Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Baroque and Renaissance Rome: Bernini's Vatican City - The Architect of St. Peter's

Bernini was called "The architect of St. Peter's" by Urban VIII (1623-44). And Bernini would have considered this quite a complement, as Bernini was one of a handful of artists in his time who would be come to known as a Renaissance Man due to his accomplishments in a variety of fields, including architecture, painting, and sculpture.

Popes Paul V and Gregory XV of the two great Roman families Borghese (see Cardinal Scipione Borghese the Pope's nephew) and Ludovisi (see Sant'Ignazio and Jesuits) respectively. It is these two Popes in the first two decades of the 17th century that created what is known as Triumphant Rome.

Truimphant Rome gets its name from the art and particularly the sculpture of that time, which had a triumphal role because it occupied a rhetorical position in the philosophy of the century. By the end of the 16th century theorists of New Science rationalized that the center of every operation is the man. In De sensu rerum et magi (1620) Tommaso Campanella writes: "Man is the epilogue of the whole World. The World is statue and image. It is the living Temple of God, where he has depicted his acts and written his own ideas. He adorned it with living statues, simple in heaven, mixed and feeble on earth; but from them goes the way to God."

In short, God created the world by means of three great arts:
  • Sculpture, because it is statuary;
  • Painting, because it is image; and
  • Architecture, because it is a Temple.
Men are thus living statues, sculpture in motion.

Bernini's aim was to unite painting, sculpture, and architecture in his work, which he mastered beautifully by the time of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa and the Cornaro Family, both inside the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.

Urban VIII was the Barberini Pope after Gregory XV, who with Innocent X (1644-55), and the Chigi Pope Alexander VII (1655-67), all erected churches and palaces around Rome and it was these Roman families who were the stimulus for many works by Bernini.

Today when you travel to Rome walk down Via dei Seminario, just off the Piazza Pantheon, to Sant'Ignazio where inside on the ceiling is painted an allegory depicting the nine arts battling for the Jesuit's heart.

Bernini took advantage of the Jesuit's new call for propaganda or "spreading the faith", such as the allegory on the ceiling of Sant'Ignazio by designing and building art around Rome that conveyed a universal and rhetorical message that is persuasive.

The idea of persuasion through images impelled the intellectuals of the time to rediscover the power and resources of rhetoric. The whole act of artistic creation could be viewed in a particular way through the lenses of the "Aristotelian telescope" (the title of a treatise on rhetoric by Emanuele Tesauro); viewed, that is, in terms of such rhetorical devices as antithesis, anastrophe, metonymy, ellipsis, hyperbole, oxymoron, and above all metaphor.

Under Innocent X Bernini created his most complex fountain conceived as an allegorical monument, the Fountain of Four Rivers (1648-51) in Piazza Navona, to the figure group as a theatrical vision in St. Teresa (1647-52).

Under Pope Alexander VII, Bernini busied himself with architecture: Sant'Andrea Quirinale, Colonnade in front of St. Peter's Basilica, sculpture Constantine inside St. Peter's, Daniel and Habakkuk in the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, and the Chair of St. Peter in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica.

Bernini the architect designed St. Peter's Square and the colonnade, and inside St. Peter's Basilica Bernini the sculptor designed a number of works including the bronze and gold 95 foot tall Baldachine (1624-1633) over the High Alter of St. Peter's Basilica, which cost the papal-state 10% of its annual revenue. It was testament to Bernini that the Vatican's would spend that kind of money on Bernini. And it was a testament to triumphant Rome that the Pope and super-rich of the 16th and 17th centuries used their wealth and money, chariots, like today's Gulfstream V jets, for the artists to travel between Rome, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Istanbul, France and Spain for the artist's sole benefit. And 10% of the annual revenue of the papal state was enough to keep an artist living well for several lifetimes. Of course, rather than sit back and just play the game like today's NBA basketball players, the genius-artist of the 17th century went on working day by day despite millions and millions in today's money in the bank.

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Blogger Natalie Smith said...

The Vatican city is great place you definitely need to visit. Thanks for this post and regards from Hotel Cavalieri

December 28, 2010 at 10:53 PM  

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