by James Lees-Milne, ©1967

This material is in copyright: C Michael Bloch 1967. Requests for permission for any use of this material should be addressed to

Information about the life and work of James Lees-Milne may be found at

Square & Area
Tourist Info

Vatican City
Colonnade Saints
Floorplan #2




Peter Saint and Man
Christianity in the Making
Constantine's Basilica
The Site
The Shrine
The Church
The Sacks of Rome
Influence of the Old Basilica
The Vatican Palace
The Renaissance Basilica

Nicholas V
Paul II (1464-71)
Sixtus IV (1471-84)
Innocent VIII (1484-92)
Julius II
St Peter's in 1505

Death of Julius & Bramante
Leo X (1513-21)

Baldassare Peruzzi

Clement VII (1523-34)
Paul III (1534-49)
Michelangelo and Followers
Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo as Architect
Michelangelo's Death (1564)
Gregory XIII
The Dome
The Obelisk

Clement VIII (1592-1605)
Maderno's Nave
Paul V (1605-21)
Problem of the Facade
The High Baroque and Bernini
The Baldacchino
The Bell Towers
Tomb of Urban VIII
Innocent X (1644-55)
The Colonnades
Cattedra Petri
Monument to Alexander VII
Clement IX (1667-9)

Clement X (1670-6)
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Innocent XI (1676-89)
Carlo Fontana
Innocent XII (1691-1700)
Liturgical Significance
Clement XI (1700-21)
Benedict XIII (1724-30)
Clement XII (1730-40)
Benedict XIV (1740-58)
Sobieski Monument
Clement XIII (1758-69)
Clement XIV (1769-74)
Pius VI(1775-99)
The Sacristy
Pius VII (1800-23)
Stuart Monument
Mon. Leo XII, Pius VIII, Gregory XVI
Pius IX (1846-78)
Vatican Council I
Pius X (1903-14)
Pius XI (1922-39)
Pius XII (1939-58)
A Final Assessment

Before helping to oust Giuliano da Sangallo from the office of Architect of St Peter's, Bramante had prepared designs for alterations to the Belvedere and the making of the great Belvedere Court of the Vatican Palace, the care of which was traditionally entrusted to a different architect to that of the basilica. The designs are dated 1503 and 1504. Briefly, Bramante's project was to transform Pollaiuolo's isolated Belvedere Villa into a sculpture gallery and to join it to the Vatican offices by a long imposing court, where hitherto vineyards and gardens had been. Corridors were to form the connecting arms. Bramante was the first architect to relate the Belvedere to the rest of the palace. To do so he was obliged to tilt, so to speak, the face of the villa several degrees from east to south in order to set it at right angles with the long arms of his court.

The architect's principal objective was to treat this northern end of the great court to be built against the sixteenth-century Belvedere, in imitation of the ruins of the Roman Praeneste, or Palestrina. At the head of the long, stadium-like court stretching southwards there was to be a modified adaptation of the Temple of Fortune. A great niche, or rather hemi-cycle, with flanking walls of blind arcades, separated by twin pilasters, was to be an echo of the semi-circular colonnade of the famous Latin backcloth at Praeneste. Bramante's next idea, never realized, was to fashion an open arcade within the niche. In front of a wide platform there was to be a double ramp descending in terraces. A contemporary perspective sketch by Del Dosio in the Uffizi Gallery shows the partial realization of Bramante's scheme before his niche was raised and given a half-dome, and before other tampering took place a generation later. The somewhat absurd curved colonnade made by Pirro Ligorio to crown the great raised niche is a less effective reminder of the Praeneste prototype than Bramante's sober design would have proved if only it had been carried out.

