Bernini at St. Peter's
by Irving Lavin, 2005

From the book "St. Peter's in the Vatican," edited by William Tronzo, Cambridge University Press 2005
This text is in copyright. No reproduction of any part may take place without
written permission of Cambridge University Press.

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"FEED MY SHEEP" (1633-46)



The Plague
List of Angels on Ponte Sant'Angelo







Singularis in Singulis, in Omnibus Unicus

Irving Lavin

(Figs 200, 201, 202)

On 8 April, the day following his election to the papal throne, it was reported that Alexander VII had given an urgent order to Bernini to have made a lead casket in which he would be buried; the coffin was to be brought to his room as a memento mori, a reminder of death. On 10 April the pope was said to have ordered a skull of marble, so that he might continuously mediate on the brevity of life.122 Alexander's profound and humble devotion to the Sacrament was displayed in his unprecedented conduct of the Corpus Domini procession on 27 May. And his order to Bernini to prepare a design for his tomb was reported on 28 August. All these actions not only reflected important aspects of the pope's character, they also sounded the keynote of his reign. Bernini's response to the personal impulse of what might be called Alexander's eschatological modus vivendi emerged ultimately in the tomb that was executed long after the pope's death. The situation chosen might seem to have been eminently inhospitable: a niche in the outer wall of the south aisle of the choir, containing the opening of a narrow service passageway for the basilica. The composition of the tomb takes up the theme of papal continuity in the nave by epitomizing the major commemorative types developed for Alexander's predecessors. The pyramidal form with the raised effigy flanked by pairs of allegories echoes the apsidal monuments of Paul III and Urban VIII, as does the inclusion of a skeletal allegory of death. As in the Urban VIII tomb, the allegories "participate," actively or passively, so as to animate rather than merely symbolize the concepts they represent. Harking back in part to the original form of the Paul III monument, the design suggests a freestanding tomb accompanied by four allegories of virtues, in this case Charity, Justice, Prudence, Truth. Finally, the deceased is shown kneeling in an attitude of prayer, following the late sixteenth-century tombs of Pius V and Sixtus V in S. Maria Maggiore, where the popes kneel in perpetual adoration toward the Eucharistic tabernacle at the altar in the center of their funerary chapel (see Fig 120).

By virtue of synthesizing these elements of continuity, the work is kind of summa of papal tomb types: a "freestanding" monument with four "activated" allegories, surmounted by a kneeling effigy.123 However, Alexander's tomb also comprises variations and innovations such that it becomes, as never before, a vehicle of concerted expressive power: the choice and treatment of the allegories, the great shroud enveloping the door at the rear of the niche, the figure of death emerging from beneath it wielding his hourglass, the pope's act of humble, intense devotion. The tomb is imbued with a sense of urgency that transforms the sepulchral monument from a record of passive commemoration to an expression of active protagonism. We have seen in considering the tombs of Paul III and Urban VIII that Charity, Justice and Prudence were normal, and Charity and Justice together especially important, themes of papal ideology. Truth, however, was without precedent in this context. A clue to the significance of the choice of allegories may be traced to the very beginning of Alexander's papacy. In keeping with tradition, the pope had celebrated his election in 1655 by issuing a medal intended to define the guiding principle of his reign. The reverse (Fig 203) shows Justice and Peace embracing one another, while the inscription - IVSTITIA ET PAX / OSCVLATAE SUNT - quotes a phrase from a famous passage in Psalms 85: 10-11, attesting faith in God's goodness: "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven" ("Misericordia et veritas obviaverunt sibi, iustitia et pax osculatae sunt. Veritas de terr orta est, et iustitia de caelo prospexit"). Alexander's interest in the passage is subsequently recorded in an entry in his diary dated 26 January 1660, noting a visit from Bernini, in which it is cited (substituting, significantly if inadvertently, "modesty" for "mercy"), evidently with the tomb program in mind. Charity and Justice are proper virtues, the former theological, the latter moral, whereas Peace and Truth are rather the fruits of virtue, and Truth alone was never part of the traditional repertory of funerary allegory. The theme of Charity and Justice was retained on Alexander's tomb, while another cardinal virtue, Prudence, was substituted for Peace. But Truth was also retained, and given pride of place with Charity in the forefront of the monument. This anomalous juxtaposition is a key to understanding the work. (Note: the draperies covering the body of Truth and the bosom of Charity are later additions.)

