Raffaello Romanelli, Palestrina

Raffaello Romanelli
Museo dell'Ottocento
Height: 129 cm; Width: 129 cm; Thickness: 45 cm;

Plaster model made in 1882-1887 by Raffaello Romanelli, depicting Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (born Palestrina, 1525; died Rome, 02/02/1594) in half-length. This is the preparatory work for the marble relief seen in the portrait gallery of artists on the cymatium of the Cathedral facade. 

Palestrina was an organist and one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance, an absolute master of sacred polyphonic composition. Romanelli depicts him in 16th-century clothing, with a neat beard and short hair, in keeping with the iconography known from ancient portraits but reinvented in a 19th-century key.

Palestrina was not a Florentine, nor was he ever directly engaged by the Cathedral of Florence, but he was a pupil of Giovanni Animuccia, who may have been born in Florence. It was also due to the urging of the Florentine Saint Filippo Neri that he undertook the reform of the sacred music of the 16th century. His compositions were often performed in Santa Maria del Fiore. Among the most famous was the “Mass for Pope Marcellus”, celebrating the former Marcellus Cervini, native of Florentine territories. Here, Romanelli imagines this very work, open in the hands of maestro Palestrina.

It was these Florentine connections that justified his inclusion in the portrait gallery of great artists native to the city or linked with its history, contributing to the iconographic program of the façade. The program, developed by Emilio de Fabris together with the philosopher Augusto Conti, centres on the theme of Christ and Mary and aims to express "the greatness of Christianity in itself, and its harmonies with civilization, especially for the gentle inspirations that derive from Christian worship to the Mother of the Redeemer" and among these "Useful Arts, Sciences, Fine Arts". 

The celebration of the glories of the past was part of the Risorgimento (literally “rise again”) culture of the 19th century, in the times of liberation and reunification of the different states as the new Kingdom of Italy.

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