Before his death, Bramante completed the eastern side of the great court up to the second of its three storeys - of which the lower Doric order was copied from the Theatre of Marcellus - the foundations of the western corridors, and the transformation of the octagonal statue court within the old Belvedere Villa. The last achievement, which survives, was well in progress by 1506 when the Laocoon group was dug up in Nero's Golden House, and put into one of the corner tribunes. In 1511 the Apollo Belvedere was installed in another. The following year the beautiful spiral staircase, known as La Scala a Chiocciola, was under way. Bramante projected it from the north-eastern angle of the villa. Its purpose was to enable horsemen to ride up to the Belvedere from the lower ground by a short route. An unbroken ramp of soft worn brick, supported by four orders of elegant columns of white stone, one above another, curls gently upwards like a frozen breath. In 1531 a long stretch of Bramante's eastern corridor caved in owing to the architect's careless and hasty construction, or rather to his men being made to work day and night without proper supervision. It had to be rebuilt. Again, two hundred years later the pilasters had to be strengthened. They were so enlarged in the process that they now look disproportionately broad in relation to the space between them.

We must return once more to the activities of Julius II and Bramante at St Peter's in 1505. Those people who look upon renaissance architecture as cold, pompous and imitative - and in the nineteenth century these were common charges - have delighted in abusing the pope for wantonly destroying Constantine's basilica and dispersing the accumulated treasure of centuries which it contained. The accusation is unjust. As we have seen, the old basilica had been unquestionably ruinous for a very long time. The patching of half a century had been of no avail, besides wasting an enormous amount of money. Wanton Pope Julius certainly was not. Bramante on the other hand was. He was in such a turmoil of hurry to get on with the job - we have to remember that he was far from young, and life was then short and uncertain - that he respected nothing inside the old basilica, neither tombs, statues, mosaics, nor moveable works of art like candelabra, icons and even altars. All these things he threw out as useless, antiquated lumber. He did not bother to have inventories made of the things he destroyed. For several weeks on end he employed 2,500 workmen on this wholesale destruction. Rightly he earned the title of il ruinante. Not content with iconoclasm, he urged the pope to have the setting of the new church altered from that of the old. He wanted to make his main front face southwards so as to have Caligula's obelisk, then standing close to the sacristy, in the foreground. The displacement was to involve shifting the Apostle's tomb to another site. Pope Julius to his credit was scandalized, and resolutely refused to countenance the proposal. He would not allow the tomb to be touched. On the contrary, he ordered the architect to raise a temporary structure of peperino over the presbytery and the confession, including the Constantinian apse, to protect the inviolate during the demolitions and rebuilding. The structure is shown in several sixteenth-century drawings, a pleasing Doric affair of three arches and a pediment, too good one would suppose for so ephemeral a purpose. It survived until 1592.

Ruthless though Bramante was, he was by no means free to do just what he wanted. There was the restraining hand of his master, which he dared not defy. There were the unfinished walls of Pope Nicholas V's choir, or tribune, and the still more extensive west foundations of the apse and transepts, which he was bound from reasons of economy to take into account. To a large extent, they determined the dimensions of his overall plan for the new basilica (they were only scrapped in 1585 on advice given years previously by Michelangelo). Lastly, there was the prevailing fashion of his day that only a centralized plan was suitable for the mother church of Christendom. In other words, the old, strictly basilican plan, long, rectangular or transeptal, could no longer be entertained. The symbol of the universal Christ expressed in the Greek cross within a circle, geometrically relating to a central dome to a series of lesser domes, was deemed essential to the new humanistic approach to religious architecture. Bramante designed on this pattern a vast building to cover 24,000 square metres, which was 9,500 more than the area finally covered by Michelangelo's church before the nave was lengthened in the seventeenth century. The diameter of Bramante's Greek cross would have been nearly two fifths greater than the length of the old Constantinian nave and over three fifths greater than its width.

Bramante had already experimented with the Greek cross within a circle in Milan. He had been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's paper plans and drawings of churches in this idiom. Leonardo had not executed any of them. Bramante however was determined to make the attempt. Both Leonardo and Bramante had closely studied the fifth-century church of S. Lorenzo in Milan, which was of centralized plan with four large apses. Its influence is very apparent in Leonardo's sketches and Bramante's actual work, for which the first opportunity arose when he was called upon to enlarge the church of S. Satiro. This was in either the late 1470s or early 1480s. Bramante was at once impressed by the existing church which dated from the ninth century. No larger than a small chapel it too was of centralized plan. The architect not only incorporated it in his larger scheme but adapted the design to the baptistery which he added to S. Satiro. Thus Bramante's baptistery at Milan became the prototype of all renaissance centrally planned churches and chapels. His designs for St Peter's were, however, not his first attempt in Rome at this form of architecture, derived as it was from early Christian churches. In 1502 he built the circular Tempietto in the courtyard of S. Pietro in Montorio, on the site then erroneously claimed to be that of St Peter's martyrdom.

