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Cappella dei Pamphilj

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Cappella dei Pamphilj is an early 20th century funerary chapel in the park of the Villa Doria Pamphilj in the Gianicolense quarter. It is at the south end of the Viale del Maglio, and architecturally amounts to a small church. A picture of the edifice on Wikimedia Commons is here.

Name Edit

Oddly, the chapel seems to lack an official name and its dedication is also being left obscure in publications. Cappella dei Pamphilj amounts to a nickname. Pamphilj is also given as Pamphili, and the chapel can be found being referred to variously as Cappella Villa Pamphili, Cappella Villa Doria Pamphili, Cappella Doria Pamphili, Cappella Doria and so on.

If the decoration of the main apse mosaic of the upper chapel is anything to go by, the dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary -but this could do with confirmation.

Beware of confusion with the house-chapel at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, where the art gallery is.

History Edit

The chapel was, in effect, a replacement for the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone which the Doria Pamphilj family had been using as a place of interment. It was commissioned by Alfonso Doria Pamphilj Landi, designed by Edoardo Collamarini from Bologna, begun in 1896 and substantially completed by 1902. Decorative work apparently went on for a further ten years, although most was finished in 1914.

A list of the artists involved is being copied uncritically in published sources:

  • "Pieretto Bianco" (Pietro Bortoluzzi), who designed mosaics and frescoes in 1914;
  • Emilio Retrosi, his collaborator (the mosaics were executed by craftsmen from Murano in Venice);
  • Emanuele Bruni, sculptor;
  • "Spada", sculptor;
  • "Rinaldi", sculptor (obviously not Rinaldo Rinaldi, who was dead by then);
  • Giulio Mazzino, sculptor;
  • Luigi Urgesi, mason;
  • Pasquale Franci, who did the ironwork.

Back then, the park was a private country estate. However, suburban development of the area began in the Thirties and the first sequestration of property for public use was in 1939. The last portions of the present park were annexed in 1971, but the chapel was expressly excluded from this procedure and remains in the possession of the family.

The latter part of the 20th century was unfortunate for the building. Up to 1970, private Masses were being celebrated here in the rite promulgated by the Council of Trent, but in that year the revision of the Roman rite was completed and Masses ceased. It is unclear why this should have happened -one remark online alleges that the liturgical revision included the prohibition of private Masses, but this was not the case. It seems that either the family took offence at the "new Mass", or the previously officiating clergy ceased to co-operate.

After the final sequestration of the family's property in the park in 1971 and the latter's complete opening to the public in 1972, the chapel was neglected. In 1974, there was a break-in and the moveable liturgical items (such as candlesticks) were burgled. There were some disquieting signs of disrepair in subsequent years -vegetation was allowed to grow in the gutter in the top right hand corner, leading to a leak which destroyed some external mosaic work.

At the start of the 21st century, the family undertook some restoration and allowed the occasional celebration of Mass here by the friars in charge of the nearby basilica of San Pancrazio. The latest advertised liturgical events were Vespers (not Mass) being celebrated at 16:00 on Saturdays in October 2016.

Exterior Edit

Layout and fabric Edit

The chapel is a small but highly decorated double-decker edifice. The crypt chapel is basilical, with a central nave of three bays having side aisles. The sanctuary is of one bay with a semi-circular apse. There is a separate entrance bay, fronted by a semi-circular porch with an attached prothyrum. The crypt was constructed in an excavated hollow, with the ground-level entrance "round the back" (don't miss looking at this).

The upper chapel has a single nave of three bays, without aisles. It has a reverse orientation to that of the crypt chapel, and its apse sits on top of the latter's porch. Its own entrance is at the top of a staircase that runs over the crypt chapel's apse, concealing it.

In place of aisles, the upper chapel has a pair of pathways running down its sides from its entrance patio, to a pair of side entrances in little external annexes flanking the end of the nave. These also contain staircases running down to the crypt chapel.

The upper chapel has its walls in cream-coloured bricks pointed with dark red mortar, giving a striking effect. The visible external walls of the crypt chapel are, in contrast in horizontal stripes of dark red and creamy white. The roof seems to be in lead sheets.

