The casual tourist in Rome who wanders up Via XX Settembre might be forgiven if he takes little notice of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, for churches in Rome are as plentiful as bars in Boston. From the outside, certainly, there is little to distinguish it from the other Baroque churches in the vicinity. A small sign on the door tells its name, and above this and carved in stone the passer-by may read the date 1626 and the name of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Paul V and the patron of Gianlorenzo Bernini.

Had he visited the Villa Borghese, then, our tourist might be tempted to pop in to the church. If he did, tucked away in the back he’d be rewarded with the masterpiece of...

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