The Tempietto design, although on an infinitely smaller scale, can be detected in Bramante's ambitious scheme for St Peter's. The culminating feature of the centrally planned church is of course the dome; and the peristyle and dome of the Tempietto are reflected in the colonnade of the drum and the dome of Bramante's St Peter's, as indeed we can judge from the relief of a medal struck by Julius II and in Serlio's woodcut in his treatise on architecture. The colonnade of St Peter's drum was to be closely packed with Corinthian shafts, whereas the peristyle of the Tempietto is composed of Doric columns comparatively widely spaced. Nevertheless, the conception of both is the same. In each building the dome is a hemisphere, crowned by a finial motif in the smaller, and a proper lantern in the larger. In the St Peter's design, the dome is raised from the base by steps so as to bear out the architect's boast that he was going to put the dome of the Pantheon over the vault of the Temple of Peace, which was the renaissance name for the dominating Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum.

In 1506 a foundation medal was struck showing Bramante's final intention. It depicted a hemispherical Pantheon-like dome, as in Serlio's woodcut. In addition, there were to be four lesser domes (of which two only appear on the relief) over the arms of the Greek cross church, and a fifth over the portico entrance. This entrance was likewise derived from that of the Pantheon, and Bramante actually made his masons begin copying the Hadrianic capitals of the original, only on a larger scale. As early as 1508 contracts were made for carving them as well as the balustrade of the balcony to be reserved for the papal blessing. A pair of very tall bell towers were to flank the portico. The necessary rough medal relief was no doubt a general indication of what Julius and Bramante hoped would come into being.

In the autumn of 1506 the victorious pope returned from his military campaign against Bologna accompanied by Bramante. At once the two men resumed work upon St Peter's with increased gusto. On 10th April 1507 the Archbishop of Taranto laid the foundation stones of the three other piers of the great crossing to support the dome. Since the crossing piers were the first part of the structure to be raised, they were largely to dictate the size and even shape of the future basilica, no matter how far subsequent architects deviated from the original scheme. Alas, work on the colossal undertaking took its time! There were other pressing demands upon Julius's energies, and funds were not disgorged quickly enough even from the fat papal coffers. In 1513 the pope issued a bull announcing to the world that the new basilica would eclipse in size and magnificence every church in Christendom. Graciously he promised an extension of indulgences to those pious benefactors who agreed to pay contributions on an annual basis.

The idea that a generous offering to some good cause, made with the right intention, should be rewarded with an indulgence from 'the Church's treasure chest', is quite in accordance with Catholic doctrine. But, inevitably, it came to be interpreted that anyone could buy remission from his time in purgatory. Indulgences in fact were offered by some preachers as if they were for sale. The abuse was subsequently forbidden by the Council of Trent; but it was too late. It provided the spark that ignited the fires of the Protestant Reformation which consumed the chaff and the grain alike. One of the ironies of history is that the means devised to finance the building of a great shrine over the tomb of the first pope should have done much to destroy the authority of his successors.

Soon after his magnanimous gesture Pope Julius II, worn out by excruciating pain from stone in the bladder, died. Bramante, crippled with gout in the hands, lost heart and in 1514 followed his master to the grave. At his death the four great piers were complete up to the cornice, and the connecting arches, now adorne with sunk panels in the Romand fashion, were in place. The form of the piers was never to be substantially altered. It remained the governing factor of every subsequent plan of St Peter's, including the final and actual one. Futhermore, the walls of the projecting choir (the Tribune di San Piero) were completed on Nicholas V and Rossellino's foundations; and vaulting was begun on the south transept, where until very lately St Petronilla's chapel had stood.

