Filippo Della Valle, "Tomb of Pope Innocent XII," ca. 1746, Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica (source -

Fig. 33. Filippo Della Valle, “Tomb of Pope Innocent XII,” ca. 1746, Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica (source –

Redefining Papal Tombs: Papal Tombs after Bernini

Hannah Ridenour

In 1746, the long-awaited funerary monument to Pope Innocent XII (r. 1691-1700) was finally completed (fig. 33).  Executed by Filippo Della Valle above a door in St. Peter’s Basilica, its location points to the popularity of Bernini’s incorporation of the portal, if not to the disappearing available space in the church.  Della Valle drew from both of Bernini’s papal tombs as precedents.  The enthroned pontiff and the figure of Charity

Pietro Bracci, "Tomb of Pope Benedict XIV," ca. 1759, Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica (source -

Fig. 34. Pietro Bracci, “Tomb of Pope Benedict XIV,” ca. 1759, Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica (source –

are both reminiscent of the corresponding figures on the Tomb of Urban VIII, while the use of colored stone recalls Bernini’s late style.  The drapery suggests movement, but the composition has lost much of the fluidity that Bernini demanded.  The sarcophagus has reappeared as well, removing all doubt as to the nature of the project.

Thirteen years later, Pietro Bracci would finish the installation of his monumental tomb to Pope Benedict XIV over yet another door in Saint Peter’s (fig. 34).  Once again, the accompanying figures to the pope, who here stands triumphant, are evocative of Bernini’s, but this time of his Tomb of Alexander VII.  Also comparable to the later of Bernini’s two papal tombs, the sarcophagus is hidden, and Sicilian jasper is employed to add color to the composition.  In fact, the entire group is shockingly reminiscent of Bernini’s first design for the Tomb of Alexander VII (fig. 18).  Still, this mid-eighteenth century project, in line with its close contemporaries and in

Bernini, "First Design for the Tomb of Pope Alexander VII," before 1667, Philadelphia Museum of Art (source -

Fig. 18. Bernini, “First Design for the Tomb of Pope Alexander VII,” before 1667, Philadelphia Museum of Art (source –

comparison to Baroque tombs, suggests a Rococo and Neoclassical distaste of bronze memorial sculpture.

The final tomb to discuss was designed by the leading sculptor in Neoclassical

Antonio Canova, "Tomb of Pope Clement XIII," ca. 1783-1792, Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica (source -

Fig. 35. Antonio Canova, “Tomb of Pope Clement XIII,” ca. 1783-1792, Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica (source –

Europe, Antonio Canova.  From 1783 to 1792, he worked on the Tomb of Pope Clement XIII (fig. 35), which was placed directly opposite from the Tomb of Alexander VII.  Again, elements of Canova’s design hearken back Bernini’s initial plans for the Chigi Pope’s funerary monument, especially the kneeling papal figure turned towards the apse of the basilica.  The niche appears to have been filled in, as it is much shallower than its companion across the nave.  The lions guarding the sarcophagus also flank the door, almost as if they are there to prevent anyone from entering or exiting.  Neoclassical opposition to color has reached its full potential; the entire composition is the same white marble.  Everything has become stiff and stoic, not to mention out of proportion, with the woman grasping the cross standing while her companion across the sarcophagus crumbles in sorrow.  The viewer easily becomes alarmed by the lack of symmetry.

The balance Bernini achieved between the themes of death and salvation on the Tombs of Pope Urban VIII of Pope Alexander VII was lost by the end of eighteenth century.  Death was still a possible character in funerary monument compositions, but he “held nothing but terror for…permanent extinction.”[1]  Canova’s answer to this problem was to reinvent Death to be a winged genius instead of a winged skeleton.[2]  He is altogether less shocking, but consequently less stirring.  The figure’s evolution is a visual example of the ideas preferred by the Baroque thinkers versus the Neoclassical thinkers.

Overall, while the Tomb of Pope Alexander VII Chigi was more in line with Bernini’s vision for funerary art, the Tomb of Pope Urban VIII Barberini, with its connections to Renaissance and Classical standards, was the project that would influence monumental tomb design to the greater extent.

[1] Wittkower, 17

[2] Philipp P. Fehl, “Bernini’s ‘Triumph of Truth over England’,” The Art Bulletin, 48(1966), 405.