Gesù Nazareno all'Argentina is an 18th century confraternity church at Via dei Barbieri 22/A, just to the west of the Largo Torre Argentina. Picture of the church on Wikimedia Commons here.
This church has been renamed twice since its construction, and the two former names are to be found in modern writings.
The first dedication was to SS Cosmas and Damian, and the church was called Santi Cosma e Damiano dei Barbieri because it was owned by the confraternity of barbers.
In 1888 it was briefly re-named Sant'Elena, after the church of Sant’Elena dei Credenzieri nearby which was being demolished. This latter church had been owned by the Arciconfraternita di Gesù Nazareno, which had to move as a result.
Shortly after they took formal possession they had the church re-named again, with its present title, in 1898.
The dedication is to Jesus the Nazarene.
This little church emerges into history at the end of the 14th century as Santissima Trinità de' Filonardo or del Crocifisso, and was then the chapel of a community of Franciscan tertiaries.
In 1540 it was granted to the Confraternity of Barbers (Confraternita dei Barbieri), who rebuilt it in 1622 and re-dedicated it to SS Cosmas and Damian. The two saints were the patrons of the confraternity, because (according to their legend) they had worked as doctors of medicine. As well as cutting and shaving hair, the barbers also performed minor surgical operations and blood-letting, so the dedication was appropriate.
The church was rebuilt again by 1724, and this is the building that we now have. The architect was Filippo Juvarra. There was a minor restoration by the Confraternity in 1854, involving the interior decoration and also some attention to their headquarters next door.
After the conquest of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870 the church was abandoned and desecrated, but was occupied by the Archconfraternity of Jesus of Nazareth in 1888. In 1896 they obtained possession, and restored and re-dedicated it (with its present dedication) two years later. A statue of Christ was substituted for the former altarpiece.
There was another restoration of the interior in 1902, involving the re-painting of the sanctuary frescoes.
The confraternity was wound up in 1922, and the little complex became a convent of Polish brethren of the Order of St Paul the First Hermit in 1934. They remained there until 1984, when the church was closed again.
There was a major restoration which took place from 2002 to 2011, and the church now functions as a dependency of San Carlo ai Catinari nearby. The Arciconfraternita di Gesù Nazareno has been reconstituted, and is now in charge.
Layout and fabricEdit
This is a very small church, on a rectangular plan. The sanctuary is slightly narrower than the nave, allowing for a triumphal arch.
The neighbouring buildings on both sides are taller than the church, so the façade is all that is visible from the street. There is a small campanile of two arched bell-frames on the left hand edifice, but this cannot be seen.
In the Nolli map dated 1748, this edifice was the headquarters of the Barbieri. The ground floor is shown as having a private oratory, with almost the same floor area as the church and separated from it only by a dividing wall. This is long gone. Also, there was some kind of porch over the entrance to the headquarters since three columns are shown in the corner. These went in the 18th century rebuilding.
The narrow street makes it difficult to view the façade properly, hence Juvarra designed it to be seen at an angle.
The corners are occupied by gigantic tripletted Composite pilasters in rather shallow relief, and these support an entablature with a dedicatory inscription to SS Cosmas and Damian on the frieze. (Sanctis martyribus Cosmae et Damiano dicatum.) Above this is a segmental pediment broken into two halves, which are placed over the pilasters.
The single entrance has a molded doorcase, and a raised cornice supported by a pair of posts with bunched leaf decoration. There is a large arched window over the doorway, decorated with curlicues and a scallop shell at the top and with tassels under the sill.
The left hand corner side wall, next to the former headquarters, is part of the composition. This has a pair of Corinthian pilasters (not tripletted) and in between these in ascending order are a side door, a door with a metal railing balcony and a slightly round-headed window. The balcony is an odd feature, and seems to have been part of the original design.
The entire façade now has a creamy colour after being cleaned in the recent restoration.
Layout and fabricEdit
The style of the small interior is typically charming late Baroque (tardobarocco).
The layout comprises a nave of three bays, the middle one of which has a chapel in a large shallow arched niche on each side. These chapels are flanked by Composite pilasters in shallow relief (echoing those on the façade), and these support an entablature with rosettes on the frieze which runs round the entire interior.
The first bay is occupied by a hanging cantoria or gallery for musicians, which has a serpentine curve in three parts. The two outer sections curve inwards on quarter-circles, while the central section is slightly bowed. This gallery has no access from the church itself. Behind it, two more pilasters support an arch that frames the counterfaçade with its window, and this arch mirrors the triumphal arch into the sanctuary.
It is possible to tell that the frontage of the church is at a slight angle to the main body.
The third bay has a doorway with a winged putto's head over it on the left hand side, and on the right a false door in an identical style for the sake of symmetry. Above each door is a window topped with a gilded crown.
The ceiling is barrel-vaulted, with three lunettes on each side occupied by windows. Each bay has a fresco panel, the two outer ones featuring a pair of angels and the larger central one depicting The Apotheosis of SS Cosmas and Damian. These are by Giovanni Antonio Grecolini.
The stucco decoration on the ceiling vault, gallery and elsewhere is richly intricate. The colour scheme is overall a creamy white, with a few gilded touches here and there especially on the gallery frontal. The stucco work on the gallery is thought to be by Giuseppe Piccioni.
The slightly narrower sanctuary allows for a triumphal arch, the archivolt of which is above the entablature just mentioned. The plan is square. The ceiling has a cross-vault over lunette windows on three sides, and the ribs of this meet at a fresco of The Dove of the Holy Spirit.
The side walls of the sanctuary have two large frescoes depicting scenes from the legend of SS Cosmas and Damian, by Michelangelo Cerruti (restored in the 19th century). The altarpiece is now a statue of Jesus the Nazarene in a red robe, in a niche behind glass with an arched frame, but used to have a picture of the beheading of the two saints.
The left hand altar has an altarpiece which is a notable painting of St Helena the Empress allegedly by Cristoforo Roncalli (Il Pomarancio). This used to be over the main altar of the demolished church of Sant'Elena, and here replaced a Crucifixion by Cerruti.
The right hand altar has an icon of the Madonna and Child, in an oval tondo with a gilded frame which is accompanied by an angel and putti in fine stucco work. It is claimed to be by one of the Zuccari brothers (which?), but another opinion suggests Pierre Mignard.
There is a Mass at 11:00 on Sunday, and the church is usually open at 10:30 in order to prepare for it.