Unexpected Rome: Caravaggio in Piazza del Popolo

The most eye-catching buildings in Piazza del Popolo are the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto.

The churches stand at the end of Via del Corso, central Rome’s most concentrated shopping destination.

Twin churches piazza del popolo

However, the hidden gem in this piazza is actually the plainer-looking basilica to the north of the square: Santa Maria del Popolo.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Del Popolo = of the people. I feel like that’s appropriate, because beautiful things shouldn’t be locked away all the time.

Inside Santa Maria del Popolo

What good is art if it can’t be enjoyed by the people? And for free, thank you very much.

Church with Caravaggios in Rome

Raphael was commissioned to create a tomb in the quiet church for a famous benefactor, but the artist died young – long before he could complete the chapel.

Church details in Rome

The unassuming church was partly designed by Bernini, as well. And let’s not forget that Bramante designed the apse.

Translation: some very important artists and architects did some very important stuff here.

Piazza del Popolo church

But the highlight for me is the small chapel in the back, to the left.

Free Caravaggio in Rome

There you will find three paintings.

The center painting was done by Annibale Carracci, one of Caravaggio’s rivals and a Baroque master.

However, it is the moody light and dark that made Caravaggio less popular in the 1600s that now makes the artist the more famous of the two.

His illumination of faces, and emphasis on details, make the art glow.

To the right, if you tilt your head, is The Conversion of St. Paul.

Carvaggio in Rome

To the left, The Crucifixion of St. Peter.

Both are incredibly executed, and much better in person.

So the next time you need a break from all that shopping, make sure to get your art fix at Santa Maria del Popolo.

Santa Maria del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo, 12

4 thoughts on “Unexpected Rome: Caravaggio in Piazza del Popolo

  1. Davide Checchi says:

    Yes it’s a marvel!

    But did you notice inside the Chigi chapel (the one projected by Raphael) the two beautiful statues by Bernini? And the painting by Pinturicchio in a chapel on the right?

    Learn more about Agostino Chigi, and the love of his life Francesca Ordeaschi: their history is also important to learn about another marvel in Rome by Raphael and others, Villa Farnesina! 😉

  2. Lisa Barr says:

    One of our favorites in Rome. We’ve done several Caravaggio crawls throughout the city, including of course the Matthew series in San Luigi dei Francesi, several in the Galleria Borghese, and my personal favorite, Rest on the Flight into Egypt at the Galleria Doria Pamphili. I’m also very fond of the Madonna di Loreto at Sant’Agostino.

    We leave for Italy tomorrow; so excited (mostly Puglia and Ravello this trip, but of course a few days in Rome because how can you go to Italy and not visit Rome?). We counted up our trips, and this is #17 in 27 years.

  3. Stefano says:

    I feel like I should correct you: while it is true that “popolo” means people in Italian, actually S. Maria del Popolo (and Piazza del Popolo which is the name of the square) takes name from Latin ‘populus’ which means poplar, the tree.

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