St. Peter’s Basilica was erected in remembrance of Apostle Saint Peter. It is the burial site of not only Saint Peter but the first pope as well. It was worked on by many different architects and artists throughout the years, not being finished until two decades after work had begun. It was eventually redesigned in the 17th century, by the orders of Pope Paul V. Each artist provided their own personal accents to the design, shaping it little by little and adding touches of many different artistic eras. The final design ended up being a collaboration of a select few artists, including Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Moderno, and Bernini.
Donato Bramante was the very first designer of the cathedral. He won a contest in 1506, and was appointed to the project by Pope Julius himself. Bramante’s layout for the building was in the shape of a Greek cross-or a cross with four equal arms (Figure A). There was to be a large dome in the center. The dome was one of the few parts of the design that survived the entire creation of the building. Bramante was the forerunner in high renaissance architecture, bringing back pieces of history and culture within his designs. He used linear techniques, as well as symmetry and proportion (High Renaissance Art). These attributes helped to channel ancient Greek and Roman culture into his architecture.
When Michelangelo got ahold of the project, the layout had been redesigned a few times. However, Michelangelo reverted back to Bramante’s original Greek cross design. He took Bramante’s seemingly simple design and transformed it into something very complex and interesting. He reduced the presence of geometric shapes and added a lot of masonry. The late renaissance was characterized by a quality of reality and art that tells a story (The Medici, Michelangelo, and the Art of the Late Renaissance). It included a lot of smooth lines and surfaces, as Michelangelo shows through his blurring of the geometric shapes.
In 1606, the building was dismantled leaving Pope Paul V to declare a new architect to redesign the building. He wanted to recapture Michelangelo’s work and rebuild around it. The shape of the Greek cross was considered unholy, and Moderno proceeded to amend it with a nave at one end. He also added a lot of small windows as well as large entryways to the basilica. He aimed to maintain a lot of Michelangelo’s design for the most part, so his additions were subtle. He altered some of the dimensions as well as adding a few bays and reshaping the chapels. The Baroque period is characterized as grandiose and interesting, adding complexity and appealing to the senses. Moderno embodies that throughout his large entryways and huge empty spaces throughout the basilica. His conglomerate of windows and other architectural details add to the complexity of the building. In essence he took Michelangelo’s art and expanded it while adding complexity to the project.
In 1626, Pope Urban VII appointed Bernini to aid him in furnishing the basilica. Bernini began by building the Baldaccini, a large bronze and marble statue that hung over the alter (White) (Figure B). He received commissions for a number of projects within the basilica. He then continued to create a throne representing the one that belonged to Saint Peter. His last piece of work for the basilica was “a piazza leading to the church” (White). He represented the Baroque period through his use of complex detailing and smooth and round shapes such as his large oval space in his piazza as well as the twisting of the columns in his Baldaccini.
Since its inception, Saint Paul’s Basilica has been home to many great artists over the years. It has gone through numerous redesigns, with each artist adding onto the ideas of the ones before him. It has become quite the collaboration of great minds. It, to this day, is able to represent multiple centuries worth of art history and art technique. The architecture of the building is simply stunning and could not have been done by one man alone.
- “Italian High Renaissance Period (c.1490-1530).” High Renaissance Art: History, Characteristics, Aesthetics. Visual Arts Cork. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
- “The Medici, Michelangelo, and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence.” The Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago, 9 Nov. 2002. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
- White, Veronica. “Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.