This material is in copyright: C Michael Bloch 1967. Requests for permission for any use of this material should be addressed to email@example.com
Information about the life and work of James Lees-Milne may be found at www.jamesleesmilne.com
The death of Paul V and the retirement of Maderno saw the end of the early phase of the Roman Baroque. The reign of the Ludovisi pope from bologna, Gregory XV (1621-3), was too short to make much mark upon the building of St Peter's. Gregory was the patron and the friend of his compatriot, Domenichino, whose debts he paid. He was gentle and good, but by the time of his election sickly. The political success of his reign was due to the skill and diplomacy of the cardinal nephew Ludovico Ludovisi, to whom the pope handed over the reins of government with the words, 'Datemi da mangiare e al resto pensate voi!' Cardinal Ludovisi, in addition to being an able administrator, was an avid collector of works of art and the builder of S. Ignazio for the Jesuits. The forceful cardinal issued to the nuncios overseas instructions drafted by the poet Agucchi in emphatic and fiery language, often in swinging cadences, hitherto unknown in papal documents which are habitually couched in the driest phraseology. Agucchi's are nothing if not flamboyantly baroque.
Gregory XV was succeeded by Urban VIII (1623-44), perhaps the greatest of the baroque popes, during whose reign St Peter's assumed much of its present character. Cardinal Maffeo Barberini was fifty-six at the time of his election. A man of spotless virtue, he was immensely clever. His portraits show a strong head and lofty forehead. He had thick black hair, streaked with grey, a square-cut beard, and shrewd piercing blue eyes. He trusted no man's opinion but his own; and in spite of shameless nepotism retained absolute government in his own hands. Although he brooked no contradictions, his manners were engaging, and he was always gentle with his servants. A contemporary historian wrote of him, 'Princeps potius videri voluit quam pontifex, rector quam pastor' - he wished to seem a prince rather than a pope, a ruler rather than a priest. Indeed there was little milk and water spirituality in the make-up of this masterful prince of the Church.
It was well for the Faith that Urban was a man of determination, or the political difficulties of his reign were daunting. His pontificate coincided with the worst horrors of the Thirty Years' War in Germany. It also witnessed the long unedifying process of France and Spain's jockeying for power in Europe. France's lack of scruple in international relations set a horrible example to the nations which has been followed ever since. Her aggressive chauvinism, disguised under Louis XIV's special brand of royal absolutism, was to be repeated by the dictatorships of later centuries. Cardinal Richelieu's military interventions in Italy and alliance with the Protestant powers flouted all pretence of loyalty to the Church, of which the French kings boasted the title 'Most Christian'. With tact and firmness Urban parried the French cardinal's assaults in a ceaseless endeavour to preserve peace. With commendable restraint he likewise submitted to unprecedented insolence from Cardinal Borgia, emissary of the Spanish monarch, who endeavoured to treat the pope as a catspaw in his resistance to Louis XIV's territorial claims in Europe. At a consistory session Urban was obliged on one occasion to yell at Cardinal Borgia, 'Taceas aut exi! -shut up or get out! An Italian tried to lead the Spaniard from the pope's presence. In the scuffle that ensued, one cardinal broke the spectacles of another; a Spanish cardinal stamped on the biretta of a French cardinal. Again, if the pope was not combating the pitiless, unforgiving doctrine of the Jansenist heresy, which denied to man all possibility of exercising his own salvation, then he was attempting to relieve the lot of the English Catholics under the Stuarts; or to regain to the Papal States that Naboth's vineyard, the fief of Castro, dishonestly appropriated by the Farnese family. There was no end to his political vexations.
Urban's real interests were, notwithstanding, music and the arts, in that order. He himself was a poet. During the worst crises of his pontificate, he would still read and even write verse. His Latin poems were perhaps his best. They were translated into several languages. He urged his fellow poets to treat of Christian rather than classical subjects. He patronized composers and made Allegri a member of the papal choir. The composer's Miserere for nine voices was written specially for St Peter's, and so jealously conserved that no pope would ever allow it to be published. Yet Mozart, after a single hearing in Holy Week of 1771, went home and scored it note by note on paper. After listening to a Mass in forty-eight parts by Agostini in the basilica, Pope Urban, greatly impressed, rose to his feet and bowed to the composer who was present. If proof of his love of the arts were needed, the list of the painters and decorators he employed would be sufficient. Every year he launched some new enterprise and the work of beautifying the basilica never slackened throughout his reign. His pursuit of truth was as great a passion as that of beauty, and explains his close friendship and correspondence with Galileo. When the Inquisition made the Church a laughing stock by denouncing the Copernican system and condemning Galileo to indefinite imprisonment, Urban commuted the sentence passed upon his old friend to one of retirement.
This pope was never happier than when he could escape to the solitude and tranquility of Castel Gandolfo to enjoy the occasional society of persons of his own mental caliber. But it was not often he was able to leave behind him the bustle and business of Rome, where the noise induced such hypochondria that in order to sleep he had the birds killed in the Vatican Garden.
Urban has earned our particular gratitude for his contribution to the new St Peter's. Many of this pope's predecessors had, as we have seen, abundant zeal in carrying on the rebuilding of the basilica. Several achieved remarkable progress within far shorter reigns than his. But none had surer judgment or better taste in the arts than he. The pity is that by the time Urban was elected the bulk of the church was already in being. Let us recall that when the Fabbrica was deliberating in 1607 how to complete the plan left by Michelangelo, Maffeo Barberini was the only cardinal strenuously to oppose the lengthening of the nave. His opposition went unheeded, with the result that the principal view of St Peter's is Maderno's regrettable façade, whose shortcomings no subsequent architect has been able to redress. It happened that before Maderno was dead an architect of stupendous genius appeared on the scene at the instigation of Pope Urban. With amazing dexterity, he was able to modify to some extent the overbearing and crushing effect which the façade makes upon Michelangelo's fabric. Had he only been given a free hand, he would have corrected it altogether.
In 1626 Pope Urban called upon Gian Lorenzo Bernini to begin the great baldacchino over the papal altar. In 1629 he appointed him Architect to St Peter's in succession to Maderno. Thereafter, for at least forty years, the greatest of the baroque architects was engaged upon the basilica's embellishment.
The partnership of Urban VIII and Bernini is the classic relation between patron and artist. It transcended, not certainly in renown but in success, that between Julius II and Michelangelo. As in the earlier partnership, two exceedingly able minds and forceful personalities were involved. But, by contrast, master and man remained united in intention and idea. Pope Urban had loved and cherished Bernini ever since he had been a boy sculptor in his father, Pietro Bernini's studio. Gian Lorenzo used to quote and refer to the pope, long after he was dead, with touching affection and gratitude for having, as cardinal, launched him on his career. Bernini's early reputation throughout Europe was, of course, owing to no man's backing but to his own genius which instantly struck all who met him. Contemporaries described his temperament of fire and the eagle look of his face, particularly the eyes. His eyebrows were low and bushy, his forehead high and somewhat sunken in the middle. His thick, wavy hair was in his youth black, in his old age quite white. Even in his advanced years he kept his spare, slim figure, which was of middle height, and walked deliberately and rapidly. His understanding, wrote one observer, was of the most splendid sort with which nature endows few men, because without having greatly studied he yet seemed to grasp readily all that the sciences taught. He had a wonderful memory, a quick and vivid imagination, and a sharp and sound judgment.
