Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Christian Basilica

Leah Schrager
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction


Attention to proportion and “symmetria” in the human body and Roman architecture is evident in the Greco-Roman tradition in architectural treatises, basilical structure, and philosophical discourse. Vitruvius’ “De architectura” is the only surviving ancient treatise on architecture, likely written between 28 and 23 BCE. In it Vitruvius outlines six fundamental principles of architecture, of which two primary ones are “symmetria” and “eurthymia.” “Eurythmia” means gracefulness that leads to visual harmony and is most often achieved through “symmetria.” Following is a quote translated from Vitruvius’ treatise: “Symmetria is the proportioned correspondence of the elements of the work itself, a response, in any given part, of the separate parts to the appearance of the entire figure as a whole. Just as in the human body there is a harmonious quality of shapeliness expressed in terms of the cubit, palm, digit, and other small units, so it is in completing works of architecture.” (Rowland, 25; Figure 1) Plotinus, a Roman philosopher who lived from 204 – 270 CE, is considered to be the founder of Neoplatonism. He said that, “we see something as beautiful when it matches the beautiful form that is ourselves, that is, soul. We detect beauty by kinship, whether beauty in bodies or beauty in ideas, virtues, or ways of life.” (Miles, 40) Awareness of symmetry and proportion in the kinship of the human body and architecture forms an inextricable link.

The term “basilica” refers to the function of a building as that of a meeting hall and in early Roman society was a symbol of authority and social order. Architecturally, a basilica typically had a rectangular base that was split into aisles by columns and covered by a roof. There was an immense central aisle, colonnades, windows above the central aisle, and often a niche at the end. Basilicas were often constructed according to strict proportional guidelines; for example, “the columns of basilicas ought to be made as tall as the porticoes are going to be wide. The porticoes should be one-third the area of the central space. . .” (Rowland, 64) Upon entering a massive basilica the individual will feel tiny in comparison to the state, yet connected to the empire because each body and meeting hall was defined by similar tastes of symmetry. “Symmetria” is thus one of the most deeply rooted and continuous features of Greco-Roman thought, philosophically, artistically and aesthetically; it forms the basis for the Roman’s aesthetic sense of form, beauty, and harmony.

II. Description

Philosophy in ancient Rome was not detached intellectually but took part in dealing with every day life, with human misery. “The central motivation for philosophizing is the urgency of human suffering, and. . . the goal of philosophy is human flourishing or ‘eudaimonia.’” (Miles, 14). According to Plotinus, “controlling the body was seen as the best method for creating and cultivating a carefully designed self.” (Miles, 17) Michel Foucault, a prominent historian, claims that several centuries before Plotinus and “among certain classes educated and moderately wealthy men, carefully designed ‘practices of the self’ were used to create a consciously chosen, intentionally developed, counter-cultural ‘self.’” (Miles, 17) These activities included restrictions on diet, activity, sex, and other behaviors. Thus, among the elite at least, self-identity was intentionally created and cultivated; this kind of fine-crafting would lead to greater “eudaimonia” for the individual.

As a whole, the strength of Roman civilization in the first and second centuries laid in the very elite and aristocratic. Historian Brehier claims that the revolt of Maximinus in 235 CE “marked the beginning of an endless series of civil and foreign wars, of various calamities, plagues, and famines which continued without interruption for a half-century and which depopulated and impoverished the empire, destroying the elite. . .” and caused a decline in the level of philosophy, art, literature (Brehier, 13-14). Much of the third century was marked by turn over among rulers and poverty of the masses.

