A Cope of Venerable Cesare Cardinal Baronius

The church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, or what is better known as Chiesa Nuova, contains many treasures of liturgical art, not the least of which is a cope of Venerable Cesare Cardinal Baronius, the erudite Oratorian, antiquarian and scholar of ecclesiastical history. In many regards he might be considered one of the fathers of 'Romanitas' -- which is simply to say, someone who takes a pride in the Roman patrimony of the Roman rite. 

Seeing vestments linked to such personages is always of great interest to me insofar as it can assist in bringing you into closer contact with the individual, making them less abstract and more 'real' and tangible in some way -- like standing before a painting done by a famous artist and seeing in it the artist's hand.

This particular cope is but a single piece taken from a complete solemn Mass set (i.e. chasuble, dalmatic, tunicle, etc.) which originally is thought to have come from the titular church of Cardinal Baronius, Ss. Nereo e Achilleo. It would come into the possession of the sacristy of Santa Maria in Vallicella appearing in inventories already at the very beginning of the 1600's.  In terms of its age, it is dated to around circa 1596 or shortly thereafter.

Stylistically, this cope may come as a surprise to many who might not realize that this kind of floriated embroidery work extends back this far, assuming (incorrectly) that such designs were purely a stylistic development of the 1700's. They might further (incorrectly) assume that vestments prior to the 1700's were always characterized by figurative depictions -- but that is not in fact the case. It is a point that anti-baroque polemicists would do well to remember. 

That digression aside, let's take a closer look.
The embroidery is very much typical of work from the era, being characterized by a very intricate and fine pattern of naturalistic motifs of flowers that cover the entire surface of the vestment. Works from this period will frequently find the orphreys and hood (or shield) emphasized by employing a heavier form of embroidery and that is certainly what one sees here in this particular example as well. 

One call well imagine the erudite cardinal-scholar of the Roman church so nobly clothed in such fine sacred vestments, understood not as contradicting the good cardinal's antiquarian and medievalist interests, but complementing them. 

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