The Solitary Angel

The Solitary Angel

The Enigmatic Tale of Rome’s Solitary Angel: A Symbol of Beauty and Controversy.

Rome is full of angels, present in many artistic representations in churches, paintings, sculptures, tombs, castles and palaces.
Everyone can choose the type of angel they prefer and maybe even select one as a personal guardian of sorts.
In the heart of Rome, where history whispers through cobblestone streets and Baroque facades, lies a silent sentinel of artistry and intrigue—the solitary angel of Sant’Andrea della Valle. The church, which is located at the intersection of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and Corso Rinascimento, it was realized by the architect Carlo Rainaldi in the years 1655 to 1665, fulfilling the designs of Carlo Maderno.

Perched upon the left cornice of the church’s grand façade, this angel is a testament to both divine beauty and human frailty, captivating passersby with its ethereal presence and enigmatic pose.
Crafted by the skilled hands of Ercole Ferrata, (although it must be said that other scholars attribute it to Fancelli)., during the mid-17th century, the angel’s form embodies a delicate balance between celestial flight and earthly sorrow. With one wing gracefully outstretched, seemingly supporting the weight of the world, and the other held close to its back, as if nursing a hidden wound, the sculpture evokes a sense of poignant contradiction.
However, despite its undeniable artistry, the solitary angel has not been without controversy. In a city where angels grace countless churches and monuments, the asymmetry of Sant’Andrea della Valle’s façade sparked debate among Roman citizens. Some questioned the angel’s intended symbolism, while others lamented its perceived imbalance, echoing their sentiments through the satirical verses of Pasquino: “I would like to fly like a bird, but here I was placed to act as a prop! “.
Some believe that the statue is an allegory of the winged goddess of Fame.
Legend has it that even Pope Alexander VII, did not like that solitary statue, withheld funding for its twin, leaving the angel to stand alone in perpetuity. The legend says the artist, disappointed and saddened by the criticism, sent word to the Pope: “So, the Pope does not like the angel? Then let him make the other one by himself”.
Whether this story is true or not, the idea of an artist’s defiance in the face of criticism persists, including these whispers of Ferrata’s supposed retort to the pontiff that persist in the annals of history.

Yet, despite the skepticism and the jests, the solitary angel has endured, casting its watchful gaze upon the bustling streets of Rome for centuries. Perhaps therein lies its true significance—a reminder to look beyond the surface, to seek beauty in imperfection, and to recognize the silent guardians that grace our lives, even in solitude.
As visitors and locals alike traverse the storied avenues of Rome, may they pause to acknowledge the quiet majesty of the solitary angel. For in its solitary vigil, it embodies the resilience of art, the complexity of human emotion, and the enduring spirit of a city steeped in history and legend.
So, the next time one finds themselves wandering the streets of Centro Storico, amidst the whispers of antiquity and the echoes of the past, let them raise their eyes to the sky and offer a silent nod of appreciation to the angel of Sant’Andrea della Valle—a symbol of beauty, controversy, and enduring grace.

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