The unexampled pairing of the greatest of the theological virtues, Charity, with what Bernini in his testament called the most beautiful virtue, Truth, is based on a particular interpretation of the imagery of the virtues in the Eighty-fifth Psalm.124 The passage entails two distinct aspect of truth: one (Ps. 85:10) focused on the quality itself as one of the special attributes of man before the Fall, which came to be known in allegorical tradition as the Four Daughters of God; the other aspect (Ps. 85:11) concerns truth alone as a cognitive, quasi-eschatological ideal, whose ultimate triumph the psalm declares as the promise of redemption that will emerge over the course of time.125 Bernini had illustrated Truth before, in both aspects. She is one of the Four Daughters of God in a catafalque he designed for the death of Pope Paul V, and in a funerary chapel in S. Isidoro, where the four allegories - conjoined in pairs by drapery swathes that also anticipate the tomb - were assigned to two deceased couples of the family (Fig 204). (Note: In the S. Isidoro tomb the figures of Mercy pressing milk from her breast, at the left, and Truth emerging from the shroud, at the right, were originally nude.) The promissory aspect of Truth was the subject of an independent monumental marble group, intended by the artist as a personal vindication of the calumnies of his enemies, showing Father Time revealing Truth and raising her from the earth to heaven by lifting her drapery (Fig 205). On the Alexander tomb, Bernini combines both aspects of Truth, as a quality inherent from the beginning in God's plan for the salvation of mankind, and as a witness to salvation.

As in the tomb of Urban VIII, the attributes are not those of the pope individually, whose fleeting occupancy of the office is now evinced by the huge pair of wings that carry the coat of arms at the apex of the niche (Fig 202), but of the papacy and the Church as institutions. Inspired by the pope's profound devotion, Charity rushes to offer up the fulsome charge reclining at her breast, while Truth, in a demure, expectant attitude, grasps the radiant sun, her exclusive charge, possessively to her bosom (Fig 201). The emblematic nature of the allegory of Charity as a prelapsarian virtue is evident from the fact that, contrary to all tradition, here she has only one offspring. The single recipient of Charity's nurture may refer to the idea of a single, universal hospice for the poor in Rome to be housed in the papal palace of the Lateran, first bruited under Alexander VII and ultimately carried out by his successors, with Bernini's involvement. The sleeping infant's pose almost exactly duplicates that of his counterpart on the tomb of Urban VIII, again recalling the dead Christ held by his mother in depictions of the Pieta.126 But here the isolated, unselfconscious, sleeping soul is also a kind of synecdoche for humanity, and can only refer to Adam in his original state of innocence. The original, unique, and quintessential act of charity was that of God in offering the sacrifice of his only son, the New Adam, in redemption for the sins of the Old Adam. The complementary, suprapersonal significance of Truth is apparent from the "geography" of the sphere of earth on which Truth's left foot rests: Italy with Rome at the center faces the spectator, while England, the unredeemed province of the Protestant heresy, remains downtrodden and benighted.127 The unprecedented combination and prominence of Charity and Truth, and the high drama they enact, serve a coherent purpose: together they express the global reach of the Church's promise of redemption to those who follow the pope's example; perdition to those who do not.

The Eighty-fifth Psalm had a particularly important role in the liturgy, in the devotions that celebrate both the Birth of Christ and the special commemorations of All Souls (2 November) on behalf of the individual, all the faithful, and the pope. In the latter case, the recitation ends, significantly, with the refrain, requiem eternam, eternal rest.128 The relevance of the psalm in those contexts is related to the most famous and influential of all interpretations of lines 10-11, that of the great Cistercian mystic Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, whose reading was determinant for the Four Daughters of God as a moral allegory. As interpreted by Bernard, the passage in Psalm 85 had long been understood as announcing the promise of salvation to those who died a "good death" in keeping with the teachings of the Church. And whether directly or indirectly, this reading determined the conceptual framework of the tomb. Bernard takes the passage as the theme of his sermon on the Feast of the Annunciation: "That glory may dwell in our land, Mercy and truth " The passage becomes a sort of allegorical mystery play celebrating the incarnation. The virtues, originally Adam's handmaidens, after the Fall become disputants over his fate, to be reconciled only by Christ's birth and sacrifice. The virtues represent the glory that inhabits the earth with the truth of Christ's salvation of those who love him. What makes Bernard's explication important here is that he relates this theme specifically to the redemptive power of truth to overcome death itself, and the terms in which he does so make a perfect commentary on the vision of Alexander's tomb.