All sides of the chapel are highly decorated with complex architectural motifs.

The plot on which the chapel stands is surrounded by iron railings, which protect the drop into the crypt's area and also now delimit the family's private holding.

Style? Edit

The style of his edifice is pretty much unique in Rome, and some misleading terms are being used to describe it. The best appellation is "neo-Romanesque". The chapel is certainly not neo-Gothic, and the description "neo-Byzantine" seems to derive simply from the stripy crypt walls.

Interior fittings have been described as stile Liberty, which is Italian for Art Nouveau.

Frontage Edit

The façade is approached by a long, continuous balustraded stone staircase leading from a small semi-circular piazza to an entrance patio over the crypt apse. If you look below the balustrades, you will see a pair of small arched windows in the curved crypt apse walls.

The balustrades each contain a row of circular apertures with continuous molded frames, eight on each side and separated by little pilasters in the pattern (ascending) 2:1:2:1:2. These apertures contain pierced circular marble slabs called transennae.

The entrance patio is dominated by a large open porch or prothyrum, square in plan with a cross-vault and a gabled roof. Each of the three open sides has an arch with a decoratively molded archivolt the lower order of which is bi-coloured to match the crypt. These arches stand on four Corinthian columns on very high plinths, two columns in grey marble at the tops of the stair balustrades and two in red marble flanking the entrance. The gable has an ornate cornice including modillions (little marble brackets).

The ornate entrance has a deep dished archivolt in several intricately carved orders of molding, incorporating two pairs of thin Corinthian columns in red marble set diagonally. This archivolt encloses a tympanum with a mosaic depicting Christ in Glory. The door-case is in marble, and is simply molded.

The corners of the façade are occupied by projecting pilasters. The inner edges of these are in the same cream-and-red brickwork as the rest of the upper chapel, but the outer edges (the actual corners of the façade) are occupied by polychrome marble blocks laid to give a serrated boundary with the brickwork. At the tops of the pilasters are a pair of molded marble imposts, and below these are two mosaic heraldic shields in proper tinctures. The one on the left is of the Doria family, and on the right of the Pamphilj (strictly speaking, Pamphilj-Aldobrandini; the dove belongs to the former, the lilies to the latter).

From the imposts mentioned spring the outermost of a row of (again) decoratively molded archivolts which cross the façade above the prothyrum. There are five of these, and the middle three spring from three pairs of double columns in grey marble which themselves stand on corbels. These middle three arches frame three round-headed windows with very intricately pierced transennae.

Above the row of archivolts is a large gable mosaic depicting The Madonna and Child in Glory, Venerated by Angels. This is framed at the gable and down the sides by a strip of mosaic depicting a vine with grapes, and the actual roofline has another decorative cornice.

Sides Edit

The sides of the chapel are almost identically treated. The staircase balustrades are continued along the edge of the flat crypt roof, creating walkways down the sides of the upper chapel to two side entrances. These walkway balustrades have circular transennae like those of the staircase; a set of three occupies each diagonally chamfered corner of the entrance patio next to the outer columns of the prothyrum, and the rest are in pairs.

Each side wall has a pair of pilasters occupying the corners matching those of the frontage, including the pair of Doria-Pamphlij heraldic shields. The imposts of these pilasters support a row of nine decorative archivolts matching those in the frontage, and the mosaic vine runs along below the roofline cornice above them. The three bays of the nave are separated by brick pilasters with thin tripletting strips, and these divide the archivolts into three sets of three. The middle archivolt in each set crowns a window in an identical style to those in the frontage, with incredibly fretted marble transennae.

The first two bays have a pair of larger arched windows lower down. Each of these has a single pair of grey marble columns on corbels, supporting an arch crowned by a gable.

The third bay has a projecting entrance lobby on each side, leading to a staircase accessing the crypt chapel. Each of these has an entrance facing down the walkway, with a gabled and molded arch containing a tympanum with a heraldic mosaic and springing from corbels above the doorcase. The lobby has a longitudinally pitched roof, with an outer gable. Below this is a large round window with a bi-colour frame and an incredibly intricately carved transenna focused on a red cross. The gable cornice ends in a pair of tall, thin grey marble columns which occupy the outer corners of the lobby.

