Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Vatican from the Renaissance to the Baroque

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Form:  This small temple is a kind of cross between the Pantheon and the Parthenon.  It has a dome and is a central plan like the Pantheon but uses a different order, the Doric as in the Parthenon.  It is also contained within a small courtyard that was not part of its original design.   Originally, the building was to be placed in a circular colonnaded courtyard which was designed to "set off" the design of the temple itself.   According to the Brittanica, the building was "specifically inspired by the temple of Vesta at Tivoli."

Iconography:  The use of a classical design that refers back to the Parthenon and Pantheon is designed to give the building an antique and therefore authoritative and classic feel.  The circular shape is almost like a target from above and would have been even more powerful as an icon if Bramante's original plans had been followed.  As it is, the buildings shape and design are also very appropriate because the symmetrical design plays into its function which was to focus the attention of the monument on the site where St. Peter was supposedly martyred.

 Donato Bramante, Tempietto.
in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome
1502 Italian Renaissance

Context:  The construction of the Tempietto was commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  It's name is actually an affectionate kind of nickname.  Tempietto is an Italian nickname for small temple.

This building is specifically important in terms of context because it allowed Bramante to explore some ideas that he would later on use in his design of St. Peter's Cathedral which was rebuilt, at least at first, in central style plan.

The Original Plan for St. Peter's from 315 CE looked nothing like it does now.
Review of St. Peter's Original Plan
 Context: In 313 AD the Roman general, Constantine, possibly sensing the change in religious climate, had a miraculous dream and after his victory over Maxentius he adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire with his "edict of Milan."  After this happened, Roman Christians naturally adopted the traditional Roman art and architectural styles for use in the worship of Christianity. "Basilica" is a Greek word meaning "honored" and it is possible that for this reason one of the most used architectural form is the basilican plan which was used in the design of Christian churches. 
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Old St. Peter's Basilica was the 
first basilica of St. Peter's in Rome, a five-aisled basilican-plan church with apsed transept at the west end that was begun between 326 and 333 at the order of the Roman emperor Constantine and finished about 30 years later. The church was entered through an atrium called Paradise that enclosed a garden with fountains. From the atrium there were five doors into the body of the church. The nave was terminated by an arch with a mosaic of Constantine, accompanied by St. Peter, presenting a model of his church to Christ. On the clerestory walls, each pierced by 11 windows, were frescoes of the patriarchs, prophets, and Apostles and scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Old St. Peter's was torn down in the early 16th century and replaced by New St. Peter's 
Form:  Although the overall plan and rising windowed nave adhere to the standard Roman basilican plan, the main differences between St. Peters Basilica and Constantine's were the materials and the technology.  Old St. Peter's Basilica was not as lavish.  Initially it had a post and beam design made of timbers rather than the groin vault and stone and concrete arches used in Constantine's basilica.

The original building was torn down and new one was designed by Donato Bramante in 1502 to replace it. 

Bramante 1506 (Upper left)
Sangallo c1510-1540? (upper right)
Michelangelo c1546 (middle left)
Giaccomo della Porta 1590
Carlo Maderno 1607-15  (middle right)
Bernini 1637 (bottom)

Form:  The Plan of St. Peter's goes through several radical changes over time.  It started as a basilican tau plan ("T" shaped) in 315 CE.   When Pope Julius ordered the original building torn down Bramante designed the building to be based on a Greek cross central plan.  Unfortunately, Bramante's design was a little unstable and Sangallo redesigned the plan.  Sangallo and Michelangelo both thickened up the walls and slightly simplified Bramante's original design.

Michelangelo also redesigned the dome and the facade of the structure.  His design was to create a more egg shaped or pointed dome than Bramante's original design because the shallow half sphere of Bramante's design was structurally a bit unstable.  Michelangelo's design was then completed by Giaccomo della Porta in 1590.

Carlo Maderno in 1607-15 didn't so much redesign the building but add to it.  Maderno lengthened the nave of the cathedral converting it from a central plan to a Latin cross basilican plan which makes the building appear as a crucifix from above.


Bernini's arms were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1655-67).  Bernini created the egg shaped atrium/plaza that are the "arms" of St. Peters.  The shape of the entire structure then appears to look like a key from above.

This bronze medal from the British Museum
has an image of what Bramante originally had planned for 
St. Peter's in 1506.

