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After the foundation of S. Sabina, no basilica in Rome derived from St Peter's until the ninth century. The first to do so was S. Prassede in 817-24. In addition to its plan of nave, two aisles and an apse, this little church has a confession for the repose and veneration of the saintly relics of the sisters Prassede and Pudenziana.
Even in remote England several Saxon shrines in churches were modeled on that contrived by St Gregory in Constantine's basilica. Peterborough Abbey Church, for example, may even have been founded with the express object 'that men who could not go to Rome might there be able to seek their patron', and that, 'just as blessed Peter was present in body in Rome, so he might also be present in this spot in spirit'. The pope ordained that indulgences granted at Peterborough should be just as efficacious as those emanating from the Vatican Hill. Among other English cathedrals, Canterbury and Ripon offered the same vicarious privileges, and furthermore provided crypt chambers under raised presbyteries. In Brixworth church, Northamptonshire, and Wing church, Buckinghamshire, a raised presbytery survives in the apse with a semi-circular passage running beneath it. The purpose served by these confessions was not practical but symbolic, and imitative of the mother basilica in Rome. Even the Saxon toweres of English churches were influenced by the great campanile at St Peter's in that they were square and had windows of twin-arched lights divided by a baluster-like shaft. In the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, so many pilgrims from these island reached Rome that the region in the forefront of St Peter's was named after them Burgus Saxonum (or the Saxons' quarter), which has given the suffix in-Sassia to the two churches of Santo spirito and S. Michele.
With commendable zeal Oddo Colonna, Martin V, on his return to Rome at the end of the Great Schism, set about restoring St Peter's Basilica and spending large sums on the patronage of artists like Gentile Fabriano and Masaccio. What was the Vatican Palace like which this determined man reached at the end of his long triumphal ride on an autumn afternoon in 1421? The crowds were huzzaing with relief and jubilation as their rightful sovereign advanced to reclaim his undisputed heritage. Flattered he may have been by this reception, yet surely filled with misgivings how to re-establish papal government after more than a century of papal exile. His capital was a desert, his vast church was tottering to decay. His palace by a merciful providence was about the only building in Rome that was remotely habitable.
The history of the papal palace of the Vatican is shorter than that of St Peter's Basilica by nearly eight hundred years. After the Emperor Constantine had given his wife's Lateran property to Pope Sylvester I, this place became the seat of papal government and the popes' only dwelling place. The Lateran we have to remember was just within the ancient walls of the city; the Vatican Hill without, which accounts for the fact that for centuries after it was built St Peter's Basilica stood entirely exposed and isolated on its eminence. There were no residential nor office buildings of any sort attached to it. When Pope Symmachus, driven from the Lateran Palace by the antipope Laurentius, took refuge in St Peter's, there was not a single apartment outside the church were he could even spend the night. For five years, from 501-6, he dwelt in the hastily constructed annexes, not amounting to more than a cluster of cells on the north and south sides of the aisles. As soon as the antipope was got rid of and because the Vatican was still defenceless against barbarian incursions, he returned to the Lateran Palace. Pope Symmachus's temporary refuge was only enlarged and improved by Leo III, who in honour of Charlemagne's coronation in 800 added a large banqueting hall. Then the Vatican became a guest's palace of some consequence. Emperors habitually stayed in it during their brief visits to Rome. With their large armed retinues, they were well able to defend themselves against a chance attack from outside the city walls.
There had indeed been nothing beyond a godly respect by Christian invaders for the shrine of St Peter - and also that of St Paul, likewise outside the city walls - to prevent a terrible disaster such as the one which befell in 846 at the hands of the Saracens. After the raid and the unprecedented violation by the unbelievers of both apostles' remains Christendom was jolted to its senses. The saintly Leo IV, who was elected pope in the following year, appealed for funds in order to build defensive walls round the Vatican. Christendom and the emperor responded. A stout chain of travertine and tufa forty feet high and linked by no less than forty-four towers enclosed what became known as the Leonine City. It was also joined to the ancient city across the river, long since protected by the Aurelian walls of the third century. Henceforth the Vatican became as safe a part of Rome to inhabit as the Lateran had been. But even after the creation of the Leonine City popes only passed an occasional night there during special, long drawn out ceremonies in St Peter's, ceremonies which did not allow time for them to return to sleep in the Lateran Palace.
