cf. Cappelli, A., Vico nel Lazio, Alatri (1922), p. 215Google Scholar, ‘Qui havvi un preziosissimo altare in mosaico, portatovi dall'illustre monsignor Don Pietropaolo Nardini, conclavista del cardinale Colonna.’

5 Biasiotti, G., ‘Le basiliche romane di S. Maria Maggiore e S. Martino ai Monti nei disegni degli Uffizi di Firenze,’ Dissertazioni della Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia, Serie ii, xiii (1918), pp. 250–61, p. 259Google Scholar. (Cited hereafter as Biasiotti: Le basiliche).

6 Society of Antiquaries, Vol. I, f. 96. Pen and body colour 185×44.5 cm. The drawing is referred to by Walpole, H.: Anecdotes of Painting in England (Ed. Wornum, R. N.), London (1888), p. 17, n. 2.Google Scholar

7 Angelis, P., Basilicae s. Mariae Maioris de Urbe Descriptio et Delineatio…, Rome (1621), p. 87Google Scholar.

8 Uffizi, Dis. arch. 660r. (Sallustio Peruzzi pre–1573). Uffizi, Dis. arch. 4215r. (B. de Rocchi pre–1573). Both drawings are conveniently reproduced in Krautheimer, R. et al. , Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae, iii, Vatican City (1967), pp. 16 and 28Google Scholar.

9 There is a recent biography by Fothergill, B., Sir William Hamilton, London (1969)Google Scholar.

10 Walpole to Hamilton, 22 Sept. 1768. Cf. Toynbee, P., Supplement to the Letters of H. Walpole, iii, Oxford (1925), pp. 1314.Google Scholar An analysis of the project is contained in Toynbee, P., Strawberry Hill Accounts, Oxford (1927), pp. 133–4.Google Scholar See also in general Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill,’ Metropolitan Museum Studies, v (1934/1936), pp. 5792CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Toynbee, , Accounts, p. 153Google Scholar.

12 Toynbee, loc. cit.

13 Strawberry Hill (1774), pp. 113–4Google Scholar. ‘Fronting the door (of the chapel) stands a magnificent shrine of mosaic three stories high: … The shrine … was brought in the year 1768 from the church of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome, when the new pavement was laid there. This shrine was erected in the year 1256 over the bodies of the holy martyrs Simplicius, Faustina and Beatrix, by John James Capocci and Vinia his wife; it was the work of Peter Cavallini, who made the tomb of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey.’

14 This engraving was in the possession of Lord Waldegrave in 1927. Its present whereabouts are uncertain. I am grateful to the Countess of Waldegrave for information on this point.

15 Toynbee, , Accounts, p. 152Google Scholar. ‘It was repaired and parts supplied by Richter … but he could not supply the golden glass in the original, the art of which is lost.’ This statement of Walpole's constitutes an argument for the authenticity of the Capocci coat of arms. See note 26 below.

16 Catalogue of the Classic Contents of Strawberry Hill collected by Horace Walpole, London (1842), p. 248Google Scholar. (Lugt no. 16576). Twenty-fourth day of Sale, Lot no. 85.

17 Biasiotti, Le basiliche, p. 259. (Information from Eugenie Strong.)

18 Lethaby, W., Mediaeval Art, London (1904), p. 283 ff.Google Scholar

19 See the letter from James, M. R. in the Times Literary Supplement, 27 Sept. 1923, p. 636Google Scholar. Other letters on this subject by P. Toynbee and E. Olivier, ibid., 4 Oct. 1923, p. 652. This appears to be the source of the information contained in Drury, W. E., A Guide to Wilton Parish Church and the old Church of Saint Mary (4th ed.), Wilton (1959)Google Scholar.

20 Pietro Capocci, another member of the family, was cardinal deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro between 1244 and 1259. Cf. Eubel, C., Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, Munster (1901), i, p. 7Google Scholar. The style of the ciborium of S. Giorgio in Velabro is not without points of contact with the Capocci tabernacle.

21 Other tabernacles of this type existed in S. Maria in Campitelli; cf. Armanni, V., Della Nobile e Antica Famiglia de'Capizucchi, Rome (1668), p. 14 ff.Google Scholar It is reproduced in Ciampini, J.: Vetera Monimenta …, Rome (1690), i, p. 181Google Scholar, Tab. XLIV, fig. 3. At Velletri there exists in the Duomo a heavily restored tabernacle of the fourteenth century. See Mortari, L., Il Museo Capitolare della Cattedrale di Velletri, Rome (1959), p. 9Google Scholar and fig. 7. For the destroyed tabernacle which at one time housed the Madonna Salus Populi Romani in S. Maria Maggiore see Biasiotti, G.: ‘L'Imagine della Madonna Salus Populi in S. Maria Maggiore a Roma,’ Bollettino d'Arte, x (1916), pp. 321–6Google Scholar. The original state (and dating) of this latter is problematic.