Bernini was, like Michelangelo, a titanic being, subject to his own laws and demeanour. The dictates of conventional thought and conduct had little meaning for him. Pope Urban had the perspicacity to observe and accept this. The artist was an alarming person, at once warm and irritable, humble and haughty. His nature was fundamentally charitable and not given to slander and backbiting. He did not carp at his rivals. He was profoundly Christian. His whole art was conditioned by his religion, of which it was the outward and visible expression. His architecture and sculpture were for the glory of God; his works at St Peter's in honour of the Prince of Apostles. None of his performances was, in his opinion, good enough return for the benefits he owed to his maker. An eyewitness recorded watching the architect at the height of his fame drive through the Piazza Navona. On passing by his incomparable fountains of the Four Rivers and the Moor, Bernini hastily raised the window shutters of his carriage so as not to be reminded of their shortcomings.
As a monk dedicates his whole being to God, so Bernini devoted every moment of his life to his art. He would work for seven hours on end without pausing to take food or drink. Abstracted, he would refuse to talk, and when pressed to attend to some irrelevant business would reply brusquely: 'Do not touch me! I am in love.' The most eminent visitors were obliged to wait and watch, which they were content to do, until he was ready to receive them. When Queen Christina of Sweden was at last admitted to his studio she fingered his workman's overall, murmuring, 'It is more precious than purple.'
Today, Bernini is given his proper place in the hierarchy of the world's great architects. He has had to wait for it. Even so, the profound classicality of his art is not always appreciated by modern historians. For instance Vincenzo Golzio identifies the style of his architecture with that of the poetry of his near contemporary Marino. But the verse of that jovial Neapolitan reprobate was worldly, affected and abounding in conceits. It was the very antithesis of Bernini's spiritual, disciplined and ordered constructions. For one secret of Bernini's baroque is its foundation upon traditional sources, and its derivation from the Roman antique. Golzio displays complete misunderstanding of his architecture in protesting that when Bernini turns from fantasy to reason he becomes the incarnation of corruption!
The baldacchino occupied Bernini from 1626 to 1633. The vast undertaking was fraught with difficulties that would have daunted a lesser man. The canopy and four supporting columns are of bronze. The guide books love to tell us how the metal from which the baldacchino was fashioned was ripped off the beams of the Pantheon portico and the covering of the dome, what was left over being made into cannons for the Castle of S. Angelo. The action gave rise to the pasquinade freely quoted by Pope Urban's critical subjects: 'Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini.' That the pope stripped the Pantheon of its bronze is certain: that his architect used it for the baldacchino has not yet been proved.
The weight of the structure is tremendous. It necessitated the digging of very deep and rather massive foundations around the site of the Apostle's resting place far below the pavement level of Constantine's basilica. There can be no doubt that Bernini was obliged to destroy hitherto undisturbed graves and relics dating from the first Christian centuries in what was held to be the most sacred precincts of St Peter's. The architect had the effrontery to disturb soil that no previous generation of Romans, not even Goths and Vandals, and only one generation of infidel Saracens had dared to tamper with. It is hardly surprising that he met with bitter opposition from devout and superstitious persons, as well as from experts who, with some reason, feared for the safety of the renaissance church overhead. It so happened that a chain of misadventures, and moreover deaths, accompanied the operations. The custodian in charge of the high altar and the precious locality below died suddenly one morning. His deputy and confidant likewise died the same afternoon. Within a few days, the custodian's secretary died mysteriously. Then his servant, who may or may not have been party to these deaths, was accused of homicide and condemned to be hanged. As though these tragedies were not sufficient indication of St Peter's displeasure, the pope himself fell seriously ill. He recovered. But by now the workmen had thrown down their tools in holy terror and refused to proceed with the excavations. The Roman people, equally superstitious, organized protest marches in sympathy with the workmen and the city was almost in riot. Needless to say, Bernini, who never once forfeited Urban's confidence and support, even when the pope was on his sickbed, ignored the critics and eventually overcame the scruples and objections of the workmen by dint of offering extra wages. It is only fair to stress that the work was carried out from beginning to end with the utmost reverence, and the remains of dislodged graves, sarcophagi and relics were decently removed into storage.
When we realize that the height of the baldacchino - again the guide books are adamant on this fact, which is almost impossible to believe on the site - corresponds with that of the Farnese Palace, we marvel at Bernini's engineering skill. There have never, in over three hundred years, been qualms about its stability. It stands, this absolutely vast and fantastic object, so high that its effect is to diminish the distance of the dome above it. Bernini of course intended this very illusion, which is one evidence of his genius. Another is the innovation of the design, which allows views through it from all directions and obscures nothing beyond. The baldacchino is enchantingly deceptive. It imitates one of those processional canopies made of wood, draperies and tassels which choir boys carry around Catholic churches over some sacred vessel for veneration. Though made of bronze and as high as the greatest palace of the Roman Renaissance, it seems so light that a puff of wind might make the supports tremble and the pelmets and tassels of the canopy rustle. The spiral form of the four columns contributes to the illusion of frailty.
The twisted columns were of course meant to recall those famous ones which for over a thousand years had formed a screen before the shrine in the medieval basilica. They recall but do not reproduce them. Whereas the ancient solomonicas, as they are termed in Spain, are in four parts alternately fluted and decorated, the baldacchino columns are in three, of which the lower only is fluted. The decorated parts are covered with trailing olive foliage, not vine branches as on the solomonicas which date from classical times. Among the leaves putti, or naked children, play and reach intrepidly towards swarming bees, the Barberini pope's insignia. The Flemish sculptor, Duquesnoy, was responsible for the very secular air of the putti, whose round, plump little bodies are touchingly lifelike. The four columns rest on stalwart plinths made of white marble paneled with verde antique. The plinths bear Urban's escutcheon of bees, above seven of which the face of one of the pope's nieces is carved during the different months of her pregnancy. Anxiety, fear, agony, ecstacy and other appropriate moods are represented. Finally, the small head of a newly born baby boy appears on the eighth plinth. Nicely pagan too are the sun heads on the frieze of the canopy and the capitals, for the classical-trained sculptor never hesitated to mingle profane with sacred motifs. And on the soffit of the great tester he displayed the Holy Dove from whom rays of glory are shed. The whole is crowned with a coronal formed of inverted scrolls rising from each angle and meeting at a central apex to support the cross, on to the ball of which bees have again been permitted to crawl.