Eugenius III (1145-53) was the first pope to begin building a papal palace attached to the basilica. It is remarkable that a pontiff so harried by St Bernard in his zeal for a new crusade and so persecuted by rebellious factions in Rome should have had the time and money to devote to the purpose. His successor, Anastasius IV (1153-4) went on with the work. Celestine III (1191-8) spent as much as half the year in the Vatican. Innocent III (1198-1216) was the first pope to concentrate on making it a permanent residence. He fortified the lower part lying on the south side of the basilica. But the pope who seriously got down to rebuilding the palace in anything like its recognizable form today was Nicholas III (1277-80). He transferred the residential part from the lower to the upper level of the hill, where it has always remained. The lower wing he gave over to the Curia and the papal chamberlain. He also joined the palace to the Castle of S. Angelo by a covered way, thus providing in times of stress a desirable and frequently needed escape route to military security. Nicholas III greatly loved the Vatican, and had it not been for the impending exile of the papacy to Avignon, his successors would doubtless have felt obliged to complete what he only just had time to begin with so much zest and expense. As it happened, Nicholas reached the northern limit of the terrain which determined the amount of building that could ever be possible, thus fixing as it were for all time the framework of the future Vatican City. He fortified the Leonine Walls, planted apple trees and laid out gardens on the site of the present Cortile di S. Damaso. For a century and a half afterwards the palace remained practically unaltered.
During the long absence in Avignon the Vatican Palace was not altogether uncared for. A disastrous fire at the Lateran in 1308 meant that Nicholas III's palace was to become the popes' principal residence whenever they should return to Rome. Meanwhile, the new gardens were well cultivated and yielded welcome sales of fruit and watercress. When the last French pope, Gregory XI, reluctantly came back in 1377 he found a dwelling in tolerably good order. The Great Schism which followed the French exile brought more harm to the palace than absentee ownership had done, because fewer funds were available for the legitimate Italian popes to spend on proper maintenance. Nevertheless, when Martin V dismounted after his triumphal entry into the capital he was able to live perfectly well in the palace while repairs were put in hand. Eugenius IV (1431-47) planned to do all sorts of necessary works which his troubled reign and exile prevented. He got as far as building the Mint in the lower palace and enticing Florentine artists to decorate to decorate it. He commissioned Fra Angelico to embellish the palace with frescoes (they were destroyed a hundred years later by Paul III) and Filarete to cast the huge central bronze doors to the basilica (it is still in place) in emulation of Ghilberti's doors in the Baptistry in Florence. It is strange to see on these beautiful panels the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul happily interspersed with the amours of Leda and the rape of Ganymede.
Not until the reign of Nicholas V (1447-55) were conditions settled enough to allow a reappraisalof the whole extraordinary jumble of medieval masonry, half fortress, half dwelling, with which this pope was confronted. Nicholas was determined to live as close as he could to the Apostle Peter's remains. Under his direction, the popes' private apartments were set like an eagle's eyrie in the upper citadel, of which the precipitous, cliff-like aspect is so familiar to all visitors to St Peter's. He built the wing in which the Borgia apartments and Raphael's Stanze were later to be fitted. He also began the original Vatican Library. In the reign of this enlightened pontiff, the dawn of humanism was slowly breaking. Soon the mists of terror and ignorance that had so long darkened Rome's horizon would be dissipated. With the brighter Renaissance a new chapter must open.
It is arguable how far the history of individual popes is relevant to that of St Peter's Basilica. I maintain that in so far as a person has played a part, however slight, in contributing to the fabric of a great monument, then his spiritual, or if you prefer it, his psychical qualities and indeed his general character must have considerable bearing upon its look. Certainly any artifact, whether bulding, painting, piece of sculpture or music, whether poem or work of literature, is made more comprehensible and interesting when we know something of the person, or persons who brought it about. From their particular natures we learn the motives which impelled them to create it. The joys, the sorrows, the exultations and the disillusions of the artist's, and to the lesser extent of the patron's life, colour very appreciable the essence of the thing created.
Because great art is more often the outcome of misery and unrest than of triumph and complacency, it goes without saying that artists and patrons are usually not the wisest or most stable of men. Thwarted ambition and accumulated disappointment, seldom to be dissociated from their labours, make them unfortunately over-sensitive, introspective and at times exceedingly malign. On the other hand, only success and content will make a man fitted to be a beneficent and wise ruler of his fellows. A list of those crowned heads who have been the greatest patrons of the arts will comprise some of the worst kings that ever reigned. So it is with the popes of Rome. Of their number John XXIII (1316-34), one of the most bellicose of the two hundred and sixty-one popes to date - he engaged in endless warfare by means of interdicts, anathemas and excommunications, issuing it is said 60,000 decretals within eighteen years - whose name no successor cared to revive before the saintly old Pope Roncalli in 1958, sent from Avignon 500 gold gulden, which he could ill afford, towards the replacement of the perished beams of St Peter's. Had circumstances seen him settled in Rome instead of Avignon he would doubtless have initiated great improvements to the basilica, so genuine was his love of the arts.