Bramante had always been generous in helping and promoting fellow artists. Very wisely he had rallied round him a band of the brightest of the younger generation to collaborate at St Peter's. They greatly respected and loved his memory. In consequence, the Bramante tradition was upheld without question for many years after his death. Not until the death of Paul III in 1549 were definite changes brought about. Bramante's plan for St Peter's was then jettisoned. Even so there is evidence that his disciples made modified use of his designs for lesser Greek cross churches, such as S. Maria di Loreto in Rome, the lovely S. Maria della Consolazione at Todi, and possibly S. Giagio at Montepulciano.

As early as 6th April 1506 a money order had been issued, doubtless at Bramante's request, enabling him to pay for the services of five sub-architects. Of these Antonio da Sangallo the younger, who had followed his uncle Giuliano to Rome, became indispensable to Bramante, and towards the end of his life completed the drawings which the old man's trembling fingers could barely sketch in outline.

Bramante's statue in the history of St Peter's is immense. The trust reposed in him by the pope, once had approved each project, was implicit. The architect was regarded as the divinely inspired instrument of Christ's Vicar in the creation of the greatest temple of the Christian world. His design for St Peter's was commensurate with the authority of the papacy as regenerated by a civilization newly based on principles of humanism and the rules of art according the classical masters. The Renaissance was very conscious of its break with medieval philosophy and art; and Bramante's projected basilica was the symbol of a new manner of thinking and more glorious mode of living. Moreover he raised the profession of architect to one of the most honourable and coveted posts in renaissance Rome. Hitherto, architects were recognized under the names of muratore, tagliapietraor faber lignarius, and were treated merely as master craftsmen. Bramante earned the title of Messer, which was accorded to his successors at St Peter's in tribute to a highly responsible office. Not only was he sole creator of the basilican design but the controller of a huge army of workmen attached to innumerable crafts. On the pope's behalf, he drew up contracts with the master craftsmen, who were paid by a conventional tariff for each square foot of wall, pavement and roof, and an agreed sum for each specially applied feature, whether column, capital, vaulting panel or niche shell-head. The master craftsmen in their turn paid the artisans whom they employed by the day.

Julius II's successor, Leo X (1513-21), was an oldish-young Medici of thirty-seven. The favourable circumstance of birth rather than brain had made him a prodigy. He was ordained priest at the age of seven, and created a cardinal at thirteen on the marriage of his sister to the son of Pope Innocent VIII. Privilege and precedence were his as though by right. Pleasure he demanded and got. 'Let us enjoy the papacy since God had given it to us' are words which may have been put into his mouth. They certainly express the behaviour by which we may judge him. At the same time this spoilt prince was of true piety and blameless morals. He was modest and gentle. Unfortunately his appearance, which may have determined his career, was unprepossessing, for he was puffy, flabby and unhealthy. This was not owing to good living for he eat and drank sparingly. All his life he suffered severely from chronic fistula, on the pretext of curing which a young cardinal attempted to poison him in 1517, but was discovered and put to death. In spite of physical disabilities, Leo exercised undeniable charm. His tastes were spontaneous. As well as hunting and coarse buffoonery, he dearly loved music and literature. The greatest achievement of his reign was the promotion of painting. He got Raphael to finish decorating the Stanze of the Vatican Palace and to design cartoons of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. His affection for Raphael was demonstrable. He made him a papal chamberlain and, according to Vasari, actually contemplated making him a cardinal. When the painter addressed to the pope his famous request of 1520 that the antiquities of Rome ought to be respected, Leo at once complied and commanded that the greatest care should be taken of them in the future. When Raphael lay dying Leo sent daily to ask after him, and in anxiety for his friend's soul dispatched the Fornarina from his house while at the same time providing her handsomely with money. On Raphael's death the pope was plunged into such distress that for weeks he was incapable of attending to business.

Leo received at his court painters, musicians and writers on the level of patricians and would allow no class distinctions where the aristocracy of the mind was concerned. His thirst for the company of creative artists was unquenchable. 'He spent his life', the historian Ranke declared, 'in a sort of intellectual intoxication.' In this respect he was indeed a renaissance prince and a true chip of the Medici block.

