Saturday, January 21

the colors of Saint Agnes

The colours in the big portasanta marble columns that stand round the altar -- a deep pink with grey inclusions -- provide the church with the keynote for its colour scheme. The background colour throughout is pale and darker grey for the marble floors and apse walls, the painted side walls, most columns, and all capitals. The pink is picked up by the eight pink marble sections of the dome over the altar, with its grey and white cornices, ribs, finials, and capitals. It deepens into porphyry in the gorgeous small columns holding up the dome, the echoing porphyry verticals of the pilasters in the apse, and the porphyry horizontal band above them; and it metamorphoses into purples in the robes of the figures in the mosaic above. Gold gleams from the mosaic background and from the ceiling; ochre and pink (an exact match for the pink of the columns) are the main colours of the ceiling, together with plum and blue for the sunken coffers...

During the annual week of festivities in honour of Saint Agnes, red and plum velvet hangings with gold embroidery clothe the apse; there are red hangings at the parapets of the gallery and also at the door to the canonry from the street. Passersby note the hangings and know that the church of Sant'Agnese is celebrating its feast. The clergy wear seventeenth-century red-and-gold vestments on the saint's special day, January 21. Pink and purple flowers (orchids on the occasions I have been there) deck the altar. The overall effect is delicate, solemn, and intensely female.

-- Margaret Visser, describing Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura in The Geometry of Love