Bramante 1506 (Upper left)
Sangallo c1510-1540? (upper right)
Michelangelo c1546 (middle left)
Giaccomo della Porta 1590
Carlo Maderno 1607-15  (middle right)
Bernini 1650's (bottom)

The brick dome 138 feet in diameter rises 452 feet above the street, and 390 feet above the floor, with four iron chains for a compression ring. Four internal piers each 60 feet square.The dome is 452 ft high (above the pavement) and is buttressed by the apses and supported internally by four massive piers more than 18 meters (60 feet) thick. —taken from John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of The World. p153.
"The medal by Caradosso (1506) and the partial plan drawn by Bramante (in the Uffizi, Florence), probably represent the earliest stage of the design, before the difficulties appeared which obliged the architect and his successors to propose, and in some cases implement, numerous changes. These changes related not only to the general conception of the plan—first a Greek cross, then a Latin one—but also to the plan of the transepts, which at one time were to have ambulatories; to the role of the Orders, first purely decorative (Bramante), then structural (Raphael, Michelangelo); and to the construction and shape of the dome, first with a single masonry shell (Bramante), then a double one (Sangallo, Michelangelo). The piers at the crossing, which were intended to support the dome, were one of the biggest problems; too slender in Bramante's plan, they were frequently reinforced... In the 17th century further important modifications were made by Bernini when he created the great colonnade that encircles the Piazza San Pietro." —John Julius Norwich, ed. The World Atlas of Architecture. p276.

Bramante presenting his 
model to Julius

Here's what Sangallo's version of St. Peter's would have looked like based on his model.
Models were not toys in the Renaissance. They were working experiments in which the architects tried out ideas, explained concepts, competed for commissions and instructed their workmen. At a time when paper was still something of a novelty and masons could be illiterate, models were more important to the actual building process than were plans. Dozens of models were used in a major work of construction. Most of these were destroyed after their period of usefulness was over. But some lavish ones created for display have survived--including the colossal model, built to the design of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, for St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.  Sangallo's team, made up of highly skilled craftsmen led by Antonio Labacco, spent seven years on this detailed study of every major structural and decorative element in a church that was never built. Michelangelo changed the design after Sangallo's death--two of Michelangelo's own models for parts of the revised church were also in the show. 
The occasion for the show was the careful restoration of the Sangallo model, which itself took three years. Rotted wood was replaced with synthetic materials, stains were removed, delicate railings were re-created. Some things were not replaced--the paint imitating stucco and travertine, the row of statues around the lower tier of the dome, the metope reliefs in the frieze that runs around the whole structure, and various candelabra. But the basic elements are now restored, and are stunning. Vast quantities of fir, lime, elm and apricot were turned, carved, stamped and fitted with endless patience and ingenuity. The restored model was first taken to Venice, where most of the surviving Renaissance models were displayed around it in the Palazzo Grassi. Only half of these 28 models accompanied Sangallo's masterpiece to America. 
MICHELANGELO ON THE MALL ,  By: Wills, Garry, Civilization, May/Jun95, Vol. 2 Issue 3, p52, 6p
For more on the exhibit and more pictures, visit:

 Quoted directly from 
 "St. Peter's."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 30, 2002. 
Protected by the fortified Castel Sant'Angelo, St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Palace gained precedence over the cathedral church and Lateran Palace during the papacy's troubled centuries. St. Peter's was built over the traditional burial place of the Apostle from whom all popes claim succession. The spot was marked by a three-niched monument (aedicula) of AD 166-170. Excavations in 1940-49 revealed well-preserved catacombs, with both pagan and Christian graves dating from the period of St. Peter's burial.
Constantine enclosed the aedicula within a shrine and during the last 15 years of his life (died 337) built his basilica around it. The shrine was sheltered by a curved open canopy supported by four serpentine pillars that he brought from the Middle East. The design, enormously magnified, was followed in making the baldachin (1623-33) over today's papal altar.
In spite of fires, depredations by invaders, and additions by various popes, the original basilica stood for 1,000 years much as it had been built, but in 1506 Julius II ordered it razed and a new St. Peter's built. His architect was Donato Bramante, a Florentine who in 1502 had completed the first great masterpiece of the High Renaissance, the Tempietto in the courtyard of S. Pietro in Montorio, a mile away on the Janiculum Hill. Built to mark the spot where, according to tradition, St. Peter had been crucified, the Tempietto is round, domed, and unadorned. Its outer face is a colonnade of bare Tuscan Doric, the earliest modern use of this order. Because of its proportions, the tiny temple has the majesty of a great monument.
"St. Peter's."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 30, 2002.


