This thesis is concerned with three interrelated problems. The first is how Pietro Cavallini’s Life of the Virgin cycle in Santa Maria in Trastevere relates to the pre-existing decorations of the basilica. The second is why Cavallini’s mosaics in conjunction with the twelfth century apse mosaic of Innocent II are so similar to the apse mosaic of Jacopo Torriti in Santa Maria Maggiore. The third is related to the role of the patrons of the respective apse decorations in creating this emulative relationship between two of the most venerated Marian basilicas in Rome.
Chapter I contains in its first part a condense discussion of the extensive historiography of Cavallini’s mosaics seen within a larger context of the general currents in art historical writing on Roman Duecento painting of the last centuries. The second part deals with methodology and includes an extended discussion of important contributions from scholars of medieval art the last few decades. A particular focus is on scholarship which has attempted to discuss medieval paintings and mosaics within their contemporary context of function and original setting.
Chapter II is a general description of the individual mosaic panels which make up Cavallini’s Life of the Virgin cycle. This chapter also discusses some aspects of the inscriptions set beneath the panels and includes translations of these. The last part of the chapter contains a transcription of the relevant folios of the Ms. Lat. 5931 in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris which are virtually identical to the hexameters in Cavallini’s panels, but with some deviations as well as important marginal notes.
The first part of Chapter III is a reconstruction of the basilica of Innocent II (1130-1143) as it was when Cavallini’s panels were executed around 1300. A particular focus is on the decorations which were in existence prior to the addition of the panels and which would have to have been acknowledged by the artist. The second part of the chapter is a discussion of how Cavallini’s mosaics relate in terms of colour, composition and content to the apse mosaic of Innocent II, as well as the façade mosaics of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Chapter IV attempts to see the apse decoration of Santa Maria in Trastevere in relation to the apse mosaic of Jacopo Torriti in Santa Maria Maggiore. The similarities of the two apses are interpreted as the result of a struggle for rank between the two Marian basilicas. The twelfth century apse mosaic of Innocent II is seen as the ultimate source for Torriti’s scheme in Santa Maria Maggiore, and Torriti’s mosaics, in turn, are seen as the source for Cavallini’s panels. The rivalry of the two basilicas is furthermore traced back to the ninth century with a struggle for primacy related to the churches’ relics of the Nativity. It is argued that the extensive decoration campaign of Jacopo Colonna and Pope Nicholas IV in Santa Maria Maggiore was an attempt to assert the superior status of the Esquiline basilica over its rival across the Tiber, and that aspects of this campaign reignited the old Nativity-rivalry. Cavallini’s mosaics are then interpreted as the final contribution in this centuries long reciprocal relationship between the two basilicas’ decorations.
Chapter V deals with the patronage of Cavallini’s mosaics. It is demonstrated that Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, the brother of the donor, probably played a significant part in devising the scheme of the cycle. It is argued that Jacopo Stefaneschi designed Cavallini’s panels as a complex monument which was meant to serve a number of functions. Firstly, that they were a reply to Torriti’s mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore, which had been commissioned by Stefaneschi’s political rival Jacopo Colonna. Secondly, that the frieze also intended to serve a commemorative function, as a monument to the donor Bertoldo Stefaneschi whose tomb was set beneath the mosaics in the apse. Furthermore that the inscriptions composed by Cardinal Stefaneschi were designed to emphasize the narrative character of the cycle and the historical reality of the figure of the Virgin, especially the reality of her corporeal assumption. Jacopo Stefaneschi thus also designed Cavallini’s mosaics as a response to the theologically problematic question of the Virgin’s end.