MADERNO, Stefano
(b. 1575, Roma, d. 1636, Roma)

St Cecilia

Marble, length 131 cm
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome

Stefano Maderno is best known for his marble statue of St Cecilia (1600) at the high altar of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome. This work, which established Maderno's reputation, was commissioned by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrato, the titular cardinal of the church, who had undertaken extensive excavations of the building in the hope of finding the remains of St Cecilia. The discovery of her supposed entire and uncorrupt body on 20 October 1599 under the main altar was a momentous occasion in Rome, especially within the context of the Counter-Reformation. Sfondrato commissioned Maderno to reconstruct the altar and to carve, as its centrepiece, a statue of the recumbent saint.

Maderno depicted St Cecilia precisely the way Antonio Bosio described her at the moment of discovery: uncorrupt, lying on her side, clad in a dress, with her veiled head turned towards the ground. This gave rise to the assumption, fostered by Baglione and other writers, that the statue was based on direct study of the corpse. It is now generally recognized, however, that the statue is an ingenious invention of Maderno, indebted to ancient sculptures, and based on Bosio's description of St Cecilia's body.

The St Cecilia is a mature expression of Maderno's talent as a sculptor. The statue is a work of classical simplicity and directness in presentation, which presages later developments in Baroque sculpture. It is designed to be seen from a single viewpoint and characterized by an emotive intensity, and a naturalism tempered by idealization that is also evident in contemporary works by Guido Reni in painting and Camillo Mariani in sculpture. The St Cecilia served as the model for a series of Roman Baroque statues of recumbent saints, including the St Martina (1635; Santi Luca e Martina) by Niccolò Menghini, Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Blessed Ludovica Albertoni (1671-74; San Francesco a Ripa) and the St Sebastian (1671-72; San Sebastiano fuori le Mura) by Giuseppe Giorgetti.