The Ponte Sant’Angelo: Angels of the Ponte Sant’Angelo
Bernini played the role of chief designer with the project at the Ponte Sant’Angelo. Bernini planed every aspect of the bridge. He created ten sketches for his ten angels that would stand upon the bridge and share a message from God with the people about Christ’s Sufferings on earth. Angels were frequently mentioned in the Old Testament their primary duty was to disclose God’s will to individuals around the world. In the New Testament Luke refers to angels always being present.7 The word ‘angel’ drives from the Greek word ‘angelos’ which means messenger this is important for angels reveal messages and have been depicted doing so for centuries. In the case of Bernini’s angels they are spreading the word of Christ sufferings to visitors and are presenting emotions that are models for how one should reflect. In the seventeenth century angels played important roles in religious art and during the baroque period were often depicted with soft faces and flowing robes.7 This description matches the way in which Bernini drew each angel. The Passion of Christ was the last events of Christ’s life on earth, from when Christ entered Jerusalem to his burial are all collectively called the Passion.7 The Angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo are arranged in a way that the instruments they carry and the inscription carved into the bases symbolically tell the story of the Passion of Christ in chronological order in a zig zag pattern across the bridge.5
Bernini ran an enormous workshop during his time. He recruited eight brilliant artists to accompany him to complete the large scale commission. Bernini sculpted the Angel Carrying the Superscription and the Angel with the Crown of Thorns. Their faces express an emotion of response and despair at the tortures inflicted upon Christ. Bernini’s two angels have their weight firmly on the left leg and the right leg is bent at the knee both torsos turned away from the front plane of the marble through the movement of their arms that hold their attributes (Boucher). Bernini intended to places his two angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo along with the other angels. Clement IX cherished Bernini’s two angels so much that he could not bear to have them sit outside in the elements and had copies made to replace the two angels on the bridge. Bernini’s original Angels are in Sant’Andrea della Fratte. Bernini established a unique way of pre planning his works of art. He would first create sketches of his visions and then he would create a terracotta version of his sketch and the clay model would serve as a sketch for the marble sculpture. Working in terra-cotta allows the artist flexibility and the ability to work through difficult compositions by being able to continuously change the surface. The clay also allows the artist to achieve dramatic poses, and explore textures. This is all very helpful for an artist like Bernini whose abilities are always excelling and reaching new anomalies.
Bernini’s Angel Carrying the Superscription the angel is reflecting internally and reacting to the instrument that it carries. The Superscription consists of INRI which stands for the Latin phrase “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” And according to the gospels, the INRI sign was affixed to Jesus’ cross.8 Bernini does an extraordinary job at distinguishing the drapery from the flesh of the angel’s arms and legs. The angel’s wings are carved so delicately as if they are made of real feathers. Weil describes the Angel stating “…reflects an inwardly directed sorrow that is indicated by the Superscription, which is tightly curled at one end. Again, every detail of the statue reflects the theme: the angel’s hair is tightly curled, its eyes half-opened, its left arm pressed to its body and closed in an acute angle at the elbow, and its drapery broken into crisp folds.”6 This angel’s copy for the bridge was made by Giulio Cartari and is the eighth angel in the order of the narrative along the Ponte Sant’Angelo. The angel on the bridge’s base reads “God has reigned from the tree” was a sixth-century hymn that references a blest tree that produced a wealth that restored the world.8
Bernini’s other angel was Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns and is a contrast to the previous angel. This angel seems to be expressing its emotion outwardly and passionately. The angel is filled with intensity and the drapery rises up framing the Crown of Thorns. The angels face conveys agenizing grief pertaining to the sufferings of Christ. “…every detail reflects the openness of the angel’s grief: each fold of drapery is clearly and deeply carved, the angel’s hair flows in loose curls, and the arm crossing its chest makes an open angle as it bends at the elbow.”6 The Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns was the third angel that sat upon the bridge this was a copy made by Paolo Naldini. This copy was to be sculpted to be identical to the original angel of Bernini. The inscription on the base of Naldini’s copy reads “The thorn is fastened upon me” (Psalm 31:4).8 The crown was placed upon Christ head before his crucifixion.
The eight sculptors chosen by Bernini to create the other angels all were given direction to how each angel shall look. The artists varying depictions of the angels face and the wings is an example of how each angel was influenced by the individual ideas, beliefs and skill level of the artist. Each angel is robed in a garment embellished by layers of flowing drapery but the faces of each angel is quite different and are determined by each artist interpretation of what they believe an angel looks like. Bernini’s designs for the angels were basic and showed the different angels in similar poses holding their designated item of the Passion but the designs did not give clear information on the details of the face, wings, and clouds these items were left to the digression of the artist. Therefore each angel is quite different stylistically and they resemble the skill as well as the style of the artist that created them.
