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

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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

We are now back at the crucial phase in the history of St Peter's when Pope Paul III entrusted to Michelangelo the immense responsibility of Chief Architect to the basilica. What were the architectural qualifications of the renowned sculptor and painter now in the twilight of his age? Vasari, who was Michelangelo's friend and earliest biographer, was not unduly exaggerating when he prefaced an account of his life with this high-flown paragraph: 'While the best and most industrious artists were … struggling to attain that high comprehension which many call intelligence, and were universally toiling, but for the most part in vain, the Ruler of Heaven was pleased to turn the eyes of his clemency towards earth … to send to the world a spirit endowed with universality of power in each art … one capable of showing by himself alone what is the perfection of art in the sketch, the outline, the shadows, or the lights, … nay, who was so highly accomplished in architecture also, that he was able to render our habitations secure and commodious, healthy and cheerful, well proportioned, and enriched with the varied ornaments of art.' In discounting Vasari's implication that his hero left behind him some domestic architecture, let us for the moment bear in mind that phrase relating to Michelangelo's 'perfection of art in sketch, the outline, the shadows [and] the lights.' Which applies as much to his architecture as to his painting and sculpture.

In actual fact the buildings of which this old man could boast were few indeed. The façade of S. Lorenzo church in Florence, which he designed, had come to nothing. The group on the Capitoline Hill in Rome was not to be finished until many years after his death. The Farnese Palace was chiefly Antonio da Sangallo's work, and only the upper storey his. His buildings wholly completed from beginning to end amounted to the New Sacristy and the Library of S. Lorenzo in Florence. They were all. An exiguous list perhaps, and the buildings not of monumental size. But in style they were revolutionary and extremely important as foreshadowing a new epoch in European architecture.

Michelangelo frequently denied that he was an architect. The denial was strictly true in the professional sense, and was not made in false modesty. On the other hand, as J.S. Ackerman has pointed out, in it lies the strength of our claim that he was one of the greatest architects of all time. The claim is not as paradoxical as it sounds. Michelangelo was first and foremost a sculptor, as he himself declared. Did he not say, 'with the milk of my nurse [who was the wife of a stonecutter] I sucked in the chisels and hammers wherewith I make my figures'? 'Endowed with universality of power in each art' though he was, he tried to resist Pope Julius's command that he should paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling and Pope Paul's that he should build the new St Peter's, because he considered himself neither painter nor architect, but sculptor. Sculpture was the art he believed to be most expressive of his genius. It was the lamp of painting and 'between them there is the same difference that there is between the sun and the moon'. Again, 'I say that painting is to be considered the better, the more it approaches relief', an opinion notably borne out in the essentially sculptural quality of his Sistine Chapel figures. He adopted exactly the same approach to architecture; therein lies the novel quality of his buildings.

Michelangelo's buildings were treated like sculpture, and this is now they are to be understood. He fist conceived them in his mind as - I cannot explain better than by quoting Mr Ackerman - 'organic forms capable of being molded and carved, of expressing movement, of forming symphonies of light, shadow and texture, like a statue'. This in a nutshell explains the originality of Michelangelo's architectural conceptions. They inaugurated a totally novel manner of building which persisted so long as the baroque style endured. They marked a basic departure from the renaissance manner, which was to resolve abstract geometrical problems. With Michelangelo architecture ceased to be a coldly mathematical and static science to be wrestled with on the drawing-board. It became a dynamic and dramatic force to be released from within the teeming imagination. The artist identified the physical functions of the human form with the structure he was assembling. This structure became a pullulating, sensuous thing from his hands. The material of Michelangelo's building surfaces was as responsive to his fingers as the marble representing the flesh of the model he might be sculpturing.

No wonder that the great sculptor's revolutionary methods met with the disapproval and resentment of specialist architects. These people were often genuinely shocked by his unorthodox and to them seemingly amateur methods. They were certainly jealous of his original genius. Even Vasari tacitly admitted that, whereas 'he composed a decoration of a richer and more varied character than had ever before been adopted', very different from what was in common use, yet he willfully deviated from 'what was considered measure, rule and order, by Vitruvius and the ancients, to whose rules he would not restrict himself'. Such snapping of the fingers at established authority was all very well for Michelangelo, Vasari opined, but when 'this boldness on his part' encouraged lesser artists 'to an injudicious imitation' it became deplorable. His imitators among the younger artists did more damage than his detractors. How comparable was his example to that of Picasso in our time! Both have led to ignorant travesties of the truth and a quality of second-rate and vulgar counterfeits.