Meanwhile, Christianity was a growing religion. Early Christianity gave significant attention to the poverty of the masses and the suffering of the body. “Judith Perkins’s book, ‘The suffering self: pain and narrative representation in the early Christian era,’ argues persuasively that it was not simply the body, but more particularly, the ‘suffering’ body that became the foundation of the Christian self and the Christian church.” (Miles, 19) This was reflected in the growth of the ascetic movement, which advocated the “pleasure of no pleasure.” In sum, “the superior capability of the ‘suffering-self’ model over the ‘self-mastery’ model to multiply converts to create the Christian church is due at least in part to the perennial and democratic accessibility of pain and suffering” (Miles, 20). Christianity developed in strength partly due to its acknowledgment and attention to the suffering of the human body among the Roman populace.

III. Function

Early Christian meetings were located in small Roman houses (the “domus”) or community buildings. Since Christians were hiding from persecution by the Empire, the façade was plain, the house ordinary, and the location undesirable. Constantine became the ruler of Italy in 312 CE and in 313 CE declared the Edict of Toleration in which Christianity was allowed. Constantine “gave Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship.” (The Edict of Milan) Christianity eventually became the religion of the empire and continued drawing converts; domestic architecture could no longer fulfill the needs of the meeting place for Christianity.

Christianity adopts the form of the Roman basilica and adapts it. Various reasons for adopting the basilical structure have been hypothesized by historians. Of all current Roman buildings, the basilica had the fewest ties to pagan temples. Also, it was an official building that already demanded respect of the Roman people. Most importantly, it could accommodate huge congregations of laymen and clergy. While various theories persist, the strongest argument holds that the Roman basilica was adopted primarily for functional purposes: it demanded respect and fit the spatial needs of a service. The deep connection to proportion, symmetry, and the human body in Roman society was not likely considered.

Over years the original basilica structure was adapted to accommodate the celebration of mass, create hierarchy within the church, and inspire deeper religious faith. The central aisle came to be known as the nave. It was enlarged for mass audiences and became a public assembly hall in which crowds gathered, “singing hymns and amen-ing the fervent imprecations of the preacher.” (Mathews 92) There were no pews and the crowds could swirl through the massive space and be physically involved in the service. The ceiling and floor were flat and parallel to each other, and coupled with the colonnades (rows of columns that optically appear to get smaller and move inwards), created a forward motion within the nave that directed focus to the apse at the far end (Figure 2). Inside this grand space the individual was made to feel small and unimportant; the individual was one of many taken up in the motion of the congregants and the architecture.

Whereas the private art in the roman “domus” was seen as “staccato”, an “interior with such a compelling directional sense required a dramatic stop. . . provided in the apse, a deep, curving niche set in an arch that panned the whole width of the nave” called for the development of powerful images (Matthews, 94). This led to the development of imagery for the apse to invite worship and inspire the congregation; often the figure at the center of the image would be Christ, Mary, or an important Saint of the church (Figure 3). Images were symmetrical, hierarchical, and frontal reflecting balance in the Christian world (Matthews, 96). The figure at the center of the image was divinely powerful: it was often the only figure in the entire basilica that did not have a balancing mirror image but carried the axis of symmetry within its own body. The central figure was paradoxically humane because the image of another human body at the focal point created kinship between the congregant and the figure. The tie of kinship and proportion between the congregant’s body, the spiritual figure, and the architecture of the basilica drew the congregant in and invited worship. The culmination was to give the congregant an all-encompassing divine yet humane experience of Christianity.

Clerestory windows allowed natural light into the church in an architecturally designated fashion. “Because light is associated with divinity, [light] forms an important element in medieval aesthetics.” (Minor, 56) Light streaming through the windows would often highlight the image at the apse and the immensity of the basilica (Figure 4). The difference between the internal, safe and cool environment and the external, uncertain and hot environment is indicated by the careful manipulation of natural light.