Few popes, mercifully, have been as bad as John XXIII, who was a sort of effluvium left behind by the Dark Ages. The Renaissance also produced popes whose private conduct was execrable and whose patronage of the arts commensurable praiseworthy. The will be discussed in due course. Before proceeding with the subject of this book, which is St Peter's church, it seems only right and fair to interpolate here two points. They are that by far the greater number of renaissance popes were fundamentally good men by every standard; and even the bad minority put the glory of the Church as represented by their divine office well before all personal interests. A study of the times must lead to this conclusion, a conclusion which has not been reached by most Protestant historians. They have been for too ready to pick upon the evidence, irrefutable enough, that some renaissance popes unashamedly enjoyed the material privileges which attended their sacred office - without looking for extenuating motives. The fact surely is that some supranatural dictation moved each one of these popes, whether ascetic or hedonist, to defend the Faith in which he implicitly believed by praiseworthy or reprehensible means. The most irresponsible cynic would be hard pressed to make a favourable case for, say, Alexander VI's character. Yet this Borgia pope, grossly amoral, certainly guilty of fornication and probably of murder too, was the consistent upholder of purity of faith and the rights of the Church. Where these principles were at stake, he would give way to no pressure from any source.
Among essentially good renaissance popes we must reckon Thomas of Sarzana, the son of a poor physician who became Nicholas V (1447-55). As well as being a most agile political figure in the European circus, he played - and this is our chief concern - a major role on the stage of St Peter's. This role would have been more momentous still were it not for the disasters of Nicholas's reign in the fall of Constantinople and the final, irreparable break with the Greek Church. They seriously hindered what was the chief ambition of this man of humble origin, namely to make Rome once again the capital of the cultural world. Nicholas attracted to his court distinguished scholars from overseas regardless of their religious opinions or their moral character. His overriding hobby was book collecting, and he was never happier than when cataloguing and arranging his shelves. He was the founder of the Vatican Library into which he garnered Greek manuscripts from distant lands. He restored many churches in Rome and brought the Acqua Vergine water supply back to the city. Yet he was not guiltless of despoiling ancient monuments in the process, and in one year took more than 2,500 cartloads of stone from the Colosseum.
Nicholas's election coincided with the end of the papal schism. The last of the antipopes was dead and there was now no one to call in question his sole right to wear the tiara. I have already referred to the serious disrepair to which the Vatican Palace and St Peter's succumbed during the Schism of the West. That no structural work had been carried out for so long accounts for the palace having entirely escaped alterations in the high Gothic style. It remained a tumble-down assortment of Romanesque appendages. The condition of the basilica too was by now deplorable. During the past century and a half, it had often been used as a fortress and sometimes subjected to siege. It had suffered from damage by earthquake as well as from assault and lack of maintenance. The southern wall leaned six feet out of the perpendicular and the mosaics on them were so covered with dust as hardly to be visible. Leon Battista Alberti in a report submitted to the pope warned him: 'I am convinced that very soon some slight shock or movement will cause it [the south wall] to fall. The rafters of the roof have dragged the north wall inwards to a corresponding degree.' Was it therefore surprising that a man of Nicholas's ambition to beautify Rome and of his newly restored powers should decide to pull down the whole antiquated structure, and raise a building worthy of the regenerated Church in the style of the new humanist age in which he lived? The famous words of his deathbed speech best express what was in his mind. 'To create solid and stable convictions in the minds of the uncultured masses,' he proclaimed, 'there must be something that appeals to the eye; a proper faith, sustained only on doctrines, will never be anything but feeble and vacillating. But if the authority of the Holy See were visibly displayed in majestic buildings, imperishable memorials and witnesses seemingly planted by the hand of God himself, belief would grow and strengthen … Noble edifices combining taste and beauty with imposing proportions would immensely conduce to the exaltation of the Chair of St Peter.' These magnificent sentiments were to be reiterated by the Jesuits in the age of the Baroque. There were also aesthetic and practical reasons in this pope's mind equally cogent. The medieval basilica was cluttered with haphazard monuments and accretions sadly detracting from that symmetry which the renaissance eye found decent. There was not room enough to accommodate the vast numbers of pilgrims then visiting Rome. In the Jubilee year of 1450, the crowds had been such that to the pope's great distress two hundred people were crushed to death on the Bridge of S. Angelo. Nicholas was determined to prevent a recurrence of this disaster, at any rate within the consecrated walls of the basilica.
Historians have always been uncertain how drastic Nicholas V's projects really were, considering what little they amounted to. They have found it hard to understand why, if he meant entirely to rebuild the basilica, he spent so much time and money on patching the old fabric. For he restored the nave, embellished the ceiling rafters and installed stained windows in the clerestory. Surely the answer is that at the beginning of his reign he had every intention of preserving the old basilica, but experience ultimately convinced him that restoration of so decayed a fabric was impracticable. When, after reaching this conclusion, he decided upon total rebuilding, it was too late.