In spite of having suffered injustices from Bramante, Michelangelo repeatedly gave tribute and praise to the older man's scheme for St Peter's. In a letter to Bartolomeo Ammannati in 1555 he wrote that Bramante had been as gifted an architect as any since the times of the ancients. His plan for St Peter's was concise, straightforward, luminous and beautiful. To Vasari he professed to carry on where Bramante had left off, while reiterating that he who first devised a great project ought in fairness to be respected as its true author. In consequence, he upbraided Bramante's successors who out of ignorance and arrogance sought to depart from it. Notwithstanding his pious profession to be returning to Bramante's design, he departed from it in several respects, notably in the shape of the dome and the abandonment of corner towers. Indeed, his rather ostentatious praise of Bramante largely disguised his contempt and dislike of Antonio da Sangallo and his lot. He never missed an opportunity of railing against the setta Sangallesca. The letter to Ammannati eulogizing Bramante contained a direct criticism of Sangallo. In departing from Bramante's project, Sangallo was departing from truth. 'The first thing that Sangallo's plan does,' he says, 'with that ring of chapels on the exterior, is to deprive Bramante's plan of all light; and that's not all, it had no light of its own. And its numerous hiding places, above and below, all dark, lend themselves to innumerable knaveries: such as provide shelter for bandits, for coining money, ravishing nuns, and other rascalities, so that in the evening, when the church is to be closed, it would take twenty-five men to seek out those who are hiding inside, and because of its peculiar construction, they would be hard to find.' This passage is certainly an illuminating commentary upon the day to day dangers of renaissance life, even inside St Peter's holy basilica. But, he goes on to complain, Sangallo's proposed far-reaching ambulatory, with its concatenation of little chapels and vestibule projecting from the northern side of the church would involve the destruction of the Pauline Chapel and possibly of the Sistine Chapel as well. Michelangelo's famous letter to Paul III of 1544 laying down the principles of correct architecture - a disingenuous letter, to say the least, considering how far his own work deviated from them - had likewise been a denunciation of their infringement by Sangallo in practically every particular.

Vasari in his life of Antonio takes up the theme where Michelangelo's published letters on the subject leave off. I have already referred in the last chapter to the biographer's objections, doubtless echoes he had repeatedly overheard from Michelangelo's lips, to Sangallo's model. In short, Michelangelo was genuinely offended by his predecessor's intention to limit the grand spatial effects which Bramante had conceived.

Paul III, who had approved Sangallo's model readily enough when it was presented to him, now heartily endorsed Michelangelo's rejection of it. The new Capomaestro, after attempting several models in clay, produced his first in wood towards the end of 1547. It was made within fifteen day. It is now lost. It was doubtless nothing like as detailed as Sangallo's which has survived. Michelangelo's basilica was to be of lesser dimensions. The space round the central dome was to be narrower; more light was to be allowed; and the destruction of salient parts of the Vatican Palace was to be avoided. The scheme would, he claimed, be cheaper than that envisaged by Sangallo.

The new zest which Michelangelo's appointment and his immense prestige had instilled into St Peter's workmen slackened on the death of Paul III in 1550. This gifted and determined pope had been not merely the architect's friend but active champion. His protection and help enabled him within three years to complete the south transeptal arm. His successor, Julius III, likewise treated Michelangelo with signal honour. He made the architect sit beside him in the presence of several standing cardinals. He heaped upon him liberal rewards. But the new pope did not readily make up his mind, and stick to a policy. He was inclined to listen to too many advisers and detractors of Michelangelo's schemes. The pope's confirmation of his predecessor's brief in Michelangelo's favour raised a storm of complaint among the Sangallo faction against what they described as the Capomaestro's despotism. Members of the Fabbrica di S. Pietro addressed a letter to Julius accusing the architect of secrecy and withholding from them his intentions. In particular, they objected that he was not going to admit enough light into the basilica - a silly objection considering that it was precisely what Michelangelo had leveled against Sangallo. It is true that Michelangelo seldom settled the design of an important feature until the very last moment, and would habitually alter his plans as he went along; yet he had always intended to put extra windows above those which already existed in the arms of the church. The pope, ever anxious to behave fairly, summoned members of the Fabbrica to hear Michelangelo justify himself. Cardinal Cervini damaged the Fabbrica's cause by reviling the architect in the most intemperate language. Michelangelo in a spirited reply completely demolished the cardinal. It was none of the Fabbrica's business, he told them, to question his intentions, but to procure money to enable him to carry them out. The designs for the building, which they were not competent to judge, were solely his affair. Then, turning to the pope, he said, 'Holy Father, if the labours I endure, do not benefit my soul, I am losing my time vainly over this work.' To which the pope, gently putting his hand on his shoulder, replied, 'You are gaining merit for both body and soul. Have no fear.' Whereupon he sanctioned everything Michelangelo had so far done, and strengthened his authority. On the other hand, the much needed funds were not forthcoming. Michelangelo feeling thoroughly frustrated threatened to leave Rome for Florence and was only prevented by Pope Paul IV, who again confirmed the privileges granted him by Paul III. Still money was withheld and building was accordingly halted. In May 1557 Michelangelo wrote to Vasari that if only the pace of things begun under Paul III had been maintained he would by now have been able to return to Florence. As it was, work 'is slowing down just as we are facing the most exhausting and difficult part'.

There is no doubt that Michelangelo's great age and infirmities were a cause of embarrassment to the Fabbrica. The Chief Architect went less and less often to St Peter's. In his last years he was obliged to direct affairs from his home through a not very efficient deputy. Numerous misunderstandings and some mistakes resulted. For example, the master builder miscalculated the measurements of the ceiling over one chapel, and a large section had to be taken down in consequence. 'If one could die of shame and suffering I should not be alive', Michelangelo remarked, when informed of the humiliating incident.

It is greatly to the credit of Pius IV, the last of many popes Michelangelo served, and incidentally a Medici, although unconnected with the Florentine dynasty, that he treated the old man with affection and tact. He was tenderly solicitous for his health, and sent him presents for his comfort and 200 gold scudi. Michelangelo the year before his death wanted Daniele da Volterra to act as his deputy. But the Sangallo faction recommended instead Nanni di Baccio Bigio whom the Fabbrica appointed Superintendent of the basilica. Bigio, an undistinguished sculptor, was a professed enemy of Michelangelo who was naturally greatly affronted and upset by this flagrant act of hostility. Pope Pius with much diplomacy dismissed Bigio and resolved the differences with the Fabbrica. Others envious of the Chief Architect's authority were not backward in trying to poison the pope's ear against him. Amongst them was Pirro Ligorio who with remarkable assiduity and expressions of concern pointed out that Michelangelo was in his dotage and positively endangering the church fabric. The pope, however, would not turn against his Capomaestro. To keep Ligorio quiet, he made him Palace Architect and commissioned him to build in the Vatican Gardens the enchanting little Casino Pio with its loggias, grottoes, fountains and incrustations of pagan relief.

