CAVALIERI, Giovanni Battista de'
(b. ca. 1525, Trento, d. 1601, Roma)

Ecclesiae militantis triumphi

Cicognara Library, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vatican

In this book of Giovanni Battista de' Cavalieri, published by Bartolomeo Grassi in 1585 in Rome, the martyrdom scenes in San Stefano Rotondo are reproduced along with their inscriptions, as if they were a catechism for the newly reformed church returning to its Early Christian roots. The present print shows the ninth fresco of San Stefano Rotondo: St Eustache and his companions being cremated in a bronze bull, one of the torture instruments of the period.

The church of San Stefano Rotondo, which has an unusual round shape, is known for its frescoes depicting Christian martyrdom under the Roman empire. The frescoes, painted by a team lead by Niccolò Circignani known as il Pomarancio, show the different means by which Romans tortured early Christian martyrs. The cycle of martyrs, as it became known, was commissioned by the German-Hungarian College of Jesuits, to which the church belongs, with the specific aim of educating their novices. During their novitiate in Rome (the training period given to decide whether or not to join the Church), trainee priests were isolated from the world to meditate on the life of Christ.