The one [Truth] says: "I am undone if Adam does not die"; Therefore, let him die a blissful death and each will have her desire." "But how shall this be done?" (Luke 1:34) they asked. "Death is most cruel and bitter, death is terrible: its very name is enough to inspire one with horror. How then can there be such a thing as a blissful death?" To which the Judge replied: "It is indeed true that 'the death of the wicked is very evil' (Psalm 33:22), but 'the death of the saints' can become 'precious in the sight of the Lord' (Psalm 115:6). Will death not appear precious if it becomes the portal of life, the gate of glory?"129

Bernard's reference to the portal of death that becomes the portal of life must have made the niche that contained a door at St Peter's seen providential to Bernini: it coincided with what he considered to be the chief virtue of the architect, not to make beautiful and commodious buildings, but to make such use of a defect that if it did not exist one would have to create it.130 The door to the underworld was a motif virtually endemic in Western funerary art: Roman sarcophagi often included scenes of Hermes Psychopompos, with a winged helmet and carrying his caduceus, exiting through the half-open door to the underworld, or leading by the hand a figure of the deceased from behind and beneath a curtain within (Figs 206, 207).131 Hermes in this case is the messenger who announces mortality, as does Bernini's skeletal personification of death, whose great shoulder wings and hourglass replace Hermes's winged helmet and caduceus. Bernini melded this classical motif of Hermes passing through the door to the underworld, with the representation on the tomb of Erard de la Marck of the skeleton emerging from the coffin with an hourglass (Fig 141), portrayed on the tomb of Urban VIII as the recording winged Angel of Death. Through this merging of motifs, Alexander's tomb becomes a literal enactment of Death's passage beneath the veil dividing this world from the next.

Drapery had a dual history in a mortuary context. In funeral ceremonies, which in the case of important personages might take place before the high altar of the church, the coffin of the deceased was often covered with a shroud expressive of respect and mourning.132 Drapery also served as a cloth of honor on which an image of the deceased was carried aloft in a "miraculous" act of apotheosis (see Fig 196).133 The drapery curtain also played an important role in the seventeenth-century theater, where Bernini was an impassioned and innovative participant: it formed the transitory boundary between the domains of reality and the imagination.134 The stage curtain did not at that period open and close in two parts, but rather was a single cloth that fell at the beginning and rose at the end of the performance. Bernini was acutely aware of the dramatic function, and indeed the metaphysical significance, of the curtain, as the plot of his comedy of Two Theaters amply demonstrates. When the curtain fell, the audience confronted with a fictive realm of an altogether unexpected nature, at once nontheatrical and hypertheatrical: a duplicate audience in a duplicate theater, watching the beginning of a duplicate performance. For Bernini, evidently, the curtain did not reveal a one-way but a two-way opening, like the looking glass of Alice in Wonderland; he used a great swath of drapery in exactly this way to frame the passage between two important ceremonial rooms in the Vatican palace, at the behest of Alexander at the very time he was planning the tomb (Fig 208).

Bernini's conception of Alexander VII's tomb as a dramatic demonstration of the power of faith to overcome death recalls the de la Marck tomb in another sense. Here, on an architectural platform with niches containing figures of the theological and cardinal virtues, Erard kneels in prayer before his own sarcophagus, as if in response to the skeletal figure of Death, but turns his head toward the high altar, where Bernini had built the Eucharist into the very fabric of the design. It might be said that the Corpus Domini procession, at which Alexander provided an example of humble devotion by kneeling motionless and constantly in prayer before the Host, comes full circle at his tomb, where also the allegories seem to illustrate the exhortation to love in spirit and in truth inscribed on the pope's anniversary medal: "Prodicamus et adoremus in spiritu et veritate" (Fig 170).