This typical renaissance pleasance set among trees and enlivened with flowing water was designed for dalliance and tranquility. It was admirably expressive of its creator's talent for stage scenery and decoration. Ligorio was aristocratic in his tastes as well as birth, whimsical and fickle in temperament, steeped in pagan mythology and even a falsifier of ancient reliefs and inscriptions. In the words of Ackerman, 'For Ligorio antiquity was a storehouse of motives rather than a source of architectural principles.' In his capacity as Architect to the Vatican Palace Ligorio added the half-dome to the great exedra in the Court of the Pine-Cone and, as an afterthought, crowned it with the incongruous semi-circular loggia. He also covered the brick façade with stucco drafted to imitate masonry, which altered its entire character. Michelangelo's sole contribution to these changes was the double-ramped stairway, a replica of the one he put in front of the Senator's Palace in the Campidoglio. Ligorio then built the theatre recess at the southern end of the court, in front of which on festal occasions the pope and cardinals would sit on the open-air seats watching dramas, pageants and tournaments.

Michelangelo died on 18th February 1564 in his eighty-ninth year. His body was escorted from his studio near the Forum of Trajan to the church of the SS. Apostoli by a long procession of friends, admirers and all the artists of Rome, assembled to do him honour.

What stage had St Peter's church reached by the time of Michelangelo's death? The south transeptal arm with its apsed chapels and vaulting was complete inside, except for the decoration; on the exterior the entablature of the main order was reached, but the attic storey had not yet been put on. The north transeptal arm, begun later than the other was nearly complete, the vaulting of the apse only half done. The drum of the dome was almost finished. The foundations of the corner chapels on the north side of the basilica had been dug. The Pantheon-like portico, meant to be set directly against the eastern arm still remained merely a scheme on paper.

In assessing the achievement of Michelangelo, it is necessary to consider how much his hands had been tied at the outset of his task as Architect in Chief of St Peter's. Bramante's four great central piers, the determining factor of the dome and so in a sense of what the whole basilica would ultimately look like, could not of course be altered. The outer rings of Sangallo's transeptal arms were already in place, the southern one, it is true, reaching only just above ground level. Michelangelo was obliged to keep the inner rings. He largely rebuilt them, strengthened the piers of the two hemicycles and formed within them spiral staircases to enable panniered donkeys to carry material to the roof. The outer rings he lopped off entirely. In other words, while reducing the total volume, he was obliged to maintain the form of the interior which had been bequeathed to him. What he was able to do was to get rid of Sangallo's ambulatories and excrescences. In the hemicycles he substituted three chapels for five. He simplified the interior by reducing it from multiple components to an entity and in the process introduced a system of direct lighting by the addition of attic windows. Thus his service to the interior of St Peter's was to render it into a cohesive whole. Otherwise there are but few and superficial traces of his style inside because nearly all the decoration belongs to a subsequent period.

The exterior of the basilica as seen from the sides and especially from the rear is Michelangelo's main contribution to St Peter's, even more so than the dome, which is only his by implication. It is a pity that this great man's work can only properly be seen and understood from the Vatican Gardens to which the public now has no access. Here Michelangelo's genius was not restricted. The composition that he fashioned is really most peculiar. Since its size prevents the symmetry of the west end being taken in at one view, a jagged rhythm of geometrical forms is presented - a great semi-circle, diagonal, jutting angle, diagonal, and again semi-circle. The rhythm is of course calculated, but to the casual viewer does not at first appear so. It is made more difficult to appreciate by the extreme complication of pilasters and recessed strips, which are followed into the entablature in a seeming infinity of backward and forward breaks. The effect is uneven, staccato, and restless. Upon the intervening spaces Michelangelo crammed windows and niches. On the wider surfaces he put two great projecting tabernacles with pediments alternately pointed and curved, quite out of scale with the space provided. On the narrower surfaces between the coupled pilasters he packed three round-headed, slit-like openings. The lack of any relation between the levels of the tabernacles and slit openings is most irrational and disturbing.

Michelangelo deliberately departed from Bramante's horizontal design in his extraordinary emphasis upon a vertical effect. It is at once apparent that he meant to lead the eye up from the ground to the culminating dome. Bramante's emphasis was to have been the other way round. His great fat dome on a spreading podium would sit like a broody hen on a comfortable nesting-box. From the body of the church excrescent chapels would protrude here and there like baby chickens peeping under the mother's wing. Yet Michelangelo controlled his upward surge of writhing, thrusting walls by his horizontal attic, which binds these revolutionary forces tightly together with a gigantic belt, the entablature. Wolfflin, writing in the last century, saw in the tribune apse of St Peter's the beginnings of baroque flow, what he called 'the final calming of a violent upward surge'. But we, accustomed to a clearer differentiation between the renaissance and baroque styles find the deliberate disharmony of the surfaces an essentially mannerist expression of unease. To our way of thinking there is nothing rhythmical or flowing about St Peter's apse. No wonder that Milizia, writing at the height of eighteenth-century reposeful classicism, candidly disliked what he considered the ill-formed windows with unsightly pediments, the over-elaborate ornament and the top-heavy attic storey.

