Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome

This article was contributed by Kurt Nemes.

Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome serves up everything you'd expect in a Baroque church: history, artistic treasures, opulence, and dramatic grandeur. Not surprisingly, Puccini set the opening act of his opera, Tosca, there.

The opera opens in the fictional Capella Attavanti, where the artist Cavaradossi is painting the portrait of the Marchesa Attavanti for the family chapel. Cavaradossi's lover, Tosca, arrives expressing jealousy over the subject of the painting. As a result, Cavaradossi sings of his undying devotion to the lovely Tosca. No such chapel exists, though most scholars agree the church's sumptuous Barberini Chapel inspired Puccini.


History of Sant'Andrea della Valle

In 1582, Donna Costanza Piccolomini d'Aragona, the Duchess of Amalfi, decided to leave Rome to retire to a convent in Naples. She bequeathed her mansion and a small church dedicated to the martyr St. Sebastian to the newly formed Theatines order.

Founded by St. Gaetano and Pietro Carafa - who would become Pope Paul IV - the Theatines were one of the religious orders blessed by the Church to combat the teachings of Martin Luther. The Duchess stipulated that the order build a church dedicated to Saint Andrew, patron saint of Amalfi

The Theatines weren't as popular as their rivals, the Jesuits who built Il Gesu, and they had trouble financing the construction. Though construction started in 1590 (following a design by Giacomo Della Porta, who designed the Jesuit's Il Gesu), it wasn't until 1608 that a benefactor with deep enough pockets was found. This was Cardinal Alessandro Peretti di Montalto, nephew of Pope Sixtus V's nephew.

The Cardinal hired the premier architect of the day, Carlo Maderno to run the show. Maderno - who had created the façade of Saint Peter's - finished most of the interior including the dome. He also employed his nephew, Francesco Borromini, to help with the façade.  Interior work was completed in 1650, but it took another 13 years to finish the façade.

What to See at Sant'Andrea della Valle

Though designed by Carlo Maderno, the façade was not completed until 34 years after his death. It is therefore often attributed to Carlo Rainaldi (1611-91), who enhanced Maderno's design, and Carlo Fontana (1638-1714), who completed the construction. The façade is more three dimensional than that of Il Gesu, because it uses columns instead of pilasters (flattened columns) and varying planes. In fact, the façade almost looks like the paintings found in Roman villas of Roman temples with vanishing point perspective that were discovered in the renaissance.

When you step inside Sant'Andrea della Valle, its height, light, and richness might take your breath away. The single nave, lined as it is with chapels, is vast and high. The barrel vault, covered with frescoes, sits atop pilasters of white travertine marble. Light floods in from the many windows in the side chapels, the vault and the dome. Gold leaf and ornate carved angels and molding abound.

Just before the transept, on either side of the nave and above the arches of the side chapels, the tombs of the two Piccolomini Popes, Pius II (1405-64) and Pius III (1439-1503) have been placed into the walls. Pius II was considered to be the first humanist pope, who after a debauched youth (during which he wrote an erotic play) funded a number of public works and the art of renaissance painters. He is also the only pope to have written his autobiography while in office. Pius III is known for the shortest reign of any pope (30 days) and it is widely thought he was poisoned.

As you enter the church, the second chapel on the right is the Strozzi family chapel. It was probably designed by Michelangelo and contains bronze copies of his Pietà (from Saint Peter's) flanked by statues of Leah and Rachel (from San Pietro in Vincoli). Like all the chapels in the church, it is a riot of amazing stonework with altars, walls, and columns made out of the finest marbles and semi-precious minerals.

On the opposite side of the church, the Barberini Chapel is the first chapel on the left. This was the inspiration for the fictional Capella Attavanti in Puccini's Tosca. It was commissioned by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (1568 –1644) who later became Pope Urban VIII. On the left wall in the far niche is a sculpture of St. John the Baptist by Pietro Bernini (1562 –1629), father of the famous Gianlorenzo Bernini.

In the right transept, the Chapel of Saint Andrew, contains Saint Andrew Avellino and Death of the Saint by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582 –1647). The cupola of this chapel is covered by the fresco, Glory of Paradise, by Domenichino (1581 –1641). Domenichino and Lanfranco were both pupils of Annabile Carraci (1560 – 1609) and their paintings abound elsewhere in the church.

Carlo Maderno topped Sant'Andrea Della Valle with the second largest church dome in Rome (16.1 meters) after St. Peter's. It is pierced by windows that illuminate the fresco Celestial Glory by Giovanni Lanfranco, which covers the inside of the dome. The fresco contain depictions of Christ, Sant'Andrea, San Gaetano, Saint Peter, and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

In the cupola at the very center is a beautiful painting of an angel hovering and looking down at the paintings on the dome.  Lanfranco won the sizeable commission to paint the fresco, beating out his rival and former fellow student, Domenichino, which almost led to a duel.  However, Domenichino was commissioned to paint Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the pendentives supporting the dome, which must have appeased him.

The apse area is covered from floor to ceiling with frescoes and paintings of the life and martyrdom of Saint Andrew. The majority of these are by Domenichino, which surely made up for his not having received the commission to paint the dome. The painting that dominates the apse (and the entire church for that matter) is the Crucifixion of Saint Andrew by Mattia Preti (1650-51). The immense painting shows the saint being crucified on an X-shaped cross on the island of Patras in Greece. Accompanying paintings on to the left and right are Saint Andrew Nailed to the Cross and The Saint being Laid in His Tomb.

Getting There

From the "Colosseo" Metro stop, walk up Via dei Fori Imperiali to Piazza Venezia. Turn left on Via Del Plebiscito, which turns into Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II. Continue past the Largo Argentina to Piazza di Sant'Andrea della Valle.  The church is on the left, opposite the fountain.

Quick Facts on Sant'Andrea della Valle

Site Information
Names:Sant'Andrea della Valle
Styles:Baroque style
Dedication: St. Andrew
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:41.896094° N, 12.474364° E
Address:Corso del Rinascimento
Rome, Italy
Phone:06-686 1339
Hours:7:30am-12:30pm, 4:30pm-7:30pm
Lodging:View hotels near Sant'Andrea della Valle
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

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