Between Via della Scrofa and Piazza delle Cinque Lune, the church of Sant’Agostino is a small gem dating from the late 15th century. Fifteenth-century Rome, certainly less sumptuous and well-known than the city designed by the Popes over the next two centuries, is present mainly in the Campo Marzio district and the neighboring Parione and Ponte.
The church is famous, above all, for Caravaggio’s painting of the Madonna di Loreto or Madonna dei Pellegrini, for which Merisi used a well-known high-class courtesan (Maddalena Antognetti) as a model, in contravention of the Council of Trent’s ban on “all the lasciviousness of an impudent beauty of sacred figures.” The beauty of this Madonna lies precisely in her showing herself as having an (all too!) human nature, of a social class equivalent to that of the two pilgrims kneeling in front of her.
The pose is a delicate homage to classical sculpture, in particular, to the Thusnelda (or Barbarian Prisoner) of the Roman period, today seen in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, but which at the time of Caravaggio was found in the Villa Medici, where the painter was probably able to observe it close up.