The Mirrors of Prudence, edizione Caput Mundi

The previous posting was both a New Year greeting and an attempt of a pledge; to write here more often (and hopefully a bit more meaningful stuff).  It also showed a mirror, the one of Prudence, more specifically.

The picture above does not contain any mirrors (unless you are inclined to see Colosseo as a mirror of Roma Caput Mundi, which it was, of course, and in many respects. But here it simply means that we’ve recently been to this city, just happens to be for the first time.  I am obviously full of impressions, discoveries, insights etc after this trip, and some of which are captured in 20Gb or so pictures that I took during our week there.

Many of them are directly related to the mirror-in-art theme, and I hope that they will (all?) eventually appear in this blog (see the pledge above).  In fact, the ‘greeting card’ is just one example of such pictures, and following the suite I decided to also share other examples of ‘prudent’ mirrors that I found in Rome this time.

To preempt this story, I have to say that none of the examples that I will show have added something significantly new to my earlier stories about the figure of Prudence and her mirrors (see Prudence at her Toilette for all the details about iconography of Prudence’s mirrors.)  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t get any new ideas or insights about art-mirrors in Rome – I did, and some of them are specifically related to this theme of Prudence. But they also require a bit more additional research (and thus time), so I decided to split this story in two part, the ‘easy’ one (below) and more complicated one (next time.)


The sculpture that I used to make my ‘greeting card’ is in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Lateran. This is a very special church for Christianity, apparently the oldest Christian church in Rome dating back to as early as the 310s. It is still the main (cathedral) church of the city and is in fact the official seat of Pope in Rome (not in Vatican). Because of all these regalia the official status of this church is the Archbasilica, the only one of this kind.

The basilica was rebuilt and redesigned many times, and took its current shape at the end of 16th century (and the facade was completed only by 1735, by Alessandro Galilei.)

I first assumed that the sculpture was made by Camillo Rusconi, an Italian sculpture who also made four large sculptures of the apostles for this basilica (and known for his other sculptures depicting the four virtues, including Prudence).  I have to guess in this case – as well as in almost all other cases – because the churches rarely provide any information about the art works they posses; some of them do, sometimes and about some works, but by and large this is far from your typical museum situation when one would expect a title and at least a short description of the work.

For example, I only later figured that this sculpture is located in the so called Torlonia Chapel of the Basilica (commissioned by the famous Roman noble family. It was Pietro Tenerani, another Italian master, who made works for this chapel, including its main masterpiece, The Deposition of Christ. But all this happened much later, already in the 19th century, so the sculpture could be considered young, compared to other works that I will show (and I have to add that this is still a hypothesis, I never found the exact description of this particular sculpture).

What makes this particular version peculiar is that it is the snake that tries to look in the mirror, not the girl.


The second Prudence in this story is fact the first one that I encountered in Rome, almost by accident. During the very first day we went walking in the city,  without any particular plan and even a map. During this fairly random tour we went into one of the churches that, as we found later one, is one of the most famous one in Rome.

The church is called Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio, or the Sant’Ignazio Church. It is named after Ignatius of Loyola and is the main church of the Order of Jesuits. However, today the church is better known (at least to the millions of tourists coming to Rome to see its wonders) as the Church of Illusions, thanks to the fantastic trompe-l’œil frescoes of Andrea Pozzo.

The interior of the church was completed between 1626 and 1650, but the sculptures of the virtues (including Prudence) have been added much later, around 1725-30s. This time I am pretty certain that their design is by  Camillo Rusconi (although they could have been completed after his death in 1728).


The third work is the first fresco of Prudence that I have found this time. I encountered it, almost by accident, in the church Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi, located just across the famous (and ever so popular) Trevi Fountain.

We were to leave the church already when I spotted this fresco, in the narthex, or a foyer of the building. In other words, it’s not even in the official, sacral space of a church, but in an entrance, lobby area. I never found who the author of this, and other frescos in this church was.



The next example is again a fresco, this time from the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, another very famous church in Rome (as the first-time visitors we expectedly examined mainly the major blockbusters.)

