Project Description

J. Nicole (active along 19th century), Saint Peter square, Rome

Mixed media on paper cm 49 x 71 dated (1881), placed (Rome) and signed (J Nicole) lower left.

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The space in front of St. Peter’s Church – known as the Sancti Petri stalls and used to welcome pilgrims and processions, host the parades of notables visiting the pope and contain the crowds attending papal blessings – has changed shape several times new buildings and surrounding colonnades, new stairways, following the fate of the basilica which, built in the Constantinian era, was completely rebuilt between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, until it assumed its present forms.

We cannot therefore speak, in every age, of a San Pietro square overlooking the basilica, because in front of the Constantinian one there was a straight staircase, which connected the church with the underlying four-sided portico which had a fountain in the center; at the end of the fifteenth century, the esplanade, flanked by buildings leaning against the perimeter of the quadriporticus, was roughly rectangular, but without flooring and sloping, with a difference in height of about ten meters, between the foot of the staircase that led to the ancient basilica and the opposite Borgo district; the Berninian colonnade finally defined the outlines of St. Peter’s square.

J. Nicole

A nineteenth-century view of the most famous square in the world, the driving force of Christianity, is the subject of this painting by a French painter probably active in the capital in the second half of the nineteenth century. Piazza San Pietro as Piazza San Marco for Venice, assumes in Nicole’s artistic production the value of an icon that relates not only to the urban planning architectural situation it represents, but also to its “political” meaning. Evidently the transalpine painter saw in this square the manifestation of the “liberalism” of Pius IX, and the baroque illusionistic ability, capable of exploiting all the tricks to obtain the most scenographic and spectacular result possible, had a magical power over him.

The pictorial rendering of the square is the most luminous and alive the artist produces without the adornment of fireworks, pinwheels and firecrackers. It is the pure perception of light, of the glare of the sun, of the contrast with the shadows it creates: morning, sundial or twilight, this light touches the monuments, shapes the columns, draws, element by element, facades, columns, porches.