Bernini’s less known statues disrobed and restored.
Unjustly considered a minor work, the De Sylva Chapel designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1662) in the Church of Sant’Isidoro has been restored to its former glory, with funds from the FIT (Italian Tobacconists’ Federation), which have revealed its artistic merits. The chapel was built for the Portuguese knight Roderigo De Sylva who wanted to create a family vault in the handsome church of Sant’Isidoro – near the Via Veneto. The church itself is quite breathtaking since it is located at the head of a romantic staircase in a vast garden.
Recent research has revealed that the knight and the artist lived in the same building in Via della Mercede, so they were friends or at least acquaintances, which would explain why Bernini would take on the task of designing the chapel despite being up to his neck in work. In fact, it was commissioned while Bernini was under pressure from Pope Alexander VII to complete the colonnade of St. Peter’s square. Therefore, although the chapel was designed by the great maestro, it was actually sculpted and painted by his collaborators and pupils – notably Pietro Paolo Naldini and Giulio Cartari – hence its fame as a minor work. However, the chapel bears the unmistakeable mark of Bernini’s genius, highlighting the extraordinary skill of the sculptor to “breathe life” into his statues and to fuse together various techniques and materials: sculpture, painting, precious marble and stucco.
In the 1800s, the two allegorical statues representing Charity and Virtue located at either side of the chapel were cloaked in heavy bronze robes by censorship to conceal their nudity and sensual poses, while the naked cherubs painted on the walls were covered by a thick coat of faux black marble. The restoration work has not only cleaned up the grime deposited over the centuries, but it has also gotten rid of the bronze coverings and faux marble finish that weighed down the small space revealing a light and airy chapel, which is a testament to the mastery of the most important Baroque artist in Rome.
The chapel can be visited by appointment only, from Monday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
To book, call 064885359
Church of Sant’Isidoro – Via degli Artisti, 41.