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Gianlorenzo Bernini, Saint Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro), Vatican City, Rome, 1656-67 Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Video transcript
(piano playing) Steven: One of the most important extensions to St. Peter's Basilica was of course, Gianlorenzo Bernini's Piazza. The double colonnade that emanates from the Maderno facade and swoops out, almost like two arms embracing its public. Beth: And that's exactly actually how Bernini described it. He said he thought of these as "the motherly arms of the church "reaching out to embrace the faithful and reuniting heretics with the church." And of course he was referring when he said heretics to the Protestants. So this very Baroque idea of using art to reaffirm the faith of the faithful, of the believers, and reaching out also to bring those who have left the church, or were thinking about leaving the church or having doubts about the church because of Luther, back into its folds. Steven: So what I'm seeing is... actually we called it a double colonnade because the arms extend on both sides of the piazza, of the square. Beth: Into a large oval shape. Steven: But in fact each colonnade is four colonnades. That is, there are four rows of large Tuscan or Doric columns, unfluted though in travertine on an enormous scale. And it's raining right now so it's rather nice to be able to walk under them. Beth: Yeah, I'm looking forward to that. (Steven laughs) Steven: There's a lot of classical reference in the architecture. Not only these Tuscan columns, these Doric columns, but also dentals, balustrade. It's really a kind of work of architecture that creates a very ceremonial forecourt for St. Peter's. Beth: And if you look at the very ends of the colonnades you'll see a pediment. So really looking back to, as you said, ancient Greek and Roman architecture, the language of ancient Greek and Roman architecture for the seat of Christendom. Steven: We should mention that in the middle of the piazza Beth: Obelisk. Steven: granite obelisk and then there are actually fountains that surround that sort of midway between the obelisk and colonnade. And if you stand on a piece of porphyry which is embedded in the pavement, you're at a point where there is a kind of perfect alignment and the columns themselves actually all line up just perfectly. Beth: Let's go have a look. Let's see if it works. Steven: It does work. It works perfectly. Beth: Now you can't see the colonnades, actually four columns deep, it just looks like a single row of columns. Steven: Which means that the row of four columns are in a perfect alignment with various points, so this midpoint is in fact where that resolution takes place. (piano playing)