Nicholas's projects were indeed far more impressive than his achievements. We know all about them from the detailed life of the pope by his secretary, Giannozzo Manetti. The man he chose to carry them out on paper was the Florentine sculptor, Bernardo Rossellino. How far Rossellino was advised by Alberti, his senior in age, is still uncertain. At all events Rossellino came upon the scene first. He worked for the newly elected pope outside Rome; then he restored the walls of the city and several churches within them. Vasari claims that 'at the time when Nicholas V had thrown the city of Rome into utter confusion with his peculiar manner of building, Leon Battista Alberti arrived in that city, where … he became known to the pontiff'. That thenceforward Rossellino proceeded under the counsel of Alberti, such being the will of the pope. Thus together they 'brought many useful and praiseworthy labours to conclusion' in Rome. At least there is evidence that Nicholas, who directed his own building operations, sought the advice of Alberti. He accepted a copy of the great architect's famous treatise, De re aedificatoria and, presumably, heeded the report which Alberti presented to him on the parlous condition of the church's structure. Ludwig Pastor even goes so far as to suggest that perusal of the book was the immediate cause of Nicholas's change from preservation tactics to a policy of total rebuilding.
In any event a plan by Rossellino for a new basilica survives. There is reason to presume that it was dictated by the pope, whether or not the sculptor was advised by Alberti. The strange thing about it is the similarity to the plan of Constantine's basilica. For a renaissance plan it was old-fashioned, which makes us wonder in what respect Nicholas's 'peculiar manner of building' threw 'the city of Rome into utter confusion'. The plan consists of a nave and four aisles, with the addition of a deep apsed choir, to become known as the Tribuna de San Piero (which was ultimately built), flanked by chapels, and a transept of the same width as the nave. The nave was to be carried on freestanding columns. Some ancient columns were actually brought ready for this purpose. The same old Constantinian roof construction was to be repeated in open timber. Over the crossing however there were to be a dome and cupola, and the apse was to contain the papal throne. Five doors were to lead from the nave and aisles to a columned atrium, in the center of which the famous pinecone was to be re-erected. Nicholas and Rossellino's aim was to give strict symmetry, previously lacking, to the façade. At the western end of the atrium were to rise a pair of bell towers. The vestibule, separating atrium from piazza, was to take the form of an arch of triumph, faced with marble, but fortified. Defense was still a serious consideration, for the prolonged troubles of medieval times and the recent fall of Constantinople to the Saracens were by no means forgotten. The project would in fact have repeated the ancient layout to a notable extent, only on a scale even larger than that of the present St Peter's. It was markedly in contrast with the total disregard by the later renaissance architects of Constantine's plan of basilica and atrium. Although not executed, Rosselino's project became the model for important fifteenth-century churches elsewhere. The pope and his architect designed that from the piazza three spacious streets should radiate. They were to be provided with continuous colonnades on ground level, with closed galleries overhead.
What precisely did Nicholas V accomplish? It was very little. First of all, he swept away the unsightly stalls and shops which for centuries had congested the atrium steps. Then he made a start on the new choir considered essential for the clergy. This was to be an extension behind the apse of the Constantinian church and involved the demolition of the Templum Probi, or so-called house of St Peter, which when its foundations were laid bare, disclosed a mortuary chanber of the Roman Anicii family built against the west end. Work on the choir - or Tribuna di San Piero - took ages to get going. It was stopped on Nicholas's death and resumed in the reign of Paul II. Apart from these two positive steps towards a new church, Nicholas's work can only be described as negative.
It turned out that the walls of the new choir had reached a height of six feet, and the first demolitions of the old basilica were just put in hand, when Nicholas V died. Superstitious persons were not wanting to warn the new pope, Calliztus III (1455-8), what fate had in store for him, if he were to continue tampering with a building of such age and sanctity. True, work was suspended for a time, but the real reason was probably Callixtus's disinterest in renaissance humanism and art, his pressing endeavour being to save Western civilization from further Turkish encroachment. The next pope, Pius II (1458-64), can certainly not be accused of indifference to the humanities and the arts. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini was one of the most cultivated popes to grace the throne of St Peter. He was a poet and descriptive writer of a high order, a most discriminating patron and remorseless critic of the second-rate in writing and painting. Unfortunately, his brief reign was handicapped by ill-health - he was crippled with gout in the feet contracted in Scotland - by poverty, and agonized concern how to rally the squabbling Christian powers to expel the Turks from Europe. In spite of these harassing worries, he began to build an arcade for the new piazza before the church. It got no further than the three-storeyed Loggia of the Benediction, a fragment which survived until Paul V substituted the present façade. The loggia features prominently in numberless views of St Peter's during the sixteenth century. This paragon of popes died before he was sixty at Ancona, desperately awaiting the promised Venetian crusading fleet which never came.