The baldacchino, which is not set centrally under the dome but a little to the west (it exactly replaces the medieval canopies over the Apostle's tomb within the chord of Constantine's apse), went a long way to resolve the break between Michelangelo's zone of the new basilica and Maderno's extension. It is a combination of architecture and sculpture. It is a monument of change from the simplicity of early Christianity to the ostentation of the triumphant Church after it had undergone the travails of the Reformation.
With Bernini's design for the baldacchino, plans for giving a new look to the four great piers supporting the dome were accepted. They involved the construction in each pier facing the papal altar of a gigantic niche, with a loggia over it. The niches were to be occupied by statues of the four sacred figures whose relics were, after the Apostle's, the chief treasure of St Peter's. The relics were to be placed in the loggias over the statues of their respective owners. Work was begun on the niches in 1628 and on the loggias in 1633. Some harrowing circumstances attended the erection of two of the statues.
The north-east pier is devoted to St Longinus, whose statue is the only one of the four by Bernini. It is probably the best. Bernini took infinite pains over it. He made innumerable rapid sketches and twenty-two small terra cotta models as well as one the size of the finished statue. The figure is vigorous and devotional. In his right hand, the soldier saint holds the sacred lance which had pierced Our Lord's side; with his left, he indicates reverent amazement at what he has just done. The expression of the head is one of pious acceptance of the will of God. The sculptor has made the folds of the robe radiate and swirl from a point under the left arm. They lead the eye towards the holy lance.
St Helena's statue in the north-west pier is by Andrea Bolgi. Bolgi who was about the most pedestrian of Bernini's pupils spent the greater part of ten years on this dismal statue. His St Helena is stiff and seems to be apologizing for the Holy Cross and nails which she is holding deprecatingly in her left hand. Or is she merely bored?
St Veronica by Francesco Mochi, in the south-west pier, is at least lively. Passeri had observed that if the word 'statue' is derived from the Latin verb statuere (to cause to stand), then this figure is not statuary, since it depicts the lightning moment of someone in motion. Mochi clearly had in mind the antique figure of Niobe, which the stance of St Veronica somewhat resembles. But he has given to his figure far more movement than the bereft Theban mother, charged with pathos though she be. St Veronica is shouting to attract attention, almost tearing the veil with the sacred imprint in her uncontrollable ecstacy. The emotion registered is superb, though one could dispense with the gentility of a crooked finger and thumb. Mochi was a highly nervous artist and jealousy of Bernini's superiority drove him to utter despair and final breakdown.
Duquesnoy's St Andrew in the south-east pier is loaded with pathos. The expression of ecstatic martyrdom is typically baroque. Although the face is deeply anguished, the figure remains academic-classical, adapted, as Rudolph Wittkower points out, from ancient statues of Jupiter. The sculptor has merely clothed the heroic body with robes of which the folds repeat the diagonal contours of the background cross. Duquesnoy, being a foreigner, suffered from the jealousy and malice of his Italian colleagues. His great plaster model of St Andrew was deliberately broken in pieces. He had to begin all over again. Then after three years' further work the niche, for which he had designed it to receive a particular light, was denied him. The cruel injustice is said to have brought about his death. But ironical fate decided that the terrible disappointment was to be redressed, for the niche which the sculptor wanted was given to the statue posthumously.
More successful than the statues in their colossal niches are the loggias over them. Bernini re-used eight of the twelve historic twisted columns, which since the reigns of Gregory I and III had served to screen the Apostle's shrine in the old basilica. These ancient and highly revered columns, now set in pairs, still stand sentinel above St Peter's grave but in front of the treasured relics within the piers. Through binoculars the flutes and vine ornament are seen to be much worn and broken. Here are visible scars of innumerable incidents of past violence, including no doubt the sacrilegious depredations by the Saracens in 854 and the sack by the imperial forces under the Constable of Bourbon in 1528. The solomonicas, or twisted columns, support concave pediments so as to form tabernacles. These frame panels or verde antique on which angels in beautiful white marble relief are portrayed carrying the relics. Bronze grilled doors, with gold bees swarming upon the overthrows, lead to the recesses where the actual relics are kept, and from which on anniversaries they are taken to the loggias for veneration by the faithful.
In 1637 Pope Urban adopted a scheme by Bernini to achieve what Maderno had failed to do, namely erect bell towers at either end of the façade. The project was doomed to failure and brought upon the architect the greatest humiliation and distress of his career. Ever since Maderno's towers were countermanded in 1612 by Paul V, who feared for the safety of the nave, men had pondered how the appearance of the over-wide façade could be improved. The problem was frequently turning over in Bernini's mind. He thought he would resolve it by raising a pair of towers on the bases left by Maderno. Here he made a great mistake. His towers were to be of three stages and higher than those projected by Maderno. What reasons did Bernini have for supposing that Maderno's inadequate foundations would support his heavier, more ambitious towers? If he ever had any anxieties they were soon allayed by the assurance of two old masons who had worked under Maderno that all would have been perfectly well, if only Pope Paul hand not taken fright and had allowed his architect to proceed. With his usual confidence Bernini set to work in 1638. The following year building was in full swing. The south tower was carried 171 feet above the attic of the façade. By 29th June (the Festival of St Peter) 1641, the two stages were completed, and a wood and canvas model of the top stage, carefully painted, was put in place at the architect's own expense. The public could now see what the finished thing would look like. They approved it jubilantly. The occasion was celebrated by fireworks and bonfires in the Borgo. For a month the temporary structure remained, while the architect basked in adulation and praise. Then suddenly alarming cracks appeared in the second stage and, worse still, in the façade itself. The third and wooden stage began to topple. The Fabbrica was terrified, and ordered the tower to be dismantled at once. Everyone now turned against the architect. Even Pope Urban berated him. The bitterest sequel of all was the Fabbrica's invitation to other architects to design alternative towers. Bernini took to his bed and became positively ill from disappointment and hurt pride.
What had happened? Had Bernini been merely over-confident that he must succeed on the very ground, indeed the very foundations on which Maderno had come to grief? It certainly seems so. He was one of those people who believe that where others may fail they will always be victorious. From the start he ignored the fact that his load was to be far heavier than Maderno's. St Peter's account books disclose quite clearly that while the building was in progress the design of the second stage of the south tower was repeatedly undergoing changes. Certainly the architect and the Fabbrica were not of one mind. Our inference therefore is that as soon as Bernini got from that body an agreement, he proceeded too hastily for fear lest it might change its mind once more.
Only one wash drawing by Bernini is extant to show the south tower as actually built. The north tower was certainly begun, and most of the architectural members for it were carved, because records of payment for these features appear in the account books. The design of both bears little resemblance to the architect's subsequent essays of the sort on paper. The plan was oval. Although the ill-fated south tower existed so short a time it was not without influence upon contemporary architecture. Borromini's oval towers of S. Agnese in Agone and Wren's west towers of St Paul's in London, although square in plan, were decidedly affected by the grouping of Bernini's angle piers and the general shape of his upper stage.
