From the Middle Ages to today, Rome’s urban network has always featured a great number of churches compared to its population. In the early eighteenth century, it reached a point when there was no point in building more in such a cramped city. That is not to say that the city’s workers were left without anything to do: a few churches were rebuilt entirely ( i Santi Apostoli ) or often updated towards more modern standards and esthetics ( from San Clemente to Santa Cecilia, i-e ancient churches ).
Inside the most important church in all Christianity, St. Peter’s Basilica, was a centuries-long mosaic decoration. The rivalry between the two greatest painters of the time, Batoni and Subleyras (from France), had the very Basilica for an arena. Both of them created altar paintings destined to be turned into mosaics. The latter got the favor of the jury over his italian counterpart. In the nave of San Giovanni in Laterano, already renovated by Borromini for the Jubilee of 1650 you could see two great pieces that would make it a major landmark of modern Rome: the colossal marble series of the Apostoli (Apostles) in the lower niches and that of the Profeti (Prophets) made of oval canvases.
Furthermore, the ceremonies of beatification and canonisation were a time of great spectacle, with no rivals in that regard in the city. It’s a reminder that even in a time when the philosophy of the Enlightenment was spreading; Rome remained a place where the Church and the art stemming from its religion were an artist’s first occupation. Though it was not the Church of Saint Charles Borromeo or Saint Philip Neri – you can tell by the paintings of Panini in St. Peters or San Giovanni di Laterano, looking like princely galleries where groups of visitors flock without any sense of mysticism.
On the other hand, at the end of the reconstruction of Santa Maria Maggiore by Ferdinando Fuga in 1750, pope Benedict XIV commented: “You’d believe we were theatre impresarios as it looks like a ballroom.”