Paul II (1464-71), a genial, handsome and somewhat vain Venetian, loved splendour and carnivals, but associated humanism and art with atheism and political subversion. Yet he wa the ardent promoter of printing and restorer of Roman arches and equestrian statues. He built the Palazzo Venezia, Rome's finest quattrocento palace. Not until 1470, when he had only one more year to live, did Paul resume the suspended work upon Nicholas V's Tribuna di San Piero. In this short time progress did not get very far. More interesting is Paul II's association with the transept of old St Peter's. In drawings made before 1470, there are no signs whatever of any arms to Constantine's church. Until this reign then did the basilica's plan of naves, aisles and sanctuary preserve an absolute classical rectangle, broken only by the western apse? In other words, did Paul II add the dwarf through-transept (amounting to terminal chapels projecting a short distance through a pair of columns), which is shown in the well-known plan published by Tiberio Alfarano in 1589-90, long after the transept had been demolished? Pope Pius XII's excavators were satisfied that the transept shown by Alfarano was Constantinian. More recent scholars have thrown doubts on their archaeological discoveries and incline to the 1470 attribution. In this case it is extraordinary that at so late a stage of the old basilica's existence and after Nicholas V's abortive efforts at patching, a large-scale alteration should be undertaken to a fabric universally recognized to be worn out and perishing.
Paul II's work on St Peter's proceeded along the lines begun by Nicholas V before his decision had been taken to rebuild from the ground upwards. He entrusted it to Giuliano da Sangallo, then a young man, who had begun life as a wood carver under Lorenzo the Magnificent in Florence, and was to crown it by designing the lovely little Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano. Giuliano, during the short time available to him before the pope's death, was busily engaged on the tribune. In 1471 his association with St Peter's came to an abrupt halt. As far as we know, he did not resume it for well over thirty years.
Sixtus IV (1471-84), although a Franciscan monk, was hardly as pious a man as his pleasure-loving predecessor. He was actuated by a strange mixture of celestrial and sublunary motives. Passionately devoted to the cult of Our Lady, he fervently desired to promote the glory of the city of Rome. An ecclesiastical scholar of renown, he was a patron of learning and art second only to Nicholas V. Like other priests promoted from a sheltered life of extreme poverty and obedience to one of limitless authority, he became inordinately profligate of money. He was totally unaware of the word's meaning and gaily dispensed as if they were water whatever funds he could lay his hands upon. He was, admittedly, generous to a fault and cared deeply about the welfare of his subjects. Unfortunately this astute yet simple man allowed himself to be influenced by three acquisitive nephews who took advantage of his open-handed ways. At a time when the Turkish menace was at its most dangerous - in 1480 the fall of Otranto to the infidel cased the utmost terror and dismay throughout Italy - Sixtus's favourite nephew, Cardinal Pietro Riario, chose to give a banquet in honour of the Princess Leonora of Naples, which excelled in extravagant luxury the fabled feasts of the gods on Mount Olympus. The Lucullan meal lasted six whole hours. Forty-four dishes were served, incuding 'stags roasted whole, and in their skins, goats, hares, calves, herons,peacocks with their feathers, and finally, a bear with a staff in his jaws'. Sugar fortresses from which banners waved, a mountain with a living serpent coiled upon it, ten great ships made to sail into the room laden with sugared almonds, were among the delicacies. Allegorical figures were presented, the triumph of Venus was enacted and a ballet danced on the stage by ancient heroes and their mistresses.
In spite of the tense international situation and the acute financial embarrassment caused by the cardinal nephew's excesses, Sixtus issued a bull for renovating Rome, built the Ponte Sisto across the Tiber, prolonged the Acqua Vergine water supply, rebuilt the hospital of Santo Spirito for orphanedchildren, restored countless churches and built those of S. Maria del Popolo and S. Maria della Pace. He also founded St Luke's Association of painters and re-established the Vatican Library.
Sixtus's building activities at the Vatican were feverish. His great contribution, which bears his name, was the chapel for the Sistine choir. To embellish this uncomfortably deep rectangular block some of the world's leading painters were summoned by Sixtus, whose impatience was only matched by Julius II's with Michelangelo a generation later. In addition to completing the chapel, he refitted the palace. He strengthened the tottering fabric of St Peter's, restored the roof, inserted more windows and provided a new pavement. He likewise repaired the old sacristy and chapel of St Petronilla. Sixtus scrapped the tavernacle of the confession, which dated from the twelfth century, and erected a new ciborium over Peter's tomb while incorporating the four surviving porphyry columns of the altar raised by Callixtus II. Sixtus's ciborium remained in place until Bernini erected the present baldacchino in the 1630s. The ciborium was enriched with bas-reliefs representing Christ delivering the keys of heaven to St Peter. Clearly then this pope had no intention of carrying on Nicholas V's project of pulling down the old basilica and building a new one.
Sixtus IV's finest memorial is his tomb by Antonio Pollaiuolo, now preserved in the crypt (Grotte Vecchie). It is a renaissance bronze of incomparable workmanship. The old pope lies with his head on a tasseled pillow, wearing the tiara. The head is a masterpiece. The cheeks are hollow, the eyes sunk from age. Yet the puckered forehead gives a lively, quizzical expression. Refinement of taste is suggested by the long curved nose, and strength of character by the jutting chin. If ever there was a portrait of cultivated intelligence Pollaiuolo achieved it here. The reliefs of the catafalque symbolize the theological virtues, and are in themselves flawless gems of the sculptor's art.