Almost stranger than the actual disharmony of Michelangelo's design of the exterior, which is so strongly apparent when one looks closely into it, is the apparent calm and majesty when one does not. Until one starts analyzing the ingredients, when the 'dichotomy within the surface filling', to quote Wolfflin again, shouts stridently and defiantly, the great perpendicular bulk merely serves its admirable purpose as foothills to the lofty dome. There is no instance in Western architecture of a building so flagrantly, so hideously discordant, achieving such a rousing success. It combines the astringency of Stravinsky's themes with the distortion of Picasso's figures, at once repellent and magnificent. Like them it is the offspring of an old man's disillusioned and expended genius.

In other words, what survives of Michelangelo's exterior of St Peter's (remember that the main façade has nothing to do with him) cannot be considered without the dome which it serves and upon which it is so dependent that, taken on its own, it is an unpalatable fragment. Michelangelo died before his final dome design was settled. This accounts for the attic of the basilica, constructed in 1557, having been left at the time of his death without a facing, in case of last minute changes in the dome design.

The idea of a grand cupola to surmount the Apostle's tomb was as old as the dawn of the Renaissance. It was first conceived by Rossellino to cover the crossing of his otherwise medievally planned church. Rossellino's choir, a constant embarrassment to his successors, even influenced the shapes of all the domes that were ultimately designed. Bramante's dome was intended to dominate the entire structure beneath and around it. It was to be a hemisphere stepped, on the model of the Pantheon dome, from a drum encircled with columns. Bramante expressed an ideal - it is illustrated in volume III of Serlio's Architettura - rather than a project. Because he had carried out a hemisphere so successfully on the tiny Tempietto of S. Pietro in Montorio, he would not necessarily have found it simple to execute on the vast scale of St Peter's. In any case he never got far enough to make the attempt. Antonio da Sangallo, faced with the immediate translation of ideal into project, was obliged to sacrifice aesthetics to technical design. He therefore presented in his model an ovoid profile over a drum composed of two storeys of arcade, the whole thing crowned by a huge Christmas-cake lantern.

Michelangelo at once rejected both Bramante's and Sangallo's conceptions. Boldly he determined to combine the aesthetic with the technical in his design. To bring about a satisfactory visual and stable effect, he increased the dimensions of the drum and brought it into far closer relationship with the rest of the building. In fact, he knitted the two together in such a way that they became interdependent and an inseparable entity.

In turning away from his predecessors' projects, Michelangelo did not immediately resolve one of his own. On the contrary, there are good reasons for supposing that at his death he was still undecided what precise form his dome should take, even though he had long ago settled the general pattern. As early as 1547 he was writing to Florence for measurements of Brunelleschi's octagonal dome over the cathedral there. He always greatly admired and was much influenced by it. He took from it the double-shell construction. For his first project he adopted Brunelleschi's raised profile, the ribs, the little eye-windows of the drum and the octagonal lantern. His sketches of the late fifteen-fifties show that he was still undecided whether to have a dome of raised profile with low lantern, or a hemispherical dome with high lantern. His choice of the second coincided with the model he was designing in 1559-60 for S. Giovanni de' Fiorentini. His final dome design for St Peter's - or rather, to be accurate, his last known design - was slightly more elevated than a hemisphere, whereas the inside shell was exactly hemispherical. Between 1558 and 1561 he made a wooden model, or half section of dome and drum, which survives. Although giving a good indication of what was in Michelangelo's mind during these latter years, it is a less reliable guide to the evolution of his creative processes than the series of undated sketches by his hand. The model too has been altered since his death by subsequent architects, Della Porta, Carlo Fontana and also Vanvitelli. Even so, its principal features (which have been carried out) were Michelangelo's conception. For he designed the buttresses to the drum in free-standing, coupled columns, linked by ribs lashing the swelling volume, like ropes across the envelope of a rising balloon. By this means action and reaction, form and weight were forcibly and tellingly suggested.

For five months after Michelangelo's death, Pope Pius IV (1559-65) could not bring himself to replace him. During that time he called for discussions among the Fabbrica how best to finish off the dome. He attended every meeting of the Fabbrica which eventually decided to enlist the opinion of the leading architects in Italy and abroad. Still the pope was too stricken by Michelangelo's loss to take any positive action. Finally, with a great effort, he pulled himself together. He nominated Pirro Ligorio Chief and Vignola Second Architect to St Peter's. The two men were given strict injunctions not to deviate in any respect from those of their predecessor's plans which had been accepted. Needless to say, on the election of Pius V in 1566 Ligorio, thinking to take advantage of the former shepherd from Piedmont, a Dominican monk of extreme sanctity and lack or worldly interests, dared to make the attempt. Much to his surprise, the saintly pope, who although no aesthete yet cherished great veneration of Michelangelo, dismissed Ligorio without a moment's hesitation.

