If there’s something I really don’t understand, is why anybody should pay to enter a Church. Isn’t a Church a place where I’m supposed to go whenever I feel the need to pray? Ok, I’m not that religious. Not even close actually. But I got upset during some of my travels when I found out that I needed to buy a ticket, let’s say to enter the Westminster Abbey for instance. What?! Are you kidding me?! I live in the city which has the largest number of Churches in the World (according to Wikipedia more than nine hundred), and you don’t need to buy any single ticket to visit any of them. Not even in Saint Peter Basilica, which, let me tell you, is really something. That’s probably why a lot of people who find out what I’m going to tell you, get very surprised.
The thing is, if you know exactly where to head, here in Rome you could find several art masterpieces made by the most important artists of the art history, displayed in the most ancient Churches and their little Chapels. Statues, frescoes and paintings that would enrich any museum of the world, ready to be admired. For free.
I could mention Michelangelo for instance. His Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli, or the Pietà at Saint Peter. Renaissance art. Barocco. Gotic and realism. All handy and free. All you have to do is just enter one random Church in Rome and you’ll be sure you’ll find some invaluable work.
Renaissance. That’s been a big deal. If you’ve been in Italy before, you’ve seen with your eyes what exactly that word means. Art everywhere. All the different sides of it. Architecture, painting, sculpture, just to say the most. I don’t particularly like Churches, but even a guy like me can stand stunned in front of some of the Domes, Spikes and Facades we have in Italy, not to mention here in Rome. But while some of my favorite artists are the founders of the Renaissance, the best one came right after. He was an acknowledged genius and a pretty damn man. His name is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Best known simply as Caravaggio.
While you can find his works at the most important museums around the world (like one of my favourite, the Death of the Virgin at Louvre), here in Rome, where he used to work around the 1600, you just have to know the right places, to admire some of his works for free.
One of the three Churches in the city center that houses two beautiful paintings by Caravaggio, is located just beside one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. Well, it’s actually difficult to establish which one is the most beautiful square. We have so many. I mean, if you like Churches and squares, Rome is definitely the place you need to go to. Anyway the square is Piazza del Popolo, and the Church is Santa Maria del Popolo. Here, in the Cerasi Chapel, you can find the Crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus.
When I’m around, I’m always going to take a look. I was there yesterday actually, and I didn’t miss the chance.
Not too far from Piazza del Popolo you can find other three paintings by Caravaggio. With a fifteen minutes walk, heading toward the Pantheon, you’ll reach another beautiful Church, San Luigi dei Francesi. Once inside, at the end of the left aisle, you’ll find the Contarelli Chapel, beautifully adorned with three amazing paintings, representing three different moments of the life of Saint Matthew. The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and my favourite, the Calling of Saint Matthew. Don’t worry about finding the right Chapel, you can’t miss it. It’s always the most crowded. Decades of tourists who know this little secret are always gathered in front of the entry of the Chapel, heads up admiring the paintings. You’re supposed to put some cents in a machine to keep the lights in the Chapel on, but honestly I’ve never had any chance. Tourists never let the lights turning off. How blame them. That’d be a shame.
Then while you’re at it, and since the next Church is really close, you could end the little free Caravaggio tour, with a last painting. Right after you exit San Luigi dei Francesi, you need to walk a couple of blocks to find one little beautiful Church, called Sant’Agostino. It houses another masterpiece, which is the Madonna of Loreto (best known as the Pilgrim’s Madonna). In this one, as for other paintings, he used a prostitute as his model to portray the Madonna. And that’s another reason why a lot of his commissioned works were rejected by his employers, who clearly didn’t understand the greatness and the avantgarde of his works, but were more worried about misfits and prostitutes playing Saints.
I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve seen these paintings, but it’s quite a lot, considering I’ve brought there all of my friends, girlfriends, and I always get to take a quick look any time I’m around the Pantheon, which is very often since I really like going there quite often, to have my favourite coffee. Like I wrote on this previous post, the best coffee in Rome happens to be served right behind the Pantheon. So I guess I might have seen them like one million times. Still if I’m close by, I can’t help but taking a look. I mean, who else can say to be so lucky to be surrounded by so much art? Since I am, I never miss the chance to sneak a peek. Then I hope I’ll see you around my city soon, now that you know where to go, not to miss the works of a genius.