Below the walkway balustrades, you can see the walls of the crypt chapel which are in dark red with cream stripes. There are arched windows, simpler in style than those of the upper chapel, and these are high up near the vaulting in the interior. The window dispositions hint at the layout inside -a single far one for the entrance bay with its staircases to the upper chapel, then three for the main nave and another single one for the sanctuary bay.

The walkway balustrades are continued in the same style as walling under the side entrance lobby and around the back of the church.

The major difference between the left and right hand sides is that the side entrance lobby to the left has a little gabled campanile over its outer side wall.

Back Edit

The open balustrade on the far side of the right hand side elevation conceals a sheer drop and a brick revetment wall. This excavation allows for the crypt chapel to have its own "frontage" under the back of the upper chapel, and its separate entrance is here.

The resultant ensemble is impressively tall. The crypt frontage is in red and cream stripes, on top of a pink brick plinth with a stone cornice. It has the following elements on each side (outer first going in): A screen wall with a sloping top edge, set back with an embellished round aperture having a central transenna; the outer corner of the narthex bay of the crypt; an engaged support pier bearing the back corner of the upper chapel above; the semi-circular wall of the crypt entrance; the gabled entrance prothyrum.

The top of the crypt frontage has a continuous decorative cornice, which also occupies the prothyrum gable. Above this is a section of walling which has the same design and is at the same level as the upper side walkway balustrades. Note how the outer walls of the two side entrance lobbies are corbelled out at the sides above this.

The crypt prothyrum has a large and semi-circular arch with a decorated archivolt, which is supported on deep triple block imposts supported by two pairs of little grey marble columns. These in turn are on plinths supported by a pair of red marble columns. Within the porch, the plinths are continued as an entablature over the single entrance, which is flanked by another pair of grey columns. Over the entrance, above the entablature, is a large arched window with a transenna and a pair of little grey columns. A heraldic mosaic occupies the far wall of the porch above this.

The back apse of the upper chapel stands on top of the crypt porch. The wall around the apse is similar to that of the upper chapel façade; there are two corner pilasters identical to the pair there, and from these spring a row of five decorative archivolts. Unlike those in the façade, however, these five ascend to fit under the gable above the apse. The strip of mosaic showing a vine with grapes follows the gable cornice here. The central three archivolts shelter round-headed two-light windows with transennae; the side pair have little round apertures at the top, but the central one has a round transenna with a cross pattern.

The apse wall has three round-headed windows with transennae. These are flanked by four thin grey columns on corbels, and these support large intersecting brick archivolts springing from a pair of pilasters tucked into the corners of the apse. The walling in the interstices between the curves has mosaic decoration around decorative circular stone bosses. Above this blind arcading is a mosaic strip with an epigraph on blue, just below the apse roof cornice: Domus mea domus orationis dicit Dominus; in ea, omnis qui petit, accepiet ("My house is a house of prayer, says the Lord; in it, all who ask will receive").

Interior Edit

Upper chapel Edit

Photos of the interiors of both crypt and upper chapels are very hard to come by.

The upper chapel has a large mosaic in its apse, depicting the Madonna and Child being venerated by St Agnes (after the family's church of Sant'Agnese in Agone) and St Andrew after the member of the family who commissioned the mosaic, Filippo Andrea VI Doria Pamphilj.

Mosaics on the side walls depict SS John the Baptist and Sebastian.

Crypt chapel Edit

The city archives of Bologna (of all places) has an old photo of the crypt chapel which is reproduced here. Specially noteworthy are the arcade arch columns, which are double-decker with four little columns sitting on top of the capital of a single one.

Liturgy Edit

In recent years Mass had been celebrated here, but not with any sort of regularity.

However the website of the parish responsible, San Pancrazio, advises in March 2017 that the arrangement is "suspended". It is worth keeping an eye on the parish website here for any news.

The latest advertised liturgical events were Vespers (not Mass) at 16:00 on Saturdays, noted in October 2016.

All the above refers to the upper chapel. The crypt chapel is never open.

External links Edit

Info.roma web-page

"Quipo" article

"Specchioromano" web-page (the photo is not of this chapel)

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