In sum, the strife between Mercy and Truth over the sin of Adam was resolved only by the truth of Christ's supreme act of charity. Bernard's explication provided the four main constituents of the tomb's message: the allegories from the Eighty-fifth Psalm, the theme of death, the door of death, and the sacramental sacrifice of Christ, with Alexander VII portrayed in the act of Eucharistic devotion. Alexander's prayerful attitude here was the culmination and perpetual repetition of his innovation in the Corpus Domini procession.135 The tomb thus complemented the main theme of the program for the basilica, including the colonnades and the Cathedra, which became a monumental equivalent to the splendore of the Eucharistic monstrance the pope adored during the ritual. Visually, the monument is a "decompression" of that of Paul III, eliding the transition from a relief to a freestanding form - exactly what Bernini achieved in the Cathedra Petri. This special kind of illusionism, "optical refinement" might be a better term, also underlies the image of St Peter's square, in which the arms reach forth from the church to envelop the spectator. Considered in this way, the illusion of the tomb also involves the spectator, now in a "living" memento mori that includes the menacing skeleton and the "door of death." The monument seems to emerge from the recess of the niche as Death seems to escape from the underworld. The pope, the door, and the skeleton confront the spectator, toward whom Death gestures just as menacingly as toward the pope. Comprising the door within the shroud effectively penetrates the invisible separation between fiction and reality.136 Just as the colonnade in front of the church reaches outward to embrace the worshiper, so the tomb, with the example of Alexander VIII, guarantees in all its amplitude the mercy and truth of faith.




Saint Michael and the City
Bernini's career at St Peter's was lifelong effort to convert the church and the Vatican into a vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem to which every believer aspires. The final work of this celestial urbanism focused on the bridge that led across the Tiber from the center of Rome to the Holy City. The project consisted of clearing and reorganizing the areas at either end of the bridge, which was lengthened and refurbished with ten statues, five on either side, representing angels carrying the instruments of the Passion; the statues rest on pedestals placed at regular intervals in open, grilled balustrades that originally extended some distance on both sides along the river banks (see Fig 235). Although evidently planned earlier, the work was begun soon after the election of Clement IX (June 1667) and completed in 1671 under Clement X.137

The Pons Aelius had been built in the second century A. D. by the emperor Hadrian, Publius Aelius Hadrianus, to give access from the city to the immense tomb that commemorated his power and that of the world domain he had ruled. In the course of the Middle Ages the area across the Tiber became the Holy City centered on the tomb of the apostles, the basilica of St Peter's, and the Vatican, to which Hadrian's bridge and tomb became the monumental entranceway (Fig 209). As the hegemony of the papacy was established, and challenged from many quarters, Hadrian's monuments had also taken on the aspect and function of a fortified bastion behind a moat crossed by a guarded bridge.

The transformation is implicit in the origin and meaning of the name applied to the bridge and the tomb in the Middle Ages, Ponte and Castel Sant'Angelo (Fig 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215). This Christian reconceptualization of the site drew upon two distinct but convergent traditions involving the dual role of the Archangel Michael as patron saint of the city of Rome and Defender of the Church. The most obvious, literally, is the tradition that virtually identified Michael with Rome, celebrated by the towering figure of the saint that had replaced the bronze image of the emperor Hadrian atop his mausoleum after it was converted into the stronghold of the papacy. This substitution of angelic for imperial military rule was accomplished by a famous salvific apparition of the archangel to Pope Gregory the Great in 590. The story is told twice in the Golden Legend. On the feast of Saint Gregory, 12 March:

The plague continued to rage, and the pope ordained that on Easter Day a procession should march around the city, bearing the picture of the Blessed Virgin which is in the possession of the church of Saint Mary Major. This picture, according to the common opinion, was painted by Saint Luke, who was as skilled in the art of painting as he was in medicine. And all at once the sacred image cleansed the air of infection, as if the pestilence could not withstand its presence; wherever it passed, the air became pure and refreshing. And it is told that the voices of angels were heard around the picture, singing:
Regina coeli laetare, alleluja,
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluja
Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluja!

which means: "Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia! For He Whom thou wert worthy to bear, alleluia! Hath risen as He said, alleluia!" To this Saint Gregory promptly responded: "Ora pro nobis Deum rogamus, alleluja."- "Pray for us, we beg, alleluia!" Then, above the fortress of [Pope] Crescentius, he saw a mighty angel wiping a bloody sword and putting it back into its sheath. From this he understood that the plague was at an end, as indeed it was. And thenceforth this fortress was called the Fortress of the Holy Angel.