After recovering from the terrible humiliation of 1641 Bernini, never daunted for long, returned to the bell tower problem. About 1650 he prepared a drawing for a pair of towers, this time to be entirely detached from the façade, which would not thereby be endangered by any lateral pull. The façade would have been considerably shortened, for both penultimate bays - those containing the blind tabernacles, mezzanine openings and niches - were to disappear. The flanking towers on the existing bases would have stood forth on their own. They were to be composed of two stages of open arcades and a third crowned by a compelling cage of inverted scrolls made to resemble the canopy of the baldacchino. The front of St Peter's would by this means have presented a beautiful composition of rich and shadowed groups. But Pope Innocent X, now on the throne, was no friend of Bernini, and would not sanction the structural changes involved. Thus the best devised improvement to the new St Peter's, one which would have made the church front the most striking, instead of the dullest in Christendom, was thrown away for ever. If only Urban had lived a little longer to recover from the fiasco of 1641, he would surely have appreciated the merits of Bernini's splendid revised scheme, and might well have adopted it.
At the time of this pope' death in 1644, Bernini was still working upon his friend and master's tomb. Unlike Michelangelo's tomb for Julius II, Bernini's for Urban VIII was ultimately carried out according to plan. It was of course nothing like as ambitious as the other's. Urban commissioned the monument in 1627. It was finished in 1647.
Urban was not the man to hesitate in choosing the most conspicuous site available in the basilica for his own memorial. He took the niche on the right-hand side of the western apse, where Bernini was later to construct the cathedra, now the focal cynosure of the whole interior. At the same time he had removed to the balancing niche on the left side of the apse the tomb of Paul III, to which he intended his to be a sort of superior pendant. In fact, the outstanding quality of Bernini's monument was meant to be no slight reproach to the earlier one which had been sculptured by Guglielmo Della Porta under Michelangelo's direction. Paul III's monument, in spite of the ridiculous stance and pose of the two allegorical figures, is still one of the best in St Peter's. The pope's seated effigy combines pathos and nobility. Unfortunately, the composition of the monument is incomplete. Della Porta resented the advice of Michelangelo, to whom he owed his advancement, and turned against him. Michelangelo thereupon refused to allow the monument to be sited in the apse, insisting upon it being put against one of the piers. It was subsequently shifted into other positions. In the process it lost the allegorical statues of Abundance and Peace. Only those of Justice and Prudence survived. The former, a naked representation of Paul III's seductive sister, Giulia Farnese, was given a metal tunic by Pope Innocent X; the latter, an old hag in the likeness of the pope's mother looking at herself in a glass, was suffered to remain nude down to the navel.
With great skill then and no little stratagem, Urban VIII and Bernini set out to eclipse one of the great renaissance tombs with which the immortal name of Michelangelo was associated by cunningly arranged proximity and contrast. Bernini reverted to the use of a scroll top sarcophagus, first introduced by Michelangelo on the Medicean tombs and followed by Guglielmo Della Porta on Paul III's tomb opposite. This was a bold enough move since such motifs had in the meantime become quite outmoded in sepulchral sculpture. The two allegorical figures of Charity and Justice, which he took as appropriate symbols of Pope Urban's character, are far more naturally related to the central effigy than the corresponding attendants upon the earlier monument. Made to lean against the sarcophagus, they form essential contributions to the pyramidal theme and are part and parcel of the composition, instead of isolated appendages. In themselves they are extremely moving and tender, particularly Charity with her expression of maternal solicitude, and the mischievous putto nestling between the sarcophagus and the folds of Justice's skirt.
In his use of different coloured materials, Bernini inaugurates a departure from tradition. It is his means of contrasting foregrounds with backgrounds, and of emphasizing central figures. Here Charity and Justice in white marble stand forward from the dark marble sarcophagus, only partly gilt, and the towering bronze effigy of the seated pope. Maffeo Barberini, wearing the triple tiara, his right benedictory hand emerging from a laced sleeve of the alb, is truly an awe-inspiring, Jehovah-like figure of intense majesty. Here is no impersonal representation of a pope, but the portrait of a very positive and powerful individual. He is made to appear triumphant over life and death. Indeed, death is introduced below his feet in the form of a winged skeleton rising from the sarcophagus. The ghastly object holds with one grizzly hand a scroll of parchment on which with the other he writes the name and title of the deceased pontiff. His head and face are partly concealed by a cap.
Was Bernini the first sculptor to introduce active skeletons on tombs? On medieval monuments cadavers, or recumbent skeletons of the deceased, were commonly met with' and skulls and crossbones were even more popular memento mori because easier and cheaper to produce. The Death of Urban's monument was, according to Wittkower, planned as early as 1630 when the pope was in full vigour of life, although it was not sculptured until 1644. On the other hand, Bernini's first fully fledged Death appeared in S. Lorenzo in Damaso as a device holding the oval medallion of Alessandro Valtrini in 1639. In this very year a Mass in the Gesu church was sung for the repose of the souls of the Jesuits' benefactors. The congregation were greatly awed by the funereal decorations and mechanical devices set up for the occasion by the Fathers. Conspicuous among them were menacing skeletons made to perform various activities. One seized hold of Adam and Eve at the moment of picking the forbidden fruit. Another reigned as supreme mistress of the world. Four waved aloft triumphantly the symbols of earthly power. Bernini was very probably present at the Mass and an observant eyewitness of these necrological symbols. He had been brought up by the Jesuits and nurtured on Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. All his life long he remained faithful to the book's exhortations to subdue the flesh, and was obsessed with the trappings and the inevitable physical transmutations of death.
Cardinal Pamfili's election as Innocent X (1644-55) in a great hurry during the September heats of 1644 boded no good to Bernini. The cautious, suspicious pope was not disposed to take his predecessor's cherished architect to his bosom. For a long time, he remained aloof and withheld commissions. Innocent was a cold and grave man. Tall and thin, he was uncommonly ugly, with a green complexion, small eyes and large feet. His famous portrait by Velasquez elicited from the subject when he examined it the terse comment, 'Troppo vero'. Although he mistrusted everyone, he allowed himself to be completely dominated by his sister-in-law, Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, who was clever and ambitious. She spent hours each day dictating to the pope what he should do. In consequence, she was courted by all who wished to gain access to Innocent's ear, for without first winning the favour of this meddlesome woman it was difficult to make headway with him. Their best hope of success was by gifts, for she was extremely avaricious.
Innocent had no liking for literature. He had, however, a sound taste in the arts, with this one reservation: he indulged in a neurotic fear of the nude. Though in most respects illiberal, he distributed fig-leaves and breast-plates gratis. No statue in the Vatican precincts was spared superfluous metal or plaster garments. He even persuaded Pietro da Cortona to paint swaddling clothes over his favourite picture by Guercino of the Child Jesus.