22 G. Biasiotti, Le basiliche.p. 257.

23 The inadequacy of the scale in the de Angelis engraving can simply be demonstrated by the comparison of the actual height of the Vico mosaic with that as represented.

24 Such wind blown capitals while not entirely unknown in thirteenth century Rome are certainly based on Antique models. The modern capitals at Wilton in some cases are strikingly similar to those on the Shrine of Saint Edward in Westminster Abbey. In view of Walpole's opinion that the Shrine from S. Maria Maggiore and that of Saint Edward were both the work of the same artist it is very likely that they are in fact copies.

25 For the Savelli cenotaph see Nerini, F., De Templo et Coenobio SS. Bonifacii et Alexii Historica Monumenta, Rome (1752), Tab. 8, pp. 259 ff.Google Scholar The ciborium in S. Maria in Cosmedin is reproduced in Hermanin, F., L'Arte in Roma dal secolo VIII al XIV, Bologna (1945)Google Scholar, Tav. LXXXV, 2.

26 Coats of arms in roundels appear on the cushion beneath the effigy of Cardinal Riccardo Annibaldi del Molara (1276), now in S. Giovanni in Laterano, and also on the tomb of Bernardo Carraciolo. Carraciolo, who was not a cardinal as Forcella, op. cit. (n. 3), viii, p. 12, states, died in 1261, but his tomb is considerably later in date.

27 Ciacconius, A., Vitae et Res Gestae Summarum Pontificium et S.R.E. Cardinalium, Rome (1677), vol. IIGoogle Scholar, col. 125.

28 Beside the fragments mentioned in the text itself, there exist in Wilton church 24 small and very damaged fragments let into the choir rail etc. They average 35 × 7 cm. From their condition it is impossible to be certain whether they originated in S. Maria Maggiore.

29 The two colonnettes visible in fig. 1, are 99.5 cm. in height. The slab above the donor mosaic measures 157 × 20 cm.

30 The radius of the columns can be calculated from the circumference given in Bruzio, G. A., Theatrum Romae Urbis, viGoogle Scholar, f. 89v (Arch. Vat. Arm. VI, Misc. 7), “… aliae quatuor porphyreticae sint diametri pal. 5.2 cum capitulis corintijs …” Quoted by Biasiotti, Le basiliche, p. 257.

31 The altar frontal in S. Cesareo is reproduced in Matthiae, G.: ‘Componenti del Gusto Decorativo Cosmatesco’, Rivista dell'Istituto Nazionale d'Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte, N.S. 1, (1952), pp. 249–81Google Scholar, fig. 29.

32 For the dismembered pulpit in S. Pancrazio cf. Muñoz, A., ‘La Decorazione e gli Amboni Cosmateschi della basilica di San Pancrazio fuori le mura,’ L'Arte, xi (1908), pp. 262–8, p. 277Google Scholar, note 1. The throne must be contemporary.

33 A representative example of its use in building is the campanile of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. See Prandi, A., Il complesso monumentale della basilica celimontana dei SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Vatican City (1962), pp. 357–8Google Scholar, and Appendix I, pp. 495–527. During the restoration of the Cappella S. Silvestro in SS. Quattro Coronati, it should be noted that five ceramic dishes were found set into the vault of the chapel. Cf. Muñoz, A., Il restauro della chiesa e del chiostro dei SS. Quattro Coronati, Rome (1914), p. 111Google Scholar.

34 See now Demus, O., ‘Bisanzio e la pittura a mosaico del Duecento a Venezia,’ Venezia e l'Oriente fratardo Medioevo e Rinascimento, Florence (1960), pp. 125–39, p. 130Google Scholar.

35 The small pierced quatrefoil windows in the facade of S. Maria Maggiore dating from the late thirteenth century are cut from fragments of a very similar screen.

36 In the following description, for the sake of simplicity, the upper garment is referred to as a mantle and the undergarment as a vestment.

37 Reproductions in Matthiae, G., Mosaici medioevale delle chiese di Roma, Rome (1967), iiGoogle Scholar, Tav. LVIII, LX and fig. 281 (St. Peter's), Tav. LXII and fig. 284 (S. Paolo).

38 For S. Cesareo see Matthiae, G., S. Cesareo ‘sul Appia,’ Rome (1955)Google Scholar. For SS. Nereo ed Achilleo Gurrieri, A., La Chiesa dei SS. Nereo ed Achilleo (Società Amici delle Catacombe, XVI), Vatican City (1951)Google Scholar. The S. Pancrazio frontal is to my knowledge unpublished.