The reign of Innocent VIII (1484-92), a benevolent, easy-going but irresolute individual, was made so hideous by the squabbles among the Italian sovereigns and their attacks upon the Church's authority that the pope even threatened to live in France. Almost the only redeeming event of his reign was the propitiatory gift by the Sultan Bajazet II to Innocent of the head of Longinus's spear which had pierced the side of the Saviour upon the cross. Its reception in St Peter's was marked by hysterical rejoicing as much on account of the nature of the sacred relic as the indication - which proved illusory - of the Turks' favourable disposition towards the papacy. Bajazet's real motive was to bribe the pope to retain in Rome his captive brother and hated rival for as long as possible. Innocent's seated effigy on Antonio Pollaiuolo's bronze wall monument has a likeness of the spearhead triumphantly displayed in the pope's left hand. It is the only monument from the old basilica to be re-erected in the new. The delicate beauty of this renaissance tomb becomes almost insignificant in its present opulent surroundings. In the course of re-erection, the supine figure of the pope was set below instead of above the seated figure, which was the original position. The face shows tenderness and simplicity, bu the receding chin affirms that Innocent was not a man of action. He conscientiously carried on Sixtus's work of church restoration and the completion of S. Maria della Pace. But the arts and scholarship did not prosper under him as they did during the previous pontificate.
The Vatican Palace was at the end of the fifteenth century still a congeries of piecemeal structures making no concession to their surroundings, and scarcely deserving the name of architecture. Innocent rebuilt the lower palace, or Curia Innocenziana, in which to ladge foreign embassies (it was swept away by Paul V). Depressed by the sorry muddle of buildings in which he was fated to live, he set about erecting an entirely separate dwelling, yet within the Vatican walls. He chose a site at the furthermost northern point of the Leonine City which was also the highest, and so most salubrious. The Belvedere, designed by Pollaiuolo and carried out by Iacopo da Pietrasanta was, like the Villa Medici at Poggio, one of the first villas to be built since Roman times. It had an immense influence upon subsequent renaissance villa architecture. The pope called on Pinturicchio and Mantegna to decorate it. There Innocent could retire, away from the bustling offices and embassies, in detached splendour, confronting an intermediate garden landscape. The core of the Belvedere has survived to this day, but no longer in isolation. It forms the extremity of the present Cortile della Pigna, hidden behind the great hemicycle of the pinecone, which was later attached to it at the oblique angel. For centuries now it has enshrined the Lacoon, Apollo Belvedere and other classic works of Vatican sculpture round a central octagonal court.
At the southern extremity of the Cortile del Belvedere, and separated from the Cortile della Pigna by the library block, the battlemented tower and the Appartamenti Borgia recall the contribution of Alexander VI (1492-1503). The three pokey, tenebrous rooms decorated for the Spanish pope and his children by Pinturicchio still exhale, in spite of centuries of shuffling tourists, the sinister atmosphere of the cloak and dagger family. Elected to the papacy through the rankest simony, Rodrigo Borgia was infinitely amoral. Nevertheless, he was extremely clever and practical; and he was not wholly unpopular with his lenient subjects, who derived entertainment from the sight of his children involved in political intrigues, annulments, assassinations and poisonings with the apparent connivance of their indulgent parent. Alexander left at the Vatican little material evidence of his nine-year reign, apart from the Borgia apartments. But the uneasy atmosphere of these apartments and the ghost of his murdered son, the Duke of Gandia, which accompanied by torches carried by unseen hands used to haunt the old basilica, were held in terror by his successors. On his agonized deathbed the pope was heard to cry out, 'I am coming. It is right so. Only wait a little.' After these desperately ambiguous words, he closed his eyes. Before the breath was out of his body, his servants plundered his wardrobe and every stick of furniture in his rooms, leaving nothing but some torn fragments of tapestry nailed to the plastered walls. Succeeding popes reviled his memory and would never set foot inside the apartments which had been the scene of so much scandal and blasphemy.
The election, not without bribery, of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere as Pope Julius II (1503-13) brought about a crisis in the history of St Peter's. I have told how Nicholas V's conclusion to demolish the Constantine basilica and build anew came too late in his lifetime. His successors during intervals between coping with urgent affairs of state and parrying threats of Saracen invasion did no more than toy with the problem. Each continued the process of patching and renewing in the hope that the onus of demolition might be deferred to the next reign. For fifty years they procrastinated. Pope Julius, on the other hand, was not the man to shrink from any undertaking that was in his eyes necessary. No task, however unpopular, was too disagreeable for this pope of iron will and undeviating determination. Here was a challenge that appealed to his imagination, his love of the arts and his desire to raise a splendid edifice which would be a fitting symbol of papal prestige and power. Julius was made in a gigantic mould. He saw himself a mighty price as well as the spiritual representative of a meek creed. Fully aware of the short duration of papal reigns and made wise by Pope Nicholas's experiences, he lost little time in setting about the task which even he, dauntless and indefatigable though he was, learnt towards the end of his life could never be accomplished by one incumbent of St Peter's throne.
