Rome; Free Art Masterpieces in Churches
Caravaggio Paintings in San Luigi dei Francesi
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How to View Free Art Masterpieces without Queuing or Paying Entrance Fees
Tourists flood the city of Rome and queue for hours at the most famous places of historial and religious interest such as The Sistine Chapel and The Colosseum, which are incredible and which have entrance fees. But there are jewels of art and story to be discovered and enjoyed in small churches tucked in quiet piazzas round Rome city center, which charge nothing at all.
Less than 100 meters from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon there are two churches housing works of art from Caravaggio and Raphael, among other great painters and sculptors; the church of San Luigi dei Francesi and the Basilica of St Agostino.
In this article I'll be listing -
- the principal works of art in each of the churches
- a few pieces I particularly like, because they struck me as beautiful the day I went with my camera.
- how to get to the churches
- the downside
- review of a coffee shop that's really close by
Street Sign for Piazza Navona and Pantheon Outside S. Luigi dei Francesi
The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi - Opening Hours
Opening times are limited and slightly erratic:
Friday - Wednesday: 10.00 - 12.30. then in the afternoon 15.00 -19.00.
- It is open on Thursday morning only.
Entrance is free:
Buying a candle helps with the upkeep of the church and you can buy brochures too.
- Monday to Friday 19.00
- Saturday 12.30
- Sunday 10.30
San Luigi dei Francesi the Church
Where S. Luigi dei Francesi and S. Agostino Curches are in Rome City Center
St Luigi dei Francesi
St. Augustine Basilica
The Pantheon is less than 100 meters away
Domenichino's Painted Ceiling of the Ascension of St. Luigi
The Pulpit and the Ceiling Fresco
San Sebastian in the First Chapel on the Left
Fourth Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi is dedicated to the Virgin Mary
What Art To See in S. Luigi Church - a Selection
Firstly a little of the history of the church itself.
The foundation stone to the original church was laid by a Cardinal Medici in 1518, a small building built in the honor of the King of France, Francis 1. The Renaissance/Baroque church standing today is much bigger (having been torn down, sackaged, then only slowly rebuilt - until Catherine De Medici poured money into it. And boy did she pour money into it!).
Its side chapels were decorated between 16th and 18th centuries, its choir re-built, as was the cuppola. The apse changed from flat to semi-circular and architect Antoine Dérizet also covered the walls and columns with elaborate, rich marble slabs in varieties of colors. He restored the vaulting and the nave after 1753, (where you can see his marble decorations). He had the coffer panels painted. He erected an organ gallery which you can see over the entrance.
Apart from the floors, which were renovated in 1870, the church of San Luigi dei Francesi is the same today as it was in the late 18th century when Dérizet finished with it.
My most favorite pieces are these (in no order of importance) though once in the church there are many more pieces that might strike your fancy:
The pulpit in the nave which has beautifully and simply painted panels of wood (of the Virgin, St. Catherine, John the Baptist, St. Joseph and St Charles). It stands out for its lack of ostentation among pillars of white marble, glittering gold pillars and ornate paintings everywhere.
The fabulous ceiling which a Palace of Versailles artist Joseph Natoire painted, while not as famous as one or two other famous Roman church ceilings we all know about is gorgeously rich. Domenichino painted the San Luigi Ascension.
In the Contarelli chapel, on the three walls above and around the altar are three commissioned works by Caravaggio - in his realistic style, (his chiaro schuro light with models of people 'off the streetì), which made him so unpopular in his time! "Three of the greatest and most influential paintings ever produced in Italy" confidently writes the author of the church brochure.
The Calling of St. Matthew (see header photo)
St. Matthew and the Angel
The Martyrdom of St Matthew (see photo below)
- In the Nave High Alter is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary painted by Francesco Bassano the Younger in the 16th century. The ceiling around the painting is one of the most gold ornate baroque ceilings in Rome, with so much gilded stucco - all paid for by Catherine of Medici.
- In the first chapel on the left is a painting of Saint Sebastian.
- Because I love women's stories through time, and Mary's is one of the most told and most powerful since her son was murdered, I really like the chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary with a restored Adoration of the Magi (Baglione), Mellin's Annunciation and the Visitation (on the ceiling).
Caravaggio's Martyrdom of St Matthew
All about Caravaggio, the man and his works
The St. Augustine Basilica
The Basilica of Sant'Agostino Opening Hours
During the week through the year the church is open 7.30 - 12.30. Closes at lunch time.
Reopens in the afternoon 3.00 - 6.00
It stays open until 7.00 from April till November.
Admission is free
Again you can contribute to the upkeep of the church by buying guides or postcards at the booth, or lighting candles at the altars.
Via della Scrofa, 80. (Campo Marzio)
06 - 68 80 19 62
Monday - Saturday 8.00 a.m. and 6.30 pm
Sunday - 8.00 a.m. 10.00 a.m. 12.00 a.m. and 6.30 p.m.
Opening and closing times are approximate and Masses may change their timetable because it is an operating church (not just a gallery of art).
God the Father Ceiling Painting by Battista Ricci
The Altar of St Anne, Raphael, Prophet Ezechiel
What Art to See at Sant'Agostino Church
First a little about the church, or basilica.