39 The case for Campanian influence is best stated by G. Matthiae, Componenti (cit., n. 31) passim.

40 The Origins of a comparable iconography are discussed by Kitzinger, E.: ‘The Coffin Reliquary,’ in Battiscombe, C. F. (ed.), The Relics of Saint Cuthbert, Oxford (1956), pp. 202304Google Scholar, esp. pp. 248–64. See also the review by Wright, D. in the Art Bulletin, xliii (1961), pp. 141160Google Scholar. A similar view is adopted in Schorr, D., The Christ Child in Devotional Images, New York (1954), p. 31Google Scholar, where it is related to Cavallini's mosaic in S. Maria in Trastevere; she does not mention S. Maria Antiqua. For the mosaics in Old St. Peter's see Nordhagen, P. J., ‘The mosaics of John VII (705–707 A.D.),’ Acta ad Archaeologiam et Artium Historiam Pertinentia, ii (1965), pp. 121–66Google Scholar. Significantly Nordhagen notes the absence of silver tesserae in the surviving fragments from the Oratory. The murals in S. Maria Antiqua are discussed by the same author ‘The Frescoes of John VII (A.D. 705–707),’ ibid., iii (1968), pp. 22–24.

41 There are two exceptions to this statement. The Adoration of the Magi on the Sancta Sanctorum enamelled cross; for a reproduction see Wessel, K., Byzantine Enamels, Shannon (1969)Google Scholar, fig. 7. The other and in this context probably the more important are the wall paintings at Magliano Romano. For these see Rotondi, P., ‘Gli Affreschi di Magliano Romano nella Galleria Corsini’, Le Arti, ii (1940), pp. 288–92Google Scholar. The relationship between the Capocci mosaic and its eighth-century model appears to be too direct to be affected by either of these monuments.

42 Reproduced in G. Matthiae, Mosaici medioevale cit., fig. 310.

43 Cardinal Guglielmo Fieschi, cardinal deacon of S. Eustachio, died in 1256. The epitaph is given in Forcella, xii, p. 510, no. 506.

44 Muñoz, A., La Basilica di S. Lorenzo fuori le mura, Rome (1944)Google Scholar, Tav. LVIII (the captions are reversed). The photographs of the painting appeared in Wilpert, J., Die Römischen Mosaiken und Malereien der kirchlichen Bauten vom IV bis XIII Jahrhundert, Freiburg im Breisgau (1916), ii, 2, p. 1026Google Scholar, fig. 500.

45 Matthiae, G., Pittura romana nel Medioevo, Rome (1966), iiGoogle Scholar, figs. 128–37. Wilpert, op. cit., Taf. 270, 2, shows an accurate water colour copy of the SS. Giovanni e Paolo mural. Its location makes a photograph of the whole impossible.

46 As for instance at S. Sophia, Ochrid. Cf. Hamann–MacLean, R. and Hallensleben, H., Die Monumentalmalerei in Serbien und Makedonien vom 11 bis zum frühen 14 Jahrhundert, Giessen (1963), iGoogle Scholar, fig. 16. In the Vico mosaic it is only iconic figures, that is the Virgin and the angel, which have this fold formation. This is also true of the Fieschi tomb mural and the facade mosaic of S. Maria in Trastevere.

47 The evidence of these features in both the Vico mosaic and the Fieschi mural permits the dating of another mosaic to the mid-century. The mosaic on the facade of S. Maria in Trastevere is heavily restored. It is broadly distinguishable into at least two phases. The three figures at the far left are certainly later than the rest and may well date from the early fourteenth century. The figure on the extreme right has been so damaged that it cannot be made the basis of argument. The central group however bears a considerable resemblance to the style of the Vico panel. The drapery style of these figures and the posture of the (?) donors invites comparison. This would appear to be at least a prima facie case for dating the central portion of the facade mosaic to the mid thirteenth century.

48 Matthiae, G., Mosaici, iiGoogle Scholar, fig. 284.

49 The date for the roundel in S. Tommaso in Formis is generally connected with that of the door below it, which is established on the evidence of the mason's signature: thus Schumacher, W., ‘Ein römischer Apsiskomposition,’ Römische Quartalschrift, 54 (1959), pp. 137–202, p. 162Google Scholar. The early date for the roundel and its framing canopy has been strongly criticised by Enking, R., S. Andrea Catabarbara e S. Antonio Abbate sull'Esquilino, Rome (1964), p. 50Google Scholar. It may well be that the date of the mosaic roundel needs reconsideration. For the Cappella S. Zenone see Matthiae, , Mosaici, iiGoogle Scholar, Tav. LXIII; the colour is not entirely satisfactory in this reproduction. I owe the observation on haloes to Richard Camber.

50 Krautheimer, op. cit., iii, p. 38 gives the original distance between the pavement and the soffit of the architrave as 7.70 m.

51 The date of the facade mosaics should certainly be placed before the expulsion of the Colonna ardinals in 1297.

52 Matthiae, , Mosaici, i, p. 387Google Scholar.

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