The Chigi Chapel is one of six chapels in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo, Rome. The Chigi chapel, the second on the left-hand side of the nave, was designed by Raphael as a private chapel for his friend and patron Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, then completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini more than a century after Raphael's death in 1520. Bernini's patron was Fabio Chigi, who became pope Alexander VII in 1655.
Raphael gave the chapel a centralized octagonal plan, under a dome decorated with mosaics to his cartoon (1516), representing the Creation of the World surrounded by the sun and the six know planets and a zodiac, each moved by an angel; it is a rare example of mosaic executed to a High Renaissance design. The clear and rational plan is of round-headed arches on the four walls, of which the entrance arch only is open, the others being blind; they alternated with canted corners in which niches are framed between pilasters. A subtle use of colored marbles emphasizes the individual elements of the classical Corinthian pilasters and entablature.
The theme of the chapel being the prefiguration of the New Dispensation offered by the New Testament, Raphael painted a fresco of four classical sibyls over the archway of the door to the chapel. The chapel formerly contained Raphael's early panel painting of the Marriage of the Virgin, the famous Sposalizio now in the Brera, Milan.
The Chigi Chapel is replete with statues, bronze reliefs, paintings and marble revetments. The altarpiece of the chapel is a Birth of the Virgin by Sebastiano del Piombo, with a bronze bas-relief panel on the altar front of Christ and the Samaritan Woman, by Lorenzetto; the statues of Jonah, who prefigured the Resurrection, and Elijah, whose words were accounted prophesies of Christ's coming; they were carved by Lorenzetto (1520), to designs provided by Raphael. In two niches across from each other, interactive sculptures by Bernini, of Habakkuk and the Angel that took him by the hair and transported him to Babylon to succour Daniel, who is represented in the corresponding niche on the opposite wall. On the side walls are the matching wall tombs of Agostino Chigi (died 1520) and his brother Sigismondo (died 1526), each represented in a medallion, looking expectantly towards the altar.
The eighteenth-century tomb of Maria Flaminia Odescalchi Chigi, designed by Pier Paolo Posi, is also located in the Chigi Chapel.
In popular culture
Part of Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons takes place in the Chigi Chapel, where the sculpture of Habakkuk and the Angel is one of the four "markers" leading to an ancient lair in the Castel Sant'Angelo.
- Touring Club Italiano (TCI), Roma e dintorni (Milan) 1965:183f.
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