Over the past decade scholars have begun to examine in greater depth the pivotal role that foreigners played in the development of the Early Modern European city. In Rome foreign communities had a major part in shaping the urban landscape, more permanently with national churches, hospitals, chapels, neighborhoods, and temporarily through public processions and festivals. This dissertation examines the Spanish National Church, San Giacomo and San Ildefonso degli Spagnoli, founded in 1450 to provide a religious and charitable center for the growing Castilian expatriate community and their many co-nationals visiting on pilgrimage. When San Giacomo opened its doors it was a small, unpretentious space, with a hospital attached, facing the medieval street of Via del Sapienza. Over the next hundred years, the church expanded significantly and a second, statelier entrance was added opening onto the Piazza Navona, which had become a locus for grand secular and religious celebrations in the city. Significantly, these changes at San Giacomo coincide with the growing prestige and influence of the Spanish community on the European stage.
This dissertation will provide the first art historical monograph produced since the 1950s of San Giacomo from its origins through the 1560s. In contrast to previous studies, I will set my discussion of the architecture and art within the historical context. In this way I will demonstrate that the Spanish used the most common languages available in Roman culture–the visual and spatial–as a rhetorical device to set forth their political aspirations and religious values and promote their nation in Rome. I also connect this project to other Spanish commissions in Rome, which has not previously been undertaken, and illustrate that they shared characteristics by which the nascent Spanish nation sought to define itself.
Reexamining the church within the historical background allows for a thorough iconographic reading, not previously attempted, of the most well known chapel in the church, that of Cardinal Jaime Serra, designed by Antonio da Sangallo and decorated by Pellegrino da Modena and Jacopo Sansovino. I provide an explanation for the patron's choice of content, taking into consideration both Spanish ambitions and the pressing political concerns of both the Pope and the curia. My analysis will also take into account recently discovered archival evidence that the Sangallo architectural ornamentation was actually designed and constructed two decades after the chapel was decorated. This is the first lengthy discussion of the architecture based on the new date. Moreover I use it as a base on which to reconsider the patron's motivations for refurbishing the architecture of the chapel. Finally, this study proposes that national churches in Rome, as a group, should be recognized for the vital role they played in society. Within their community they provided a safe haven and a space from which foreign nationals could deal with the rest of society. Simultaneously, they were a primary means for the public recognition of a nation within this cosmopolitan city. Consequently, tracking the art and architecture of these churches, and the changes made over time, offers a unique opportunity to gauge the way an Early Modern European country saw itself, and the way they wanted to be perceived.