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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:28

Bramante, et.al., Saint Peter's Basilica

Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: We're standing in Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City in Rome. And it is one of the largest, most ornate spaces I've ever been in. I shouldn't say one of the most. It is the most. [LAUGHS] SPEAKER 2: And that was the idea. Pope Julius II, who commissioned the rebuilding of this church in the early 16th century, said to Bramante-- the first architect-- said, make me the most magnificent, biggest church in all of Christendom. And so that's what he did. SPEAKER 1: Ultimately, yes, that's what we have. But that's not what this place was originally. If you go back to the Ancient Roman era, this was Nero's Circus, a place where games were performed, sporting events were performed. This was a place where Nero, himself, apparently actually rode a chariot. SPEAKER 2: And it was also a place where there was an ancient necropolis, a burial ground, and by tradition, the place where Saint Peter, himself, was crucified and then buried. The early Christians created a monument on that site. SPEAKER 1: Apparently quite small and humble. SPEAKER 2: And then Constantine builds a church on this site. Because after all, Saint Peter is the first pope-- the first leader of the church-- given that job by Christ, himself. SPEAKER 1: And that would've been the fourth century, so actually very early. That church-- Constantine's Saint Peter's-- lasted for 1,000 years-- a little more. SPEAKER 2: Early 1500s, Pope Julius II, a very ambitious pope. SPEAKER 1: Julius had this extraordinary vision. And he brought together some of the most talented artists to develop this extraordinary space. SPEAKER 2: Beginning with the great High Renaissance artist Bramante, who did the initial plans for the rebuilding of Saint Peter's, through the great artists Raphael and Michelangelo of the High Renaissance-- as you said, the greatest minds of the Renaissance and then later the Baroque, in the early and mid 1600s, worked on this building. SPEAKER 1: Bramante understood this church as distinct from the way most churches had been built-- that is, borrowing from the Ancient Roman basilica plan. SPEAKER 2: And most churches that anyone probably knows are basilica plan. It's a very practical kind of plan for a church. It's got a long central area. It allows for easy passage of large numbers of people. It focuses on the altar. And so it was-- SPEAKER 1: And it just worked well. SPEAKER 2: It works really well. SPEAKER 1: But that's not what Bramante wanted. SPEAKER 2: No. And that makes sense. And if you understand the mindset of the High Renaissance, where there is an enormous interest in mathematics and in ideal perfect beauty and finding perfect proportions, Bramante's first design for Saint Peter's was very much based on those ideas. It was a Greek cross with equal arms instead of one longer arm. And it was inscribed within a square, with this dome over the center, and smaller domes. SPEAKER 1: And in essence, it really was a series of perfect circles and perfect squares. But Bramante's design didn't survive. SPEAKER 2: No. But people went back and forth to it. But ultimately, what we ended up with in the end is an extension of one of the arms of the cross. And so the plan ultimately does follow a basilica format. That perfect geometric form gave way to the practical needs of the church to hold large numbers of people and to focus attention on the altar. SPEAKER 1: So after Bramante, Raphael has a hand in the design. And ultimately, it passes to Michelangelo. What Michelangelo was able to do before the later Baroque additions was to expand on, simplify, and clarify Bramante's original ideas. And his work can be seen in the dome and on the exterior of the three sides of the church that were not extended. And then, of course, Maderno will add his Baroque facade. SPEAKER 2: And Bernini will decorate the interior of the church during the Baroque era, as well-- with the baldacchino, the Cathedra Petri-- and will also extend the front of the church, creating the piazza-- the Saint Peter's Square. SPEAKER 1: That's right. Those extraordinary arms-- that double colonnade. SPEAKER 2: Right. So there's a century and a half or so of work on this church-- a series of great architects and sculptors who work on it. It all works in the end. SPEAKER 1: It really comes together. And it is one of the most magnificent spaces on the face of the earth. [MUSIC PLAYING]