The church itself is very old, some of its structures go back as early as the 340s, and it boasts very archaic elements of both interior and exterior. This includes, for example, the 12th-century mosaic on its facade, depicting the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus surrounded by ten women with oil lamps:

Earlier (and because I didn’t have a large enough copy of this mosaic) I thought they are holding mirrors. Now I don’t think so, but there may be still some connection between these lamps and my mirror theme.

The exact meaning of these lamps is still not clear, or rather multiple interpretations still exist. One of the most canonical version says that once an oil gusher appeared on this place. It happened during the Nativity feast, and was seen by the believers as a prophetic sign. Soon, they started to gather at this place for their worships, and then the church was built to commemorate the place. The traces of this legend are still can be see in the writings on the church’s floor that says Hinc oleum fluxit, cum Christus Virgine luxit, [From] here oil flowed, when Christ shone from the Virgin.

There may be even some geological proofs behind this legend (oil later was indeed found in the vicinity), but as often happens, there may be many more reading of these symbolic depictions.

But back to the frescos inside the church. Some of the elements of the church’s current interior date back to 12th century (for example, some of its mosaics), but the majority of the frescos had been made in the beginning of 17th century, by Domenico Zampieri known as Domenichino.

I thus believe that this fresco of Prudence is also his work (but as always in such cases, I could be wrong).

One significant difference between this work and all others that I have shown before is the latter has something that looks like a ‘second face’, of an older man (a very characteristic feature of Prudence’s depictions, as I explain in my posting):



This feature becomes most prominent in the famous Prudence by Raffaello, the one depicted in his Stanze in the Museum of Vatican:

I wrote about this famous Prudence already, and can’t add anything new.


What I can add is another Prudence from Vatican, the one I found in the halls following the Sistine Chapel (the ones that are usually passed by by the hordes of visitors who believe they’ve already seen the main stuff.

Similar to other works, I unfortunately don’t know the author of this particular work; looks like a good excuse to write a request to Barbara Jatta, the newly appointed director of the Vatican Museum (for the record, the very first woman who took this position).

An interesting feature of this work is the fact that it seemingly depicts a glass mirror. All other may be showing glass mirrors, too, but may as well be metal ones, while here we clearly see the efforts to depict a glass (and convex!) surface.


The last Prudence was found in a very peculiar church, so called Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. This church is one of the striking example of historical chimeras that Rome is so full of: build on the ruins of the Temple of Isis (!), it was long believed (that is, by the late Christians) that the ruins are of the Temple of Minerva (and so the name – of the Christian (!!) church.) But I will be writing about these things in a series of the following postings.)

Again, it took me a while to figure who was the author of this sculpture. The church’s interior is a multi-layered construction shaped over time by numerous artists. The sculpture stands in the Aldobrandini chapel, named after the Italian noble family who commissioned its creation in the very beginning of 17th century.

The sculptural group was designed by Giacomo della Porta, collaborator of Michelangelo, around 1600s. There is chance, however, that these minor sculptures had been finished by other sculptures, already after the della Porta’s death in 1602.




2 thoughts on “The Mirrors of Prudence, edizione Caput Mundi

  1. I see that you are interested in Giorgio Vasari’s drawing and his handle of the mirror that Prudence holds. Let me know if you want me to send you a photograph of thsi deatil of the drawing as I have just reseached this drawing in the Ufizzi. Incidentaly Francesco Salviati did an almost identical drawing to thisone.

  2. Thank you for your interest! I guess you refer to this posting, Mirrors of Palazzo Veccio ( where I described the paintings by Vasari. It somehow didn’t occur to me that this figure with a mirror is, in fact, Prudence, thank you for the hint! In a hindsight, it seems to be obvious, but in that posting I am still puzzled (I have researched the mirrors of Prudence only much later).

    Yes, please, do share the detail you mentioned, I would much appreciate! You can either share the link to this drawing here or perhaps send me a copy to (at) Thank you very much!

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