A Tourist in Rome - Ponte Sant'Angelo

Location:Crossing the Tiber, south from Castel Sant'Angelo
Metro:Lepano or Ottaviano
Time:about 30 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

Ponte Sant'Angelo, once called Pons Aelius, meaning the Bridge of Hadrian, is a bridge across the Tiber River connecting Hadrian's Mausoleum (now called Castel Sant'Angelo to Rome's city center. The pedestrian-only bridge consists of five arched spans, the outer two of which are over land and the central three spanning the Tiber. The exterior is made of travertine. In 1535, Pope Clement VII erected statues of St. Peter (2nd photo below) and St. Paul (3rd photo below) on the city-center end of the bridge, and several other statues were later added on the bridge. Most people regard this as the most beautiful bridge in Rome because in 1669, Pope Clement IX commissioned Bernini to repace the statues on the bridge with ten angels holding ten Instruments of the Passion (objects associated with Christ's crucifixion). The angels are arranged such that the instruments they carry and the inscriptions carved into the bases tell the story of the Passion of Christ in chronological order in an irregular zig-zag pattern across the bridge.

Bernini himself sculpted two of the angels, but sketched all 10 and assigned the other 8 sculptures to members of his workshop. He also made clay models of many of the angels, a technique which allowed him to make adjustments easily as the model became more and more completed. He made sure to give three good angles of view for each angel: one, the most important, was for pilgrims walking from the city center toward Castel Sant'Angelo and on to the Vatican, another for a full frontal view when someone stood in front of the statue, and the third for when they returned to the city center from the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo. The two angels he actually sculpted were the Angel Carrying the Superscription and the Angel with the Crown of Thorns. Clement IX didn't want Bernini's angels to be ruined by the elements, so he had copies made for the bridge and kept the originals for himself. The originals were later given to the church of Sant'Andrea della Fratte where they still stand.

The ten angels are shown in order below, starting at the city-center end of the bridge, first the angel on the right (east) side, in full sun since these photos were taken after noon, then the angel on the left (west) side, with her face in shade, then the second angel on the left, second on the right, and so on (close, but not quite a repeating pattern, you might notice, since I've arranged the angels below as best I could according to the timeline of Christ's Passion). Each angel is photographed from 3 angles: first from the viewpoint of someone walking the bridge from the city-center end toward Castel Sant'Angelo, second from straight on, and third from the viewpoint of someone walking the bridge away from Castel Sant'Angelo.

    
Ponte Sant'Angelo
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St. Peter, at the city-center end of Ponte Sant'Angelo
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St. Paul, at the city-center end of Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Ponte Sant'Angelo and Castel Sant'Angelo
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The surface of Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Ponte Sant'Angelo from high up on Castel Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Column, by Antonio Raggi
    
Angel Carrying the Column, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Column, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Column, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The column being carried by the angel is symbolic of the of the pillar which Christ was tied to while being whipped during the flagellation of Christ. The inscription on the base, from Ecclesiastes 24:4, is "My throne is upon a column". Raggi worked with Bernini since 1647 and became one of his most trusted assistants. He worked with Bernini on the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, and on the Chigi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo, so understood the style of Bernini very well and was considered to be one of the most similar to Bernini in the studio. But he didn't follow Bernini's instructions for this sculpture at all. Bernini's sketch for the Angel Carrying the Column showed the angel struggling to hold the column after stepping on its robe, with the robe falling off its shoulders and binding its arms. The desired effect might have been to relate the way the angel is bound by its own robe to the way Christ was betrayed by his own people. But Raggi's angel seems to be holding the column with little effort, and the clothes hang loosely over the angel's shoulders. The face is portrayed in a very ecstatic expression, the hair is very wavy, and the robe looks like its blowing in a strong wind. The cloud the angel stands upon is chaotic and billowed.


Angel Carrying the Scourge, by Lazzaro Morelli
    
Angel Carrying the Scourge, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Scourge, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel , on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The angel holds the Scourge, a flexible whip used by the Romans to torture Jesus while he was tied to the column. According to Mark 15:15, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate had Jesus scourged before having him crucified. The inscription at the base, from Psalm 37:18, is "I am ready for the scourge". The thick leather strands that make up the whip, the draping of the angel's clothes, the angel's hair, and the highly billowed cloud that the angel stands upon are all swirled in a way that suggests the motion of the whipping. In Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of Christ" a metal barb which tore into flesh was on the end of each of the leather strands; this is either omitted in the sculpture or a fiction of the movie. The wings of this angel beautifully show layers of feathers, and one of the wings is featured in the view from Rome and the view from the castle. The view from Rome and even the frontal view suggest that the angel is looking at the whip, but the view from the castle shows her looking straight at us. Her look is contemplative, with obvious sadness. This angel's realization in stone is close to Bernini's conception, perhaps because he gave the young artist a clay model to imitate. Morelli worked with Bernini on the Tomb of Alexander VII in St. Peter's Basilica.


Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
    
Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The crown, of course, was placed upon Christ's head before his crucifixion, a symbol of the vane blindness of the men who were unable to recognize Christ's authority. According to Mark 15:17, Roman soldiers crowned Jesus with thorns before they crucified him. The inscription, from Psalm 31:4, is "The thorn is fastened upon me". Finally we have reached one of Bernini's own sculptures, and in my opinion, the better of the two. Just look at the difference between this sculpture and the ones we've seen so far: the emotion expressed by the face, the detail in the wings, the strength conveyed by her exposed leg and the natural motion conveyed by her feet and toes makes me wish Bernini had sculpted all ten angels; what a showpiece this bridge this would be! The angel expresses its emotion passionately, with intensity, conveying agonizing grief over the suffering of Christ, and is the only angel that expresses real grief to this extent. The original version of the sculpture, carved by Bernini himself, is shown in the photos below, taken in the church of Sant'Andrea della Fratte where the sculpture now stands.

    
Bernini's original sculpture of the Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns, in Sant'Andrea della Fratte
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Bernini's original sculpture of the Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns, in Sant'Andrea della Fratte
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Angel Carrying the Sudarium, by Cosimo Fancelli
    
Angel Carrying the Sudarium, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Sudarium, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Sudarium, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The Sudarium (Veronica's Veil) is a cloth that was stained with the blood and sweat of Christ because it was used to clean off his face while he was carrying the cross to his crucifixion. According to Roman Catholic tradition, a woman named Veronica wiped Jesus' face with a cloth while he was carrying the cross; Jesus' image remained on the cloth. The inscription, from Psalm 84:9, is "Look upon the face of your Christ". The angel is holding the cloth out with both hands, showing it to us. The cloth looks soft, as it it represents a mercy shown to Christ during his Passion. She looks directly at the cloth, drawing our attention to it and expressing devotion toward what might be considered a relic. She stands on a shallow cloud, or maybe no cloud at all, and her wings are made of few quite large feathers, almost like large plant leaves. The wings are only prominent in the view from Rome. Fancelli worked with Bernini on the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona along with Antonio Raggi. This angel has a dent in its base (photo below) from a cannonball which was fired during the papal defense of the Vatican in 1870. The statue was knocked into the river but it was repaired and replaced.

    
Angel Carrying the Sudarium, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Garment and Dice, by Palolo Naldini
    
Angel Carrying the Garment and Dice, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Garment and Dice, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Garment and Dice, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The garment and dice are symbolic of the moment when Roman soldiers rolled dice to see who would win Christ's seamless robe. According to Mark 15:24, Roman soldiers took Jesus' well-made garments and played dice for them. The inscription, from Psalm 22:18, is "For my clothing they cast lots". The angel stands on no cloud at all, and looks off into the distance, as if expressing that all is lost and she cannot even fathom that men can do this. The dice are held in the piece of cloth she holds between her hands, and her garment droops to the ground. No wind remains, no motion, no hope. The angel's wings, visible mainly from the Rome side, show detail on top, but descend into less splendor near the bottom. The veiled left leg of the sculpture shows off Naldini's skill. The photo below shows a closeup of the dice which the angel holds in the garment between her hands.

    
Angel Carrying the Sudarium, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Nails, by Girolamo Lucenti
    
Angel Carrying the Nails, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Nails, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Nails, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The nails held in the hands of this angel are symbolic of those used to nail Christ to the cross. According to Thomas' words in John 20:25, Jesus was nailed to the cross. The crucifixion narrative in John's gospel (John 19:37) quotes this Zechariah verse. Zechariah chapter 12 prophesies Jerusalem's victory and vindication, accompanied by mourning for those who suffered for her sake. The inscription on the base, from Zechariah 12:10, is "They will look upon me whom they have pierced". This angel is unique in that her body is quite large in proportion to her head, and the face does not resemble the face of any of the other angels on the bridge. The face is slender and her features are unique. Her wings are almost an afterthought, The angel's right hand is extended, presenting a nail, while two other nails are in her left hand. The cloud she stands on looks like it is made from rock rather than from the billowy material of the clouds of the other angels. Maybe part of the reason for these differences is that Lucenti was a bronze sculptor and was working out of his element on this stone sculpture.