Michelangelo's Plan
Michelangelo's dome completed by della Porta


Bramante's ground plan for St. Peter's was central: a Greek cross, all of the arms of which are equal, around a central dome. Both he and the Pope died before much could be built. Successive architects, including Raphael, drew fresh plans. The last of them, Antonio da Sangallo, died in 1546, and the 71-year-old Michelangelo was solicited to complete Sangallo's projects, which included St. Peter's, the Palazzo Farnese, and the Capitol. He accepted but refused payment for his work on the basilica.
Michelangelo adapted Bramante's original plan, the effect being more emotional and mighty, less classically serene. Of the exterior, only the back of the church, visible from the Vatican Gardens, and the dome are Michelangelo's. After his death Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana, who executed the dome, altered the shape, making it taller and steeper than the original design.
The east end remained unfinished, and it was there that Carlo Maderno was ordered to construct a nave, the clergy having won its century-long battle to have a longitudinal church for liturgical reasons. Thus, St. Peter's orientation reverses the normal. Maderno added a Baroque facade in 1626. He was followed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who worked on the building from 1633 to 1677, both inside and outside. His pontifical crowd-funnelling colonnade in the shape of a keyhole around the piazza, a fountain for the piazza, the breathtaking baldachin, his several major pieces of sculpture, his interior arrangements for the church, and his dazzling Scala Regia (Royal Stair) to the Vatican exhibit his legendary technical brilliance and his masterful showman's flair. Before the lamentable assault in 1972, which damaged the sculptural masterpiece, one could enter the church and, in the first chapel at the right, see the "Pieta" (1499) of Michelangelo in the original splendor.

All the planning, plotting, labor, and faith of all the popes, priests, artists, and artisans produced a vast, gorgeous ceremonial chamber. Amid the gleam and glitter of gold and bronze and precious stones eddy throngs of awed, dwarfed humanity. 

 "St. Peter's."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 30, 2002.

Michelangelo's Design
Form:  Carlo Maderno in 1607-15 didn't so much redesign the building but add to it.  Maderno lengthened the nave of the cathedral converting it from a central plan to a Latin cross basilican plan which makes the building appear as a crucifix from above.
Iconography:  Maderno's redesign is symbolic of several things.  First, it is a kind of assertion of Maderno as an artist and architect that he is remodeling the design of such greats as Bramante and Michelangelo.  It is a kind of arrogant display of power.  Almost like when gangs spray paint over the "tags" of other gangs.
The iconography is also symbolic of Catholic ideas.  The redesign is almost a rejection of the central church plan and a return to basic Christian iconography.  The Reformation had already occurred and in some ways, images of the crucifixion and of the crucifix are intrinsic to the Catholic conception of Christianity.  The Church and Christ's sacrifice, symbolized by the symbol of the crucifixion are symbolic that this is the portal to God.

Form: Bernini's arms were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1655-67).   Originally it was meant to be a completed ellipse that surrounded the piazza however, it was never completed.
Iconography: Bernini created the egg shaped atrium/plaza that are the "arms" of St. Peters.  Instead of using the traditional circle as the form, Bernini creates a "baroque" twist to the schema by making the shape an ellipse.
The addition of this ellipse to the overall program of buildings changes the shape of the complex as a whole.  The entire structure then appears to look like a key (which is the symbol of Peter's role in the Church) from above.  Bernini also conceived of the arms as a symbol of St. Peter's arms embracing the faithful.  See his drawing at right.

Form:  Maderno's facade is almost the perfect example of the term "Baroque."  It is extremely complex and uses a classical vocabulary but with some very Mannerist twists.  The facade of the structure is really a combination of two facades.  The pediment above the central doors is too far down the building.  This is very similar to Palladio's design for the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Begun 1566.
Initially the facade appears to have a symmetrical standard formula for Corinthian order buildings but over all the combination of the forms is irregular.

