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Donato Bramante, Tempietto, c. 1502, San Pietro in Montorio, Rome. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Video transcript
(jazzy music) Female: We're high up on a hill overlooking Rome, one of the seven hills of Rome, the Janiculum hill, in a small courtyard looking at Bramante's small but important building, the Tempietto. Male: This is one of the treasures of Rome. It's actually one of my favorite buildings in the entire world. It's tiny. In fact, I'm not even sure I feel comfortable calling it a building. It's a marker. Female: The Tempietoo marks the site of the crucifixion of St. Peter. Male: Or what Bramante and the Church thought was the site of the crucifixion of St. Peter. Female: Right, and in fact, if you go inside, there's a hole that marks the spot in the ground where the cross was placed. St. Peter was crucified upside down. By marking the site, by making such a beautiful structure here, the Church is, in a way, saying the office of the Papacy goes back to St. Peter, the very first Pope who got that job from Christ himself. Male: It's interesting that it's Bramante who's designing this space because Bramante will also be one of the principle architects responsible for the other major site in Rome that is associated with St. Peter, the Basilica of St. Pietro in the Vatican, the site where Peter was buried. Both of these become markers, but this is a tiny little structure where, of course, St. Peter's is enormous. Female: This looks back to a kind of early Christian building called a martyria, or a marker of the site associated with an early Christian martyr. Male: Those were round buildings. It's interesting that Bramante's borrowing both from that early Christian tradition but also borrowing directly from Antiquity. In fact, in Rome itself, if you go to the Forum you can see a small round temple to Vesta, which is not so dissimilar from this. In fact, it's surrounded by columns. Female: That's right. Both the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans employed the circular plan. Bramante's very consciously going back to those, He's consciously going back to the ancient the ancient Roman writer, Vitruvius, who wrote a great treatise on architecture and on correct proportions in architecture, which Bramante is really following here in the Tempietto. Male: Bramante really is in love with the ideal geometries of Antiquity, especially of ancient Greece. This building is a radial building. It's a round structure. It's very much unlike the traditional cruciform church which is based on the ancient basilica. It's interesting because Bramante also used a kind of ideal geometry in the other building we were talking about, in St. Peter's Basilica, which was originally a perfect cross. Female: Right. It was Greek cross, employing the circle and the square. This interest in pure geometric forms is something that we really see in the High Renaissance. Male: Let's talk about that relationship between ideal ancient geometry and the divine because I think that was really important at this moment that we call the High Renaissance. If you draw a circle, no matter how good an artist you are, it's always going to have some imperfections. But looking at that circle, we can be prompted to imagine something where there's no deviation, where there's no imperfection. So geometry was thought by the ancient Greeks, and again in the Renaissance, to be a vehicle by which we could imagine the perfection of heaven. Female: So Bramante, like many other artists of the High Renaissance, is really interested in this pure circular plan. Here, of course, the focus of this circle is that important site of the crucifixion of St. Peter. As we look up at this building, we have the steps from the stylobate that lead us up toward the circular colonnade, the cylinder or the drum, and then the dome on top. We really have this focus on a center and that would have been even more true if Bramante had designed the courtyard as he wanted to with a colonnade around it. Male: One can imagine the amplification if this was surrounded by yet another colonnade with a series of radial niches, that would have been a kind of conversation between the space around the building and the central structure itself that I think would have been unprecedented. All of those elements that you mentioned: the stylobate, the steps, the colonnade, and of course the dome, are all elements that come from Antiquity. The artist was really careful to get these things right. If you look at the columns themselves, this was the Doric order. It's not the Doric that we see from ancient Greece; not what we would see on the Parthenon. This is a Roman variant instead. It's called the Tuscan order. We can see columns like this embedded in the side of the first level of the Colosseum where, unlike the Greek Doric order, these columns are not fluted. They have even more of a sense of mass and solidity. Female: And true to the Doric order, we see triglyphs and metopes in the frieze just above the columns. Bramante's really capturing an authentic Doric order here. Male: Although he does sometimes allow for some variation. For instance, the Greeks and the Romans would not have, inside their colonnade, put plasters that pair with the columns. These were maximizing the radial quality by aligning the true columns with the false columns. Female: So there's a real rhythm that Bramante's creating here. What makes this so High Renaissance to me is its grandeur. Even though it's so small, there's a real sense of monumentality. In a way, this is the architectural equivalent of Michelangelo's figures in the Sistine Chapel; a real sense of the heroic, looking back to Classical Antiquity, and celebrating a kind of humanism. Male: There is a kind of self assurance in the High Renaissance; this idea that man can actually produce exemplars on earth of the perfection of the heavenly. Even though this is such a small building, I think its monumentality comes from its great ambition. (jazzy music)