Masterpieces of Light and Space: Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, Italy

Rome, ItalyThe Nave of San Luigi dei Francesi

I remember our first day in Rome fairly clearly. We arrived by train, found our hotel, and since it was just an hour ride from Florence and not a horrific overnight bus journey, we were ready to go. We pulled out the guide book and got to it, walking from Piazza Cinquecento (Termini Station) by the Colosseum, Forum, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and one landmark after another all the way to St. Peter’s Basilica and back. I’m pretty sure we visited San Luigi dei Francesi on the same day.

Rome, Italy
Caravaggios lining the walls of San Luigi dei Francesi

Though easily more impressive than probably any church in my home town, San Luigi dei Francesi might be overlooked on one’s trip to Rome, if not for it’s super impressive collection of paintings and frescoes by Caravaggio. I think I saw maybe one or two Caravaggio’s while we were in Florence, and there might have been one at the Prado in Madrid, but I REALLY wanted to see a few examples of his super high-contrast work. It turns out that basically all of them are in this one church in Rome (yes, complete overstatement.) My one semester as an art history teacher (not sure how I ever got that job) left me with an appreciation for Caravaggio that I would have never had without that experience. And I was standing. In a 500 year old church in Rome. Looking at Caravaggio’s handiwork.

Rome, ItalySee why I say Masterpieces of Light and Space?

If the decor makes you think “looks kinda French” it’s because this is the church of St. Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi, see?) St. Louis was King Louis IX of France. So you can kinda see what happened here. I imagine this was basically the French embassy during the days of the Holy Roman Empire, but that is purely conjecture on my part not at all based in fact.

I don’t have any exterior photos of the building – it turns out I was mostly focused on Caravaggio for this stop, but when I googled “San Luigi dei Francesi” the pic came up, and it kinda looks like the facade of every 16th century building in Rome. Pretty, but not super remarkable. Like an oyster shell with high contrast pearls inside.