Santa Cecilia, reality and beauty
The white marble statue of Saint Cecilia (under the high altar of the church dedicated to her in Trastevere, Rome) is the masterpiece of Italian-Swiss sculptor, Stefano Maderno (1570-1636).
The body of the noble Roman, martyred in the 3rd century, was moved to the church in Trastevere in 821, where it was found in 1599.
An eyewitness of the discovery of Cecilia’s remains reported: “Her body was lying on the right side with slightly contracted legs and outstretched arms. The head was hanging down, the face looked toward the ground as if she were sleeping, probably preserving the same position she had after the triple [ax] blow which she survived for three days”. It sounds like a detailed description of Maderno’s statue.
This statue is a peculiarity within the generally classical production of the artist, and shows a level of harmony of shapes that cannot be found anywhere else in his work.
Furthermore, in this case the sculptor did not need to draw only on his imagination. He may not have been a direct witness of the exhumation of the body of the holy woman, but he certainly heard about it at length by those who had been present at the discovery of the sarcophagus.
Reality often offers its grace to art.