Medieval art in Rome: the cloister of San Giovanni in Laterano
From the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano you arrive to a cloister built by the Vassalletto, one of the most important families of architects and sculptors in Rome. Pietro Vassalletto started the work in 1222, almost at the end of Innocenzo III pontificate. The sculptor was very well known during the Middle Ages, and he actually built his San Saba cantorum school and the marble Easter chandelier, situated in the San Paolo fuori le Mura Abbey. By an inscription on an epigraph, historians established that Pietro took part to the construction of the Basilica di Santa Croce a Gerusalemme. When this sculptor died, his son Nicola let the world go on, until the conclusion in 1232. This date corresponds to the end of Pope Gregorio IX pontificate.
Also Cardinal Guale de Bicchieri took part to the creation of this wonderful work, offering a very huge amount of money.
This site is the largest cloister of the capital, and one of the most beautiful masterpieces of the Middle Ages. They didn't use any ancient materials to build the Lateran cloister. The Vassalletto actually equipped the courtyard with balusters, columns, frameworks and marquetry, creating them from scratch.
The cloister of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano has a squared plant, and everybody sees it can recognise a very rational work of art.
The four sides of the courtyard are characterized by various arches, on twin columns, interrupted by some pillars, dividing each gallery into bays.
The best part of this place are the low-reliefs, situated on the arches, representing human masks, lion heads and stems with leaves, characterized by a rounded shape creating a sort of spiral. Below the low-reliefs there is wonderful decoration, made of marble squares and circles, near stars and polygons. The colors mostly used are blue, white, red and gold. The decorations reproducing vegetables and animals make us understand that the Vassalletto's were very influenced by the Egyptian and Arab tradition when they built this place.
The Lateran cloister: an oasis of beauty!
Let's have a look to the works of art in this peaceful place.
The San Giovanni in Laterano cloister is rich in extraordinary works of art. There is a mosaic representing Salvatore Ninbato, keeping a Gospel book in the right hand. It is a fragment probably from the Altare della Maddalena.
Beside this mosaic, there is a marble inscription, remembering the restoration of the Basilica by Pope Alessandro II, and the sepulcher of Cardinal Riccardo Annibaldi della Molara. This monument was made by Arnolfo di Cambio when he was young, and it represents a sleeping man, with the head on two pillows, on a sudarium.
In the cloister there is also another marble inscription representing a very important document. We are talking about the famous Bull of Pope Gregorio XI, emanated by the latter from his palace in Avignon, on the 23rd January, 1372. This work, written in Latin, highlights the power of the Basilica.
In this place there are also Fragments of the Altare della Maddalena. They are by Deodato di Cosma, from the 13th century.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, part of the Basilica was demolished. Some remains were moved in the cloister. There is the fulcrum of an altar built in the 5th century, funerary low-relief dedicated to the Gavi's family, a fresco representing the holy Mary with the Jesus child, and two angels, from the 13th century, and a fragment of Lorenzo della Valle. He was a religious Lateran, lived in the 15th century.
In a corner of this extraordinary place, visitors can finally admire a marble vase, situated on a papal throne, where probably Pope Nicolò IV used to sit.
The Garden of the cloister
A silent and praying place.
The cloister of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is a wonderful place, and one of the most important masterpieces of the Cosma's art. This oasis of beauty and peace is equipped with a beautiful garden. It was that space where the monks used to chat or to meditate. In the middle of the garden, there is Pozzo della Samaritana, decorated by vegetables. The structure has a cylindrical shape, and it was built in the 9th century. The well was used to collect rainwater.
On the sides of the garden you can see some lions and sphinxes, representing the basis of the arches surrounding the cloister.
Three strange inscriptions are situated in the cloister!
Are they esoteric symbols?
In the cloister of San Giovanni in Laterano, there are three strange inscriptions. One is on the right, as soon as you walk through the gate of the Court. The other two are located on the walls around the garden. These inscriptions are also known as "triplice cinta" and they represent three pairs one into the other, cut by 4 central lines, touching the internal square perimeter.
According to some historians, these pictures are esoteric symbols, that depicted the path they had to do the initiates, through the three physical, mental and spiritual worlds, to reach the last destination.
Other scientists said the Templars used it to indicate holy places, or just the remains of the game Roman people used to play.
Do you want to stay in Rome?
For this location we recommend Hotel Regno, ideal for discovering Rome thanks to its strategic location.