‘Colossi that Move’ by Estelle Lingo

A contribution by


Estelle Lingo
Andrew W. Mellon Professor, 2016-18
Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Associate Professor of Early Modern European Art
Donald E. Petersen Endowed Professor
University of Washington, Seattle

Colossi that Move

The majority of the sculptures of Francesco Mochi (1580-1654) are colossi, a very challenging genre of sculpture which Mochi, like his predecessor Michelangelo, seems to have preferred. At five meters, Mochi’s St. Veronica for St. Peter’s in Rome is half a meter taller than the other three statues in the crossing, and while Mochi was carving the figure, Pope Urban VIII warned him not to make it any bigger. Beyond its enormous size, the St. Veronica is startling because the saint is depicted in the act of running, which is unprecedented for a colossal statue and very difficult to achieve technically. Through the saint’s impassioned approach, Mochi sought to surprise and move the beholder. A number of Mochi’s other colossi have literally moved multiple times since their creation. His St. Peter and St. Paul were created for the Roman basilica of S. Paolo fuori le mura, but due to the patron’s failure to pay they were never installed; Pope Alexander VII Chigi purchased the pair and installed them on the Porta del Popolo. They remained on the exterior of the city gate until 1980, when they were brought to the Museo di Roma. Mochi’s Baptism of Christ was carved for the high altar of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome, but he died before the sculptures were completely finished. 1The Falconieri family, who commissioned the work, kept the statues in their palace until 1825, the year the Baptism was purchased by the papacy and installed on the Milvian Bridge by Giuseppe Valadier; the statues were damaged during World War II and moved to the Museo di Roma in 1980. In 2016 the Baptism was installed in a newly renovated chapel in S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, and the St. Peter and St. Paul were placed on temporary view in the same church. The move of these four colossal sculptures across the city took place at night, and the startling sight inspired Fabrizio Ferraro’s documentary film, Colossale sentimento.

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HMSBA_8Mochi’s Edge and Bernini’s Baroque