Pius V (1566-72) was a typical pope of the Counter-Reformation, that is to say a pope in complete contras with his pleasure-loving renaissance predecessors. He established a new standard of papal morals that was long overdue. He was devout in his religion, and correspondingly strict in his discipline. Yet his outlook was depressingly narrow. In fact he did not seem to care for people enjoying themselves. He put a stop to the spectacles in the Court of the Pine-Cone. He instituted rigorous punishments for immoral conduct among his subjects, and frequently burnt alive those found guilty of sodomy. On the other hand, he tried but failed to stop bull-fighting, which he declared to be 'more suited to devils than men', a sentiment over which one cannot quarrel with him. He wanted to dispose of the collection of pagan sculpture in the Belvedere Court, but on being dissuaded merely stripped the walls of the reliefs and closed the court to the public. He did however present to the Roman Senate, whose gravity and years rendered them, he supposed, immune to irregular susceptibilities, the sculpture on the stairs leading to the Belvedere. He cleared the Villa Giulia of statuary and threatened to destroy the monuments of the ancients in the city because they had been raised by pagans. Popes, he said platitudinously, should rejoice not in their buildings, but in their virtues. In spite of these views, he carried out several building activities of a useful and religious nature. He erected the library across the great courtyard, thus cutting it in half - in order to destroy the open-air theatre as much as to encourage learning. He built the Torre Pia to contain three additional chapels; and he restored the Sistine Chapel ceiling which was in danger of collapse.

On the whole, this stickler for moral rectitude - the 'terrible' pope he was called in Rome - blissfully unaware of Michelangelo's emotional propensities, revered his memory. Having appointed Vigola Architect in Chief to St Peter's in Ligorio's place, he called upon Vasari to control him and prevent a further risk of deviation from the master's plans. Vasari, anxious at all costs to preserve his beloved friend's drawings for posterity, and wise to the traditional disfavour that overtakes the reputation of the greatest men soon after they are dead, carefully his them. Little in fact was done to St Peter's in the way of building throughout the reign of Pope Pius V, whose pressing concerns were an unrelieved struggle against the caesaro-papalism of Philip II of Spain, the issue of a bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth of England, the prosecution of a brutal campaign under Alba against the heretics of the Low Countries and, last but by no means least, the resistance of Muslim advances.

The new Architect in Chief had, before working under Ligorio, been assistant to Michelangelo at St Peter's from 1551 to 1555. He therefore knew the building intimately and, although disapproving of his superior's lack of orthodoxy where the rules of the orders were concerned, was nevertheless able, and obliged, to carry on the Michelangelo tradition.

Jacopo Barozzi, a native of Vignola in Emilia, was, after Michelangelo, the most important architect of the later Roman Renaissance. His Regole delli Cinque Ordini, in which he summarized a lifetime's evaluation of the Vitruvian doctrines, was the most influential textbook upon classical architecture to be written since ancient times. It fulfilled a need for recording the classical tradition of building during a period of dangerous architectural heresies. Clearly the author had Michelangelo in mind, for he went back to Bramante and Antonio da Sangallo for examples of pure classical forms in the contemporary idiom. Even so, he was highly selective, rejected whatever he deemed irrelevant motifs, and would not countenance the repetition of outworn formulas. Vignola was a sifter and amplifier of long established truths rather than a discoverer of new ideas. There was something a little colourless about his personality, which is often the case with professional men who entirely subordinate all private concerns to their livelihood. His own architecture could be dynamic - the Palace at Caprarola is indeed dramatic and forceful - without being strictly original. But Vignola's architectural achievements are scanty. Most of his buildings were either left unfinished, to be altered by successors, or were done with the cooperation of others. Even the Gesù church, which has made his memory famous, was given the façade by Della Porta. In the middle of the sixteenth century patrons were seldom able to employ a single architect for long. Instead they had to employ several at a time, or one after another. Ever since the Sack of Rome artists were constantly on the move, seeking commissions in provinces remote from their homes, turning their talents to whatever job was offered and seldom concentrating upon one from start to finish. The times were unsettled and remained for half a century out of joint. They were the sequel to fundamental religious disturbances and a series of wars in Italy.

Vignola too was a poor man of business. Unlike many of his less gifted contemporaries, he did not make a great deal of money. He was a perfectionist who had to design everything himself down to the last detail. He could not delegate work. Nor could he cooperate with partners. He was embarrassed with his subordinates, supercilious with his equals, proud and reserved with his superiors. He seldom spoke well of other architects and often picked quarrels with his clients. Lacking all graces and charm, he was suspicious of these qualities in other people. He was totally devoid of humour.

The interesting thing about Vignola is that he was about the first professional architect. In every sense he was professional. Unlike contemporary renaissance artists who were mostly versatile and ready to turn their hand to painting, sculpture or goldsmiths' work, Vignola was exclusively an architect. He had none of the attributes of the universal man. His designs were thought out with the painstaking thoroughness of the master-builder, which he was; and he insisted upon their being carried out in the same disciplined and meticulous spirit.

After his appointment as Deputy to Ligorio in 1564, Vignola was at first virtually, and after 1566 when Ligorio was dismissed, absolutely in charge of all works at St Peter's. He held the office of Architect in Chief until his own death in 1573. The period was not one of great activity owing to Pius V's preoccupation with crusades against infidels and heretics. Vignola spent the whole year of 1565 at St Peter's. Throughout the other years he was largely absent, and during the two last of his life he left affairs in the incompetent hands of his son Hyacinth. Vignola initiated few projects at the basilica, and we cannot help wondering whether he felt his position to be a false one. Did he resent the strict papal injunctions faithfully to follow Michelangelo's plans? Did he secretly sympathize with Ligorio's revolt against the Michelangelesque Mannerism? At least he had the tact and good sense not to say so. His labours were certainly confined to carrying on where Michelangelo had left off. He completed the drum of the dome above the entablature where the great garlands are now carved. He finished the attic of the north transeptal arm.