And on the feast of Saint Michael, 29 September:

When Gregory had instituted the Greater Litany, and was praying devoutly that the people of Rome might be delivered of the plague, he saw an angel of the Lord standing upon the castle which was once called the Tomb of Hadrian; the angel was drying a bloody sword, and putting it up into its sheath. From this sign Gregory understood that his prayers were heard, and erected a church at that same place in honor of the angel, whence the Castle has since been called the Fortress of the Holy Angel. This apparition is commemorated on 8 May.138

The conception of the plague as divine retribution, and specifically the theme of the plague angel wielding then scabbarding his sword, was appropriated from the Old Testament account of the retribution and forgiveness of David for his prideful act of numbering his people against the wishes of the Lord (1 Paralip. 21, Douay):

16 And David lifting up his eyes, saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand, turned against Jerusalem.

27 And the Lord commanded the angel: and he put up his sword again into the sheath.

This Old Testament prototype of crime, punishment, and reconciliation was central to the Roman Church's understanding of its role in the entire process of salvation. To commemorate the miracle and the penitential procession by which the city celebrated it, Nicholas III (1277-80) erected a great marble sculpture of Michael atop the castle.139 Seen high against the sky, the figure seemed to reenact the heavenly apparition of the angel with his sword in its scabbard, signaling the cessation of God's just ire at man's sins, as the apocalyptic rage of the plague was interpreted. The statue was succeeded by several replacements, including a figure with copper wings and sword commissioned by Nicholas V in 1453,140 and a "gilded statue of the angel holding a sword outside the scabbard," destroyed by an exploding powder keg in 1497.141 Over the centuries the awesome image of the armored and winged protector looming watchfully from atop the fortress came to embody the very identity of the city.

Gregory's vision was often included in depictions of the life of the saint and the deeds of the archangel (Figs 216, 228).142 Saint Michael's miraculous "conquest" of the plague at the intervention of the pope, and their mutual dominion over the Castello and the bridge, came to symbolize the Church's dominion over the Vatican and Rome itself. Giulio Romano illustrated this very point in the early 1520s in his portrayal of another, earlier visionary intervention on behalf of the Church, when Constantine saw an image of the Cross in the sky on the eve of his victory over Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, which assured the establishment of the Church and the Christian empire (Fig 217).143 In the fresco, in the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican Palace, the triumphant inscription that appeared along with the Cross is placed directly over the bridge and the Mausoleum, shown surmounted by a statue holding a spear. The bridge is clearly copied from a bronze medal of Hadrian (Fig 218), where it rests on seven arches, the four central piers of which were surmounted by tall columns carrying sculptures, doubtless conceived as Victories or trophies of arms and armor captured in war. The scene recaptures the original function of both monuments in antiquity as the triumphal approach to and commemoration of the divinized emperor; the "archaeologically" correct portrayal serves to celebrate both the Church's victory over the pagan empire and the individual Christian's victory over death.

Siege, Triumph, and Retribution
A further angelic intervention occurred shortly after the Constantine cycle was completed under Clement VII, when the ethos of the Sant'Angelo monuments was radically altered by one of the most disastrous and perilous events in the entire history of the Church. In 1527 Rome was sacked by the latter-day scourge of the troops of the emperor Charles V, and the pope was besieged in the Castel Sant'Angelo.144 Clement managed to escape during the night of 6-7 December 1527 and flee to Orvieto. The bridge leading to and the piazza in front of the fortress were major focal points of the siege, and this ignominious defeat gave a new level of meaning to the relationship between the Vatican, the city of Rome, and the world at large. Clement regarded this tragic event, and his own "miraculous" salvation, as a providential liberation of the Church from the predations of secular power. The pope considered his escape a reiteration of what might be described as the original instance of angelic intervention on behalf of Christianity, that is, the liberation of Saint Peter from the Mamertine prison, which permitted Christ's first vicar to fulfill his mission of establishing the Church in Rome. The most familiar illustration of the liberation of Saint Peter was that by Raphael in the Stanza d'Eliodoro in the Vatican, where, behind the prison bars, the angel is shown breaking Peter's chains and leading him out of the darkness (Fig 219). Clement's reference to this apostolic event in relation to his own liberation was made explicit in a medal attributed to Benvenuto Cellini in which the two episodes are melded into one image (Fig 220); the medal was issued in two versions with different inscriptions, one referring to the pope himself, Misit D(ominus) Ang(elum) suum et liberavit me, the other to the city of Rome, Misit Dominus angelum suum. Roma.145 The deliverance from pestilence was in fact twofold. The plague had also taken hold during the siege, and there was danger from this quarter as well as from the mercenary Lutheran landsknechts who made up the bulk of the imperial forces.146 The great trauma thus also echoed the original Gregorian episode that occasioned the baptizing of Hadrian's tomb as the Castel "Sant'Angelo."

