Rome is renowned as the “city of a thousand churches”. The first among them, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican (Basilica Papali di San Pietro Vaticano), the acknowledged focus of Christianity worldwide was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) 395 years ago on November 18, 1626.
That day marked the 1300th anniversary of dedication of the old S. Peter’s Basilica (Constantine’s Basilica) on November 18, 326 by Pope Sylvester I (285-335). This basilica was the centre of Christian worship and focus of pilgrims from around the globe until the new S. Peter’s was raised on its very spot.
Ancient writings has described how the body of Simon Peter of Galilee, Prince of the Apostles, was exhumed from his simple earthen grave at this time and re-interred in a shrine of silver, enclosed in a sarcophagus of gilt bronze upon which was laid the great cross of gold – a gift of Constantine the Great (c. 272-337) and his mother S. Helena.
The rebuilding of the basilica was first planned during the pontificate of Nicholas V (1397-1455) who rebuilt the Vatican, restored St. Peter’s, and the Vatican Library during his pontificate. However, the work of the new basilica did not materialise till the time of the great Renaissance Pope Julius II (1443-1513). In April 1506, Julius II began the new S. Peter’s from designs of Donato Bramante (1444-1514). The first stone for this most beautiful and the most sublime edifice was laid on the spot where the present statue of S. Veronica (by sculptor Francesco Mochi, 1580-1654) is located.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) wanted the cupola to be immense so that it would “embrace all those in Christian faith around the earth”. Left unfinished by Michelangelo, it was completed by Giacomo della Porta (1541-1604) and Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) in 1590.
The two semi-circular colonnades of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) were added by Pope Alexander VII (1599-1667) in 1667. The enormous Baldacchino or canopy over the high altar made of bronze and adorned with gilt ornaments is the work of Bernini who completed it in 1633. The enormous talent involved in its creation and preservation has made St. Peter’s Basilica a sanctified ornament of the earth. Jo
There are certain things in life one feels to be good and beautiful and must hunger after them. Throughout the 15th century Italy (1), it had become fashionable for men of wealth, influence and of the church to decorate their premises with fine arts of those derived from the classical Greco-Roman cultural heritage – collections primarily of Greek art from finds in mainland Italy and Sicily.
It is no small matter how much the architectural and artistic achievements of the ancient Greeks have set its effects on the Western culture in general. The renewed interest in the classical past and in the grammar of Greek architecture came not only with the progress in trade and banking activities of both Venetian and Genoese families in the Aegean, but also from the steadily growing awareness and appreciation in Western Europe for Greek literature. While, amongst other aspects, this was fostered by the printing of Greek type initiated by Aldus Manutius (ca. 1449-1515) in Venice’s Sant’Agostino neighbourhood, it also spearheaded an increase in the influx of visiting scholars between Western Europe and the Greek lands.
The taste for art collecting per se aroused far reaching expectations for a brilliant coterie of sculptors, painters, and goldsmiths which occasioned burgeoning of an imposing series of reproductions of Greco-Roman art, etc.
On an equal par with Genoa, Milan and Venice in northern Italy, Firenze of that time was one of the richest, liveliest regions of varied economic activity. Primarily a manufacturing centre with booming export trades, its principal foundation of wealth lay in the cloth industry. Furthermore, the Medici Bank which ranked as the biggest and most respected financial magnets of Europe was a prestigious laurel to Firenze’s singular privilege as the top most banking centre.
Mindful of the historical personalities of the wealthy merchant families of Firenze, foremost amongst men from the long line of bourgeois Mediceans includes: Cosimo de’ Medici (Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici/Cosimo the Elder (Pater Patriae, 1389-1464), his grandsons: Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo il Magnifico, 1449-92), Giuliano de’ Medici (1453-1478) (see profile pictures on the title card (2)), and counting two of their family popes: Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, 1475-1521, pope from 1513), and Pope Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici, 1478-1534, pope from 1523). As Mediceans, theirs was a procession of one – all too princely a Medici to neglect their great patronage for all kinds of arts and science.