Some early Christian buildings known as “martyria” and were built to house the relics of martyrs or on sites of a holy place of Christ’s life on earth, his forbearers, or his followers (Ward-Perkins, 460). A martyr’s grave (“martyrium”) was originally located in the catacomb and later moved inside the basilica, often to the apse (Krautheimer, 54). The architectural plan of the church became more complex: “Constantine’s designers experimented with axial emphasis, crossed longitudinal and transeptal axes, rotundas, and octagons.” (MacDonald, 22) The transept was used to create hierarchy within the church (through the segregation of clergy and laymen). Hierarchy of seating arrangements became typical – the closer an individual was to the apse, the higher his rank, and the more powerful his spiritual experience. The location of the martyr’s grave at the apse highlighted another human body as a pivotal point of focus in the church. A divine vertical line was established between the martry’s grave, the priest (living saint) standing above, and the image of Christ in the apse. Similarly, a horizontal line was drawn from the congregant through the forward motion of the nave culminating at the vertical group of divinity. The architecture of the church and the location of significant figures in key locations were carefully designed to create a forward pull and an all-consuming experience for the congregation.

IV. Conclusion

The church is pleasing and calming due to its grand yet simple principles of architecture: kinship to the human body, proportion, and regularity. The church draws on ancient and novel architectural elements to create an all-consuming bodily experience for the visitor. Architects developed different ways to direct attention in the space and encourage fervent prayer. The Christian philosophy and basilica drew in Roman society so effectively because it spoke to the suffering of the masses, pulled on the Roman aesthetic and comfort in “symmetria”, and created compelling lines of divinity and humanity between congregant, priest, and Christ.

V. Personal Observations

I was originally drawn to the topic of the Christian basilica because of its connection to proportion and the human body. I was interested in ancient Roman understanding of the body’s function in life, and how that conception translated into their massive architectural feats. My academic interests have stemmed from my personal background and passion for dance; in my paper I dig for the connection between early Roman conceptions of bodies, space, and architecture.

I focused my early research on Plotinus, early Roman philosopher, and his writings on Roman society and the body and soul. As the founder of Neo-Platonism, I was led to Plato’s ancient Greek philosophy as well. Vitruvius’ treatise on architecture describes the connection between ancient Greek architecture, “symmetria,” proportion, and the human body. These were fundamental principles to early Roman architecture, as seen most poignantly in basilical buildings. I studied early Christian doctrine’s recognition of the “suffering” body in Roman society. Christianity adopted and adapted Roman basilical principles to create a novel basilica. Each feature of the Christian basilica worked to create channels of motion and an all-encompassing physical experience for the congregant.

VI. Bibliography

Brehier, Emile. Trans. By Joseph Thomas. “The Philosophy of Plotinus.” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Krautheimer, Richard. “Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture.” England: Penguin Books Ltd, 1986.

MacDonald, William L. Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1962.

Mathews, Thomas F. “The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art.” Princeton, 1993.

Miles, Margaret R. “Plotinus on Body and Beauty: Society, Philosophy, and Religion in Third-century Rome.” Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.

Minor, Vernon Hyde. “Art History’s History.”

Rowland, Ingrid D. and Howe, Thomas Noble. "Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture." New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Ward-Perkins, J.B. “Studies in Roman and Early Christian Architecture.” London: The Pindar Press, 1994.

Wilson Jones, Mark. “Principles of Roman Architecture.” New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.

Piazza Navona and Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain

Nina Miller
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction

Piazza Navona has been Rome’s most popular secular assembly space for generations. It is built on the spot of Emperor Domitian’s stadium that was constructed in 86 A.D. Over the years, the long, nearly oval piazza has been the site of diversions of all kinds from mock sea battles to medieval jousts. From 1477 to 1869, the piazza was used as a marketplace, and from the 1600s to as recent as the 1800s, it was flooded every weekend in August for the entertainment of the Roman citizens. Much of what is seen today in the Piazza Navona is a result of one family: the Pamphilis. In the 1600s, the Pamphili family gave Piazza Navona a major remodel.

