Charles Garnier won the Grand Prix de Rome in1848. Among the submissions that he sent to the Academy during his five year stay at the Villa Medici was one, for his second year, of the temple of Vesta embellished with medieval monuments. This watercolour, showing the interior of the church of San Clemente, built in the 12th century, was to go with the studies of medieval monuments produced for this occasion. In the end, Garnier did not choose this building for his submission, but put forward views of the churches of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (Rome) and San Miniato (Florence), which were harshly criticised by the Academy.
Here, Garnier manages to express, through his effects with light, the sanctity and mystery of this building. Decorating the central apse, we can see the splendid 12th century mosaic. It shows Christ on the cross amidst the curling branches the Tree of Life, against a gold background whose reflections are captured perfectly. We know that Garnier was interested in the technique of mosaic, as he used it later, notably for the Paris Opera when he brought the mosaicist Gian Dominico Facchina (1826-1903) over from Venice.