Essentially, the Medici transformed art’s status to “fine arts”. There is some modern-day appraisal that this view could be a myth created by the Medici themselves. Then again, to appreciate the many-sided aspects that could outshine this view, of course, one should go to Tuscany and Italy on the whole. Where better to do it than there?
The Medici’s endeavours helped to remove the impediment on opportunities at hand for their contemporary sculptors, painters, architects, and thereby enriched their earnings, career success and recognition. Above all, they paved the way for most of the artisans to demonstrate their brilliant talents and expressions through so many artistic treasures of the Renaissance. One such personage was Baccio Bandinelli (Bartolommeo di Michelangelo Bandinelli/Brandini, 1493–1560).
Baccio Bandinelli was one amongst the most favoured by the House of Medici which included the great maestro Michelangelo (Michelagniolo di Lodovico Buonarroti (1475-1564), Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, ca. 1386-1466), Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1440-1491), Giuliano da Sangallo (Giuliano Giamberti, 1443-1516), Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, Ca. 1444-1510), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) amongst others.
Being one of Firenze’s principal mannerist sculptors, it was Baccio Bandinelli who created the sculpture: Hercules and Cacus(1525-34) which stands guard on a pedestal on the right side of the portal of Palazzo Vecchio while, a marble replica of Michelangelo’s David (1501-04) (3) stood in pride of place on the other side along the old Ringhiera (4).
Follow-on: “The Greek Connection” (Part 3)
The term Italy in this write up refer to the country as a whole since Italy finally became a unified nation-state only in 1871;
Picture credits of Title header: Source: commons.wikimedia.org: From left:
1) Ritratto di Cosimo il Vecchio – Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder by Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557) – Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze;
2) Ritratto di Lorenzo Il Magnifico – Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) – at Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze;
3) Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510) – at Accademia di Belle Arti G. Carrara, Bergamo
3) This substitute of Michelangelo’s David was created by sculptor Luigi Arrighetti (1858-1938) with Saul Fanfani (1856-1919) and installed here in June 1910. The original David (installed in May 1504) was removed in 1873 to the shelter of Galleria dell’Accademia Firenze to avoid further weathering and damage. A bronze cast of David by Clement Papi (1803-75), can be seen at Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze, where it was on view from September 13, 1875
4) Only the remnants of the original Ringhiera of the 14th century remains after its removal in 1812.
“Painting is good to the extent that it resembles sculpture; sculpture is bad to the extent that it resembles painting” – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) *
Pietà (1498–1499) at Basilica di San Pietro, Vaticano
A son was born to Francesca di Neri del Miniato di Siena and local Podestà, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarotto Simoni, on THIS DAY (March 6th) in 1475 (1474 – according to Giorgio Vasari) in the small village of Caprese (today known as Caprese Michelangelo) in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany, Italy.
Left: Rebellious Slave – Right: Dying Slave (1513–1516) at the Louvre, Paris
Second of five brothers, he will be commonly known as Michelangelo and would go on to create wonders in sculpting, architecture, poetry, and engineering. Besides being an architect in the creation of Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano, this Italian High Renaissance artist who painted the ceiling and altar wall of the Sistine Chapel which includes “The Last Judgement” and created his most famous sculptures, “Pietà” and “David” amongst others; would capture the hearts and imagination of millions all over the world.
Michelangelo’s original “David” displayed at Galleria dell’Accademia in Firenze
The endless hours spent reading a plethora of sound biographical material on Michelangelo; the hours spent studying his arts displayed at the Louvre in Paris and at various places in Firenze and Roma; the visual documentaries and movies like “The Agony and The Ecstasy” that had flashed past before my eyes – all of these conjure up an image of an extraordinary genius with infinite talent. One this day, we salute this Il Divino (“the divine one“) of Firenzewho once walked upon this Earth. Jo
Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), Firenze where Michelangelo’s tomb (designed by Vasari) is located right opposite to the tomb of Galileo Galilei (designed by Giulio Foggini). The cenotaph of Niccolò Machiavelli is on the same aisle in close vicinity.
PS: Quoted on Page 337 of “In the Arena” The Autobiography of Charlton Heston.