After returning to Rome in October 1528, Clement VII embarked on an aggressive campaign of commissioning images aimed at restoring the moral and by implication the temporal authority of the church. The entrance to the Holy City was to be given new importance with a project designed around 1530 by Baccio Bandinelli - a huge bronze group representing Michael defeating the seven deadly sins, to be installed on the parapet of the military tower that had been placed in front of the Castello for added protection.147 According to Vasari, Clement commissioned the sculpture in fulfillment of a vow, evidently to commemorate the intervention of the Almighty on behalf of the Church, and as a warning to its future enemies. A sketch by Bandinelli shows that, in this new context, the Archangel who earlier replaced his weapon in its scabbard in a particular act of benevolence was transformed into the prototypical champion of Christian virtue (Fig 221). The project, never carried out, was evidently related to a plan, also never carried out, for Michelangelo to paint the same subject on the entrance wall to the Sistine Chapel as the prelapsarian counterpart to the Last Judgment that he would depict on the altar wall. Facing each other at opposite ends of the Old and New Testament histories on the flanking walls, the two apocalyptic visions would have engulfed the visitor in the universal embrace of church doctrine. There is good reason to suppose that an awesomely incandescent altarpiece in Siena painted circa 1526-30 by Domenico Beccafumi and showing Michael defeating the rebellious angels (Fig 222), which has much in common with Michelangelo's Last Judgment, is related to these unexecuted schemes.

Bandinelli's project would have given monumental form to the retributive association that had long been implicit in the relationship between the Archangel and the Castello. In his effort to reassert the power of the Church, Clement VII introduced this association explicitly in another way, extending its reach beyond the river to the city itself. He removed the decrepit structures from the area leading to the bridge and in 1534 had its entrance flanked by monumental statues of Peter with his keys and Paul with his sword, the principal apostles in the foundation of the Church, who are both commemorated in St Peter's (Fig 223). The saints had a particular significance in this context, however, to which voice was given in the inscriptions placed on the statue's pedestals: for Peter, as exemplum of humility and penitence, "here forgiveness to the humble" (hinc humilibus venia); for Paul, soldier in the battle for the faith, whom Augustine called a "true warrior for Christ," "here punishment to the prideful" (hinc retribution superbis).148 Conceived in this way, the two apostles were surely meant to be seen in relation to the Archangel above. Taken together, the figures inevitably recall their traditional place in depictions of the Last Judgment. For the first time since antiquity, the bridge and the mausoleum were now linked as interdependent parts of a coherent whole, a monumental memento mori.

The quasi-antiquarian Christian theme implicit in the background of Giulio Romano's Constantine fresco was given an explicitly modern, political formulation by Clement VII's successor. As an act of reconciliation with Charles V, Paul III revived one of the glorious traditions of the ancient Romans. In 1536, following the emperor's victory over the Turks at Tunis, Charles was given a triumphal entry into Rome to be received by the pope. To celebrate his passage to St Peter's and the Vatican, the bridge's parapets were provided temporarily with a new set of eight sculptures, presumably in recollection and emulation of the Victories or trophies shown on the Hadrianic medal (Fig 224; see Fig 218).149 On the west side, behind the statue of St Peter, who administers the New Law, were the four evangelists; on the east, behind St Paul, apostle to the Hebrews, were the four Old Testament patriarchs Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. In recalling and emulating the ancient parapet sculptures, both the choice and the disposition of the new figures endowed the bridge with a distinct and consistent liturgical dynamic. The arrangement was complementary bilaterally, with St Peter and the evangelists on the dexter side, St Paul and their Old Testament counterparts on the sinister; and the disposition was progressive longitudinally, with the evangelists presumably aligned in their canonical, the patriarchs in their chronological order.150 The ancient theme of triumph thus acquired an entirely new content and purpose. The past became testimony to the present, history became a process of promise and fulfillment. The sculptures were only temporary, but the ideas they represented left an indelible mark on what now became the bridge to eternity.