The Pamphili family had been a presence in Rome for a long time. They moved to Rome from Gubbio in the 1400s. Over the years, family members had begun to buy property in the area surrounding the Piazza Navona. In autumn of 1644, the nephew and sister-in-law of Cardinal Giambattisa Pamphili (who would later become Pope Innocent X) bought land next to the cardinal’s house with the idea of combining their properties into one large palace that fronted the Piazza Navona. They felt that this would be the perfect showcase to house one of the leading families in Rome in what was then the largest civic space in the city.

As the Palazzo Pamphili began to take shape, Pope Innocent realized that the character of the Piazza was changing. It was no longer merely a market and gathering place, but rather one of the city’s most important squares and home to the first family of Rome. As the buildings around the piazza were being built and refurbished, it became clear that a single unifying focal point was needed. Innocent decided upon incorporating an ancient obelisk that had just been found at the Circus of Maxentius into a fountain to serve as the centerpiece of his piazza. Now all that was needed was someone to design the fountain.

Gianlorenzo Bernini was one of the most well-known, talented sculptors of the time. One might assume, therefore, that he would have been the obvious first choice to design such a grand piece of art. As it turns out, however, this was not the case. During the reign of Innocent’s predecessor, Urban XIII, Bernini enjoyed the position of the pope’s preferred architect. He lost this position, however, when Innocent became pope. Urban XIII led an unpopular regime and spent a lot of the church’s money on personal items and family expenses. Because of this, Innocent decided that he did not want anything to do with Urban, including, therefore, Bernini. Fortunately, however, the fountain that stands today is indeed Bernini’s work; thus it can be assumed that he found a way around Innocent’s initial exclusion.

History tells two stories of how Bernini accomplished winning the commission for the Four Rivers Fountain. In one story, the pope’s nephew encouraged Bernini to create a model. He then placed Bernini’s model strategically in the Pamphili Palace so that the pope would have to walk around it. After seeing the model, Innocent was completely won over and claimed, “If one does not want to carry out [Bernini’s] designs, one must not see them.” In a second story, it is said that while other sculptors were making models out of clay and wax, Bernini made his out of silver. He then presented this model to the pope’s sister-in-law, Donna Olimpia, who was amply impressed and managed to persuade the pope to accept Bernini’s design. In either case, what is known for sure is that Bernini got the commission and created what stands today as a masterful work of art.

II. Description

The basic design of the fountain is a travertine rock surrounded by four river gods, topped with a large Egyptian obelisk. The four river gods represent the four major continents of the world, as they were known in the 1600s. One surprising element of this fountain is the posture of the river gods. Traditionally, river gods were depicted in a lounging-position; they were hardly ever seen doing anything. In Bernini’s fountain, however, their twists, turns, and muscular contractions simulate the motions of the rivers they personify.

The river god on the northwest corner of the fountain is for the Rio de la Plata and represents the Americas. A bag of coins spilling out under the god’s feet symbolizes the riches of the New World. The river god is depicted as a black man, which reflects the fact that, at the time, very little was known about the Americas.

To the left of the Rio de la Plata god is the god of the Danube River representing Europe. This statue has one of the most energetic poses of all the river gods. His body is twisted to the right and his arms are stretched out in order to support the large papal coat of arms at the base of the obelisk. Between the Danube and Rio de la Plata gods is a large horse. The horse was known to be native to both Europe and the Americas, thus representing a connection between the two continents.

The Ganges River, representing Asia, is seen on the other side of the Danube. This river god straddles an oar to represent the navigability of the river through India.

On the other side of this god is the god of the Nile River representing the fourth continent known at the time, Africa. The face of this god is covered with a cloth to symbolize the fact that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time the fountain was made. In between the Nile and Ganges gods is a lion and palm tree, known to be native to both Asia and Africa. The lion crouches down toward the water ready to drink, and the palm tree sways in the wind. The four gods are situated around a large travertine rock that serves as the base of the obelisk.

