FONTANA, Domenico
(b. 1543, Melide, d. 1607, Napoli)

View of the Sistine Chapel

c. 1580
Cappella Sistina, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

Pope Sixtus V centred most of his urban interventions in Rome on the old basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore where he constructed a large chapel with monuments to himself and his early patron, Pope Pius V. It was not the quality of workmanship but the scale of the tombs, the sumptuousness of the coloured marbles and the profusion of reliefs and statuary which foreshadowed the major characteristics of Baroque art.

The Sistine Chapel is on the right side of the high altar in Santa Maria Maggiore, facing the Pauline Chapel on the other side of the altar. It was named for Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), whose decision it was to build it, awarding the commission to Domenico Fontana. In its construction were used marble and other stones taken in part from ancient Roman monuments and in part recovered from the old Lateran Palace, at the time in ruins.

The chapel is on a Greek cross plan, faced with marble and topped by a dome decorated with Mannerist paintings by a group of artists, directed by the best known of them, Cesare Nebbia (c. 1536-1614). In the centre of the Sistine Chapel, on the altar four angels hold an elegant ciborium in the form of a tempietto, a distinguished example of the goldsmith's art designed by Giovan Battista Ricci (1537-1627), which repeats the model of the chapel itself.

In the walls on either side of the ciborium are funerary monuments to Sixtus V and Pius V (1566-72), his predecessor who had managed to stop the Turkish advance on 7 October 1571 with the victory of Lepanto, and for this feat considered a great and valiant de- fender of the faith. In honour of the two popes, who belonged to the Dominican and Franciscan orders respectively, in niches to the sides of the two monuments are on one side statues of St Dominic and St Peter Martyr, and on the other St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua.

Sixtus V himself inaugurated his monument on 30 July 1589, and a year later, at his death, was buried in the chapel crypt.