BRAMANTE, Donato


BRAMANTE, Donato
(1444-1514)
   Donato Bramante is considered the first High Renaissance architect in Rome because his classical style shifted from the more general use of classical references characteristic of the Early Renaissance to a more specific and sustained use of classical vocabulary. Originally trained as a painter in the court of Urbino, in central Italy, Bramante first worked for the Sforza family of Milan, where he probably met Leonardo da Vinci and became interested in architecture.
   In 1502, Bramante settled in Rome and received a commission from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to complete a small shrine located on the supposed site of Saint Peter's crucifixion. This small round church came to be called "The Tempietto," or "Little Temple," in recognition of the fact that it most closely recalls buildings from classical antiquity that followed the principles of architecture first defined in Ancient Rome by Vitruvius. Given that this small church is a memorial to Saint Peter, it therefore does not have a large congregational space but instead is meant to be a martyrium, that is, a building that demarcates the site of the martyrdom or burial of a person. This centrally planned church features a base that leads up to the colonnaded portico via three steps. Although most churches in the Renaissance and subsequent Baroque eras were longitudinal in plan, this circular plan was considered the more perfect shape for a church. A circle is completely symmetrical, with no beginning and no end, and in the Renaissance it came to symbolize infinity, and therefore, God himself. It follows that the round Tempietto is therefore the most nearly perfect, or ideal, ground plan. Its portico is supported with Doric columns, the simplest capital design, favored by Vitruvius for the commemoration of male gods and consequently also used in the Renaissance to commemorate male saints. Above the columns of the Tempietto, triglyphs separate the square metopes, which are carved with symbols of Saint Peter, including his keys and papal tiara. A balustrade, or porch balcony, caps the portico, while a graceful drum behind the balustrade supports a dome capped by a lantern with a cross on top.
   After the election of Julius II to the papacy in 1503, Bramante was given the most prestigious commission in all of Rome, that of rebuilding the ancient church of Saint Peter. The original church was over one thousand years old but it had been reinforced over the centuries so that it still functioned as the main church of Roman Catholicism, built over the site where Saint Peter was buried. Given the historical importance of this building, earlier popes had hesitated to tear it down, but Julius II considered the rebuilding of the church an important step in revitalizing the city of Rome. Bramante devised a Greek-cross-plan church with a massive dome that would rise over the Roman skyline. Pope Julius II and Bramante both died before the work was completed, but subsequent popes continued the massive project into the next century and achieved Pope Julius's dream of building the largest church in the entire Christian world. With these buildings epitomizing the High Renaissance architectural style, Bramante's short-lived architectural career received lasting recognition.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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