If you discreetly ring the bell at the portal to the left of the basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere façade, you’ll be admitted to the entrance space belonging to the Monastery of Benedectine nuns. From there, you’ll ascend to the “Coro delle monache”, where some remains of the medieval frescoes painted by Pietro Cavallini and assistants still disclose the beauty of their vivid colors to visitors’ admiration.
The still visible fresco fragments depicting the Last Judgment on the upper part of the counter façade were part of an originally much wider painting cycle which also covered the sidewalls of the central nave and represented various scenes from both the Old and New Testament.
This fresco decoration has been dated between ca. 1289 and 1293 and deemed as the masterpiece by Pietro Cavallini, one of the most innovative and significant artists of 12th-13th centuries Rome. The painter revealed the richness of his cultural sources of inspiration, conserving a Late Antique descend and obtaining a solemn sculptural solidity of the figures, reminiscent of the gothic sense of space, painted with the chiaroscuro rendering of his thorough artistic technique and enriched with the details preciousness gushing from the oriental Mediterranean.
Hello! I am researching this church for a project and this comes as a very late request. Would you happen to have a source or information about the location of the 13th-century frescos by Pietro Cavellini. Thus far the only concrete evidence I have found are those on the anti-facade, leaving the church. If there is any information about the frescos particularly lining the nave I would be very appreciative if you could please send it my way as soon as possible (again, this is a late move in the research stage).
Thank you for your cooperation.
first of all, thanks for contacting us! We are very happy to answer.
As you already know, the fresco remains on the upper part of the counter façade were part of a painting cycle probably completed before 1293, which also covered the sidewalls of the central nave. Some scenes from the Old Testament were represented on the right wall, whereas scenes from the New Testament were painted on the left one. Apart from the “Last Judgement”, there are only fresco fragments, made by assistants, from these other following scenes: “Isaac blessing Jacob” and “Jacob’s ladder” (on the right sidewall), the colossal figure of “Saint Michael (?)” and the “Annunciation” (on the left sidewall), still visible on the initial section (near the counter façade) of the sidewalls, now included in the space of the nuns’ choir.
There are also decorative portions of painting still visible on the attic, which allow to reconstruct the whole scheme. It was constituted by two registers, characterized by the painted rendering of a false architectural structure: at a lower level the scenes were framed with false tortile cosmatesque columns, in the upper level the windows were alternated with painted sculptures in niches, surmounted by tympanums.
If you need a reference book, you can start from the fundamental “L’arte medievale in Italia” by Angiola Maria Romanini, then consulting the books cited there.
Hope it will be of some help!
Let us know if you need further info.