The underlying eschatological theme was not motivated solely by the aftermath of the Sack of Rome. In the course of the sixteenth century, the papacy increased its hegemony over the city of Rome and demonstrated its jurisdiction by shifting the locus of criminal punishments, notably executions for capital offenses, from the center of Rome to the point of entry to the Holy City at the threshold of the Ponte Sant'Angelo. The ritual of execution was orchestrated by the Confraternity of John the Baptist Beheaded, whose mission it was to comfort and reconcile the prisoners to their fate, and which maintained a chapel adjoining the entrance to the bridge where they were prepared to meet their Maker.151 Sentences were carried out after a procession through the streets deliberately suggestive of Christ's way to the Cross. Paintings depicting the Passion were held in front of the prisoners' faces. In an ironic evocation of the sculpted Victories or trophies that adorned the parapets in antiquity, the severed heads of the "giustiziati" were displayed on stakes placed along the flanks of the bridge - a kind of historical reminder to those crossing it of the ultimate judgment to which they, too, would be subject (Figs 225, 226). The executions took place within sight of the Archangel atop the Castello, in an enclosure beside the sword-bearing figure of St Paul (who was himself martyred by beheading), the sinister side traditionally reserved for the damned at the Last Judgment. The punishments themselves - hanging, decapitation, quartering et al. - were those traditionally meted out to the sinners in Hell and often depicted in scenes of the Last Judgment.

The Last Judgment
The contrasting themes of the beneficent Archangel scabbarding and vengeful Archangel brandishing his sword were replaced by a very different image under Paul III, who initiated the Council of Trent to defend, reform, and reaffirm the essential tenets of the Church. In 1544 the pope commissioned a new figure of marble with bronze accoutrements from Raffaello da Montelupo (Fig 227).152 Poised in a classical contrapposto pose midway between standing and striding, the Archangel seems inscrutably to contemplate the scene below, his naked sword held aloft, poised ambiguously between sheathing and unsheathing the weapon in the scabbard held at his side. This intermediate, "neutral" pose alludes to Michael's traditional role as weigher of souls at the Last Judgment, embodying both the promise and the threat, the salvific and punitive alternatives of the Archangel's invincible power. Montelupo's figure remained atop the Castello until it was replaced in 1752 by the historically minded Benedict XIV, who reverted to Gregory the Great's original vision with the heroic bronze monument by Peter Verschaffelt that now occupies the summit.

The comprehensive association of the Archangel the Castello, and the bridge with the Last Judgment - particularly in relation to the plague and the inscrutability of divine justice - may indeed have originated with Gregory the Great. A seminal work in the creation of these eschatological themes was Gregory's Fourth Dialogue, in which he recounts visions of the underworld described by those who have returned from the dead, in particular a Roman soldier who

died three years ago of the horrible plague which devastated Rome. During that time arrows could be seen hurled down from the sky, carrying death to many individuals. A soldier at Rome was struck down in this way. He did not remain dead very long, however, for, shortly after dying, he came back to life and told what had happened to him. The scene he described - one that became familiar to many others at this time - was as follows. He saw a river whose dark waters were covered by a mist of vapors that gabe off an unbearable stench. Over the river was a bridge. It led to pleasant meadows beyond, covered by green grass and dotted with richly scented flowers. These meadows seemed to be the gathering places for people dressed in white robes. The fragrant odors pervading the region were a delight for all who lived there. Everyone had his own dwelling, which gleamed with brilliant light. One house of magnificent proportions was still under construction and the bricks used were made of gold. But no one could tell for whom the house was meant. There were houses also along the banks of the river, some of which were infected by the vapors and stench rising from the river, while others remained untouched.

On this bridge saint and sinner underwent a final test. The unjust would slip off and fall into the dark, foul waters. The just, unhampered by sin, could walk over it, freely and without difficulty, to the beautiful meadows on the other side. Below this bridge the soldier saw Peter, an overseer of the church who died four years ago, lying prone in the foul mire loaded down with heavy iron chains. When he asked why such terrible punishment was inflicted on him, the answer he received harmonizes well with what we of this household remember of Peter's life and actions. "He suffers these torments," he was told, "because whenever he was ordered to administer punishment, he would deal out the blows in a spirit of cruelty rather than of obedience." Everyone acquainted with Peter knows this is true.

According to the soldier's description, he also saw a priest of some foreign country stepping onto the bridge and walking over it with all the confidence that a life of sincerity had won for him. On the same bridge he saw and recognized the Stephen whom we mentioned above. In trying to cross the river, Stephen had slipped and fallen, leaving the lower half of his body dangling over the edge of the bridge. Some fiendish men from the river below seized him by the sides and tried to pull him down. At the same time, princely men dressed in white appeared on the bridge to draw him back to safety. While this struggle went on, with the good spirits drawing him up and the evil ones pulling him down, our spectator was called back to earth to be reunited with his body. No one, therefore, knows what the final outcome of this struggle was [italics mine].153