Leo X was however by no means as discerning, or eclectic a patron of the arts as Julius II. Sculpture and architecture did not move him as much as painting, stucco work and the ancillary decorative arts. Consequently, he carried on the building of St Peter's from a sense of duty to his great office rather than enthusiasm for participating in an architectural masterpiece. All the same, no sooner was he elected than he was obliged to take instant action. The death of Pope Julius and the fatal decline of the architect, Bramante, had removed the two great impulses behind the whole project. Leo was confronted with the ancient basilica partly demolished and the new one only just begun. Confusion was appalling. The crossing still lacked a roof; the Constantine nave was exposed to wind and rain. Debris and dust were everywhere and nowhere could Mass be celebrated. Something had to be done. The pope ordered the demolition work to continue. By November 1519 the Constantinian portico had fallen beneath the pickaxes. An urgent need now was to ensure adequate funds. So the pope confirmed Julius's special indulgences to subscribers towards the building expenses. For a time this source of supply continued to function. But after the abuse of indulgences was turned into one of Luther's chief weapons against the papacy, contributions from the faithful through this channel were soon reduced to a trickle. Lastly, a successor to Bramante had to be appointed.

On his accession, Leo at once recalled from Florence old Giuliano da Sangallo to become partner to the man who had superseded him in 1505. Bramante was by this time extremely feeble and, as I have pointed out, almost wholly dependent upon young Antonio, the son of Giuliano's sister, to whom the uncle was also devoted. So the appointment may not have been as tactless as it otherwise seems. Giuliano was now nearly seventy and himself required assistants to share the heavy responsibilities of his duty. Four and a half months before Bramante died, the pope thereupon appointed two other partners, Fra Giovanni Giocondo and Raphael. Within less than six years, all members of this triumvirate were dead.

In 1514 Fra Giocondo was seventy-nine years old. He was a jolly old Dominican monk of many accomplishments who originally hailed from Verona. He was a Greek scholar of some renown and an engineer, whose skill in hydraulics and bridge building was widely extolled. He was much traveled, had harnessed a water supply at Blois and built a bridge over the Seine for the French kings. He was besides the intimate friend and adviser, perhaps even the spiritual confessor, or Raphael. Unfortunately, Fra Giocondo died very soon after his appointment, but not before fulfilling a most useful function. His experience detected weaknesses in Bramante's structure, and he lived just long enough to school his colleagues in the way to overcome them by reinforcing the foundations. But now Raphael was likewise deprived of his 'administrator and coadjutor', as he described Giuliano da Sangallo. On the very day of Fra Giocondo's death Giuliano, worn out and ailing, retired to Florence, where in 1517 he died. The youngest and surviving member of the triumvirate was thereupon left sole Architect in Chief of St Peter's.

As we have seen, Leo's devotion to Raphael even exceeded that of Fra Giocondo and Giuliano da Sangallo. Indeed everyone loved Raphael, whose singular sweetness captivated the hearts of his contemporaries, and cast a spell over posterity. It accordingly invested his art with a veil of romance which, until lifted this century, prevented an objective view of its proper merits.

Raphael's charm was in a sense his undoing. Not insensible to the adulation which his genius and beauty of person induced, he allowed himself to be smothered by the attentions of his devoted admirers. Never had an artist been more lionized. At the height of his fame, he moved like a prince rather than a painter. When he went to court he was often accompanied by as many as fifty artists gathered to do him honour. Patrons overwhelmed his slender shoulders with commissions which he was not always able to fulfill.

Raphael had first come to Rome on the recommendation of Bramante in 1508, when he began painting the Stanze for Pope Julius II. He threw himself with the fervour of faith into celebrating the divine pre-eminence of the papacy, a doctrine soon to be passionately controverted. Pope Julius was so delighted with his frescoes that he dismissed Perugino, Pinturicchio and the other painters working at the Vatican Palace in favour of his new protégé who was then barely twenty-five years old. Whatever architectural qualifications the young painter acquired, he owed to Bramante, who even sketched for him the perspective of buildings on the School of Athens fresco. His single experience of church design was the little chapel of S. Eligio degli Orefici, lying between the Via Giulia and the Tiber, which he planned as a Greek cross and to which he gave a shallow drum and hemispherical dome in the Bramantesque style. But in Bramante's admiring eyes this limitation was no reason why Raphael should not ultimately be entrusted with carrying on his tremendous scheme of rebuilding the first Christian church of the world. After all he too had been primarily a painter who only took to architecture in his advanced middle age. In renaissance times artists were not expected to specialize in only one field of activity. Therefore there is nothing surprising in Pope Leo's brief of 1st August 1514 to Raphael in which he wrote, 'At his [Bramante's] death he justly opined that to you might be confided the building commenced by him…'

