Publication – « Santa Maria Antiqua: The Sistine Chapel of the Early Middle Ages », dir. Eileen Rubery, Giulia Bordi et John Osborne

The Santa Maria Antiqua Complex in the Forum in Rome was probably established at the foot of the Palatine Hill in the 6th century. Over the following 600 years it was decorated with a unique series of frescoes bearing evidence of imperial, papal and monastic influences.  Abandoned in the 9th century, limited use probably continued up to the 11th century.  By  the 17th century the complex was completely buried under the rising floor of the Forum. Excavations in 1900 exposed a largely intact complex containing hundreds of 6th – 11th century frescoes, in some places over four layers deep and a unique Chapel of Medical Saints which suggests this was also an incubation site. The English Press hailed the site as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the Ninth century’.

Lavish illustrations of these frescoes, following recent restoration,  make this book an indispensible resource, not only for those working on the church but also for those interested in contemporaneous material in medieval sites especially in Rome, Europe and Byzantium.

This monograph contains the proceedings of an International Conference held at the British School at Rome on 4-6 December, 2013. It reports results of the major project of preservation and research led by the Soprintendenza and carried out over the last 12 years on the fabric of the church, its frescoes, floor, wall and ceiling mosaics, its drainage and infrastructure. Much of the restoration was funded by the World Monuments Fund.The conference also marked the 75th anniversary of the death of Gordon Rushforth, the first Director of the British School at Rome and the author of one of the earliest key papers on the S. Maria Antiqua site.

Since completing her MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2004, Eileen Rubery has worked on the frescoes at S. Maria Antiqua, especially interpreting the mid-7th Century frescoes on the apsidal arch, identified by  Rushforth as linked to the Lateran Synod that Pope Martin I had presided over in Rome in 649 before being martyred for treason by Emperor Constans II. She has drawn attention to the roles played of the ‘Greek’ monks, John Moschus, Sophronius of Jerusalem and Maximus Confessor in events surrounding the martyrdom  of Pope Martin I for treason by Emperor Constans II. Images of the healing saints  Cyrus and John, whose miracles were recorded in a panegyric by Sophronius of Jerusalem, figure  prominently amongst the medical saints depicted in this church, linking it to Cyril of Alexandria who championed these saints. She teaches at Cambridge and Oxford Universities, Birkbeck and the Courtauld Institute within London University and the Victoria and Albert Museum and  has led many tours to Early Christian Rome.

Giulia Bordi teaches Medieval Art History at the Roma Tre University. Her research interests lie in the field of medieval wall painting and the interaction between architecture, liturgical furnishings and wall painting in the churches of Rome and Byzantium (4th-13th centuries AD). Since 2003 she has been a member of the project: “Medieval painting in Rome, 312-1431. Corpus e Atlante”, edited by M. Andaloro and S. Romano, publishing numerous papers therein. She began to work at S. Maria Antiqua in 2000. Exploring its intriguing and complex stratigraphy of painted plaster layers, she is systematicaly mapping them and proposing a new chronology of the church’s decorative campaigns from the 6th to the 11th centuries.

John Osborne is a medievalist and cultural historian, with a special focus on the art and archaeology of the cities of Rome and Venice in the period between the fifth and thirteenth centuries.  His publications cover topics as varied as the Roman catacombs, the fragmentary mural paintings from excavated churches such as San Clemente and S. Maria Antiqua, the decorative program of the church of San Marco in Venice, 17th-century antiquarian drawings of medieval monuments, and the medieval understanding and use of Rome’s heritage of ancient buildings and statuary.  He is also interested in problems of cultural transmission between Western Europe and Byzantium.  After the completion of his graduate studies at the University of London’s Courtauld Institute of Art (Ph.D. 1979), he has held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Victoria (1979-2001), Queen’s University (2001-2005), and between 2005 and 2015 served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he retains a faculty posiiton.  Promoted to the rank of full professor in 1989, he has held visiting fellowships at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; the Istituto Ellenico di Studi Bizantini, Venice; and the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, Washington.  In 2006 he was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the British School at Rome, and in 2011 invested as a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Informations pratiques :

Santa Maria Antiqua: The Sistine Chapel of the Early Middle Ages, dir. Eileen Rubery, Giulia Bordi et John Osborne, Turnhout, Brepols, 2021 (Studies in Medieval and Early Renaissance Art History). 508 p., 50 b/w ill. + 125 colour ill., 30 b/w tables, 220 x 280 mm. ISBN : 978-1-909400-53-5. Prix : 200 euros.

Source : Brepols

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