First of all this martial pontiff set about establishing a permanent papal army. It appeared to him intolerable that the meanest baron was stronger that the Pope of Rome, who was obliged to depend in emergencies upon unreliable mercenaries. In 1506 he founded the Swiss Guards, who to this day defend with pikes, halberds and other archaic accoutrement all entrances to the Vatican City. An agreement with the Swiss Confederacy raised a force of 6,000 fighting men. The army existed until 1825 when Pope Leo XII converted it to a domestic bodyguard. Today it consists of a mere hundred men, including four officers, a chaplain, twenty-three non-commissioned officers, two drummers and seventy halberdiers.
These fine, upstanding northerners, with their fair hair and clear complexions, are carefully selected for their looks as well as dependability. And a splendid sight they make in their sixteenth-century uniforms. They stand guard day by day in slashed doublets and baggy hose of violet and orange stripes, with berets drawn down over one eye. This is their dress uniform. On state occasions they wear a steel cuirass and helmet and carry a halberd. In recent times they have been supplemented by the Noble Guard, recruited from patrician Roman families, who wear glistening helmets with blood orange osprey plumes; the Palatine Guard, enrolled from the Roman middle-class, who wear gold-braided scuttle caps with heavy epaulettes, and tight white inexpressibles.
The High Renaissance coincided with an enormous increase of wealth to princes and potentates. The discovery of the New World and the opening of mines of gold, silver and diamonds led to an influx of riches and jewels from the Americas to Europe. The popes' coffers benefited as much as those of the sovereigns of Christendom from the cataract of treasure. Julius had plenty of revenue to draw upon. The papacy too had never seemed more stable. The day of Lutheranism and Reformation lay ahead unperceived. So discerning a patron was well able to attract to Rome the greatest artists of the age. Painters, architects and sculptors basked in the sun of the new papal Maecenas until such time as they crossed his path. Whereupon they had a rude awakening from any misconceived dreams of giving easy satisfaction. Composers too found opportunities of commissions. Julius loved music and one of his first acts was to endow the papal choir chapel, known as the Cappella Giulia, in order to train native Roman voices. He wished to ensure the singing of the religious offices in a manner befitting the majesty of a renaissance church.
Julius was blessed with that merit common to most great men, a supreme confidence in initiating schemes of such magnitude and expense that posterity has no alternative to complying with them. Such too was the grandeur of his conceptions that he attracted men of like caliber to carry out his schemes. As one would expect, the coincidence of two minds of this metal sometimes resulted in sparks which, when fanned, turned rapidly to conflagrations. We shall touch upon the storms between Julius II and Michelangelo in another chapter.
Julius had not been pope for longer than a year and a half before he decided to build close to the old basilica a mausoleum to contain the colossal monument of himself which Michelangelo had already been commissioned to execute. He was encouraged in this undertaking by Giuliano da Sangallo, who was then the architect in whom he placed most confidence. His bond with Sangallo had been a mutual loathing of Alexander VI. While the Borga pope was on the throne Sangallo had been the companion of Cardinal della Rovere during his exile in France. Julius however soon abandoned the project of a detached mausoleum and in the spring of 1505 was intent upon fulfilling the work begun by Nicholas V on the basilica, work which Sangallo, then a young man, had resumed under Paul II. By the summer he changed his mind once again. He concluded that nothing was acceptable less than complete rebuilding on absolutely contemporary lines and in the grandest conceivable manner. This decision was the pope's last; and was irrevocable. It had been brought about by his conviction that the old basilica was not to all intents and purposes ruinous and in a highly dangerous condition.
Needless to say, he encountered much opposition. The Curia and the Romans were now more than ever attached to the Constantinian building. They looked upon it with veneration and a good deal of superstition. Had it not existed practically since the Christian religion was founded, certainly ever since Christianity was accepted as the religion of imperial Rome? It was insufferable that a new pope should lightly take upon himself the responsibility of sweeping away a building twelve hundred years old, a building which was the tangible link with Rome's glorious past. Nearly all the cardinals opposed the decision; and the city was enraged. Satires - always a good sign of Roman indignation - were posted at street corners. Pasquino was particularly vociferous. Undeterred, Julius issued an appeal for funds to the Christian monarchs, including Henry VII of England, the bishops and the nobles throughout Europe. Progress was so rapid that on 18th April 1506 the pope laid the first stone of his new basilica twenty-five Roman feet below the pavement of the old. It was to be the foundation of the St Veronica pier at the south-west corner of the crossing. On a block of white marble Julius inscribed his intentions. Under it he placed a pottery vase containing freshly minted ducats, some gold and bronze medals displaying his effigy and the model of the future church. The occasion was one of much formality and splendour. The pope, wearing his mitre and grasping a trowel, descended into the deep abyss with a few attendants. But the crowd so pressed against the edge of the cavity that the pope below feared lest a collapse of the earth might bury him alive. Anxious and alarmed, he hurried through the ceremony to the extent of laying the first stone crooked before scrambling up to the surface. For four months he followed the course of the building with the most lively interest. Then on 27 August, accompanied by his architects, he marched to war against Bologna, expelled the usurping Bentivoglio tyrant, and retrieved the province to the Papal States, thus vastly enhancing his prestige among the nations.
