Vitrivuian Man, sketch of Leonardo
|Bramante's Plan for the new Vatican Basilica|
Bramante’s plan was a totally symmetrical plan which would have located the tomb of the Apostle directly beneath a central dome. It was a curious combination of two types of ancient Roman buildings—the basilica and the temple. Like the Pantheon, a temple to all the gods (pan theon) it was centrally domed. Like the Basilica of Maxentius it would be a vaulted hall—or actually the new basilica would be four vaulted halls converging at the papal altar beneath this central dome over the tomb of Saint Peter. But this new basilica was to leave the ancient monuments in the dust of history—higher, wider, longer than the surviving buildings of ancient Rome. It is a question if it could even have been built with the engineering materials and skills of the time: it would have been almost a third larger than the basilica eventually built. And it was innovative not only in its engineering but in its design. The altar would be not in an apse, but central, approachable from every side. (There are several surviving ancient Roman Churches with a central altar—San Stefano Rotondo, Santa Costanza, and San Teodoro to name three.) The work required a “new” masonry—the “old" masonry of stone with which the great gothic cathedrals had been built would not allow for the vast spans of Bramante’s design. Bramante carefully studied the ruins of ancient Rome and discovered the lost art of making concrete from crushed volcanic gravel, sand, lime, and broken stone. This was the magic the architect needed. Concrete was the material that made the vast barrel vaults possible. Concrete and brick construction could be faced with marble, granite, and other stone to give the impression of stone masonry but provide a far more flexible building material to bear the weight of the huge vaults and the soaring dome. This new basilica would be everything Julius dreamed of as a setting for his tomb. But the work was just beginning and so much would happen in between and Julius—well he lies today in a borrowed vault beneath a monument bearing another pope’s name. The last will be first and the first last. But that story is yet to come.