Key to Umbria: Orvieto

Chiesa del Buon Gesù (1618-37)

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                                  Sant’ Onofrio (nuns’ church)              Chiesa del Buon Gesù

Cardinal Girolamo Simoncello acquired this site in 1559 to provide a home for spinsters who lacked resources and protection.  The first Franciscan nuns moved her a few months later.   Adjacent properties were acquired in 1560-2.  Pope Paul V gave his permission for the construction of a new church on the site, and Bishop Cardinal Giacomo Sannesio laid its foundation stone in 1618. 

An inscription to the left of the counter-facade records that the executors of Muzio Cappelletti, a merchant from Allerona, provided funds for the completion of the work in 1637. 

Cardinal Aldobrandini (Ippolito Aldobrandini, nephew and namesake of Pope Clement VIII?] gave the nearby church of Sant' Onofrio (to the left of the main church, illustrated above) to the nuns in 1633 to serve as their enclosed chapel (a function that it still performs). 

The nuns here had a close association with those at the nearby nunnery of Santa Chiara.  Both communities were suppressed in the Napoleonic period.  The nuns managed to return to the Monastero del Buon Gesù, but Santa Chiara never re-opened.

The nuns regularly celebrate lovely choral masses that are open to the public (see the times posted on the side door).


The interior stucco work was financed in ca. 1660 by Sister Ippolita Simoncelli.

Madonna in Morto Vivo (15th century)

This fresco fragment, which is attributed to Pietro di Nicola Baroni, is now on the high altar.  It was detached in 1572 from an orchard outside Porta Maggiore and moved to the oratory of the adjacent nunnery.   It was then restored and enclosed in its present gilt frame.  Cardinal Girolamo Simoncello invoked its mercy as he approached death in 1605, and he was granted temporary relief.  Since then, the image has been known as the Madonna in Morto Vivo.  The fresco and its gilt frame were presumably moved to the current location at some time after Sister Ippolita Simoncelli had paid for the stucco decoration of the new church.

Scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin (1647)

The will (1647) of Giovanni Battista Cecchetti included a bequest to his sister Giulia, who was a nun here, that was to be used to commission Salvi Castellucci to decorate the “frontespizio” (almost certainly the apse) of church and the vaults.  In fact, this work is attributed on stylistic grounds to Giovanni Maria Colombi.


              Presentation of the Virgin           Presentation of Christ                           Visitation

The works comprise:

  1. a panel of the Presentation of Christ, above the high altar; and

  2. the following frescoes in the apse:

  3. three in the vaults:

  4. -the Adoration of the Magi (to the left);

  5. -the baby Jesus in glory; and

  6. -the Nativity (to the right); and

  7. two on the walls:

  8. -Presentation of the Virgin (to the left); and

  9. -the Visitation.

Birth of the Virgin (17th century)

This damaged altarpiece on the 3rd altar on the left (i.e. to the left of the apse) is attributed on stylistic grounds to Giovanni Maria Colombi.

Art from the Church

Profession of St Clare (1637)

This altarpiece in the nuns’ private chapel came from Santa Chiara.  It was taken to Paris in the Napoleonic era, when the nunneries of Orvieto were suppressed, but subsequently returned to city.  Since Santa Chiara never re-opened, it was given to the nuns of the Chiesa del Buon Gesù. 

The altarpiece depicts St Clare receiving the habit of a nun from St Francis at the Portiuncula.   An inscription was recently discovered on it identified the artist as Giovanni Maria Colombi and gave the date as 1637.

Angel (early 16th century) 

This painted terracotta figure in the Museo dell’ opera del Duomo came from the cloister of the nunnery.  It might originally have been housed in the lunette above an altarpiece or a porta.  It formed part of a larger work that might have depicted the Annunciation or perhaps a figure of Christ or the Virgin between two angels. 

Return to Monuments of Orvieto.

Return to Walk I.