Tomb of Alexander Chigi, St. Peter’s

In an early avviso, Pope Alexander, his thoughts already on the ars moriendi, reveals his interest in composing an inscription for his tomb. The notice begins: “II Pontefice meditando continuamente la brevità della vita humana…,” and then describes his intention to write his own epitaph, which, alas, never materializes. Just as Maffeo Barberini (Urban VIII) had done, Fabio Chigi (Alexander VII) summoned Gianlorenzo Bernini early in his papacy (supposedly the “first day”) to plan monuments and artistic projects that would commemorate his pontificate. Alexander immediately requested a skull, which he would keep with him always as a memento mori. The tomb was finished a decade after the pope’s demise. A pious and beseeching image of Alexander kneels on a sarcophagus, while four beautifully conceived and expertly carved statues of cardinal and theological virtues surround the Holy Father. The allegorical representations rest, lean, and incline in a traditionally inert fashion, although Charity turns toward—even seems to petition—the pope. Alexander turns inward to prayer. It is Death who rockets out of our world, and although almost swallowed by the jasper shroud, shakes the hourglass like a pair of dice. Time is up. Time has been up. Here a truth has been disclosed within the monument’s world and within the world the monument occupies—perpetually our world.

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