Vignola then left little mark at St Peter's. Mr John Coolidge has disposed of the long accepted claim that he was responsible for the two lesser domes which flank the great dome on its east side. These little cupolas, most beautiful in themselves but not prominent enough from a distance and practically invisible from the piazza, cover the Gregorian and Clementine chapels, which constitute the north-east and south-east angles of Michelangelo's plan. Mr Coolidge points out that the free-standing columns, in front of an unconventional form of bent pilaster against a pier, are contrary to Vignola's invariable treatment of continuous surfaces as single planes; but quite in accord with some of Della Porta's architecture. What Vignola probably did was to finish off the Cappella Gregoriana to Michelangelo's design and merely re-erect the inner dome which is below the roof level. The outside, visible cupolas of both chapels were completed by his successor.

Vignola was buried in the Pantheon close to Raphael. His coffin was accompanied by a concourse of Romans who with their quick intelligence recognized that, although he was not one of the great creative architects, he deserved, as the upholder of the pure classical tradition, their respect and their mourning.

The septuagenarian Boncompagni who succeeded as Gregory XIII in 1572 was a complete contrast to his saintly predecessor. He was not particularly devout. Montaigne remarked that during the pope's Mass in St Peter's Gregory and his cardinals gossiped together unconcernedly. The pope had a son, Giacomo Boncompagni, born it is true before the father became a priest, to whom he was devoted but whom he kept under control. Gregory made no pretence to understand art. Nevertheless, he was a man of learning and a great patron of the Vatican Library. He contributed generously towards the embellishment of the Gesù church, the Oratory church and the Collegio Romano. He built the Quirinal Palace. He installed fountains throughout the city, and made the Association of St Luke into an Academy of Art. He resolved to complete all the works begun by Pius V and for love of him to press forward with the building of St Peter's.

Gregory XIII reigned, rather surprisingly, for thirteen years, dying at the advanced age of eighty-three. He achieved a good deal of work at St Peter's, but like so many of his predecessors nothing like as much as he confidently set out to do. The first thing he turned his attention to was the dome. On the death of Vignola in 1573 this sensible pontiff appointed the Genoese, Giacomo Della Porta, Architect in Chief to the basilica. It was indeed granted to Della Porta to complete the dome but not to Pope Gregory to witness its completion. Instead, the pope saw the transept and the western arm of the basilica vaulted, the Cappella Gregoriana built and named after him, and its decoration put in hand. This chapel was the pope's pride and joy, on which he lavished funds and attention. Nearly every day he went to watch its progress. He transferred to the altar the remains of his namesake, S. Gregorio di Nanziano, from a tomb in S. Maria in Campo Marzo, much to the dismay of the Benedictines whose church it was. They were loath to part with the precious relics, but their remonstrances were in vain. Gregory XIII was obsessed by relics and attached great importance to the trappings of death. He ordered his own body to be buried in balsam and aromatic herbs, wearing full pontifical robes of ruby red and a golden mitre. He raised above the Gregorian altar four ancient columns of African marble and two of verde antique. The rich marbles and brilliant mosaics were considered by contemporaries the acme of expensive taste. Expensive the chapel certainly is, but taste is clearly wanting. With relief the eye dwells upon the touching little twelfth-century Madonna del Soccorso, painted upon a sawn-out segment of marble column from the old basilica and now incorporated among the lavish polychrome over the altar. Della Porta was wholly responsible for the decoration which was still being applied after Gregory's death. He then constructed the outside cupola, and that of the balancing Cappella Clementina on the south, to reflect the ovoid contours of the great dome, which he was about to alter from Michelangelo's hemispherical design.

The Dome and the Obelisk

The reign of Sixtus V (1585-90) witnessed a really spectacular advance in the building of the renaissance St Peter's. For nearly one hundred and fifty years a succession of popes, beginning with Nicholas V, had entertained magnificent schemes of leaving behind them a complete new church to the glory o the titular Apostle and, not a little, to their own. One by one these popes came, stayed a short while, and went. Many left no mark whatever on the fabric; several advanced it a trifle. Of no pope up to date can we say that he was solely responsible for raising as much as an aisle, a transept, a façade or a dome. And of all the basilica's features the great central dome cause most expectation and anxiety. It was looked upon as the most ambitious architectural venture of modern times. We have seen how since Rossellino's day a number of dome projects were put forward and discarded. Bramante and Antonio da Sangallo each evolved a highly individual dome. Michelangelo started afresh and produced one of his own on entirely different lines. Della Porta, after certain modifications, finally carried out Michelangelo's conception. That he was able to do so was owing to the dynamic determination of Pope Sixtus V.

Felice Peretti was an individual of immense stature. No other renaissance pope, apart from Julius II, matched him in will-power and energy. His spirit was indomitable before every conceivable misfortune and opposition. A Franciscan monk of humble of humble origin and poverty - of which circumstances he was very proud - he had suffered all his life from bad health, contracted in earliest youth when he was a swineherd in the savage passes of the Marche. During his election at the age of sixty-five, he was seriously ill, but by a supreme effort recovered. 'The papacy is the best medicine', a friend said to him at the time by way of encouragement. Sixtus was doubtless to agree that the prospect of his reign was a more potent prophylactic than the actuality. He suffered in the summers from the heat of Rome and in all seasons from acute insomnia, which his doctors vainly endeavoured to alleviate. A hopeless patient, he argued and expostulated, for he was one of those tiresome laymen who always know better than the experts.

