Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saint Peter's Proceeds in Fits and Starts

Raphael's Plan for Saint Peter's
Well, Raphael was by all means a great artist, but he wasn’t half the architect Bramante was.  In the first place, he just wasn’t focused enough for architecture.  Saint Peter’s was only one of the many commissions he was working on.  He was busy frescoing the villas of various cardinals and princes and his workshop was turning out Madonna’s at an remarkable rate.  He was surrounded with an army of assistants to prepare canvases for paints and apply the plaster for frescos, to mix the pigments and produce the paints.  He was making money hand over fist and spending it even faster.  Raphael was a bon vivant and a ladies’ man.  And in between the business, the pleasure, the paintings, the frescoes, he was supposed to produce a plan for Saint Peter’s.  Good Luck!  Moreover, the help he had inherited from the triumvirate of architects when he took Bramante’s place vanished.   His Dominican friar teammate, Fra. Giovanni Giocondo died within the year and the old priest had been the engineer—and a very good one—to figure out the technical aspects of the design.  Giulano da Sangallo, the business manager was feeling his age and retired to Florence.  Pope Leo—who was more interested in jewelry and Hanno, his pet elephant—than architecture replaced the team to work with Raphael.  He named Baldassare Peruzzi to replace the old friar, and Giuliano da Sangallo’s nephew—Antonio the Younger Sangallo—to take his uncle’s place. It wasn’t a happy arrangement. 
Bramante's Plan for Saint Peter's
     Raphael for some reason decided to make a fundamental change in Bramante’s perfectly symmetrical plan.  Instead of the Greek Cross plan in which all four arms of the cross would be equal and lead to the central dome over the tomb of the Apostle and its altar, Raphael designed a Latin Cross plan where the “stem” of the Cross would be twice as long as the other “arms” of the cross.  In addition to destroying the symmetry of the building, it threatened to make the building look much more heavy as well as cut down the amount of natural light, or rather reduce the effect of the natural light, entering the basilica through the dome.  The Raphael plan just lacked the elegance of the original design.  It did make for a larger church, but it failed to inspire. 
      In the event, Raphael did not live long enough to see his designs bear fruit.  He died in 1520 at only thirty-seven years of age.  Peruzzi succeeded as main architect and reverted to the Bramante plan of a Greek Cross though he did retain some features—mostly the worst ones—of Rafael’s plan.  Peruzzi didn’t get to see his plans put into action either.  Thank heavens.   Leo died the year after Raphael and was succeded by the pedantic Dutchman (yes, I know that is redundant) Cardinal Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens who reigned as Adrian VI.  Fortunately he reigned briefly.  One year, eight months, and five days later he was dead; the Roman crowds, delighted to be rid of the dour Dutchman, hung a laurel wreath on the door of the papal physician to thank the doctor for not having prolonged the boredom of this tediously scholarly pope who was far more interested in Reform (which the Romans have always abhorred) than art, beauty, and the Renaissance.  Non  fiducia mai un papa che ha letto solo (never trust a pope who sleeps alone) as the Romans are wont to say.   
      In November 1523 Adrian was succeeded by Leo’s cousin, Clement VII.  The Medici never slept alone, though Clements preference, unlike Leo’s, was for women.  Rampant heterosexuality in a pope brings problems of its own as we will see when we hear the story of why Henry VIII didn’t get his annulment, but that is another story.  Suffice it to say that Clement, like Leo, was a papal disaster.  Leo triggered Luther’s break with the Church; Clement would trigger Henry VIII’s.  Maybe the Romans are wrong about that sleeping alone thing, celibacy is a good idea at least for popes.  But on May 6th 1527 the troops of Emperor Charles V sacked Rome.  It was a debacle from which it would take Rome decades to recover.  We will go into detail in a future entry, but the half-demolished old basilica, half-built new basilica was looted, graves emptied, treasures stolen, clergy, soldiers, and laity alike massacred.  When Peruzzi died nine years later, construction on the basilica had not advanced. The walls stood incomplete where they stood at all, the four great piers waited for a dome that no one could engineer, and the revenues were drying up as country after country fell to a series of Reformations that snapped their ties with Rome.     

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