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San Gregorio Magno al Celio, also known as San Gregorio al Celio or simply San Gregorio, is a church in Rome. It is located on the Caelian Hillmarker, in front of the Palatinemarker.

The church had its beginning as a simple oratory added to a family villa suburbana of Pope Gregory I, who converted the villa into a monastery, ca 575-80, before his election as pope (590). Saint Augustine of Canterbury was prior before leading the Gregorian mission to the Anglo-Saxons five years later. The community was dedicated to the Apostle Andrew; it retained its original dedication in early medieval documents, then was recorded after 1000 as dedicated to Gregory the Great. Its name in Clivo Scauri records its site along the principal access road, the ancient Clivus Scauri that rose up the Caelian slopes from the valley between the Palatine Hillmarker and the Caelian . The decayed church and the small monastery attached to it on the now-isolated hill passed to the Camaldolese brothers in 1573. The current edifice was rebuilt on the old site to designs by Giovanni Battista Soria in 1629-1633, commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese; work was suspended with his death, and taken up again in in 1642. Francesco Ferrari (1725-1734) designed the interior.
Soria's basilica portico at the rear of the enclosed forecourt
The church is preceded by a wide staircase rising from the via di San Gregorio, the street separating the Caelian hill from the Palatine. The façade, the most prominent and artistically successful work of Giovanni Battista Soria (1629-33), resembles in its style and material (travertine), that of San Luigi dei Francesimarker; it is not the façade of the church however, but instead leads into a forecourt or peristyle, at the rear of which the church itself can be reached through a portico (illustration, left) that contains some tombs: these once included that of the famous courtesan Imperia, lover of the rich banker Agostino Chigi (1511), but later it was adapted to serve as the tomb of a 17th-century clergyman. The marble cathedra associated with Gregory the Great is preserved in the stanza di S. Gregorio in the church; a shrewd and accurate reconstruction of its ancient appearance was illustrated as Gregory's throne by Raphael in the Disputà. The lion-griffin protomes that form its front and appear in Raphael's fresco are continued on the sides in an acanthus scroll. Three more marble thrones of precisely the same model may be seen in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museummarker, Boston, in Berlin and in the Acropolis Museum; Gisela Richter suggested that all are replicas of a lost late Hellenistic original; none of the replicas has preserved the separately-carved base that would have continued the lions' legs, very much as Raphael surmised.

The church follows the typical basilican plan, a nave divided from two lateral aisles, in this case by sixteen antique columns with pilasters. Other antique columns have been reused: four support the portico on the left of the nave that leads into the former Benedictine burial ground, planted with ancient cypresses, and four more have been reused by Flaminio Ponzio (1607) to support the porch of the central oratory facing into the burial ground on the far side, which is still dedicated to Saint Andrew.

Interior decoration

The decoration includes stuccoes by Francesco Ferrari (c. 1725), and a Cosmatesque pavement. The main altarpiece has a Madonna with Saints Andrew and Gregory (1734) by Antonio Balestra. The second altar on the left has a Madonna and Saints (1739) by Pompeo Batoni. At the end of the nave, the altar of S. Gregorio Magno has three fine reliefs from the end of the 15th century by Luigi Capponi. Also interesting is the Salviati Chapel, designed by Francesco da Volterra and finished by Carlo Maderno in 1600: it includes an ancient fresco which, according to the associated tradition, spoke to St. Gregory, and a marble altar (1469) by Andrea Bregno and pupils.

Oratories

To the left of the church, tightly grouped in the garden, are three oratories commissioned by Cardinal Cesare Baronio at the beginning of the 17th century, as commemorations of Gregory's original monastery.

Oratory of Saint Andrew

The central oratory has frescoes of the Flagellation of Saint Andrew by Domenichino; a Saint Andrew brought to the temple and Saints Peter and Paul by Reni; a Virgin with Saints Andrew and Gregory by Cristoforo Roncalli, il Pomarancio; and finally S.Silvia e S.Gregorio by Giovanni Lanfranco.