Sixtus's reign lasted a mere five years. Yet his building activities within the short space allotted to him are almost incredible; and make one question whether he had planned them in anticipation of his election. His parents had always been convinced that in spite of his low station in life their son would one day wear the tiara; and it seems that he had never doubted it. On becoming pope, his first move was to restore the third-century water supply of the Emperor Severus, to be called after him the Acqua Felice. He repaired the aqueduct all the way from Palestrina to Rome, which covered twenty-two miles of artificial channel passing mostly overhead and sometimes by pipe underground. The source fed twenty-seven fountains in the city, thus bringing fresh solace to the inhabitants and fertility to the gardens. Sixtus's next move was to link the major basilicas together and the hills to the heart of the city with a network of straight streets, among them the Via Sistina and the Via Felice. He raised four obelisks at strategic junctions of these streets. He built the Sistine Loggia at St John's Lateran and the Cappella Sistina in S. Maria Maggiore; and made additions to the Quirinal, Lateran and Vatican palaces. At the last he finished the library begun by Pius V across the Court of the Pine-Cone, and formed the Court of St Damasus by extending the papal apartments in an easterly direction. He threw several bridges across the Tiber. It is true that he saved the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius by turning them into pedestals for statues to Saints Peter and Paul. But he had absolutely no respect for ancient monuments, many of which, including the three-storeyed Septizonium, he destroyed without compunction. Indeed, he boasted how, given time, he would 'clear away the ugly antiquities'. His vandalism was by no means moderated by his Chief Architect, Della Porta, who took terrible toll of medieval monuments in the old Basilica of St Peter.

In 1585 Pope Sixtus confirmed Della Porta in his post of Capomaestro of St Peter's. At the same time he appointed Domenico Fontana as his assistant. In both these architects he reposed the utmost confidence. This pope made no deliberate changes in Michelangelo's plans for St Peter's, leaving their execution entirely in the hands of his Chief Architect. He was merely determined to see the work carried through with the utmost speed, and above all the dome erected. He provided amble funds, took keen interest in the proceedings and was kept informed of their minutest particulars. As far as the architect and his assistants were concerned, he was a model patron. He was generous, enthusiastic and, what is unusual, not interfering. But he was a taskmaster. Work never went fast enough for him, and the older he got the more he chafed at delays and exhorted urgency. By 1589 relays of eight hundred labourers were kept busy day and night without respite. Sixtus's haste brought inevitable trouble upon his successors. Careless workmanship led to serious cracks in the St Veronica pier of the crossing. But the pope was blissfully unconcerned with the consequences of his impetuosity. With admiration and stupefaction the citizens of Rome, accustomed to their basilica's slow progress, watched the dome's development day by day. Their eyes could hardly credit the magical thing soaring into the blue skies. For we must remember that the only large domes in existence at this date were those of Hagia Sofia in Constantinople, the cathedral in Florence, and the Pantheon. To the majority of Romans only the last, comparatively low and saucer-like, was familiar. It is not surprising therefore that they were overcome with pride and emotion like the historian Procopius, who, seeing the dome of Hagia Sofia for the first time, exclaimed that so beautiful an object could not possibly be supported on piers raised by human hands, but must be suspended from heaven on an invisible golden string.

How far did Della Porta depart from Michelangelo's final design for the dome? Scholars are still arguing the point. Some claim that Della Porta's profile actually follows projected alterations made by Michelangelo at the time of his death. They suggest that, as Michelangelo constantly changed his mind at the eleventh hour, and at the end of his life was still pondering whether to have a hemispherical or elliptical dome, Della Porta, who was in most respects faithful to the great master's projects, would not have altered the dome's outline if he knew he was thereby departing from a final decision. Did he not pull down Rossellino's provisional choir, and in its place build the western head of the basilica in order to conform with the two transeptal arms, because Michelangelo had so designed it? Futhermore, they point out, some of Michelangelo's sketches exist to prove his experiment with a pointed form of dome. He may well then have reverted to this profile on his deathbed, a fact of which Della Porta would have been fully aware.

Against this argument there is Della Porta's admission to Pope Sixtus that he had not the courage to complete the dome projected by Michelangelo, whose ideas were conceived by intuition rather than technical experience. He, Della Porta, on the other hand, had made exhaustive scientific investigations, which precluded the advisability of a hemispherical dome. The thrust would be too great for its safety. Therefore, he proposed instead to make the dome ovoid. This protestation may have been disingenuous and merely an excuse for his arbitrary change of outline. Della Porta in fact returned more or less to the dome outline of Antonio da Sangallo's wooden model upon which Michelangelo had poured much ridicule. If he consciously adopted Sangallo's design, he kept the secret to himself. Most probably he decided - and I am sure he was right - that a raised outline would be more satisfactory aesthetically than a hemispherical one.

At all events Sixtus V invited Della Porta to prepare on paper a working drawing of his intended outline. It was spread out on the nave floor of St Paul's outside the Walls, which was the largest covered space available in Rome, and duly examined by the pope from the gallery above. Thus was Della Porta's raised profile for the dome approved. The architect made in addition a few changes of no insignificant sort. He altered Michelangelo's arrangement of openings in the second and third stages of the dome, substituting eye-windows surmounted by volutes, like those on the lowest stage, for angled and segmental heads. His change of dome profile necessitated the narrowing of the ribs and the projections at their base. He also added the lions' masks over the swags of the drum since they were the heraldic device of Pope Sixtus. Lastly, his most important change of all was the lowering of the lantern because of the heightening of the dome. Michelangelo had always been greatly concerned over the relationship of the two and, until the end of his life, found it difficult to decide 'which should play the chief role in accentuating the aspiring forces'.