With the reference to the plague taking place in Rome, the bridge with the "heavenly mansion" at one end, the river, and the arrogant church official named Peter, the site can only be identified with the Ponte Sant'Angelo, the Tiber, and the tomb of Hadrian as the bastion of Saint Peter and the papacy. The Roman monuments thus become the locus of justice meted out at the Last Judgment and, through Gregory's seminal text, keys to the definition of the eschatology of the Church. The plague was seen as an act of divine retribution, an instrument of God's wrath, a presage of the Dies Irae and of Michael's role in the Last Judgment. The close association between the appearances of Saint Michael at the plague and at the Last Judgment is illustrated in the late fourteenth-century fresco by Spinello Aretino in the church of San Francesco at Arezzo (Figs 228, 229).154 The vision at Castel Sant'Angelo is shown in the upper two registers, while below Michael acts as the avenger of evildoers at the end of time.

The Bridge of Trial
The Bridge of Trial appears as an important feature of the fiery punishments described in many medieval apocalyptic texts, notably the Vision of St Paul and the Revelation of Esdras.155 But Gregory's specifically Roman vision in the Fourth Dialogue inspired what must have been one of the chief progenitors of Bernini's conception of the Ponte Sant'Angelo place in the religio-topography of the Church: its role as the eschatological bridge par excellence in Dante's Divine Comedy, which had also been Michelangelo's point of reference in imagining his Last Judgment. In the eighteenth canto of the Inferno, describing the place called Malebolge, Dante speaks of a fortress stronghold surrounded by deep pits spanned by a bridge. There he saw naked sinners passing in both directions, like crowds at the Jubilee year, and the tortures of the damned below:

In this place we found ourselves dropped from the back of Geryon, and the poet held to the left, and I came on behind. On the right hand I saw new woe, new torments, and new scourgers, with which the first ditch was replete. At its bottom were the sinners, naked; on our side of the middle they came facing us, and, on the other side, along with us, but with greater strides: thus the Romans, because of the great throng, in the year of the Jubilee, have taken measures for the people to pass over the bridge, so that on one side all face toward the Castle and go to St Peter's, and on the other they go toward the Mount. Along the dark rock, on this side and on that, I saw horned demons with large scourges, who smote them fiercely from behind.156

Dante thus associates the traditional Bridge of Trial with the bridge used by pilgrims to reach the Holy City to obtain the plenary indulgence, the first of its kind, during the first Holy Year of Jubilee, declared by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300.157 With respect to these indulgences Dante gave the Tiber River a specific role in the divine scheme, for on its shore the chosen souls began their journey through Purgatory on their way to salvation.158 Two themes that occur here, and frequently in such eschatological imagery, are particularly relevant to the ideological substructure of Bernini's project: the perilous bridge and the atrocious punishments of those who fail to make the crossing. A common feature in descriptions and illustrations of the Bridge of Trial was its perilousness - it was a hair's breadth wide and had no balustrades to hinder the wayward sinner's fall into the fiery flood below.

Purgatory and All Souls
Owing mainly to the nature and importance of this tract, Gregory became the intercessory saint par excellence for liberating souls from Purgatory. 159 His references to Rome, the plague, Saint Michael, the river, the bridge, the "mansions" reached by the successful soul, were a congeries of allusions that ineluctably suggest the Tiber crossing, the mausoleum, and the angelic instrument of God's will. Apart from his contribution to the definition of Hell, Gregory's main purpose in the Dialogue is to demonstrate the efficacy of suffrage to alleviate the pains of those condemned to pay for their sins.160 This compensatory capacity of the living to act on behalf of the dead became a fundamental ingredient of the theology and practice of the doctrine of purgatory. Liturgically, this relationship between offering and assuagement was embodied personally and particularly in the Mass for the Dead, but it was given universal status in the Feast of the Commemoration of All Souls, 2 November. In his discussion of the feast in the Golden Legend, Jacobus of Voragine gives elaborate explanations of all these points, based on Gregory's Dialogue and including the example of the Roman soldier at the Bridge of Trial.161 The prayers offered in this context reach beyond the individual and gain in efficacy as acts of charity toward others who have died and therefore cannot help themselves. It is precisely in this sense that the offertory prayer used in both liturgies pleads that Christ liberate the faithful from the infernal torments, including the deep lake, and that Michael re-present them in the holy light:

O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the deep lake; deliver them from the lion's mouth, that hell engulf them not, nor they fall into the darkness, but let Michael, the holy standard -bearer, bring them into the holy light which Thou once didst promise to Abraham and his seed.162


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