As time went on, Raphael became more and more troubled by the responsibilities of his post of Architect in Chief to the basilica. His heart and soul were concentrated upon painting the Stanze and decorating the Loggie which bear his name. Their completion was, he felt, the principal motive of his life. At first he embarked upon is new role fairly happily because he knew that he had Leo's wholehearted backing. As early as July 1514 he had written to a friend that the pope 'has associated me with an aged monk who has passed his eightieth year. The pope sees that he cannot live much longer, and His Holiness has therefore determined that I should benefit by the instructions of this distinguished craftsman and attain to greater proficiency in the art of architecture, of the beauties of which he has recondite knowledge; his name is Fra Giocondo. The pope gives us an audience every day, and keeps us long in conversation on the subject of the building.' After the aged monk and the ailing Giuliano had withdrawn from the scene, Raphael was left to hold the heavy baby on his own. He was obliged to continue remedying Bramante's faulty work on the lines indicated by Fra Giocondo, and propping up what was left of the old basilica, tasks which frankly bored him. He was distracted how to raise funds. There was little time, and less money, with which to make headway with the new building.

It was some relief to have Antonio da Sangallo with whom to share responsibilities. On 22nd November 1516 the nephew of his old friend, Giuliano, had been appointed coadjutor. This had entailed getting the consent of Antonio's patron, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. It was willingly given. The two artists worked in happy collaboration and the past experience of Sangallo as assistant to Bramante on work at St Peter's gave much support to the harassed painter. Antonio had apparently criticized in a friendly and helpful spirit and even amended Raphael's first model for a basilica, which was on a plan different to Bramante's, namely that of a Latin cross. This happened soon after Raphael's appointment as Architect in Chief in 1514. Whether the Latin cross plan was entirely Raphael's idea is not known. Certainly Leo X was delighted and thought it more practical than the Greek cross plan. Bramante may have come round to its possibilities just before his death. Raphael's manuscript drawings have not been preserved, nor have the two models he is known to have made. His second plan can only be judged from a moderately accurate woodcut which Serlio gives of it in his treatise. Raphael's basilica, according to Serlio, was to consist of a nave and two aisles, instead of four, separated by pilasters against narrow piers. The whole exercise cost the artist much tribulation and anxiety how it was to be carried out. 'Vitruvius gives me of course considerable guidance,' he wrote ruefully, 'but not enough.' He looked to antiquity for beautiful forms, all of which were supplied by his own keen observation of Roman remains and what Bramante's more scholarly studies had imparted to him. Alas, his fears how he would acquit himself in directing the actual construction were unnecessary! One afternoon in the spring of 1520 he hurried from the Villa Farnesina on foot and arrived at St Peter's in a great sweat and fever. Within a period of days he was dead. He was thirty-seven years old.

During his six years as Architect in Chief, Raphael had executed two models of St Peter's, of which the first was praised and the second accepted by Pope Leo. His actual achievement however amounted to little more than the raising of one or two columns and the continuation of Bramante's vaulting. On his death the Latin cross project was abandoned. Leo came to the reluctant conclusion that it was too expensive. The Greek cross was once more in favour as entailing less stone and mortar. The varying plans in this form by Antonio da Sangallo may date from this period of uncertainty. As we shall see, they too came to nothing because of lack of funds. Yet Leo was somehow induced to advance 60,000 scudi to pay for consolidating Bramante's foundations and existing walls, the labour and expense of which had so greatly harassed his beloved Raphael.

