“in the fullness of time” : the vault mosaic in the Cappella Sant’Elena, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome
Payne, Cynthia Anne
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This monograph represents a much needed study of the vault mosaic in the Cappella Sant’Elena at the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. Created ca. 1500, the mosaic is one of only two projects in the medium executed in the city during the Renaissance. It was commissioned by the Spanish cardinal Bernaldín Lopez de Carvajal, the representative of Queen Isabel and King Fernando at the papal court, and it replaced what survived of a mosaic sponsored by the fifth-century empress Galla Placidia. The design of the installation is normally attributed to the Sienese artist Baldassare Peruzzi. This attribution, however, fails to consider the mosaic’s three distinct figure styles. Moreover, no study has been undertaken of the mosaic’s iconography or its links with monuments in Rome and elsewhere. Nor has the significance of the chapel’s program as a whole been considered. Finally, the reasons mosaic was used in the vault and, indeed, the broader phenomenon of renewed interest in mosaics in Rome during the High Renaissance have not been examined. In this paper, I set forth the reasons for the necessity of reconsidering the attribution of the mosaic, offering previously unnoted observations regarding style and suggesting the involvement of an artist working concurrently at Santa Croce, Antoniazzo Romano. Furthermore, by reconstructing the history of Santa Croce, I reidentify a portion of the mosaic’s imagery, exposing two of the motivations driving the patron’s choice of content, the reestablishment of the church’s rank among the Constantinian foundations in Rome and its reinstatement as the guardian of the cult of the True Cross in Rome. By identifying the visual sources for the program, I reveal its reliance on early Christian and medieval monuments in Rome and Ravenna and its function as a vehicle for expressing the patron’s commitment to reform. By examining the mosaic’s historical and cultural contexts, as they relate to the patron, I argue for the program’s content as a manifestation of the Spanish monarchy’s determinant role, selfimagined, in the playing out of Christian history.