I had hoped to post this yesterday but then we had an internet issue and I didn't have access to the blog site. I have a lot of material on the building of Saint Peter's--and that is one of the most Popular topics that I have been posting on--so I hope to make sure that I can do a posting each day this week,
As I mentioned yesterday, as the center of the Renaissance moved from Florence to Rome in the papacy of Julius II Rome was alive with artists and architects and musicians. Among the painters, Pinturicchio, Signorelli, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi—known as Il Sodoma—Lorenzo Lotto, Johannes Ruysch, Perugino all were in Rome looking for patronage.
Of all these the competition for leadership of the pack was between Michelangelo and Donato Bramante. In retrospect, there was no real competition—Michelangelo stood alone—but papal patronage was a fickle thing and when it came to the arts, Julius was no monogamist. Michelangelo was entrusted with Julius’ greatest personal project—his tomb. And Bramante was entrusted with Julius greatest public project—the building of a new Basilica to hold that tomb. Think Julius might have been a “4” on the enneagram? It was, at least in his mind, all about him. In any event, the competition for papal recognition was bitter between the two artists and for Michelangelo, at least, it was all a matter of pride. Michelangelo was an artist for the sake of the art he needed in his inner drive to create. He was indifferent to the financial and career aspects of art. He also was impossible to work with, temperamental and insecure. He worked alone. In fact, very few people ever broke through Michelangelo’s shell and he went through life, for the most part, a loner. Michelangelo’s homosexuality is well established historically though it seems that it also caused him considerable personal turmoil and inner conflict. Whether Michelangelo in fact ever let the deep love he felt (and wrote about) for a succession of younger men manifest itself in sexual intimacy is debated among Michelangelo scholars. It may have been this conflicted sexuality that made the artist so eccentric and melancholic. In any event, his personality worked against him for Bramante, though much less talented than Michelangelo (and much more talented than the other 99.999% of the human race) had a charming and extroverted personality that gave him an advantage over the high strung and moody Florentine. Some have suggested that it was Bramante that put Pope Julius up to withdrawing Michelangelo from the tomb project and forced him—against his will—to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, knowing that Michenangelo—a sculptor, not a painter—would fail miserably. The Sistine project was very high on Julius’s priorities, the chapel having been built by Julius’ uncle and patron, Sixtus IV della Rovere. Of course Michelangelo pulled the rabbit out of the hat and produced what well might be his greatest work, the Sistine ceiling. But Bramante had more than one trick up his sleeve. Ok, Michelangelo could paint. But Bramante found a rival for him in this field too and brough Rafaello Sanzio, today generally known as Raphael, to Julius’ attention. While Michelangelo was sulking on his scaffold in the Sistine and now allowing anyone to see his work, Bramante’s protégé Raphael, was cheerily painting the new papal apartments. In fact Julius was so taken Raphael’s talents that he had the recently completed works by Piero della Francesca and Signorelli destroyed so that Raphael could point over them. Like Bramante, Raphael was charming and extroverted. And he did work alone but had an entourage of assistants whom he had trained to fulfill a host of minor functions. Raphael would prepare the cartoons of his painting but his team would apply the fresh plaster, mix the paints, even paint in the figures from Raphael’s cartoons and sketches and then the Master would come through and do the detail work and fine points.
Bramante for his part was so different than Michelangelo. Whereas Michelangelo was obsessed with detail and would never entrust his work, as did Raphael, to others, Bramante was a “big-picture” man. Brash and outspoken, he got along better with Julius—himself an out-of-control extrovert—than Michelangelo. But Bramante’s flaw was his lack of attention to detail. A great basilica requires an architect of wide vision but the revolutionary size of the projected building also required an engineer of meticulous detail. That Bramante was not. In many ways Bramante was more suited to design for the illusions of the stage than for the physics of architecture. To cut costs he also cut quality of building materials. Marble and stone was replaced by tufa (a material found in the region near Rome which is like soft earth when cut from the ground but which hardens like stone after being exposed to the atmosphere), brick, and cement. He began building the four piers that would support the projected central dome over the tomb of the apostle, but had no idea how to actually raise a dome over the open spaces left by the supporting arches that would rise from those piers. Domes were tricky things. While the ancient Romans had known how to construct them, the art had been lost until Brunelleschi had built the dome of the Cathedral in Florence only some sixty or seventy years before. The Vatican dome was to be much larger and in retrospect it seems reckless, indeed stupid, to have built the foundations without having a plan for the dome itself. But that was Bramante—he went step by step, trial and error, flying by the seat of his pants as we say—as he built his basilica. In the end, it would not be he who solved the problem or built the dome.