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Chronology and attribution of the anamorphosis of San Giovanni in Pathmos near the Convento della Trinità dei Monti in Rome: new developments on the activities of Jean-François Niceron

Following the recovery of the anamorphosis of San Giovanni in Pathmos – in the west gallery of the Trinità dei Monti convent in Rome – the authors clarify its dating and attribution. With precise citations they outline the picture of useful data, showing how Jean Francois Niceron was certainly the executor of the work between the middle of 1639 and the beginning of 1640. After having reported and interpreted some important unpublished epigraphs contained in the painting, they provide insights of in-depth analysis on the cultural role of the Order of Minims in the climate of the Counter-Reformation, suggested by the admirable execution of the young and brilliant religious. As further confirmation of their intuitions, they report the remarkable discovery of a new catoptric astrolabe in the northwest corner of the second floor of the convent, of which they show virtual reconstructions.

In the convent of the Trinità dei Monti in Rome, starting from June 2005, the recovery project of the anamorphic mural depicting St. John in Pathmos along the east gallery on the first floor1 began. Below we intend to give account not only of the work carried out but also of the considerable amount of data that emerged during the restoration which, compared with the sources, provide many new insights into the cultural role of the minima and – for the first time – the possibility to attribute and date with certainty the scientific-artistic work carried out at the Trinità dei Monti.

The work occupies the eastern wall and the vault, for a length of about 21.00 meters2 extending partially into the north gallery.

From the “ocular point” – the south-east corner of the gallery – the figure of St. John is visible, in profile, bent over in the act of writing the Book of Revelation; on the front you can see a landscape between two large trees. The details that characterized it have mostly been lost. In the central area there is a plowed field, with minute animals, which in the starting figure is the book of St. John on the right side of which the author reports the Greek inscription ταυτῆς ὀπτικῆς ἀποκάλυψις, ὁ τῆς ἀποκλάύψεως ἀυτοπτῆς3. From the tree on the left, on the wall of the north gallery, a dry branch branches off on which an owl rests. The luxuriant frond develops on the vault of the eastern arm, as a background to the Saint: in it you can see a snake and two birds, one next to and one flying over the reptile. Above the shoulders of S. Giovanni, the scroll bearing the motto citra dolum fallimur hangs from a branch.

Behind the Evangelist, protruding over the head, is a broken and burnt tree, inside which you can see a burning city and fragments of an angel with a trumpet; The inscription AP VIII is shown on the front in small white letters, probably a quotation from Sacred Scripture4.

Knowledge of the paintings in the galleries on the first floor of the convent is rather incomplete, mostly the result of specialist and partial studies which, above all, have not crossed the various data available or gradually emerged, effectively preventing a general contextualization. It is usually believed that the anamorphic perspectives are the work of Fr. Maignan (1601-1676) and Fr. Niceron (1613-1646), produced in an uncertain period between 1636 (arrival of the eldest in Rome) and 1642. Bonnard5 speaks of a period of time prior to 1640 and believes that the anamorphosis of St. that of San Giovanni di Maignan also claiming that this was “en grisaille”. The historian also describes Niceron6 as Maignan’s “plus brillant élève”, “qui ne séjourna guère à Rome que dix mois, pendant lesquels il mena de front avec son maître, outre les sciences spécifiquement ecclésiastique, une étude depthie de l’hébreu et de the optique “.