Angel Carrying the Cross, by Ercole Ferata
    
Angel Carrying the Cross, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Cross, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Cross, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The cross, of course, represents the cross that Christ had to carry through Jerusalem, and which he was eventually crucified upon. The inscription, from Isaiah 9:6, is "Dominion rests on his shoulders". This scripture verse links the "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero" of Isaiah's prophecies to Jesus. Earlier in the same Isaiah passage, the prophet announces that "a child is born to us, a son is given us." The cross resting on Jesus' shoulders is symbolically linked to his dominion. The sculpture is somewhat inferior to the others on the bridge in that it looks like a relief sculpture on a two-dimensional surface rather than an unbounded 3-dimensional sculpture. The wings appear in the same plane as the rest of the sculpture. Ferata worked with Bernini and Antonio Raggi on the Chigi Chapel at the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo. He followed Bernini's sketch for the sculpture well, but reduced the size of the cross the angel is holding, and executed the sculpture without much enthusiasm.


Angel Carrying the Superscription, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
    
Angel Carrying the Superscription, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Superscription, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Superscription, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The superscription carried by this angel consists of INRI, which stands for the Latin phrase "Jesus of Nazerene, King of the Jews", and represents the sign nailed to the cross above Jesus' head. The inscription, reads "God has reigned from the tree" (referring to the wood of the cross). A 6th century hymn with the words from that inscription references a blessed tree that produced a wealth that restored the world. You can look at the face of this angel and identify it as a work of Bernini's, since it looks so similar to the face of St. Theresa. Check out how well Bernini makes the angel's clothes stand out from her flesh; it almost looks like the drapery was added on after the sculpture of the body was finished. Look at the detail and delicacy of this angel's wings, sculpted to appear so billowed as to be made of fluff. Although credit for the copy of this statue on the bridge is given to Giulio Cartari, I believe it has recently been established to be the work of Bernini himself, replicating his original sculpture. The original version of the sculpture, definitely carved by Bernini himself, is shown in the photos below, taken in the church of Sant'Andrea della Fratte where the sculpture now stands.

    
Bernini's original Angel Carrying the Superscription, in Sant'Andrea della Fratte
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Bernini's original Angel Carrying the Superscription, in Sant'Andrea della Fratte
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Angel Carrying the Sponge, by Antonio Giorgetti
    
Angel Carrying the Sponge, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Sponge, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Sponge, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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A Roman soldier soaked a sponge in sour wine (vinegar), put it on a stick, and offered it to the lips of Jesus high up on the cross when he was near death. The gospels of Matthew and Mark report that just before Jesus died, one of the soldiers who crucified him placed a sponge dipped in "sour wine" on a stick and held the stick to Jesus' lips. The inscription, from Psalm 69:21, is "They gave me vinegar to drink". The angel has a very youthful face, round and reminiscent of the depictions of youthful angels in Renaissance through Baroque paintings. The angel's clothes are highly detailed, with deep carving to show the folds in the garment, her wings are beautifully sculpted with spectacular feathers, and she stands on a billowing cloud. Her fingers delicately hold the stick with which she offers the sponge. From all angles, the angel's eyes are gazing intensely, directly on the sponge. Giorgetti followed Bernini's model for the angel's pose and drapery very closely.


Angel Carrying the Lance, by Domenico Guidi
    
Angel Carrying the Lance, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Lance, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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Angel Carrying the Lance, on Ponte Sant'Angelo
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The lance is symbolic of the spear used by Roman soldiers to puncture Jesus' side, wounding his heart and confirming his death before taking him down from the cross. According to John's gospel, after Jesus died, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear to confirm that he was dead. Christian tradition has tied this action to the "ravishing" or "wounding" of the heart of the beloved in the Song of Solomon. This tradition emphasizes that Jesus underwent death by crucifixion as an act of love for humankind. The inscription on the base, from Song of Solomon 4:9, is "You have ravished my heart". The angel holds the lance close to its body. The drapery of the angel's clothes is swept at the same angle as the lance to reinforce that angle. The angel's hair is swept back at that same angle. The angel stands on clouds that look more realistic than the billowy clouds of other angels. Her wings look more like stone than the billowy feather of other angels, and they also lack dimensionality, looking similar to relief sculpture. But she stares in misery at the point of her lance, lifting it as if to mimic the moment when the spear wounded the heart of Jesus.


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