When Julius finally made up his mind to rebuild he had before him the choice of three different schemes. The first was Rossellino's dormant plan, which had been prepared for Nicholas V at much trouble and expense. Julius disliked it, and at once dismissed it as thoroughly out of date. The second scheme was presented by his old companion and ally, Giuliano da Sangallo. Giuliano's scheme we may suppose also not to have been contemporary enough to satisfy the go-ahead pope, and to hark back to the architect's youth when he was first commissioned by Paul II more than thirty years before. At any rate, the old man's proposals were not accepted. Giuliano retired in high dudgeon - but with liberal rewards - to Florence, declaring that he had been unjustly deprived of work promised him. After six months' lapse however he was persuaded to return and finish the fortifications of Nicholas V's round tower of the Vatican Palace on which he had been previously engaged. The third scheme to be presented, which by its splendour, beauty and novelty captured the imagination of Julius II so as to be accepted without demur, was Donato Bramante's.
The story of the rebuilding of St Peter's is immensely long and complicated. It is nowhere more difficult to follow than during the earliest years of Pope Julius's pontificate, because documents other than drawings are lacking. The number of preparatory sketches on the other hand is vast. Among the Uffizi Gallery archives are preserved about nine hundred folios of studies and models from the hands of Bramante and his pupils, Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo; but their history and chronology have not yet been sorted out.
There is no doubt whatever that Julius II and Bramante made a very united partnership. Both were filled with zeal, possessed of a demonic energy and quite without scruple in a determination to see their work fulfilled, no matter what the obstacles or cost. It has been stated that the architect played upon the pope's desire or self-gratification, and persuaded him to rebuild totally. This is unlikely. No one could have persuaded Julius to do anything that did not originate, or that he did not believe to originate in his own mind. Nor were the pope's motives solely personal aggrandizement. The glorification of the Church and the papacy was behind his every endeavour, whether in warfare against the Bolognese, in argument with an obstinate Curia, or in raising a church of stupendous proportions. It is true that Bramante handled the pope with delicacy and skill. His tactics were very different from those of the imperious and highly irascible Michelangelo who respected no man, and dared to flout princes and popes. Bramante never opposed Julius, but identified his ideas with his master's, and was always ready to embark upon a new project with the least delay. Vasari stresses his singular promptness to act so long as he felt confident of his client's willingness to pay. Of Pope Julius's compliance in this respect he seemed never to have any doubts.
To the end Bramante remained high in favour with Julius, who was genuinely attached to him. His rise to papal favour was spectacular. He first left his naïve Lombardy for Rome in 1499 when he was already fifty-five years old. With astonishing enthusiasm he studied and measured all the ancient building in the city, the Campagna, Tivoli and Hadrian's Villa. Although of ripe middle age, Bramante allowed his art to be revolutionized by his Roman discoveries. They were to stand him in excellent stead in the great work of the few years ahead of him. According to Vasari, Bramante had been appointed sub-architect at Alexander VI's court on the strength of the chaste little cloisters he built for the monks of S. Maria della Pace at the expense of Cardinal O. Caraffa. In the first year of Pope Julius's reign, he received 100 florins for some unspecified work at the new court. Bramante was cultivated, well read in Dante, and devoted to music and poetry. Vasari says that he improvised on the lyre, and composed several sonnets; but none of his verse has survived. He was of a cheerful and amiable disposition, and generous to other artists. Indeed he was extravagant, lived in too splendid a style, and was constantly in financial difficulties. He frequently sued his friends for money. He had an immoderate appetite for pears. We have few other particulars of his tastes.
Bramante had a professional's mastery of the building science and technique. Unfortunately he was far too precipitate to be thorough, or rather too casual to supervise his subordinates properly. Shortly after his death, faults appeared in his workmanship which had to be rectified at much cost and inconvenience. His intensive study of the methods of the ancients enabled him to revive for the first time a cement mixture for friezes and cornices. Vasari gives unstinted praise to Bramante's cornices and to the beauty of the capitals of olive leaves he used on his Corinthian order. In vaulting he invented a method of construction by means of a framework of stout beams, on which the friezes and foliage decoration were carved and then covered with castings in gypsum. He used a novel form of movable scaffolding for centering his arches, of which he was justifiably proud.