Rome, “caput mundi” from Cola di Rienzo to Pius II
Once known as caput mundi, “capital of the world”, Rome fell into decay during the Middle Ages.
Pope Liberius is portrayed here clearing the ground for the building of a basilica in the 4th century.
Masolino da Panicale, The Founding of Santa Maria Maggiore
This painting underscores the crucial role Renaissance popes had in rebuilding Rome.
It was commissioned by Pope Martin V, who restored the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Jacopo Torriti Coronation of the Virgin, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
Here is a video with a reconstruction of the early building history of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore: http://www.vimeo.com/9408030
When Martin first was elected pope, both Rome and the papacy were in literal as well as figurative ruins.
During the centuries after it had ceased to be the capital of the Ancient Roman Empire, the city of Rome had fallen into disrepair…
The Forum was known as the Campo Vaccino or “cow pasture.”
The Roman commune was never as powerful as communes in other parts of Italy because of powerful local barons and the ever-present figure of the pope.
From the time of the Apostles Peter and Paul, Rome was the holy seat of the bishop of Rome, or Pope.
Giotto, St. Peter, Stefaneschi Altarpiece
When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century CE, he allegedly handed over immense power to the church, in the so-called “Donation of Constantine” (later discovered to be a forgery by Lorenzo Valla.)
Emperor Constantine gives Pope Sylvester III the crown, Church of the Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome
Boniface VIII was a forceful pope who believed papal power should be limitless.
A manuscript illumination depicting Boniface presiding over the Papal Jubilee
After the death of Boniface, the papacy left Rome and moved to Avignon.
Avignon Palace of the Popes
To many contemporaries, Rome seemed like a widow, without the pope.
Once the papacy returned to Rome there was renewal and rebuilding.
Eugenius IV commissioned a new door to St. Peter’s:
Detail of Pope Eugenius IV and the Holy Roman Emperor entering Rome.
Here is a detail from another panel of Filarete’s door portraying the Martyrdom of St. Peter:
Filarete’s door was first hung on the front of Old Saint Peter’s, (later demolished by Pope Julius II to build the New St. Peter’s.)
Here is an image that gives some idea of what the inside of the original basilica looked like:
This is a fresco by Fra Angelico in the Chapel of Nicholas V, who began many new building projects in Rome.
Pope Sixtus is depicted giving money to St. Lawrence to distribute as charity.
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