This blog post is dedicated to art from the eternal city. Given that Rome is the spiritual home of the Baroque I could discuss any number of works in the BMAG collection, but I’m going to focus on a sculptural piece: a terracotta bozzetto depicting The Martyrdom of Saint. Emerenziana by Ercole Ferrata.
A bozzetto is a small, rough, clay study for a larger sculptural piece. The Martyrdom of Saint Emerenziana was created as a study for a relief on the Saint’s altar in the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in the Piazza Navona. The church was designed by Girolamo Rainaldi, his son Carlo Rainaldi and the great Baroque architect Francesco Borromini, and remains one of the city’s most iconic church buildings.
The bozzetto offers a fascinating insight into the commission, revealing the sculptor’s working practice. Clay was an ideal material for making a preliminary sketch, since it can be easily shaped and modelled, allowing an artist to work quickly and creatively. Here, we can see Ferrata developing his ideas through the medium. However, the bozzetto is also important as a record of the artist’s intentions, especially since Ferrata didn’t live to see the altar completed.
The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone was built under the papacy of Innocent X and the relief for the altar of Saint Emerenziana was commissioned by his nephew Don Camillo Pamphili in 1660. It is likely that the BMAG bozzetto was presented to Camillo for approval before construction on the altar began in earnest.
A contract was drawn up between Camillo and the sculptor, which stipulated Ferrata would be paid part of the 1,000 scudi fee as a down payment, and the rest upon satisfactory completion of the work. When the lower two-thirds of the relief were finished, Ferrata realised he had underestimated the work involved, and wrote to Don Camillo asking for extra money to purchase the necessary marble to complete the upper part of the relief. This was refused, and so the work was installed in the church with the upper section – including the figure of Saint Agnes, the angel and the putti – finished in the much cheaper stucco.
The stucco was later replaced and the relief finished by one of Ferrata’s pupils, Leonardo Retti (around 1666-1714), who fulfilled the commission in 1705. Retti was also the executor of Ferrata’s estate, in which capacity he attempted to cheat Ferrata’s heirs of the payment due for Ferrata’s part of the relief, when in fact he was paid much more to complete it. This led to a long legal dispute, which was only resolved in 1716. However, as part of the legal case, various sculptors were called in to give their official opinions of Retti’s contribution to the Altar of Saint Emerenziana, which were generally unfavourable.
But why did Camillo choose to commission this particular subject? Saint Emerenziana was a Roman martyr, who lived around the start of the 4th century. She was said to have been present at the burial of Saint Agnes, her foster sister, after whom the church was named. When pagan worshippers arrived to disperse the Christian mourners at Saint Agnes’ burial, Emerenziana kept vigil at the tomb and was stoned to death. According to legend, Emerenziana was baptized in her own blood as she died defending her faith and confessing to God. As one of the earliest Christian saints, and a Roman, her presence would have underscored the ancient lineage of its patrons the Pamphili, as one of the oldest and most noble Roman families.
The Martyrdom of Saint Emerenziana is currently undergoing some light cleaning in conservation, ready for the redisplay. Also being cleaned is the Infant Saint John the Baptist – discussed in a previous post – which is having its very own baby bath!