Santa Maria Del Popolo

Santa Maria Del Popolo is arguably one of the most important churches in Rome and features some amazing works of art: paintings by Caravaggio, frescoes by Pinturicchio, a mosaic by Raphael and sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Andrea Bregno. The visitor can see not only the handiwork of the Renaissance but the “modernized” touches of the Baroque.

The church is located in the Piazza del Popolo, one of Rome’s most vibrant piazzas. There’s a lot to see in the Piazza del Popolo so don’t forget to pay a visit to this church. The church’s current facade was updated by Bernini in the Baroque to give the church a more “modern” look.

The church contains several chapels. The Chigi Chapel, named after the banker Agostini Chigi, is decorated with a mosaic designed by Raphael: Creation of the World. This is unique since, by the time of the Renaissance, mosaics were somewhat archaic, if not old-fashioned. The inspiration for the dome is, of course, Michelangelo’s similar work in the Sistine Chapel. Why a mosaic was chosen instead of the more modern (and probably less costly frescoe technique) is anyone’s best guess. Mosaics were common artistic decoration for early Christian churches. Perhaps the church’s patrons felt that having a mosaic helped linked the church to heritage of the past churches. Or perhaps the cost of the mosaic was a status symbol for the church? Whatever the reason, Raphael’s mosaic (realized by the Venetian, Luigi di Pace) is worth seeing.

The Cerasi Chapel contains the paintings (both oil on canvas) of Caravaggio (there are other Caravaggio paintings in Rome — I created a tour that you can view here):

  • The Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1601)
  • The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus (1601)

This site, hosted by the Australian National University, contains a very nice plan of the church showing the various chapels and structures inside. Thanks to Bernini, this church became an important church for the rich of Rome, who used the church for their burials. Agostini Chigi and Cardinal Millini (who also has a chapel in the church) both have their tombs in the church.

There’s an excellent 360 degree/three dimensional views of the interior of the church and two chapels from this site.