The facade is not one straight line across.  Instead the building undulates and shifts backwards and forwards in an irregular almost unpredictable pattern.  There are doubled columns combined with flattened pilasters.  The undulation of the facade is a little disorienting and creates a dramatic play of light and shadow across the facade which augmented by the facade's color which is two toned.  The top of the building is a different color than the bottom.

Bernini, St. Peter's, The Baldacchino 1624-1633

 Form: According to the Brittanica, Bernini's,  
famous immense gilt-bronze baldachin executed between 1624 and 1633. Its twisted columns derive from the early Christian columns that had been used in the altar screen of Old St. Peter's. Bernini's most original contribution to the final work is the upper framework of crowning volutes flanked by four angels that supports the orb and cross. The baldachin is perfectly proportioned to its setting, and one hardly realizes that it is as tall as a four-story building. Its lively outline moving upward to the triumphant crown, its dark colour heightened with burning gold, give it the character of a living organism. An unprecedented fusion of sculpture and architecture, the baldachin is the first truly Baroque monument. It ultimately formed the centre of a programmatic decoration designed by Bernini for the interior of St. Peter's.
The ornamentation and use of different materials is an excellent example of the Baroque style.  The overall form is of a tent like canopy that is cast in bronze.  The materials, bronze gilded with gold trim, is a striking and almost gaudy use of materials.  The columns are classical but literally with a "twist."  Atop the structure are banners adorned with the "Barbarini bees" (the Pope's family's coat of arms.)  Above that is a kind of diorama like scene of winged victory figures and cherubs that carry the papal crown as if they are about to descend and crown Peter. Iconography:  The size and use of precious materials is a conspicuous consumption of materials which heightens its value.  In fact, tour guides tell the story that Bernini ran out of bronze for its construction and the pope authorized him to remove and melt down the doors of the Pantheon for bronze.  The tour guides say, "Whatever the barbarians didn't destroy, the Barbarini did."
The structure was built over the crossing of the nave and transept, under the central dome and above the mortal remains of St. Peter, the first Pope.  The form of the tent probably is symbolic of the relationship of the first Jewish temple, which was in a tent, and the first Christian basilica St. Peter's.
(The baldachin) also spelled Baldachino, or Baldaquin, also called Ciborium, in architecture, is the canopy over an altar or tomb, supported on columns, especially when freestanding and disconnected from any enclosing wall. The term originates from the Spanish baldaquin, an elaborately brocaded material imported from Baghdad that was hung as a canopy over an altar or doorway. Later it came to stand for a freestanding canopy over an altar.
This probably also accounts for the cherub who floats above symbolically waiting to crown St. Peter below.

According to the Brittanica,
Bernini's most spectacular religious decoration is the Throne of St. Peter, or the Cathedra Petri (1657-66), a gilt-bronze cover for the medieval wooden throne (cathedra) of the pope. Bernini's task was not only to make a decorative cover for the chair but also to create a meaningful goal in the apse of St. Peter's for the pilgrim's journey through the great church. The seat is seemingly supported by four imposing bronze figures representing theological doctors of the early church: Saints Ambrose, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, and Augustine. Above, a golden glory of angels on clouds and rays of light emanates from the Dove of the Holy Spirit, which is painted on an oval window. The cathedra was produced about the same time as the piazza, and the contrast between these two works shows Bernini's versatility. Both works were done for the Chigi pope, Alexander VII (1655-67), who was one of Bernini's greatest patrons. The tomb that Bernini designed for Alexander VII (1671-78; St. Peter's) was largely executed by his pupils.
Notice how this is very similar in its use of Baroque forms and materials to the Baldachino above.  The work is a multi media work of art.  The chair is bronze, the clouds and cherubs are made out of stucco and or plaster that has been gilded with gold and the rays of light bursting from the stain glass window are wooden rods coated with gold leaf.  Even the use of the stain glass window is part of Bernini's use of dramatic lighting which may have been influenced by the use of dramatic lighting in some paintings and possibly even the opera.  Beneath the chair and the figures of the saints is the altar which is made out of different colored marbles and granites.  In the Renaissance period, this eclectic use of materials would have been considered anti classical and too ornate, however, during the Baroque period, heightened drama and ornamentation is commonplace. 

Bernini. Throne of St. Peter, or the Cathedra Petri (1657-66)

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