The first angel in the order of the narrative is the Angel Carrying the Column was by the artist Antonio Raggi. Raggi was born in Vico morcote he traveled to Rome as a young man and began working in Algardi’s workshop he entered Bernini’s workshop in 1647.6 He became one of Bernini’s most trusted assistants and collaborators. Raggi worked with Bernini often. Bernini constantly over saw Raggi’s work and guided him closely resulting in Raggi’s sculptures to portray Bernini’s conceptions flawlessly. Raggi worked closely with Bernini on projects such as the Four Rivers Fountain located at the Piazza Navona and also in the Chigi Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, located at the Piazza del Popolo. Both these projects were within the city of Rome. Bernini’s sketch for The Angel Carrying the Column showed the angel struggling to hold the column after stepping on its robe. The column is symbolic of the Flagellation. The sketch expresses the angel struggling because after stepping on its drapery the robe as fallen off its shoulder and has bound its arms. Bernini is trying to express the weight of the column as an emotion and the way in which the angel is bound by its own robe is in relation to how Christ was betrayed by his own people. Raggi’s sculpture does not echibit the characteristics of the angel from Bernini’s sketch. Raggi’s angel seems to be holding the column with little effort. “…lines of the Column are abstractly reflected by the drapery, which hangs loosely over the angel’s squared shoulders.”6 The inscription on the base states “My throne is upon a column” (Sirach 24:4).8
The second angel is The Angel Carrying the Scourage which is seen standing on clouds that bellow up, these clouds mimic naturalistic forms seen when observing a daytime sky. The angel holds the Scouage a flexible whip used by the Romans to torture Jesus by whipping him multiple times. The inscription of the base of this angel read “I am ready for the scourge” (Psalm 37:18).8 The artist of this angel was Lazzaro Morelli. The numerous thick leather braided strands that make up the whip mimic the drapery around the angel that folds into many folds. The angel’s hair is tightly curled and resembles the curls seen in the drapery. The angel’s head is directed toward the item being held but the gaze of the angel seems to be toward those who are below the angel. The wings of Morelli’s angel consist of elongated feathers that seemed layered upon each other. The angel is posed the way Bernini designed it and the drapery is rendered almost exactly as seen in preliminary sketches. This close depiction could be in relation to the fact that Bernini gave the young artist a clay model to work from when he was carving the angel.5 Morelli worked in Bernini’s workshop until Bernini’s death in 1680. He worked with Bernini on the project for the Tomb of Alexander VII.
The fourth angel within the chronology of the narrative is the Angel Carrying the Sudarium which is depicted standing on a shallow cloud. The Sudarium is a cloth that was said to have been used to clean off the face of Christ while he was carrying the cross to his crucifixion. This cloth is stained with the blood and sweat of Christ. The engraving in the base of the angel reads “Look upon the face of your Christ” (Psalm 84:9).8 The angel was carved by the artist Cosimo Fancelli who was born in Rome. Fancelli worked with Bernini previously on the Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona along with Antonio Raggi. The angel on the Ponte Sant’Angelo is holding the cloth out presenting it to the observer below. The cloth is held between the angel’s left and right hands sloping down crossing the chest. The drapery of the garment worn by the angel flows across the front of the body in a similar fashion and angle that the cloth is held at, causing the Sudarium to reflect the drapery. The artist carved the angel looking directly at the instrument it holds, expressing devotion toward the cloth that is considered a relic. The face of the angel is soft and contains small features. The angel’s gaze is directed toward the Sudarium. The artist depicts the wings as wider rounder feathers layered on the top half that then transition to longer thinner feathers on the bottom half. Fancelli’s proportions are compact and the softness of the cloth is seen in the softness of the drapery.