Oratory of St. Silvia

The oratory to the viewer's right is dedicated to St. Silvia, St. Gregory's mother: it is probably located over her tomb. This oratory has frescoes of a Concert of Angels by Reni and David and Isaiah by Sisto Badalocchio.

Oratory of St. Barbara

This oratory with frescoes (1602) by Antonio Viviani, represents the rebuilding by Cardinal Baronius (1602) of the famous triclinium where St. Gregory hosted dinner for the poor of Rome. At the massive marble table on antique Roman bases, at odds with Gregory's reputation for asceticism, John the Deacon tells that an angel joined the twelve poor men who gathered at the table to partake of Gregory's beneficence. The marble table supports take the form of addorsed winged lions whose heads sprout goats' horns.

The grounds of the oratories also include some substructures of the Roman imperial period, that may merely have been tabernae, but one of which exhibits striking features that encourage some experts to think is an early Christian meeting place and baptismal pool.

Roman remains

In the grounds of the annexed monastery was discovered the Aphrodite of Menophantos, a Greco-Roman marble Venus of the Capitoline Venus type, now in the Museo Nazionale Romano. The Camaldolese coenobites occupied this ancient church and monastery of S. Gregorii in Clivo Scauri; the sculpture came into the possession of prince Chigi. Johann Joachim Winckelmann described this sculpture in his Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums

Notes

  1. 580 is the date given in . Christian Hülsen, Le Chiese di Roma nel Medio Evo (Florence: Olschki) 1927: "Gregorii in Clivo Scauri"
  2. Hülsen 1927, eo. loc..
  3. Huelsen-Jordan p257;Topogr. I, 3 p. 231).
  4. (Comunità monastica di Camaldoli ) "San Gregorio al Celio nella storia"; the archives of the church were published by Mittarelli among the Annales Camaldulenses ordini s S. Benedicti, 9 vols. (Venice) 1755-1773
  5. Touring Club Italiano, Roma e dintorni 1965:382.
  6. Confusingly called an atrio in the TCI guide Roma e dintorni1965:382; such a forecourt on a grand scale was a feature of Old Saint Peter's and other ancient basilicas. The forecourt and the basilica's façade were also rebuilt by Soria.
  7. Philipp Fehl, "Raphael's Reconstruction of the Throne of St. Gregory the Great" The Art Bulletin 55.3 (September 1973:373-379).
  8. Gisela Richter observes that the technique of pointing to create accurate reproductions was not introduced until about 100 BC, in support of her argument that all three thrones are Roman copies.
  9. Richter, "The marble throne on the Acropolis and its replicas", The American Journal of Arxhaeology 58 (October 1954:276-76, and illus.) and idem, Furniture of the Greeks, Romans and Etruscans, 1968:32f.
  10. Concerning the original location of the work and the reconstruction of the marble 'pala' see Darko Senekovic, "S. Gregorio al Celio im Quattrocento: Abt Amatisco, Reform von Monteoliveto und Stilinnovation", in: K. Corsepius, D. Mondini, D. Senekovic et al., Opus tessellatum: Modi und Grenzgange der Kunstwissenschaft (Studien zur Kunstgeschichte 157), Hildesheim/Zürich/New York : Georg Olms Verlag 2004.
  11. Acta S. Gregorii Papae, ii.23 (noted by Fehl 1973:373 and note 4.
  12. It bears the signature of Menophantos — Apo tis en troadi afroditis minofantos epoiei — a Greek sculptor, apparently of the first century BCE, of whom nothing more is known.
  13. Winckelmann, vol V, ch. II; William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, (1870) v.II:1044 ( on-line text).


References

  • Haskell, Francis and Nicholas Penny, 1981. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900 (Yale University Press). Cat. no. 84.
  • Helbig, Wolfgang, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom 4th edition, 1963-72, vol. II.


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