Bernini’s Angels


Castle Sant'Angelo with Bernini's Angels on Ponte Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo with Bernini’s Angels on Ponte Sant’Angelo

My favourite bridge in Rome has to be the Ponte Sant’Angleo with its beautiful angel statues. It used to be called the Aelian Bridge or Pons Aelius, which means the Bridge of Hadrian. It was named after its creator Roman Emperor Hadrian, and was completed in 134 AD. It is one of only two ancient Roman bridges still standing across the Tiber in Rome. It connects Rome’s city center to Castel Sant’Angelo, which used to be Hadrian’s mausoleum.

These days the bridge is for pedestrians only, but it used to be busy with pilgrims from all over the world on all sorts of different forms of transportation, all making their way to St. Peter’s Basilica; it was also referred to as Pons Sancti Petri (Bridge of Saint Peter).

The name change, for both the bridge and the castle, happened under Pope Gregory I, in the 7th century and stems from a legend that an angel appeared on the roof of the castle to announce the end of the plague.

The bridge used to have houses at its head, as well as a Roman triumphal arch, but they were torn down in order to widen the pilgrim’s route, as in 1450, during jubilee celebrations, the balustrades of the bridge yielded under the great numbers of pilgrims and many drowned in the Tiber.

Similar to London Bridge, Ponte Sant’Angelo was also used to exhibit the bodies of the executed for many centuries.

Ponte Sant'Angelo

Ponte Sant’Angelo

The statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were erected through the monies collected from the toll that was introduced for this bridge in 1535. They were later joined by the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses. By 1669 these stucco statues were looking rather worse for wear and Pope Clement IX commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to come up with replacements, although Peter and Paul are still there today.

This was one of Bernini’s last large projects and he planned for 10 angels holding instruments of the Passion. Bernini himself only created two of the angels, Angel with the Superscription and Angel with the Crown of Thorns, but alas, the pope kept these masterpieces for his own enjoyment, so they never made it to the bridge. However, if you make your way to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, which is just south of the Spanish Steps, you can admire his beautiful angles there.

Bernini’s most important work however is the Piazza San Pietro, which I talked about a few weeks back in my post about St. Peter’s Basiclica.

Bernini dominated the Roman art world of the 17th century; he did well under the patronage of the cardinals and popes of the Eternal City, but he also challenged artistic traditions. Bernini worked under eight popes; he apparently started at the age of eight and was not much older when he dazzled Pope Paul V, who reportedly declared: “We hope that this youth will become the Michelangelo of his century.” Many of Rome’s churches, fountains, piazzas and monuments can be credited to Bernini and his followers. I think it is fair to say that Pope Paul V’s hopes were fulfilled.

Whilst I enjoy all the other artworks around Rome that Bernini created, these angels are my absolute favourite, even though he did not actually worked on them, but his students and followers worked very much as he did, so his influence and work methods come through in every piece.

I just wish that back when I visited Rome I would have taken more photos, but alas, back then I had a small pocket camera and was still in the “snapshot” tourist mode. However, that in itself gives me enough reason to put Rome on my travel list again!

Each angle stands on a base with a Latin Bible inscription. The verses inscribed on many of the angels will not be very familiar to most as they are taken from an old and superseded scripture translation known as the Latin Vulgate.

Here is a list of the Angels, their inscriptions and the significance they hold.

Angel with the Column

Sculptor: Antonio Raggi

“My throne is upon a column” from Sirach 24:4.

According to tradition, Roman prisoners were whipped while bound to a low pillar or column. The book of Sirach is found in Catholic Bibles, but considered apocryphal by certain Christian denominations.

Angel with the Scourge

Sculptor: Lazzara Morelli

“I am ready for the scourge” from Psalm 37:18, Latin Vulgate version.

In Mark 15:15 the Roman governor Pontius Pilate had Jesus scouraged before having him crucified.

Angel with the Crown of Thorns

Sculptor: Paolo Naldini

“The thorn is fastened upon me” from Psalm 31:4, Latin Vulgate version.

In Mark 15:17 Roman soldiers crowned Jesus with thorns before they crucified him.

Angel with Veronica's Veil

Angel with Veronica’s Veil

Angel with Veronica’s Veil

Sculptor: Cosimo Fancelli

“Look upon the face of your Christ” from Psalm 84:9.

According to Roman Catholic tradition, a woman named Veronica wiped Jesus’ face with a cloth while he was carrying the cross; Jesus’ image remained on the cloth.

Angel with the Garment and Dice

Angel with the Garment and Dice

Angel with the Garment and Dice

Sculptor: Paolo Naldini

“For my clothing they cast lots” from Psalm 22:18.

In Mark 15:24 Roman soldiers took Jesus’ well-made garments and played dice for them.

Angel with the Cross

Angel with the Cross

Angel with the Cross

Sculptor: Ercole Ferrata

“Dominion rests on his shoulders” from Isaiah 9:6.

This scripture verse links the “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero” of Isaiha’s prophecies to Jesus. Earlier in the same passage, the prophet announces that “a child is born to us, a son is given to us.” The cross resting on Jesus’ shoulders is symbolically linked to his dominion.

Angel with the Nails

Sculptor: Girolamo Lucenti

“They will look upon me whom they have pierced” from Zechariah 12:10.

In John 20:25 Thomas tells of Jesus’ nailing to the cross. The crucifixion narrative in John’s gospel (19:37) quotes this verse.

Angel with the Superscription

Angel with the Superscription “INRI”

Angel with the Superscription “INRI”

Sculptor: Guilio Cartari

“God has reigned from the tree” from a 6th century hymn.

The lyrics to this ancient hymn about the cross describe the “blest Tree, whose happy branches bore the wealth that did the world restore.” The inscription INRI is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”. According to the gospels, the INRI sign was affixed to Jesus’ cross.

Angel with the Wine-Soaked Sponge

Sculptor: Antonio Giorgetti

“They gave me vinegar to drink” from Psalm 69:21.

The gospels of Matthew and Mark both report that just before Jesus died, one of the soldiers who crucified him placed a sponge dipped in “sour wine” on a stick and held the stick to Jesus’ lips.

Angel with the Spear

Angel with the Spear

Angel with the Spear

Sculptor: Domenico Guidi

“You have ravished my heart” from the Song of Solomon 4:9.

According to John’s gospel, after Jesus died, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear to confirm that he was dead. Christian tradition has tied this action to the “ravishing” or “wounding” of the heart of the beloved in the Song of Solomon. This tradition emphasizes that Jesus underwent death by crucifixion as an act of love for humankind.

I hope you enjoyed the angels as much as I did on my visit (and still do). Next week I will be closing this Rome series with a collection of different shots from my trip that didn’t fit in anywhere else, but that I would like to share to give you a little more flavour of what Rome has to offer.

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Categories: European History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Bernini’s Angels

  1. God’s Bully Boys remember Michael starring John Travolta, that Bull still has a headache.

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  2. Another wonderful series, Simone, I would never know these statues existed without your travel experiences.

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  3. Beautiful photos and writing.

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  4. The bridge is a work of art…love the picture of the entire bridge w/ that reflection…hard to believe they displayed the executed on such a masterpiece! Thanks for sharing the individual statues too…they are are stunning!

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