Francesco Vespignani, Architect, 1842-1899
Monumental Entrance, portico, left side
Architect of academic culture, Virginio Vespignani (Rome 1808 - 1882) was a pupil of Luigi Poletti and teacher of the "Accademia di San Luca" of which he was also president in 1870. He collaborated with his teacher both for the reconstruction of the Basilica of San Paolo outside the walls, designing the front porch ( 1882), and for the construction of the neo-Romanesque portal of the church of San Tommaso in Canterbury, near Piazza Farnese (1866).
Most of his activity took place, however, under the pontificate of Pius IX, who chose him as the executive arm of his campaign to renew the image of the church, entrusting him also with some of the most important restorations he promoted. In fact, the architect took care of the works at the Basilica of San Lorenzo outside the walls (1855-64) and the arrangement of the monumental part of the Verano Cemetery, with the design of the Monumental Entrance (completed in 1872), of the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia (consecrated in 1860), of the Quadriportico (completed in 1874) and of the Monument to the Pontifical Fallen in the battle of Mentana, at the "Pincetto Vecchio" (1867). The style adopted by the architect for these realizations is above all inspired by Renaissance architecture, especially in the use of a simple architectural language based on clear proportional relationships. However there are stylistic contaminations with different architectural cultures, which lead him to the elaboration of a style of transition between neoclassicism and the first signs of eclectic style.
The Monumental Entrance, inspired by the forms of medieval fortified architecture, uses various elements from antiquity. Two quadrangular turrets on two levels flank the actual entrance, composed of three arches with round arches on cruciform pillars. The materials used are bricks and travertine, in an alternation that emphasizes the role of the construction elements: the walls are made of brick, while the frames, arches, corner elements and the top part are made up of square travertine blocks. The crowning of the turrets is inspired by the covering of a Greek temple, with a rather projecting cornice supported by a frieze with triglyphs and surmounted by a triangular tympanum decorated with carved motifs; on the sides, a series of vertical elements takes up the shape and the decorative motif of the Etruscan-inspired acroters. The central body is covered by a longitudinal barrel vault on which there is an outdoor terrace. The crowning in travertine above the arches, with a cornice on projecting shelves, also acts as a parapet.
To the external façade of the pillars are placed four high podiums on which are placed the 4 allegoric statues representing, from the left, the Silence (by Giuseppe Blasetti), the Prayer (by Francesco Fabi-Altini), the Hope (by Stefano Galletti) and the Meditation ( by Francesco Fabi-Altini).
The sepulcher of Virginio Vespignani, created by his son Francesco Vespignani, who followed him in the architectural profession, is located on the inner pillar to the left of the central passageway, towards the interior of the environment. On both sides of the sarcophagus a bas-relief is carved with the symbols of the profession, as well as medals and various honors. On the reproduction of a partially rolled sheet is also engraved the façade of the main entrance of the Verano, as a tribute to the activity of the architect for the Camposanto. The sarcophagus is surmounted by a bust of the deceased, by Giuseppe Prinzi.
On commission of Pope Pius IX, Virginio Vespignani designed and carried out numerous interventions for the restoration of Roman churches. He was involved, for example, in the extension of the Convent of the Visitation, then the site of the Palatine Antiquarium, on a part of the Domus Flavia (1855). In the church of San Carlo ai Catinari he directed interventions on the inside (1857-61), as well as for S. Croce and S. Bonaventura dei Lucchesi (1859-63) and San Marcello al Corso (1861-67), where with a The purist restoration carried out the reconstruction of the main altar and the apse decorations and the elimination of many of the decorations inserted in different eras. Still on commission from Pius IX, he built the Confession of Santa Maria Maggiore (1862-64) and led the stylistic restoration of Santa Maria in Trastevere (1866-77), where he opened the curved windows of the façade, remade much of the Cosmatesque floor and he restored the ciborium using, in part, ancient materials. In the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso (1868-82), still following the dictates of the stylistic restoration, he imposed the cold restoration of the Renaissance church, canceling both the seventeenth-century interventions of Gian Lorenzo Bernini that had made the apse and confession area baroque and the more substantial ones of the early nineteenth century with which Valadier had transformed the church plan and inserted once into a sail.
In the fabric of the city, again at the behest of Pius IX, Vespignani oversaw the neoclassical reconstruction of Porta San Pancrazio at Gianicolo, currently the headquarters of the National Veterans and Veterinarians Association of Garibaldi. The ancient Porta Aurelia, in the same area, had been destroyed on the occasion of the heroic defense of the Romans against the French in 1849 and at the behest of the Pope was immediately rebuilt and renamed. Between 1853 and 1869, Vespignani carried out the arrangement of the facade external and the restoration of the summit of Porta Pia, before the events of 1870. After the capture of Rome, instead, it rebuilt the Porta Salaria near Piazza Fiume, which had been badly damaged during the same motions. This work was destroyed in the 1930s. Among the works of Virginio Vespignani not linked to restoration work, the Church of the Madonna dell'Archetto near SS Apostoli (1851), characterized by a good harmony of proportions and a rich decoration, the Baldachin and the confession of San Pietro in Vincoli (1876) and the connecting building between the basilica and the baptistery of San Giovanni in Laterano, built with his son Francesco in 1884. Outside Rome, the architect was active mainly in Viterbo, where he designed the Teatro dell 'Unione (1844-55) and the neoclassical Caffè Schenardi al Corso (1818), which later became a haunt of patriots during the Roman Republic, and in Orvieto, where he worked, for example, at the Palazzo dell'Opera del Duomo (1857).