The statues of the Apostles in Saint John in the Lateran


Central nave of the Basilica of Saint John in the Lateran, Rome

The statues of the Apostles in Rome’s Church of Saint John in the Lateran were placed in twelve niches, which Francesco Borromini had designed in the central nave of this Roman Cathedral in the second half of the 1600s.

Architect and architecture theoretician Paolo Portoghesi has explained the symbolic value of the main nave in the Basilica also considering the fact that, before the statues were added, you could see open doors at the bottom of the niches, “hinting to the heavenly Jerusalem, described in the Apocalypse as having twelve doors” (translated from P. Portoghesi, “Architettura e memoria”, Gangemi, Rome 2006).

The Bible verses recalled by Portoghesi literally read, It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb […] On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there (Rev 21, 12-14 and 25).

In the beginning of the 18th century, Pope Clement XI and Cardinal Benedetto Pamphilj had the monumental sculptures made, asking part of the aristocracy to sponsor the pieces.

The artists entrusted with the project were Pierre-Étienne Monnot, Francesco Moratti, Lorenzo Ottoni, Giuseppe Mazzuoli, Pierre Legros, Angelo De Rossi and Camillo Rusconi. Each one of them was provided with sketches by Marche painter Carlo Maratta, with the request that they follow them as their iconographic guidelines. Parisian sculptor Pierre Le Gros, however, refused to comply and completed the statues of Saint Thomas and Saint Bartholomew, between 1705 and 1712, according to his own personal criteria.

February 21, 2019