Project Description

Medieval Art at the Church of San Clemente

The Churches of San Clemente and Santi Quattro Coronati are wall-to-wall Medieval art, both frescoes and marble intarsia!  In fact, Maria Macellaria and her consort commissioned several frescoes for the Church of San Clemente in the year 1000.  Three of these frescoes were dedicated to the eponymous saint, and one was in honor of then-popular Saint Alexis.  The frescoes are still visible and the anonymous artist(s) caught the Christian community’s attention by using humorous cartoon-style vignettes to illustrate miracles and human foibles.  After discussing these scenes, their content, and their style, we focus on the apse mosaics in the upper church.

But How Could We Not Pop Into The Church of Santi Quattro Coronati?

The Church of Santi Quattro Coronati (Four Crowned Saints) stands nearby.  Legend has it that the Four Crowded Saints were stone-cutters or sculptors who had converted to Christianity and were martyred for refusing to carve pagan idols.  The Church of the Four Crowned Saints and the property around it are unique.  They constitute one of the few examples of fortress/monasteries left in Rome.  This bizarre breed of sacred architecture was made necessary in the turbulent Middle Ages, due to continuous enemy raids and incursions.  Today, the structure is occupied by cloistered nuns who will hand us the key to the door of Saint Sylvester’s Chapel, in exchange for a donation.

Medieval art in Sylvester Chapel at Santi Quattro Coronati near San Clemente

The Chapel of Saint Sylvester, which is the highlight of the church complex, was decorated sometime in the mid-1200s.  It is often described as a hymn to the Emperor Constantine, yet its fresco focuses on Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and complete submission to Pope Sylvester!  Full of historic inaccuracies, it is a marvelous example of Medieval church propaganda.  In fact, in the photo, Emperor Constantine can be seen kneeling obsequiously before the Pope in full regalia!

Back at San Clemente for More Late Medieval (Almost Renaissance!) Art

Returning to San Clemente, we will contemplate the frescoes of the Branda-Castiglione Chapel from the early 1400s.  Once attributed to the early Renaissance artist Masaccio, modern research now ascribes them to Masolino da Panicale.  The side walls of the chapel show scenes from the life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Ambrose.  On the back wall is a Crucifixion.  Masolino’s masterpiece emphasizes the early Renaissance desire to create perspective, depict interior and exterior space accurately, and render figures in a life-like manner.  After admiring his work, we will be able to appreciate the passage of art from the Middle Ages to the early Renaissance.

late Medieval art, i.e. fresco, from a chapel in San Clemente

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