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Bernini, Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter)

Video transcript
(jazz music) Dr. Zucker: We're in St. Peter's Basilica. Dr. Harris: Standing right beside the baldacchino. Dr. Zucker: In the crossing, directly under Michelangelo's dome, which is so high it's breathtaking. We're looking past the baldacchino, which is actually not easy to do, taking in an extraordinary, I was about to call it a sculpture, but it's more than a sculpture, it's architecture, it's sculpture, it's stained glass. It's the Cathedra Petri. Dr. Harris: The chair is bronze and it encases a older wooden chair. Dr. Zucker: Which is believed by tradition to have belonged to Saint Peter. Dr. Harris: It appears to float effortlessly in the air on a kind of canopy held by four church fathers. Dr. Zucker: It's not that they're lifting, so much as they're restraining the chair. Dr. Harris: Right, it seems to be almost being assumed into heaven and all around, pouring from either side of the chair, pushing up from below, are golden clouds that raise up the throne and that surround it and that almost seem to push it forward in a way, too. Dr. Zucker: It's true, and almost just sink down into our world. Dr. Harris: Right, this kind of pouring into our world, such a baroque thing. Dr. Zucker: The spiritual is also clearly represented by these gold rays that move much more quickly out into our space, out into the cathedral. Dr. Harris: Through the clouds, right? Dr. Zucker: Through the clouds and over and past the pilasters, the actual architecture of the church and that frame themselves a cloud of angels that dance and spin and they, in turn, frame the stained glass, this beautiful stained glass representation of the holy spirit. The dove, which is itself the centerpiece, in a sense, the focal point of the entire cathedral. Dr. Harris: And that dove is represented within concentric oval shapes, so you get this feeling of rising and moving toward the center of the world. Dr. Zucker: That's right, it's a kind of almost visual multiplication and an intensification until we reach the Holy Spirit itself. Dr. Harris: What always amazes me about Bernini and everything that we've seen in Rome is this way that he's willing to think about architecture in a new way, instead of something that is heavy and encloses space, if you think about the Pantheon or just generally what architecture is supposed to do, he makes architecture into this porous thing, almost. Dr. Zucker: It becomes a playful stage. Dr. Harris: Right. Dr. Zucker: It becomes something that can be, in some ways, overwhelmed by the theatricality that he brings to his, almost, set pieces. Dr. Harris: Yeah, but he's painted, essentially, using stucco, painted with gold on top of marble, to me. Dr. Zucker: It's an extraordinary mix. You've got the brilliant light of the stained glass window, which actually is illuminated by the sky beyond, you have the gilded stucco, you have the bronze, which is, in part, gilded, as well, you have the marble, which can be brilliantly white, but also colored, and it becomes this kaleidoscope of form and color and light and it's dizzying and beautiful, but when I say dizzying I don't want to suggest that it's unfocused, because it's tremendously unified. Dr. Harris: And perfect in the scale of it, in the (unintelligible). (jazz music)