Innocent X was a true baroque pontiff in that he commissioned much building by leading architects of the day. Of these he preferred Borromini, Rainaldi and Grimaldi. Of sculptors he favoured Algardi whom he employed to carve the enormous relief in the Cappella Madonna della Colonna of Attila's meeting with Leo the Great. In this realistic work of art Attila looks seriously alarmed while he puts his hand before his face to avert the menacing vision of the apostles Peter and Paul descending from the clouds with brandished swords. Algardi used subtle gradations of depth in carving to indicate closeness and distance of figures from the spectator.
Innocent's hostility to Bernini was finally overcome by unfeigned delight in the great master's design for the fountain of the Four Rivers to face the Palazzo Pamfili in the Piazza Navona. In fact the design was sprung upon the pope during a visit to his family palace by an admirer of Bernini. It came as a complete surprise. Innocent was at once captivated by the exquisite naturalism and poetry of this engaging composition. He even preferred it to a design by Borromini who thought he had already won the commission. From that moment onwards, Bernini was again in papal favour. He was given the tasks of completing the marble decoration of the Gregorian and Clementine chapels as well as the nave and aisles of St Peter's; and of sculpturing the equestrian statue of the Emperor Constantine.
The decoration of the nave of the new basilica was first put in hand very soon after Michelangelo's Greek cross structure was finished. Before the dome was on, Gregory XIII (1572-85) had begun encrusting the lesser order of pilasters - that is to say those carrying the arches within the giant pilasters - of the then short nave with geometrical panels of variegated marbles. The process was continued by his successors into the tribune, transept and chapels adjoining. Until Innocent's reign, the incrustations remained sunk, or flat, and multi-coloured. For late cinquecento decoration, they were fairly innocuous, although rich. Bernini substituted a different form of decoration altogether. He designed for each pilaster three-dimensional reliefs of putti holding three medallions, all in glistening Carrara against a Siena marble ground. Within the top and bottom medallions, which are oval, he had carved the heads of the first thirty-eight popes; within the middle vertical panels, tiara, keys, bible and swords. The portraits and insignia were an echo of the counter-reformation answer to Protestant attack against papal supremacy. The Pamfili dove and olive branch visible at the extremities of each pilaster, were meant to be a perpetual reminder of Pope Innocent's munificence. The greatest care was taken to get the scale of the medallions right. Painted canvas models were set up and left for several weeks' inspection by the pope and Fabbrica. After their approval, Bernini employed an army of thirty-nine sculptors and masons who with incredible industry carried out the carving between 1647 and the end of 1648. Of this band, the leader was Antonio Raggi, who later became Bernini's most trusted carver and faithful disciple, and was in his own right a master sculptor of inventiveness and skill.
Examined in detail, Bernini's nave medallions appear for more interesting and beautiful than the conventional polychrome marble panels on Michelangelo's structure. The putti, the heads of popes, the insignia and the sheaves of foliage are in themselves exquisite works of sculpture. But, it must be admitted, the medallions in mass appear too prominent and repetitive. They cease to be decoration and clamour for individual recognition, which in a building the size of St Peter's is hardly tenable. Instead, they are disturbing in that they accentuate the over-ornate panels of the nave roof and arches of the arcades. We come to wish they were not there in a longing for greater simplicity.
At about this time too the stucco allegories were placed in the spandrels of the nave arcades. They were not modeled by only supervised by Bernini. These reclining ladies are collectively striking. They are also individually remarkable. Each is accompanied by an attribute, picked out in gold - the lamp of vigilance, the pine-cone of benignity, the elephant of docility, and so forth. One virtue has attached to her foot a globe - is it the ball of humility? - which overhangs the nave in a somewhat alarming fashion.
Bernini's contributions to the nave included the substitution of thirty-two of Maderno's columns by new ones in red and white veined Cottanello marble, and the sumptuous marble pavement.
Between the giant pilasters of the nave, and of the transept, are two stages of niches with frilly shell-heads. These form part of Bernini's decoration and now carry out his intention. They are occupied by thirty-nine statues of founders and foundresses of religious orders, which vary considerably in merit. The earliest and one of the best by Pierre Legros the younger of St Dominic was erected in 1706, the last and one of the worst by A. Berti of St Louise de Marillac in 1953. It is run fairly close in the race for insipidity by Pietro Canonica's St John Bosco, looking like an infatuated village schoolmaster with his arm round two little waifs. Stendhal remarked of the nave statues that 'elles presentment des mouvements assez ridicules, mais on ne les regarde pas; et, comme elles sont bien placees, elles contribuent a l'ornement'. It is true that this colossal collection of colossal statuary is usually passed over as part of the wallscape. But it deserves, if not minute, certainly selective attention, as representing for the most part baroque sculptors of the eighteenth century working in the Bernini tradition. St Teresa by Filippo della Valle and St Vincent de Paul by Pietro Bracci are above average merit; whereas St Bruno spurning the offer by a winged cherub of a bishop's mitre, by Renato Michelangelo Slodtz, is a statue of dramatic devotionalism, already imbued with the elegance of Parisian rococo.
Although Innocent X commissioned the equestrian statue of Emperor Constantine, it did not get further than a state of blockage in the rough marble during the Pamfili pope's lifetime. His successor, accompanied by Queen Christina of Sweden, watched Bernini chiseling the marble in the summer of 1662. On All Saints' Day 1671 the finished sculpture was unveiled on its present site midway up the Scala Regia. There it may be seen by those about to enter the basilica, if the great door at the north end of the portico happens to be open. This unfortunately is not always the case, and there is no guessing the whim of the janitor responsible. The perspective setting admirably suits the dramatic subject. Bernini seized the very moment when Constantine was stuck by the awful vision of the labarum in the sky. The terrified horse rears and the rider, his hand stretched outwards, lifts up a face on which an expression of mute belief is carved. Bernini went to great pains to reproduce the young emperor's features correctly from historical descriptions. They are regular and handsome. The head is slightly underjawed, and distinctly imperial. Tremendous tension is expressed by the horse's protruding eyes, the swollen muscles of its legs and the veins of its belly. As a background to horse and rider, which are in neutral marble, the lower part of an immense curtain of fringed damask has been devised in polychrome marble. The curtain is in the act of billowing as though stirred by a supernatural wind coming from the west, a divine afflatus of understanding. Lucky is the visitor who catches a glimpse of the statue when a shaft of morning sun through the open arcade of the portico enhances the palpitating movement of the composition. This wonderful specimen of pictorial sculpture with its sparing use of colour was to have widespread influence upon German and Austrian carvers of the following century.
