Tuesday, January 12, 2010

San Lorenzo fuori le mura

Annie and I unexpectedly found ourselves at the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura yesterday. As with most Roman churches, San Lorenzo is actually a group of buildings variously allied, edited, and re-imagined throughout a thousand year period (give or take); retroactively conceived, as Rome is, as a spatial embodiment of time. Finding its final form in the 13th century, the basilica was spared the steroidal Baroque face lifts that lend S. Maria Maggiore and S. Govanni in Laterano their bloated, though lovely, aspect. By contrast, San Lorenzo is svelte, with a heightened elongation due to its lack of a transept.

The profusion of historical styles that makes Rome so visually delightful is everywhere present in San Lorenzo. The 13th century mosaic frieze above antique Ionic columns; the 1954 war memorial blocking parts of the 13th century frescoes on the porch; the Roman (Pagan) sarcophagus re-appropriated (and inscribed) in 1256 to house the remains of a Cardinal; the rusted metal carapace of an allied bomb on a shelf above 12th century Cosmatesque floors. The relationship between time and artifact is physical, alive, and expressive.

Interspersed throughout the multiple levels of the church are various early Christian and 11th and 12th century inscriptions as well as an extensive painted inscription written in a nebulous Round gothic hand. As we circled the raised chancel, we followed signs to the 12th century cloister which is accessed through the sacristy. In the walls of the cloister are nearly 1,000 inlaid objects including hundreds of inscriptions, either whole or in pieces, many removed from the catacomb on the grounds. Below are some highlights.

Light and airy early Christian inscription below the raised chancel.

Above and below: note the disparity between the highly stylized lettering of the first 4 lines and the rather humdrum lettering in the last two.

Note, also, the beautifully realized CRATO from SACRATO, last word fourth line

Above and below: 1148 inscription above the altar.

Note the MA ligature (between the S and the GI)

1068 inscription with decoration similar to that found in the spandrels of the Basilica of S. Sabina.

Painted inscription in nebulous round Gothic hand. Reminiscent of Mosan lettering of late 12th/early 13th century.

Cloister of San Lorenzo, 1187-1191

Above and below: walls of inscription pieces in the cloister.

Excitedly pointing out a très art deco B