In 1569 Stefano du Perac published engravings of the exterior and a section of the future St Peter's which he claimed to be Michelangelo's final solution. This was three years after the architect's death and long before Della Porta's alterations to the dome. The dome in du Perac's engravings differs considerably from Michelangelo's wooden model, which is thought to have been altered by Della Porta and others after the actual dome was built. Du Perac's section agrees, however, with the model in showing that the inner shell was always meant to be hemispherical. Della Porta did not change the inner shell which is today just as Michelangelo designed it. The outer shell in du Perac's engraving is on the other hand only slightly ovoid, the degree being measurable by the space between the inner and outer shells widening as it reaches the summit. Michelangelo expressly intended the divergent space to make ascent to the lantern comfortable and maintenance of the dome easy; also to avoid dampness percolating through the decorated inner shell.

Della Porta made the actual outer shell far more ovoid than it appears in du Perac's engraving. However he kept intact Michelangelo's drum, only making a few minor changes to it. Michelangelo provided paired columns to act as buttresses to counter the mightly thrust of his hemispherical dome. When the thrust was largely removed by the dome of more vertical dimensions, these buttresses accordingly had little part to play. They are now practically inactive; and they seem merely to compress the drum. Moreover, the feeling of unease is intensified by the omission of the statues designed by Michelangelo (and illustrated by du Perac) to stand upon the buttresses. Luigi Vanvitelli and Antonio Corradini in the eighteenth century both deplored this omission. The former advocated linking the dome ribs to the drum columns with great scroll supports in order to stabilize the ponderous mass. The latter, in 1743, suggested putting figures of prophets where Michelangelo meant statues to stand, in order to provide extra weight and emphasis for the buttresses. But neither of these proposals was adopted. Both however were carried out on the model.

Although Della Porta was constrained to lower the lantern because he raised the dome, he nevertheless made its pyramid higher than Michelangelo intended. This was doubtless because of his introduction of a row of vase-shaped finals, or candles set round the base of the pyramid, which if kept low would have been totally submerged by them. Michelangelo never meant to crown his lantern with candles, as du Perac's engravings prove. He wished it to resemble the lantern he put over the Medici chapel in Florence in 1521 - namely, a lid with a fairly squat knob linked to an order of columns only by scrolls. Both the heightened pyramid and the candles were also added by Della Porta to Michelangelo's wooden model, presumably before building, so as to show the Fabbrica what the finished structure would look like.

The history of St Peter's dome is one matter, the appearance is another. The memory of Michelangelo has always been held so sacrosanct that the shape of the actual dome was for centuries ascribed to him exclusively. It was thought sacrilege to call something so beautiful anyone else's creation. Then, after it became established that the shape was not entirely his, learned scholars took to criticizing it. If only, they complained, Della Porta had never come upon the scene and had left well alone; then we should have had the master's hemisphere to admire. I, for one, rejoice that Della Porta made the dome's outline as it is, whatever his reasons, technical or aesthetic. I believe that there is only one dome in existence of more satisfying form than St Peter's, and that is St Paul's in London, which came after it. This opinion does not prevent me from regretting certain omissions and minor malformations, for which Della Porta must be held responsible. I think it a pity that he did not allow the statues to stand upon the entablature of the drum peristyle. I think he did not improve the slender lantern by introducing the circlet of candles. In spite or raising the pyramid, he detracted from its elegance by these fussy little spikes which, by veiling the base, made the whole lantern seem to wide and heavy.

It is a truism to point out that St Peter's dome can be appreciated only from a distance whence the angle of vision is not distorted by upward tilting. Excellent views are still obtainable from well-known vantage points on the seven hills, where the viewer is more or less on a level with the dome. From the Pincio in the morning, or the Janiculum in the evening when the rising or setting sun is behind you, not only can St Peter's be taken in but the whole constellation of lesser domes which like satellites have evolved from and now revolve round it. In contemplating this sun of domes, you may judge how successful are the moons which are dwarfed by its bulk and made pale by its radiant splendour. There is the Gesu dome, a squat lid like a skullcap; the S. Giovanni dei Florentini dome, octagonal and too attenuated, like a balloon in process of deflation; the S. Agnese in Agone dome, also raised but its verticality moderated by a pair of minaret-like towers; the dome of S. Carlo al Corso less ovoid than the two last; and that of S. Andrea della Valle, perhaps the most successful so far listed, and as regards outline a deliberate adaptation by Carlo Maderno of that of St Peter's. Still lesser domes can be spotted, dwarfed by high palaces and partly obscured by church facades according to the viewpoint. There are those of S. Carlo ai Catinari, of S. Maria de Loreto and SS. Nome di Maria, of the twin churches of S. Maria dei Miracoli and S. Maria in Montesanto, a seeming infinity of Roman domes, all creations of the baroque age, derived from and inspired by the overwhelming parent dome, St Peter's. That miracle of engineering and architecture could, it was agreed by Michelangelo's successors, never be excelled in grandeur or beauty. Nevertheless, a constellation of minor domes was deemed not to detract from, but rather to enhance its aloof majesty, as well as to do honour to the greatest artist of modern times, the man who conceived even if he did not live to give ultimate shape to the posthumous offspring of his stupendous invention.


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