The Church of Sant’Irene dei Teatini and its Solomonic Altarpieces

Núñez-Méndez, Elsaris

In 1587 the chapter of the Theatine Order of Lecce accepted a donation of one thousand ducati for the construction of the order’s new casa and “a new church in the name of Sant’Irene, virgin and martyr, and the patroness of the city,” whose relics were to be kept and venerated inside the building. This gesture was followed by other donations from Leccese noblemen that supported design and construction works. These were supervised by Theatine architect Francesco Grimaldi, who, along with Giacomo della Porta, had been a key figure in the construction of the order’s main church in Rome, Sant’Andrea della Valle. It is known that by this time Grimaldi made drawings and a wooden model of the church. However, its construction began only in 1591 and continued into the seventeenth century, with the transept, choir and part of the nave finished by 1602. Although still missing structural and decorative elements, by 1607 the church was already recognized as one of the city’s landmarks and as an artistic achievement. The words of chronicler Peregrino Scardino of 1607 exemplify the admiration the building provoked: “immense and magnificent temple of Solomon that...once it has attained all of its furnishings (...) it would seem discreet to compare it to the greatest church in Italy”. In such way, Scardino mobilized a frequent comparison in contemporary laudatory literature that suggested a material and symbolic proximity between Sant’Irene’s Church and the Temple of Jerusalem, the ultimate model of divine building. At the same time, he generated expectations about a rich decorative program that was to be executed.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Spanish Italy & the Iberian Americas
Published Here
February 20, 2023


Preferred Citation: Núñes-Méndez, Elsaris. “The Church of Sant’Irene dei Teatini and its Solomonic Altarpieces.” In Michael Cole and Alessandra Russo, eds. Spanish Italy & The Iberian Americas. New York, NY: Columbia University 2019. []