Martyrdom Imagery in the Church of Santi Nereo e Achillo: Establishing the Lineage of Catholic Iconography through Theatrical Arrangement

Summer 2013

Mathilde Bonvalot : History of Art

Mentor: Todd Olson, History of Art

The reassertion of Catholicism's essential principles after the Council of Trent had a major impact on religious art production in 16th century Italy. Consciously putting together reliques from the early years of Christianity with Rinascimento painting techniques, the new visual programs created within Roman churches became the place where sacred space and ideas could be rebuilt, generating a new meaning for the Catholic community. I will travel to Rome to investigate the emergence of the discipline of Archaeology as the crucial event that allowed early Christian antiquities discovered in the Catacombs to be reinvested in churches during the Counter-Reformation. My research will focus mainly on the modest basilica of Santi Nereo e Achillo – where infamous scenes of Christian martyrdom are believed to have been composed by Renaissance painter Pomarancio – to understand how this gruesome imagery participated in the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church's claims for historical legitimacy.

Thanks to the SURF fellowship, I will be able to complete essential research for my History of Art senior thesis in situ, a unique opportunity for which I am absolutely grateful. The advising and support I will receive thanks to the program will be a chance for me to improve my skills as a scholar in the field of art history. I am confident that my summer research will be fruitful given the considerable amount of visual and textual information I will have access to in the city of Rome and I am looking forward to it.