The name of another great architect associated with St Peter's now comes into prominence. Baldassare Peruzzi belongs to the same generation as Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo the younger, being only two years their senior. He had been architect of the Villa Farnesina which Raphael was busily decorating at the time of his death. Pope Leo came to the conclusion that the plans for St Peter's by all the preceding architects were on too large a scale, and 'that the various parts of that vast fabric were not in harmony with each other', according to Vasari. He resolved therefore to have a new model constructed by yet another architect. Peruzzi was appointed coadjutor to Antonio in 1520. Like many of his distinguished brethren he spent much of his working life at St Peter's, left behind him a mass of projects on paper and very little to show for them. Scores of drawings by Peruzzi survive which pose numerous problems. He had even prepared a plan for a new basilica as early as 1505 when he was twenty-three years old. In a general history of St Peter's there is little point in analyzing projects which in any case came to nothing. It is enough to state that the plan which met with the final approval of Peruzzi himself, Pope Leo and his successors was of a Greek cross with apsed arms, each apse opening upon a semi-circular colonnade. The central dome was to be flanked by four lesser cupolas. At the angles were four, square projecting towers. The high altar was to be in the center under the dome. Whether Peruzzi's plan would have provided a church practical or large enough is doubtful. But it might have been a building of the greatest beauty, to judge from his perspective drawing for it.

Pope Leo's old enemy the fistula finally got the better of him, and carried him off in 1521. For a year the papacy underwent a marked change of incumbency. No greater contrast to the pleasure-loving, art-dedicated Medici of princely lineage and splendid upbringing could be imagined than the ascetic, academic Fleming of low birth and impoverished background who now succeeded. Adrian VI was serious, good and pious. But he genuinely disliked all forms of display, and mistrusted artists and intellectuals, who during his brief reign lay low. Moreover, he was quite without humour, and bent upon reforms. In consequence, the Italians were utterly bewildered by this unsophisticated northerner. They had no use for him whatever. Adrian's unpopularity, the progress of the Lutherans, the fall of Rhodes to the Turks, the political dissensions raging among the French, English and Germans, and the plagues in Rome hastened his death. He was succeeded by the most tragic and pitiable of all the popes of the Renaissance, if not of all ages, Clement VII (1523-34).

Clement was, like Leo X, a Medici, albeit an illegitimate Medici. Not prodigal like Leo, but parsimonious, not frivolous but frugal, and naturally procrastinating and indecisive. He was the victim of his predecessors' mistakes and of ineluctable circumstances. The landslide which had begun to rumble during the reign of Leo - who, warned by the Catholic sovereigns to heed the anti-papal propaganda and avoid further abuses, merely turned a deaf ear - and to rattle down the slopes during the reign of Adrian, fell in a cascade of destruction upon the whole fabric of Christendom during that of the unfortunate Clement. England, Scandinavia and half of Germany were lost to Catholicism in the Protestant apostasy. The Turks gained further victories in Eastern Europe. The fatal role of temporal sovereignty long since adopted by the papacy now exposed Clement's weakness to the voracity of the Christian princes. The Emperor Charles V, parading as the secular champion of the Faith, profited from the disturbances of the time by quarrelling with the pope and turning northern Italy into a battlefield. The factious Colonna family, encouraged by the emperor, marched into Rome in 1526 and looted the Vatican Palace. One member strutted upon the piazza in the pope's vestments while making mockery of the papal blessing. These calamities and insults were pinpricks compared with the bloody wounds which were to follow. In May 1527 occurred the Sack of Rome, which was one of the most terrible of the many incidents of the sort to befall the ancient city. No pope before or since suffered worse indignities and humiliations; and few of his attendants escaped physical violence of the utmost cruelty. In his defense the whole body of the gallant Swiss Guards was wiped out to a man. The barbarity of the invaders far exceeded that of the Goths and Vandals. The destruction of buildings and works of art within so short a time was never before so widespread. And by whose hands were these indescribable things perpetrated? And for what reason? By the imperialist troops of the avowed enemy of Lutheranism, the healer of schism, the pious devotee, the eldest son of Mother Church, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in requital for the pope's endeavour to free Italy from foreign domination.

