Papal Patronage of Baroque Rome


Explore the legacy of Baroque Rome by focusing on the patronage of three ambitious popes: Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini, r. 1623–44), Innocent X (G B Pamphilj, r. 1644–55) and Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi, r. 1655–67). In this course, you will look at the times of these popes, their cultural policies and political ambitions that contributed to Rome’s ornate distinctiveness.

You will explore the commissions each pope charged to the city’s most talented artists, including Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), Francesco Borromini (1599–1667) and Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669). The relationship between the popes, their artists and artworks reflects each pope’s commands to capture, magnify and promote the beauty of a majestic and triumphant reformed church and city.

Target audience:
This course is for anyone with an interest in art history, the Baroque period and papal, Catholic or Roman history.  It will also appeal to those planning to visit Rome, particularly its art and architecture.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will:

  • have gained an in-depth knowledge of Roman Baroque culture, especially through the city’s visual arts and architecture
  • be able to connect the popes of the Baroque era through their artists and respective artworks
  • be able to read major papal coats of arms throughout the city of Rome.

Course outline:
Each session covers two one-hour topics and features lecture presentations, comparative analyses, discussion and audio-videos.

Week 1: The Roman Baroque: Origins and blossoming

  • Part 1: Introduction to the Baroque: Meaning and manifestation. Baroque culture of life in architecture, visual art, music and costume. Rome’s transition out of the Renaissance. Michelangelo’s boredom and the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.
  • Part 2: Introducing the Baroque popes and their artists (personalities and tempers): the Barberini, the Pamphilj and the Chigi, their cultural policies, artists and papal commissions. Papal signatures and papal heraldry throughout the city of Rome. Early Baroque master architects and their papal patrons.

Week 2: Rome the decorated city ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam’

  • Part 1: The ‘Campidoglio’ experience and Rome’s theatrical spaces. Revisiting ‘Quantum potes, tantum aude’ (‘Dare to do as much as you can’). The Via Papalis, domes and facades of the churches of the new religious orders: Il Gesù, Sant’Ignazio, Sant’Andrea della Valle, Chiesa Nuova. How to read a Baroque facade.
  • Part 2: The Villa Borghese: Among Caravaggio and Bernini (artists and artworks). Other sculptures and paintings of the Borghese. Aristocratic cardinals and their cultural competitions.

Week 3: Borromini and Bernini

  • Part 1: Francesco Borromini’s churches and facades: Saint Agnese in Agone; Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza; San Carlino, Collegio Propaganda Fidei.
  • Part 2: Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s piazzas and fountains: Piazza Navona, Fountain of the Three Rivers; Piazza Barberini and the Triton Fountain.

Week 4: The Cathedra Petri, ecstasy and glory inside Roman churches

  • Part 1: The Via Pulchritudinous: Bernini’s path towards salvation in the Chair of St Peter and the embrace of his Piazza San Pietro at the Vatican Basilica.
  • Part 2: Inside Bernini’s churches: Ecstasy and glory: Santa Maria della Vittoria (Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa and the Cornaro Chapel); Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (Antonio Raggi’s Glory of St Andrew).

Week 5: Rome’s Baroque altars, church facades, villas and palazzos

  • Part 1: The Baroque altar and the Missa Solemnis: Music and spectacle in worship. Extending papal patrimony of the Baroque beyond visual art.
  • Part 2: Through papal palaces and gardens: Palazzo Borghese; Palazzo Barberini (Pietro da Cortona); Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and Villa Doria Pamphilj; Palazzo Colonna and Palazzo Chigi.

Week 6: Miscellaneous Baroque Rome

  • Part 1: Commissions to Pietro da Cortona: Church facades of Santi Luca e Martina, Santa Maria della Pace, Santa Maria in Via Lata. The city as theatre in the early 18th century: popes of the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.
  • Part 2: Final reflections, summary and conclusion.

A short break is held halfway through each session, and you are welcome to bring refreshments if you wish.

Christopher Longhurst is a theologian specialised in theological aesthetics. He obtained his doctorate from the Angelicum, Rome, and has worked in Rome for 17 years leading educational tours. He is also an educational officer (‘operatore didattico’) at the Vatican Museums.

Relevant Links:
School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies

For Further Information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140
Phone 04 463 6556, Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.