4. Rome Caput Mundi?

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.

torriti, jacopo_coronation_of_the_virgin,_santa_maria_maggiore,_rome

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.

rome san saba fresco

During the centuries after it had ceased to be the capital of the Ancient Roman Empire,  the city of Rome had fallen into disrepair…

Rome hieronymous cock2kl


The Forum was known as the Campo Vaccino or “cow pasture.”

Cow Columns



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

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.)


Quattro Coronati Donation of Constantine

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.

Rome the widow


 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.

Pope Nicholas V was also friend and patron of Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti

Leon Battista Alberti Self-Portrait

Alberti created works that are landmarks of Renaissance design

The façade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence

Scholars like Alberti found employment with Renaissance popes, many of whom were humanists themselves.


Pinturicchio, Portrait of Pope Pius II

Copyright © 2011-2017 www.lisakaborycha.com | All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply