San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome
San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, St John of the Florentines, is a church in the Ponte rione or district of Rome. Dedicated to St John the Baptist, the protector of Florence, the new church for the Florentine community in Rome was started in the 16th century and completed in early eighteenth and is the national church of Florence in Rome. The main façade fronts onto the Via Giulia. This straight street was an urban initiative, carried out in 1508 by the architect Donato Bramante at the instigation of Pope Julius II Della Rovere, which cut through the irregular urban fabric to the Ponte Sant’Angelo, the bridge which crosses the River Tiber to the Castel Sant’Angelo and St Peters.
The first projects
It was Julius II’s successor, the Florentine Pope Leo X de Medici, who initiated the architectural competition for a new church in 1518 on the site of the old church of S. Pantaleo. Designs were put forward by prominent architects such as Baldassare Peruzzi, Jacopo Sansovino, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and the painter and architect, Raphael. The dominant initial ideas were for a centralised church arrangement .
Sansovino, Sangallo the Younger and Michelangelo
Sansovino won the competition but following various difficulties, including the substructure near the river’s edge, Sangallo was put in charge of the building work, made a wooden model and the design was reorganised as a Latin cross plan. Work proceeded slowly. With only some of the nave foundations having been laid by Leo’s death in 1523, construction ground to a halt by the time of the Sack of Rome in 1527.
In 1559, Michelangelo was asked by Cosimo I de Medici, Duke of Tuscany, to prepare designs for the church and he presented a centralised church arrangement but this was not adopted .
The church construction: Della Porta, Maderno and Galilei
The main construction of the church was carried out between 1583-1602 under the architect Giacomo della Porta based on the Latin cross arrangement. Carlo Maderno took over from 1602-1620 during which time the dome was constructed and the main body of the church completed. However, the main façade onto the Via Giulia was not finished until 1734, based on a design by Alessandro Galilei .
The choir interior: Cortona, Borromini and Ferri
In 1634, the Roman Baroque painter and architect, Pietro da Cortona, was asked by the Florentine nobleman, Orazio Falconieri, to design the High Altar . Drawings for the altar and its setting and a model were prepared but the project was not carried out. Cortona’s ideas for the choir included windows hidden from the view of the congregation that would illuminate the altarpiece, an early example of the Baroque usage of a ‘hidden light’ source, a concept which would be much employed by Bernini. Some twenty to thirty years later, Falconieri resurrected the choir project but gave the commission to the Baroque architect, Francesco Borromini who changed the design to allow for the burial of Orazio's brother Cardinal Lelio Falconieri. After Borromini died in 1667, the work was completed and partly modified by Cortona and on his death in 1669, by Ciro Ferri, Cortona’s pupil and associate .
Given the opportunity that this new church presented, its Florentine patronage and the actual and potential involvement of leading architects and artists of the time, the resultant building is perhaps disappointing.
Interior embellishments and monuments
The choir is the family chapel of the Falconieri family and houses a number of Baroque sculptures. The relief on the High Altar portrays the 'Baptism of Christ' by Antonio Raggi. The large altar, made of French red marble and Cottanello marble, is surmounted the figures of 'Justice' by Michel Anguier and Fortitude' by Leonardo Reti. To either side are tombs of the Falconieri family, enriched with stucco and marble portraits of family members in polychrome medallions supported by putti. Statues include 'Faith' by Ercole Ferrata and 'Charity' by Domenico Guidi The neoclassical tomb of Alexander and Marianna Falconieri Lante is by Paolo Benaglia.
To the left of the choir is the Cappella del Crocefisso (the Sacchetti family Chapel), which has wall and vault frescoes by Giovanni Lanfranco and a bronze crucifix created by Paul Sanquirico and made by Prospero Antichi. The left transept accommodates commemorative busts of Antonio Barberini, after Bernini, and of Pietro Francesco De Rossi.
The right transept has a painted Martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian by Salvatore Rosa, a bust of Ottavio Corsini by Alessandro Algardi and of Ottaviano Acciaioli by Ercole Ferrata
On the pillars of the nave are monuments to Francesca Riccardi Calderini Pecori by Antonio Raggi of circa 1655, to Alessandro Gregorio Capponi, designed by Ferdinando Fuga and sculpted in 1746 by Michelangelo Slodtz, a monument to Girolamo Samminiati by Filippo della Valle of 1733, and the bust of Clement XII Corsini.
On the main façade are sculptures by a variety of artists; Filippo della Valle, Paolo Benaglia, Pietro Bracci, Domenico Scaramuccia, Salvatore Sanni], Francesco Queirolo, Simone Martinez, Gaetano Altobelli, Carlo Pacilli, Giuseppe Canard.
Leading from the church to the sacristy are various artefacts; a statue of a young Saint John the Baptist, traditionally attributed to Donatello and then to Michelangelo, busts of Antonio Coppola (either Pietro or Gian Lorenzo Bernini) and Antonio Cepparello by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini and Pier Changes Pompeo Ferrucci, the relief with the Virgin, St. Anne and the Infant of Pierino da Vinci, the cross bronze of Antonio Raggi, the shrine of the foot of Santa Maria Maddalena from the workshop of Benvenuto Cellini in silver, bronze and gold and large silver monstrance by Luigi Valadier.
Burials in the church
Amongst those buried in the church are: Cardinal Luigi Maria Torregiani, Cardinal Giulio Cesare Sacchetti, the Baroque architects Carlo Maderno and Francesco Borromini, Ludovico Cardi, known as Cigoli, Onofrio del Grillo, the inspiration of the main character in the Italian movie Il Marchese del Grillo, and the architect Carlo Murena.
- St. Philip Neri founded the Congregation of the Oratory during the time he was rector of this church from 1564–1575, and one of the chapels (4th to the right) is dedicated to him. During Neri’s rectorship, it became clear that this church community was hoping he would be a noble charismatic figure to head the new national church. Not caring much for this view of his role, Neri frequently returned to his previous nearby church of San Girolamo della Carità.
- Early in the 17th century, a hospital was built adjacent to the church that became the Ospedale della nazione fiorentina (Hospital of the Florentine nation).
- The church takes care of the Historical Archive of the Arciconfraternita dei Fiorentini, (Archconfraternity of the Florentines) which preserves writings, documents, projects and music from XV century to the present.
- The church is also known for the fact that animals are permitted to enter.
- The church is open to the public every day from 7.30 am to 12.30 pm and from 4 pm to 7 pm.
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