The next angel on the bridge is the Angel Carrying the Garment and Dice which was carved by Palolo Naldini. His angel looks into the distance away from the Instrument it holds. The drapery of the angel’s robe is simultaneous with the way in which the garment draped across the angel’s arms flows down toward the angel’s feet. The angel is standing flat on the left leg and the right leg is slightly bent resulting in a more upright position. The angel’s wings seem as if the individual feathers are fuller and short at the top and transition into full long feathers. The layering of the feathers is done in a way that seems to give the angel’s wings dimensionality by giving the top half of the feathers fringed edges. The Angel Carrying the Garment and Dice seems to be standing on no cloud at all. It is a very shallow cloud that fluffs up under the angel’s right leg. The garment and dice are symbolic of the moment during Christ’s Passion when the Roman soldiers rolled dice to see who would win the Christ woven garment. The inscription reads “For my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18).8
The Angel Carrying the Cross was created by the artist Ercole Ferata. When Bernini first met Ferata he had the artist create models or the decoration of the pilasters and aisles of St. Peter’s.6 Ferate also worked with Bernini and Antonio Raggi on the in the Chigi Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. His pose for the angel resembles Bernini’s sketch the only thing the artist chose to execute differently was to reduce the size of the cross the angel is holding.5 Also the way in which the artist carved the angel’s resembles a style of relief sculptor. The wings seem to be all on the same plane they lay cleanly and they do not rise from the surface lacking in dimensionality. The bottom half of the angel’s drapery is blown by wind slightly behind the angel and mimics the tilt of the cross while also defining the figure instead of conveying an emotion. The angel stands upon a rounded cloud and with dedication the angel gazes at the cross a symbol from the Passion of Christ and also a grand symbol of Christianity. The inscription on the base of this angel reads “Dominion rests on his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6).8
The following figure on the Ponte Sant’Angelo is Angel Carrying the Nails carved by Girolamo Lucenti a bronze sculptor. This angel exhibits the same similar controposto pose as the others but the proportions are quite different. The angel’s proportions are large in areas and the large torso doses not coincide with the size of the angels head. The face of this angel is quite interesting and does not resemble the faces of any other angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. The face is slender and the angel’s features are unique. The angel’s robe seems to be fuller and consist of more layers. The angel extends its right arm presenting the viewer with the nail while holding the other two nails in his left hand. “Lucenti divided the drapery of the Angel Carrying the Nails into numerous ribbonlike folds that move every direction and make no coherent pattern.”6 The angel is standing on a cloud that is very shallow and does not consist of the same cloud like presence as others. The nails are symbolic to the crucifixion of Christ when he was nailed to the cross. The inscription on the base of this angel states “They will look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).8
The Angel Carrying the Sponge was sculpted by an Italian artist Antonio Giogetti. Giogetti followed Bernini’s model for the angels pose and drapery very closely. Giogeti’s angel has a youthful face that is different from the other angels of the Ponte Sant’Angelo. The artist presents us with a face that is round and youthful a face that resembles the depictions of youthful angels in Renaissance through the Baroque paintings. The angel has long curls that hang down from the angels head and flow into melodic curls that reappear in the angel’s drapery. Giogetti’s careful attention to detail and the soft youthfulness of the angel’s face lead to the creation in my opinion one of the most successful angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. The angel stands upon a cloud that is voluminous. The sponge is attached to a stick that the angel holds onto delicately. The angel gazes at the instrument from the Passion with a contemplative intensity. The sponge is connected to the account that after Jesus was put on the cross before he died a soldier put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a stick and held it to the lips of Jesus. The inscription written at the base of the angel reads “They gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).8
The tenth angel along the Ponte Sant’Angelo is the Angel Carrying the Lance. The lance is symbolic of the spear used by the solider to puncture Jesus’ side wounding his heart and confirming his death. The angel was carved by Domenico Guidi. The angel holds the lance close to its body this effect results in shortening the composition. The drapery is being swept to mimic the angel lance the lance is held at. Also the angel’s hair is being swept back reflecting the drapery. The cloud the artist created resembles naturalistic cloud shape that most likely the artist created after observing the sky above Rome. The angel’s wings on the other hand do not have a sense of dimensionality and again are similar to relief sculpture. The inscription at the base of this angel is “You have ravished my heart” (Song of Solomon 4:9) the song references the spear that was used to wound the heart of Christ.8
1. Roudolf Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750: High Baroque, (Connticut: Yale University Press, 1999) 1-39.
2. Howard Hibbard. Bernini, ( London, Penguin Books, Ltd., 1965), 23-25, 198-205.
3. Bruce Boucher, Italian Baroque Sculpture, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998), 6-57, 195-1999.
4. Tronzo ed., St Peter’s in the Vatican(Cambridge University Press 2005).
5. Mark S. Weil. “The Angels of the Ponte Sant’Angelo: A Comparasion of Bernini’s Sculpture to the Work of Two Collaborators.”, Art Journal, Vol. 30 No. 3 (Spring 1971).
6. Mark S. Weil, The History and Decoration of the Pont S. Angelo, (The University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974), 15-71.
7. Irene, Earls, Baroque Art A Topical Dictionary, (Greenwood Press, 2004).
8. Laura Sheahen,” The Meaning of the Bridge of Angels”, http://www.beliefnet.com/features/bridgeofangels/index.html (accessed 4/20)