The emperor's henchman in this nauseating business was a hired Frenchman, the Constable of Bourbon, who commanded a mixed bag of Protestant German and Catholic Spanish troops. Under his leadership, they desecrated the churches and tore the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacles, submitting it to every blasphemy. The head of St Andrew was thrown to the ground, St Veronica's napkin was offered for sale, the Holy Lance was fastened by a German soldier to his pike and marched through the Borgo. Pictures and sculpture were smashed, treasures melted down and tapestries plundered in endeavours to extract the gold and silver thread. One of the least misfortunes of the sack was the destruction of the building accounts relating to the new basilica. The actual tomb of St Peter was however untouched, not we may imagine through special reverence of the invaders, but because of its immunity within Bramante's protective structure. Instead, the mercenaries murdered every ecclesiastic on whom they laid hands, and violated and sold nuns to the brothels. It was estimated that 6,000 to 10,000 inhabitants of the city were put to the sword and two-thirds of the buildings destroyed. For fifty miles around Rome, the country was made into a smoking wilderness.

For several months Pope Clement remained shut in the Castle of S. Angelo in conditions of appalling want and misery. In December the imperialists were bribed with what money the pope could rake together to quit. In the confusion Clement slipped away to Orvieto, where in time he recovered his health and senses.

When Clement VII was elected pope he had made it clear that he wished to continue Leo's Medici patronage of art and letters. Accordingly, the artist and intellectuals, who Adrian had discouraged, flocked back to Rome. Painting in the Stanze was resumed, and additions were made to the Vatican Library. But the events which I have described drastically curtailed papal patronage. The Sack of Rome caused the dispersal of Raphael's surviving band of artists, which was never reunited. Indeed the sack is often said to have ended abruptly the phase called the High Renaissance. The terrible bloodshed and destruction had an instantaneous effect upon artistic style. The tranquil course of classical art was broken. Gentle pastoral scenery and idyllic figures of swains and shepherdesses now seemed irrelevant to landscape painting, totally unrealistic and out of date. The horrors men had recently endured were henceforth reflected in different scenes and figures. Artists concentrated upon acts of brutality and moods of passion. Architecture too was shaken out of the classic repose which had suited the sleepy opulence and security of Leo's reign. Instead, the design of buildings became contrary, harsh, even cruel. An element of defiance of and hostility to the past was to be detected in the new style, which we today call mannerist, of buildings by contemporaries like Giulio Romano and Michelangelo. These men had lived through and participated in events which seered their very souls.

Clement's first act on his election had been to set up a commission to investigate how funds were being spent on work on the new basilica and to ensure that henceforth they should be properly spent. He instituted the Congregazione della Fabbrica di San Pietro, which has taken charge of the fabric ever since. His second act was to appoint Peruzzi Architect in Chief of St Peter's. He made him devote much work upon embellishing the Chapel of the Sacrament, which was later demolished with the rest of the old basilica. Needless to say, Peruzzi's achievements as principal architect amounted to little during this reign. In the sack he only just got away with his life. He was captured trying to escape from the city; and suspected of being a high-ranking prelate because of his grave appearance. To prove his claim to be an artist, he was forced to draw the corpse of the Constable of Bourbon who had met his deserts in the fighting. The sketch was considered by his captors so convincing that he was spared.

Such was the resilience of Clement VII and so great his love of the arts that by the time of his death the effects of the Sack of Rome were at least superficially repaired. Owing to his particular patronage of jewelers, much of the treasure of the papacy was replaced. The Court of St Damasus, contiguous to the south-east corner of the Court of the Belvedere was begun. Only St Peter's remained in a state of suspension; and grass and weeds were now growing upon the crevices of Bramante's great piers and arches. There are records of what St Peter's then looked like. The very year of Clement's death, Marten van Heemskerk, a Flemish painter and engraver, on a three-year visit to Rome, began making a number of sketches of the constructions. They show the arched but still roofless crossing of the new basilica towering above the remains of the old, and dwarfing the adjacent Vatican Palace on the north. From now on, innumerable topographical artists, many of them foreigners, illustrated the consecutive phases of the rebuilding. Likewise, we begin to get eye-witnesses' accounts in writing. For instance, in 1535, the last year in which Heemskerk was sketching, one Johann Fichard, a lawyer from Frankfurt, was jotting down his detailed impressions of St Peter's and the Vatican.


Next Page - Top - Documents - Previous Page - - Page 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12