MOCHI, Francesco
(b. 1580, Montevarchi, d. 1654, Roma)

St Veronica

Marble, height 500 cm
Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican

In 1629 Mochi received a commission for what is probably his best-known work, the giant marble statue of St Veronica in St Peter's, Rome. At the request of Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini), Gian Lorenzo Bernini had begun a massive reconstruction of the crossing of St Peter's in 1626. His design called for great niches in the crossing piers to be filled with monumental saints carved by Rome's leading sculptors: Bernini, Mochi, François Duquesnoy and Andrea Bolgi. Bernini provided models for three of the statues but gave Mochi free reign with the Veronica. Influenced by Hellenistic sculpture, Mochi conceived his figure in strongly emotional terms. The saint, in agony, holds the sudarium in trembling outstretched hands. Spiralling, thin, drapery folds create an illusion of motion, as though the figure is rushing forth from the niche.

The agitated figure seems about to burst out of its niche in order to present the viewer with the miraculous imprint of Christ's countenance. The eighteenth-century critic Giovanni Battista Passeri famously objected to Veronica's movement, which seemed contradictory to the static nature of statuary, but praised the extraordinary carving of the drapery and the cloth on which Christ's face was imprinted.

Compared to the heroic calm of the figures designed by Bernini, especially the statue he carved of St Longinus, the Veronica is frenzied, jarring and inconsistent with the majestic tone of the crossing. Mochi's very personal vision was here out of place.

This sculpture is a good example of the Baroque attitude to art, of its striving to represent feelings and passions by movement and action.