The Piazza del Popolo is situated at the northern edge of Rome; rumor has it that this is the burial grounds of the Domitia Family, including Nero who was the Rome’s fifth emperor. Nero was famed for his debaucheries and in history, he went down as the most evil ruler Rome ever had. Romans reported shortly after that the area became haunted due to a walnut tree having several black crows sitting in it. Bird thought to be an embodiment of demons. In 1099 the tree was cut down, in 1227 the chapel was rebuilt and turned into a church.
The Chigi family was wealthy and well-known, and the friendship between Pope Julius II and Agostino led to the Pope’s agreement, allowing the family to purchase a chapel in the Santa Maria del Popolo. After many delays another Chigi family member finished the chapel, in 1650 Fabio Chigi commissioned Bernini to do the sculptures.
Apart from the sculptures, Bernini also altered the floor of the chapel by adding a marble figure of death. The circular slab has a skeleton at the center, and the black background creates an illusion that the viewer is directly staring into the crypt where a skeleton with bent knees have wings and carries the coat of arms of the Chigi family.
The Habakkuk sculpture
Bernini created the Habakkuk sculpture, the story behind it though is that Habakkuk was on his way delivering a basket with bread to the field hands, an angel appeared. Habakkuk was miraculously lifted by the angle and carried to Daniel. Bernini depicts the instant in which Habakkuk was lifted, while still holding the bread basket and the angel was said to point in the direction she was taking him. Bernini significantly altered the way visitors were impacted; Habakkuk is most definitely the first thing noticeable upon entrance. The angel’s pointing hand leads eyes to the sculpture of David.
In the novel by Dan Brown called Angles & Demons, this is where the lead actor’s pulse accelerated. He recognized the work as a Bernini, a true masterpiece of flowing clothing and intricate faces all sculptured from the purest white marble. At first, he did not recognize the faces, yet when he was told it was Habakkuk and the Angel, he knew it was the first marker.
In the sculpture though the angel and Habakkuk points in opposite directions. The poem in Galileo’s diagram brings clarity as to which to follow, with its last line, saying that it’s the angels that will guide during this lofty quest. This is where the path starts and following the angles finger to the next marker.
It was noted that Bernini attended mass while he was working on this marble sculpture. Looking closely at the angles index finger the tip is broken. Was Angels & Demons just brilliantly written or is there more to the book.