Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Ponte Sant'Angelo at dusk. Photo by the author. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman
I specialize in the study of Italian 17th-century sculpture. In my many trips to Rome and during the year that I lived there, my favorite place was always the Ponte Sant'Angelo.  This ancient bridge was the site of many a papal procession. It was also touched by miracles: the legends have it that a vision of St. Michael alighted on the topmost crenellation of the Castel Sant'Angelo, then better known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. At that moment, the Eternal City was in the midst of a virulent plague, and when Michael sheathed his sword, the plague stopped. They erected a statue of him there, which has since been replaced.  That statue was said to bow to a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary as it was carried across the bridge in procession, on the way back to St. Peter's Basilica by way of the Via della Conciliazione.  At nighttime, when the vendors have left and the pedestrians rule the way, it is a place of peace and beauty. Lights shine on the angels erected in the 1660s by Gianlorenzo Bernini, et al.  The Basilica, lit from afar, shines like a jewel over the Tiber River. 
Basilica di San Pietro at  night. Photo by author. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman
The procession down the bridge, whether by day or night, is a virtual tour through the final moments of Jesus. Each angel holds a relic associated with the Passion; we'll see the column and whip where Christ was scourged.  Other angels hold the Sudarium, the cloth used by Veronica to wipe his face free of sweat and blood as he carried the cross, the nails, the cloak and dice, the cross, the sponge, and the spear.   It is a pilgrimage bridge that takes you from torture to death, but in the most elegant way. The angels are serene, comforting. 
I've twice used the bridge as a source of inspiration. One was for a drawing for my mother.  This is a sculpture that I know intimately, The Angel with the Cross by Ercole Ferrata. I wrote about it in my dissertation, as its author was the subject of my project.  A drawing can't show the technical difficulties in carving from marble a figure holding a cross aloft, so instead, I concentrated on the challenge of rendering the folds in the cloth, the curls of the hair, and the grace of those fingers that gently support the cross.

"Angel with the Cross" Pencil drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

The other was for a drawing for my husband, long before we were married. This renders a wider view of Paolo Naldini's Angel with the Cloak and Dice.  Foretold by prophets that no man would divide Christ's garments when they stripped him for execution, the soldiers instead cast lots for it. The angel becomes a double for the Roman soldier who won the bet.   It was this drawing that actually gave me the inspiration for the Christmas card of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, seen below.  When faced with the background, I knew I wanted it black. One reason I love the Baroque is the rampant use of chiaroscuro, allowing me to sink into the image's inky blackness.  Only here, I decided to make the sky a combination of textures composed of angels and feathers. 

"Angel with the Cloak and Dice" Pencil Drawing. Copyright 2011 Jessica Boehman

No comments:

Post a Comment