The revolting cynicism of Cardinal Mazarin in supporting the Protestant powers and humiliating the Catholic states of Germany (not to mention his protection of the disgraced nephews of Urban VIII), the terms of the Peace of Westphalia whereby the Holy Roman Empire was forced to recognize the Evangelical and Calvinist Churches and religion was made subservient to the territorial ambition of princes, the war between France and Spain, and the growing popularity of Jansenism among the aristocracy of France and Flanders, all contributed to the misery of Pope Innocent's declining years. Donna Olimpia's meddling and greed only added to his worries. When the pope died in 1655 this hard-bitten woman who owed her fortune to the indulgence of her brother-in-law would neither pay for the customary lead coffin nor even for the funeral rites. On his deathbed Innocent received no attentions from his family. The corpse, with eyes left open and tongue out, was dumped on a slab in a mouldy corner of the sacristy. A workman happening to pass by lit and put out of pity one wax candle at its head.
Apart from the astonishing speed of decorating the nave, work elsewhere in the basilica slackened during Innocent X's reign. During that of his predecessor, Urban VIII, each year had witnessed the beginning of some new enterprise. During that of his successor, the tempo revived immediately. On the very day of his election Alexander VII (1655-67) sent for Bernini and ordered him to draw up a scheme for the great colonnades in front of the basilica. This pope was the consistent friend of Bernini. Never for a moment was he, like Innocent X, hesitant over continuing the great artist's services. On the contrary, he was an even greater benefactor than Urban VIII in so far as the number and magnitude of his commissions are concerned. In a sense, he was an even better patron, for unlike the Barberini pope he did not claim to be an authority on architecture, nor did he assert his own opinions. From the first, he recognized Bernini to be a man of unparalleled genius. He merely wished to give him every license to produce as many masterpieces as circumstances, time and money would allow. His wish was certainly fulfilled. In addition to important contributions to St Peter's and the Vatican Palace, he got Bernini to build the churches of Castel Gandolfo and Ariccia, and the Chigi chapels in S. Maria del Popolo and the cathedral at Siena; also to model his enthroned effigy in the last. His affection for Bernini was only matched by Queen Christina's. He delighted to visit and chat with him at his house, at his studio and in the foundry where he might be casting. He delegated to him as the most distinguished of his subjects, the duty of receiving Christina on her first entry to Rome, and accompanying her with a procession of torches to the Vatican.
Fabio Chigi was a member of the rich banking family from Siena. At the time of his election, which took eighty days, he was fifty-six years old. He was a delicate patrician, with a narrow, finely chiseled face - but sallow complexion - and high forehead. He was ascetic and devout, ever mindful of the transitoriness of this life. He kept his coffin in his bedroom and a skull carved by Bernini on his writing-table. He avoided nepotism, was always available to petitioners, particularly the humble or those fallen into trouble or disgrace. He was above all an intellectual, determined to advance the cause of learning. With this end in view he completed the buildings of the Sapienza, the ancient Roman university, where he commissioned Borromini to design the eccentric chapel of S. Ivo. He established the Libreria Alessandrina. He was also something of a poet. He so loved poetry that busy as he always was he would sacrifice the siesta hour in the hottest months to read and discuss it with his friends. Only in this way, he said, could he temporarily forget the political troubles caused him by Louis XIV's government, and be truly happy. His reign was the golden age of the Roman Baroque in learning and the arts. It saw its apogee, and heard its swansong.
The scheme of the great colonnades in the forefront of St Peter's must have been in the mind of Alexander VII before he became pope, as it certainly was in Bernini's. After much deliberation by artist, pope and Fabbrica as to what final form the scheme was to take, the first stone was laid in 1657 and work begun in earnest two years later. The colonnades as we have them were finished in 1666.
There were a number of conventional factors which Bernini was obliged to observe in undertaking the formidable task, quite apart from his intention to improve the approach to St Peter's. First of all the old entrance to the Vatican Palace on a site 400 feet north-east of the portico had to be retained, and a covered processional way provided for state visits to the Pope in bad weather. This necessitated incorporating within the scheme the space immediately in front of the façade, known as the piazza retta. The loggia for the time honoured papal blessings urbi et orbi, which exists over the central entrance, had to be kept within view of the greatest possible number of people. So too the Pope's private window in a contrary direction high up in Fontana's cliff-like palace to the north must always be visible in case the Holy Father wished to appear to his people in emergency. For these purposes, a vast space was required in which to gather the faithful at Eastertime and on other important occasions, 'a ricevere maternamente', to quote the words of Bernini himself, 'i cattolici per confermarli nella credenza, I'heretici per reunirli alla Chiesa e gli infedeli per illuminarli alla vera Fede'. (To receive in a maternal gesture Catholics in order to confirm their belief, heretics in order to reunite them with the Church, and infidels in order to reveal to them the true Faith) A symbolic welcome therefore was to be implied in the form of the colonnade designed to enclose the large piazza. There exists an early sketch by Bernini of St Peter's dome made to represent the head, and the curved sides of the piazza the arms, of the Almighty clasping the faithful in a huge embrace.
As though these prerequisites were not sufficiently demanding, there was another physical factor to be taken into account, namely the setting of the great obelisk. It could not be shifted again and must of necessity somehow be made a focal feature of the scheme. Mercifully, Maderno had already made it axial with the basilica by ingeniously tilting his façade several degrees out of the right angle with the nave. Bernini was not therefore confronted with an obstacle on an asymmetrical site. The obelisk was in fact what determined the hub of the new piazza. It dictated the distance of that hub's projection from the basilica. Everything fell into place owing to Bernini's extraordinary vision and genius in finding a solution to the most intractable problems.
Having accepted these obligatory conditions, Bernini concentrated on the aesthetic implications of the scheme. There was the overriding need to correct the too apparent width of Maderno's façade caused by the existing bases of the flanking towers which never materialized. The only means available to him for achieving this was by optical illusion. So with the greatest ingenuity he proposed to connect the colonnades to the basilica with corridors which, instead of contracting as they approached the façade, splayed outwards. In this way, the basilica appears to be brought forward and the height of the façade accentuated at the expense of the width. The success of the deception is gauged by the surprisingly long time it takes to walk to the portico from the colonnades, a distance far greater than the visitor standing in the piazza imagines it to be.
Originally Bernini proposed to enclose his oval piazza with colonnades of two storeys with Palladian openings in each. Fortunately these double colonnades, for which drawings exist, were considered too high and were abandoned. Heated arguments over the precise form the colonnades should take ensued within the Fabbrica. At one stage opinions and even alternative suggestions from outside architects were invited, much to Bernini's chagrin. It had always been his wish to enclose the east side of, or entrance to the piazza with a propylon, or gateway, of which the foundations are said to have been actually laid. The gateway is shown on several contemporary medals and in prints.
