Thursday, November 3, 2011

Popes Come and Go, but Saint Peter's Basilica Remains

the tomb of Leo X in Santa Maria Sopra
Minerva, Rome,
We mentioned that Julius II died in 1513,  Hopefully God judged Julius with mercy but the humanist scholar Erasmus who along with his English friends, Sir Thomas More and Dean (of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London) John Colet were leading voices calling for Church Reform  did not.  The Dutchman  wrote:
The popes are sufficiently generous with …the terrible bolt of the papal bull, which by a flicker hurls the souls of men to the depths of hell.  Our Christian fathers and Vicars of Christ wield the bold against no one with more zeal than against those who are moved by the devil to nibble at an diminish the patrimony of Peter    they look on themselves as true apostles…scattering what they are pleased to call her enemies   As if the Church had more deadly enemies than impious popes who by their silence cause Christ to be forgotten, who use His laws to make money, who adulterate his word with force interpretations, and who crucify him with their corrupt life 
Whatever the judgment rendered and where Julius finds himself today, his death meant that there was to be a new pope.  He was worse.  At least Julius, if not a good man was a good—even great—Pope.  His successor, Leo X, was a disaster both as a man and a pope.  As a man he was indolent and given to the most indulgent luxury.  He was a Medici, son of il Magnifico, and had been raised to see conspicuous consumption to be the highest of the virtues.  His sexual exploits were more discreet than most of his contemporaries but no less avid.  His preferences in bed were for other males—not an uncommon trait in the high renaissance—so he left no progeny but rumors abounded of young artists and even younger clerics anxious to advancement who feathered their nests by feathering his bed.  As a pope—well, it wasn’t that he did much bad just that he didn’t do much of anything.  “The papacy is ours, let us enjoy it” was his theme and so the Chair of Peter was mostly an opportunity for hunting, dining, theatricals, and entertainments of all sorts. He had absolutely no interest in Julius tomb and little more in the basilica.  At this point the basilica was a hodgepodge of new construction and old ruins, for the most part unroofed, with the papal altar left exposed to the elements beneath the open sky where the dome was planned to someday rise.   Julius for whatever his faults was a soldier and weathered the papal ceremonies in the open air, but Leo was of a more delicate constitution and so Bramante was told to build something of an open shed to enclose the papal altar—not unlike those carports one sees in the less well to do neighborhoods of Mississippi or East Texas. Bramante was getting old and the death of Julius meant that the changes of patronage were blowing through the Renaissance.   With Julius—and under Bramante’s influence—the Renaissance threw its patronage to artists from Urbino.  But Leo was a Medici and the Medici were Florentines.  And the Florentine artists, kept on the margins of influence under Julius—were now the chief beneficiaries of patronage.  Bramante was out of favor.  But Leo was a gracious man who showed his displeasure with a velvet gloved hand.  Bramante was not removed as chief architect of Saint Peters, only given two “assistants” to help him.  Like Bramante they were old men—Leo didn’t want to make long term commitments.  One was the Dominican friars Giovanni Giocondo.  He was no mere theologian—a philosopher, engineer, mathematician, Latinist, illustrator, antiquarian—he was a true renaissance man.  But he was eighty.  The other “assistant”—and one who was given managing control over the project—was Giuliano da Sangallo.  Sangallo had been both friend and architect to Julius until Bramante maneuvered his way into the Pope’s confidence.  (Again, he did it by building the Tempietto which may be the most beautiful building in Rome so it wasn’t an unmerited advancement.)  Now Sangallo was back—and holding the real power.  It was I imagine a sweet revenge.  It did not last long,however.  Bramante died within the year.  Strangely it was not a Florentine who replaced him but the young artist from Urbino who had so charmed Julius—Raphael 

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