This Augustinian masterpiece of a church (built in the XIV century, finished at the end of the XV century) has architectural proportions that astonish you as you enter. Corresponding to symbolic interpretations, (we're told the saint dwelt on the allegorical meanings of numbers), the church has twelve arches, twelve side chapels, twelve windows, which correspond to the Bible's twelve Apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel.
"For Augustine, seven represented the Old Testament and eight the New Testament".
The mixture of Old testament works of art and those of the New Testament is such an unusual church theme; the twelve episodes from the life of Virgin Mary in the central nave, the six famous women of the Old Testament between the windows, the Four Evangelists and the Redeemer in the dome are stunning.
Most Famous Works of Art in St. Augustine Basilica Rome
There are a great many treasures in this off the beaten track church, from the statue of Our Lady of Childbirth, to Pinturicchio's God the Father, to the Gothic crucifix, Bernini's chapel and others that are just as renowned, or less known but beautiful or interesting nevertheless.
Here is a selection of one or two of the famous pieces I love:
- My eye picked out and dwelled immediately on massive frescoes of the prophets which occupy the pillars. The most famous is the fresco of Isiah painted by Raphael (1512), in the central nave. The prophet's script reads "Open the doors so that the people who believe may enter" (Is 26.2).
- Along the pillars are massive frescoes of Daniel, Zachariah, Micah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
- Andrea Sansovino's St Anne, The Madonna and Child is (1510-12) carved from one piece of marble and is placed beneath Isiah. I'm a grandmother and so I was moved to tears to see this women threesome; the grandmother, mother and baby infant. It is such an honor to women. "The divine genealogy prophesied by Isiah transcends and embraces the human genealogy".
- The two angels holding up shell shaped holy water fonts in the central nave as you walk into the church are beautiful (Angels Raphael and Gabriel).
- Caravaggio's The Virgin of the Pilgrims (1569-1609) in the Chapel of Our Lady of Loreto.
Since there are several Basilicas that are grander round the city, a note to 'pilgrims' - everyone in Rome refers to this Basilica simply as 'Sant'Agostino'.
A Funeral Monument that I Like
The Downside to Looking at Church Art in Rome Center
......is purely practical, If you can look at it that way! It's to do with the body more than the soul or spirit or imagination!
Exploring Rome city center free art masterpieces in churches doesn't cost any admission fee, neither does it offer personal convenience. It could be uncomfortable. Here is a list of the downside of your explorations, which are worth bearing in mind before you set off.
Below, I've included a solution that's really very pleasant, and not expensive either.
- The churches may have services when you are visiting, so you might not be able to wander around as freely as you like at that time.
- Although there are official opening and closing times, they can be flexible (late! or even early!).
- There is nowhere to park outside.
- There is nowhere to change a baby, plonk an umbrella, leave a knapsack.
- There are no bathrooms
- There are no refreshments
- Crying children are not appreciated, (noise is not tolerated generally)
- These two churches don't provide guided tours 'by phone', though there are visiting guided tours.
A Roman Bar for a Cappuccino Break Nearby
There is a small non-touristy bar called Bar Milano diagonally across from Sant Agostino. The coffee is wonderful, the atmosphere is typically proletariat Roman, there is a bathroom and some history attached, which is not common knowledge these days. In the warm weather there are tables and chairs out on the sidewalk.
I've chosen to feature it because Rome is a mixture of the ancient and the artistic, rubbing shoulders with the day-to-day city. It isn't a museum, it's also a fascinating city where Italians go about their daily lives in exactly the same way the rest of the world does, give or take a swear word or two, just as they did when the churches were being built, being frescoed, being sacked and being re-built again. (Caravaggio has those faces in his works).
Once upon a time in the not so distant past there used to be a betting shop across the road from the Bar Milano which used to be filled with men either drowning their sorrows, celebrating their winnings, or hanging out. The owners, the 50's decor, the coca cola ads on the walls, the feel of the place is the same as it was back in the day.
For the price of a cappuccino and a cornetto, (less than $3) you can enjoy more than the taste of coffee. You can rest your feet, use the bathroom, study the map, make phone calls and nobody will bat an eye lid. I've included a link to how to order coffee in a bar here!
Piazza Navona and the Pantheon are just literally around the corner (see the map). A cappuccino will be much, much more expensive there - in proportion to their astounding 'outside' beauty - but you will have already planned to see them, surely.
Bar Milano in Rome Center
How to Get to The Pantheon/Piazza Navona Area
The center of Rome is quite a small area and easy to walk around. The 64 bus (which starts its journey at the Termini Station and winds through the center of the city) will drop you off near Piazza Navona and you are just a few minutes away from the churches.
I've noticed a lot of websites advocating Piazza Barberini as the stop off point and that is quite a walk away. It's not close at all. Being in Rome means being given the wrong information almost all the time. (Best to have a map). Never mind, there's always a bar (coffee shop) or a church to pop into for a rest and more art gazing.
Please rate this article if you like it! (the 5 stars option is above).
Have fun! Buona giornata.
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