Bernini's object was to interpret the quadriporticus of the Constantinian basilica and the atrium behind it, and to protect, as it were symbolically, the faithful congregated within the sacred precincts from the hostile outside world. In 1667 he changed his mind to the extent of wishing to move the 'third arm' as he called it, or gateway, eastwards into the Borgo so as to provide that introductory space he was so fond of, a space from which the visitor could better comprehend the oval of the piazza just as though he were standing outside, and not within it. But on the death of Pope Alexander the gateway conception was defeated by the Fabbrica on the grounds of unwarrantable expense.
In fashioning his piazza and colonnades Bernini wished to complete the new approach to St Peter's by improving the Borgo, which is that part of the city between the Vatican and the Tiber. He did not envision a straight, wide thoroughfare of the sort brought into being by the makers of the present Via della Conciliazione in 1937. His idea was to provide a long central spine of buildings, or gallery, running axially between the proposed gateway to the S. Angelo bridge, with two parallel narrow streets along either side of it.
Not all of Bernini's schemes then came to fruition. But thanks to Pope Alexander's unfailing support, the greater part that mattered was carried out. St Peter's Piazza and colonnades amount to one of the most successful compositions of the baroque age. A measure of their success is the unusual fact that they have never been adversely criticized even in the late eighteenth, or in the nineteenth century when baroque art reached its lowest ebb in the esteem of connoisseurs. Stendhal, who despised Bernini, was constrained to admit that the piazza was the most beautiful in the world. He remarked upon the astonishing impact it made on the visitor suddenly debouching from one of the narrow streets of the Borgo, and he condemned the folly and vulgarity of Napoleon, who threatened to demolish the central houses of the Borgo, which is exactly what Mussolini was to perpetrate more than a hundred years later. The great open space was a revelation, he said, which literally took the breath away. There on the right towered, as it still towers, the noble asymmetry of the Vatican Palace as though carved out of an immense pink rock face. It is dominated by the Pope's apartments, projecting like the prow of Peter's barque. It is an extraordinarily happy juxtaposition of irregular groups of individually correct architecture, just avoiding the ridiculous in the kitchen clock over the Raphael Gallery and the homely in the earthenware pots of cypress, orange and oleander on the flat roof above the Scala Regia. To the south the umbrella pines and the curved College of the Propaganda Fide follow the contours of the Janiculum heights. And ahead, always present, is the overbearing façade, much modified by the grand sweep of the elliptical colonnades. Alas, that the revised scheme of Rome's greatest baroque architect wholly to correct Maderno's heavy design by means of towers was never implemented!
There had been nothing like Bernini's free-standing, elliptical colonnades in any previous architecture of modern times, either for originality of plan, or beauty. What matter that the master committed a solecism in putting an Ionic entablature upon Doric columns! The very unorthodox treatment gives a peculiar strength to the colonnades and helps to emphasize by contrast the verticality of the slender Corinthian columns of the façade. The fact that there is no solid background to the colonnades, and that the stout columns forming nave and aisles are totally disengaged suggests a constant forest of movement to the visitor in the piazza every time he shifts as much as from one foot to the other. Walking up the colonnades causes him an ever varying pleasure. Because of the curve he experiences at first an acute feeling of tension as to what may lie ahead. The suavity, rhythm and simplicity of the colonnades soon dispel anxiety and induce nothing but ease. It seems a pity that lately the plain nave vaults have been degraded by the introduction between the old hanging lanterns of cheap basin lights made of tin.
The northern colonnade leads of course to the ceremonial entrance of the Vatican Palace. If the great, green bronze doors, which Pope Paul V presented, happen to be open, the Swiss Guards on duty may (or may not) allow you to step inside and look up the long, astonishing perspective of the Scala Regia. This dream staircase was the work of Bernini between 1663 and 1666. Over the inner arch where the steps are already rising, winged figures of Fame in stucco blow long slender trumpets, while their disengaged hands support the papal arms, tiara and keys of the Chigi pontiff. The aisled and vaulted stairway is one of the world's great architectural triumphs over awkward siting. For although the space provided was not straight, nor wide, nor even of ascent, nor adequately lit, Bernini overcame each obstacle in turn and created by tricks of perspective a long, regular and impressive approach to the papal apartments.
The culminating offspring of the fruitful partnership of Bernini and Alexander VII is the Cattedra Petri, or Throne of Peter. This astonishing object designed as a receptacle for the greatest of all St Peter's treasurers is found at the westernmost end of the basilica, in the tribune apse.
For centuries St Peter's chair had been on view, and probably in use in the old baptistery. It was believed to have been sat in by the Apostle in the house of Pudens where he lodged on first coming to Rome. But there is no written record of the chair's existence before the year 1217. It has four solid legs of yellow oak to which iron rings were attached at one time, doubtless in order to make it a portable chair. The panels between the legs and the arched back with pointed crest are of acacia wood, inlaid with ivory. The ivory ornament may have been applied in the ninth century. When last examined in 1867 the chair was found to be in a very decayed condition owing to bits and pieces having been cut off by relic hunters, not to mention the usual depredations made by worm. Alexander was determined that this precious treasure must be put in some inaccessible part of the church where it would be safe and yet could be venerated. In 1656 the Fabbrica agreed to it being removed to a place of honour in the apse. In the following year they approved Bernini's scheme to enshrine it.
The whole operation appealed to Bernini's strong devotional sense. As a boy, he had once accompanied Annibale Carracci into St Peter's. After their prayers, he is said to have told the older artist that his ambition was to raise a magnificent throne to the glory of God in the western apse. The opportunity was eventually granted to him.
From the number of Bernini's preparatory sketches, it is clear that he always intended the Cattedra Petri to be glimpsed through and framed by the baldacchino. In this way, the long approach up the nave was to be made all the more exciting by the partial vision. To the visitor finally skirting the baldacchino anticipation gives way to a burst of revealed glory. When he has passed between the great west piers of the dome, two porphyry steps, worn, dented, battered by the ages, and made out of the stairs which led to the raised tribune of the old basilica, bring him face to face with the cattedra. The extraordinary object is raised on a plinth of black and white Sicilian marble, mounted with the papal arms of Alexander VII in bronze. On the plinth is a platform of marble the colour of gooseberry fool. At the platform's two projecting ends stand the figures in gilt bronze of Saints Ambrose and Augustine wearing mitres. They are the two Fathers of the Latin Church (badly in need of dusting). Behind them less prominent and uncovered are Saints Athanasius and John Chrysostom, representing the Greek Church. The exquisitely emotional attitudes and the enraptured expressions of the Fathers set a fashion in ecclesiastical sculpture which was followed by innumerable Germanic rococo artists in the eighteenth century. The grouping was devised to symbolize the unity of Christianity, with a gentle reminder that the Eastern Church was subservient to the Western. When Bernini erected a temporary model of the cattedra wherefrom to judge the correct scale, he invited the painter Andrea Sacchi to give his opinion. After much cajolery Sacchi consented. Reluctantly the elderly painter left his studio and in cap and slippers struggled up the steps to the portico of the church. He would not advance an inch further than the central doorway. 'This is the spot from which your work must be viewed', he growled. 'Make those statues', indicating the Four Fathers, 'a foot higher', and he walked away. Bernini complied without demur.
