An appropriation of victory : Calixtus II and Spolia at Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Genau, Nicholas Dominick, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Reilly, Lisa, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Brothers, Cammy, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Weaver., Eric Ramirez, Department of Art, University of Virginia

In his 1930 study Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud metaphorically describes the city of Rome as "a psychical entity with a long and copious past—in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one." Indeed, it is the perpetual nature of La Città Eterna that makes it such an appealing model for scholars to study the physical and mental appropriation to which Freud refers. In art historical terms, one such area that has stimulated scholarly scrutiny is the phenomenon of spolia, the recycling of architectural material and, more broadly, the reuse of monuments and topographical sites. The study of spolia represents a major chapter in the greater narrative of the cultural appropriation of the past. While one can find the latter trend in virtually every major artistic or cultural epoch, ranging from ancient Europe to twenty-first century America, the interrelationship between past and present was expressed to a great degree in the Middle Ages, despite the popular conception of the period as culturally and artistically deficient.

The first chapter of this thesis involves a broad historiographical analysis of spolia, focusing primarily on intellectual considerations of the topic. This discussion deals with two questions: first, how has the recognition of spolia influenced interpretations of the monuments and buildings for which architectural reuse is a significant tool; second, what have been the major conceptual understandings of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in both medieval and modem literature? The first issue demands a more thorough investigation in order to establish the universality and ultimate significance of architectural reuse. As a symbol of historic, religious, and political groups and individuals, Santa Maria in Cosmedin compares with more famous examples of architectural reuse, such as the Arch of Constantine. The final part of the historiography chapter will deal with the recognition of Santa Maria in Cosmedin as an exceptional basilica among Rome's fertile medieval tradition.

Chapter Two provides a brief survey of the building history of the church. Significant for this discussion are the many stages of construction that appropriated older architectural elements into the new fabric. The most important aspect of the site's history is its ancient affiliation with Hercules, manifested by the Ara Maxima Herculis Victoris, whose structure was incorporated into future building stages of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The rest of the chapter will be devoted to discussing the long-standing tradition of using Hercules as an emblem for the expression of political power and triumph and as an exemplum of virtue. I survey various instances, both literary and artistic, in which the pagan hero served as a symbol for these important ideals during late antiquity and the Middle Ages, laying the exegetical foundation for the rest of the discussion.

The ultimate goal of this thesis is to set the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and its twelfth century renovation with the greater political sphere of its major benefactor. Chapter Three considers the material appropriation and significance of the site in relation to its twelfth century patron, Pope Calixtus II. First, it is necessary to establish both the influential events surrounding Calixtus's election and papacy and his masterful manipulation of political propaganda. The circumstances surrounding both his election and early years as pope serve as a backdrop for the greater implications of his affiliation with the twelfth century renovation of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Calixtus repeatedly translated his own ideologies as pope into visual media capable of speaking to a wider audience. Two artistic commissions provide tangible evidence for this propagandistic foundation—the decoration of Calixtus's additions to the Lateran Palace and the frescoes within Santa Maria in Cosmedin itself. I will argue that the adoption of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, located literally on top of one of ancient Rome's most sacred sites, is consistent with and complementary to Calixtus's larger artistic and political programs as pope. Spolia, a powerful and seemingly universal architectural tool, provided the vehicle through which the doctrines of the medieval church were expressed.

The final chapter considers the pertinence of the discussion within the larger understanding of the twelfth century renaissance, of which a major epicenter was medieval Rome. Critical to this period is the notion of the imitatio imperii, a trend initiated by the papacy to strengthen its position both within Rome and throughout the medieval Christian world. Santa Maria in Cosmedin, as a literal solidification of Calixtus's triumphal reign as Father of the Church, can be firmly placed into this tradition of using the past for contemporary political gains. Through the use of spolia, the church, therefore, can be considered a perfect paradigm of the interrelationship between past and present in twelfth century Rome.

MA (Master of Arts)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:56.

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