With the utmost delicacy and nonchalance the two Latin Fathers hold, if 'hold' can be applied to an action of so little apparent effort, a loop attached to the front legs of the black and gilt bronze throne, which are deliberately splayed outwards in an exaggerated fashion suggesting levitation. Because the loops are not in the least taut an ethereal movement is given to the throne, which in spite of its great bulk and weight seems literally to be floating off to the heavens. It is the receptacle of the wooden chair, which until the beginning of the last century could be seen inside by visitors climbing a ladder in the rear. Two angels, wingless and displaying from their flowing robes a generous length of leg, lean against the cushioned seat (Sacchi, who later was shown the drawings for the angels, pronounced them too small). On the back of the seat is a relief of Christ admonishing the kneeling Peter to 'feed my sheep'. Balanced on the crest a pair of putti brandish a key in one hand, and together raise the papal tiara with the other.
The actual enshrinement of the wooden throne was accompanied by a long drawn-out and solemn ceremony. At midnight of 16th January 1666 the ancient relic was reverently transported from its chapel in the old sacristy by means of shafts upon the shoulders of several clerics. It was then placed upon a brocade covering of the high altar between silver candlesticks, while the papal choir intoned the verses, Exultent eum in ecclesia plebes. When the final destination was reached the voices broke into a Te Deum. Next they sang the Tue s Petrus, and the chair was incensed three times. With every demonstration of piety the relic was fitted into its new resting place with the help of Bernini's brother, Luigi, who locked it up and presented the key to the canons present. Meanwhile in the piazza fireworks and mortars were let off, and the people danced and whooped with glee over the satisfactory conclusion of a highly important occasion.
Behind the throne rise golden clouds; and above the clouds in an oval explosion of rays angels point to a central vision in brown and yellow glass of the Holy Dove with outspread wings. This dramatic device is the origin of those still more elaborate transparent behind altars, of which the Spaniards became so enamored in the eighteenth century.
Stendhal's complaint was that the Cattedra Petri was pretty rather than beautiful. Subsequent nineteenth-century critics have been less flattering in their observations. Murray's Handbook to Rome of 1899 dismisses it as 'an ineffective tasteless work'. Fraschetti on the other hand said he lacked words to describe it. Wittkower's twentieth-century attitude towards it seems eminently just and wise. It is useless, he advises, to approach the cattedra with religious or artistic bias. He describes it as a mystery given visual shape, 'and its comprehension rests on an act of emotional participation rather than on one of rational interpretation'. It is something which can hardly be judged by the unbeliever or the disdainful Protestant from the mater-of-fact north. He who looks at it must have a sympathy for, even if he may have no proper understanding of the world of saints and angels displayed before him, must have some inkling of what the preternatural communion means to the devout Catholic pilgrim. The Cattedra Petri could only have been created by an artist with implicit faith in the dogmas of the Roman Church. It is an extraordinary synthesis of Christian art, a symphony of that fervour which characterized the Church's attitude at a particular, triumphant moment of its history. It was the ultimate guaranty in this great basilica of the primacy of the Church of Rome, founded on the throne of Peter, from which emanates the only spiritual fodder for the lambs of Christ.
There is no doubt that Bernini intentionally vested all his works at St Peter's with a deep, devotional symbolism drawn from his upbringing by the Jesuits. No great artist has been more thoroughly grounded in the metaphysical teaching of that highly recondite Society, nor has interpreted it so consistently in his works. In consequence, much spiritual significance in Bernini's architecture and sculpture remains closed to the exoteric majority. He deliberately set out to present in his various contributions to St Peter's a sort of mystic way for the edification of the pious visitor. His son, Domenico, tells us in words what the father clearly meant to express in his art. 'The piazza and the cattedra', he says, 'are, as it were, the beginning and end of that great church, and the eye is as much infatuated at the beginning on entering the piazza as at the end on seeing the cattedra.'
Bernini like Michelangelo, was fated to outlive a number of popes who had generously befriended and patronized him. It was now his turn to erect a monument to Alexander VII. The pope in his lifetime had made ample provision for his memorial on the customary scale. His successor in commissioning Bernini to reconstruct the choir of S. Maria Maggiore tried to transfer the monument there. But Clement IX only reigned for two years, and in 1670 plans were resumed for putting it in St Peter's. Even so, the site chosen was not a good one, being over a closet entrance facing St Veronica's pier. Nevertheless, the finished monument was one of the greatest of the baroque age. From drawings and documents in the Chigi archives, its complete history has been traced showing the manner in which Bernini's army of distinguished craftsmen was drilled for an undertaking of the sort.
Whereas Urban VIII's monument had in a sense to correspond with that of Paul III opposite it, here Bernini was under no obligation to take precedents into account. Moreover, he designed a less sublunary composition, one expressive not of temporal militancy, but of resignation to the divine will. Bernini was now older - he was seventy-three and less inclined than formerly to the terrible in art - and Alexander's character was entirely different to Urban's. This pope had not been autocratic and masterful, but moderate and melancholic. So the sculptor saw fit to convey in his monument not the picture of fame triumphing over death, but of spiritual humility ignoring the menaces of fate.
High up on a pedestal the pope in white marble is made to kneel on a cushion, his hands clasped merely before him. His sensitive, patrician face shows in the puckered brow and uplifted eyes a soul concentrated on celestial things. Well below him in the foreground stand two of the most beautiful figures Bernini ever designed, namely Charity and Truth, specially chosen by Alexander. These exquisite creatures are only spoilt by the oversize child with a head like a mongol's in Charity's arms, and the metal tunic imposed upon Truth by Innocent XI (who evidently inherited from his Pamfili namesake the same prudery). The pair are made to control either end of a voluminous shroud of green veined marble, diaspro di Sicilia, in reality a veneer over travertine. This particular trapping of mortality is used here for the first time. Once again Bernini introduces the figure of Death, now winged. In horrid make-believe the skeleton flies from the door below, as it were out of the pope's tomb - in reality from a cupboard and of brooms and mops. With his head he pushes aside the heavy folds of the shroud and in his right hand brandishes before the unheeding effigy on its knees an hour glass which has run out. The entire pyramidal monument is contained within a pair of vast Corinthian columns of crushed fig and cream.
Clement IX, Rospigliosi (1667-9), was sixty-seven years of age when elected pope. He was so generous to the poor and negligent of his own interests that the Romans, always extreme in their loves and hates, regarded him as a saint. He was a highly cultivated man and at once employed Bernini to beautify S. Maria Maggiore - it came to nothing - and to adorn the Ponte S. Angel with statues. He was frail and sickly. When Louis XIV's double-dealing over the papal resistance to the Turks led to the downfall of Crete, Clement, whose nature was straightforward and trusting, was so shocked that had a stroke and died.