The travertine rock was carved to look like the quarry that the stone for the obelisk came from. In order to make the fountain more dramatic and astonish viewers to this day, Bernini carved out the center of the travertine so that a space through both sides of the base is open. The obelisk that rests on top of the travertine base was carved in Egypt and brought to Rome by Emperor Domitian. Domitian had a stonesman carve hieroglyphics that refer to Domian as “Eternal pharaoh” and Vespasian and Titus as gods. Resting on top of the obelisk is a dove, representative of both the Pamphili family and also the Holy Spirit.

III. Function

The Four Rivers Fountain has an amazing ability to manipulate its viewers’ movement. Its massive size demands the attention of any visitor coming to the Piazza Navona. Once the viewer is drawn in, the fountain then seems to draw the viewer in a circular motion. There is not one single position that offers a satisfactory view of the entire fountain. In order to see all four river gods, or to find the front of the lion whose rear can be seen on one side, an onlooker must continue moving around the fountain. The idea of a circular motion is especially fitting for the position of the Four Rivers Fountain. It is placed in the center of an oval piazza; thus, by circling the fountain, one in turn ends up circling the entire piazza.

The movement of the viewer is not the only effect this fountain imposes on its visitors. Bernini carved the base of the fountain such that one is left to wonder how the giant obelisk is supported at all. He hollowed out the travertine base so that you can actually see through the sculpture from one side to the other. The sense of disbelief that this wonder inflicts adds to the dramatic effect of the fountain. At the time the fountain was complete, many contemporary critics insisted that the base was not stable enough to support the obelisk and thought that it would come toppling down at any moment. Bernini decided to face his critics head-on in order to stop their disapproval once and for all. He came to the Piazza Navona a couple days after a large storm in which everyone was “sure” the obelisk would fall and pretended to make an hour-long inspection of the fountain. After this inspection, Bernini took four strings that were nailed to the tops of buildings around the piazza and tied them to the top of the obelisk, and then, with a look of satisfaction, drove off in his carriage.

IV. Patron

As noted earlier, Pope Innocent commissioned the Four Rivers Fountain as a way to add a unifying focal point to the middle of his piazza. The significance of the fountain goes far beyond a simple piece of aesthetic decoration, however. Innocent was deliberate in his rejection of his predecessor’s regime. He wanted nothing to do with Urban XIII, and he used this fountain as one way of showing that. The aqueduct that feeds the fountains of the Piazza Navona also goes on to feed the Trevi Fountain -- a fountain that Urban XIII championed during his reign. Innocent, therefore, decided to divert the water away from the Trevi Fountain to be used in his own piazza. The Four Rivers Fountain served as a perfect outlet for such a diversion of water.

The symbolism behind the fountain also served as a propagandistic tool for Pope Innocent. In a single piece of art, the four continents of the world were united under one giant obelisk. In essence, Pope Innocent was bringing the whole world to the center of his piazza and topping it with an obelisk that carried his family emblem, the dove. The dove also symbolizes the Holy Spirit, so its presence on top of the obelisk additionally serves to exorcise the pagan implication of the obelisk and place Christianity above all. The message transmitted by this fountain is one of power and triumph of the church under Pope Innocent.

The idea of triumph was a particularly important message to be sent. At the time this fountain was being made, there was a widespread feeling of defeatism throughout the Catholic community. During the Thirty Years War that ended in 1648 there was a series of religious and territorial battles between Protestants and Catholics. The treaty that put an end to this war demanded that the Catholic Church sacrifice important bishoprics in the north in order to keep Austria and Bohemia under its control. This sacrifice was seen as a major loss to the Church and left an air of defeatism over the Catholic community. Innocent’s fountain helped to improve the image of strength of the Church and papacy.

V. Personal Observations

In researching the Piazza Navona and Four Rivers Fountain, I was especially interested in both the sheer skill of Bernini and also the amount of symbolism that was worked into the fountain. When I walked up to the fountain for the first time, I was struck with awe and admiration. Life-like movement was extracted from the marble and captured in nearly every element of the fountain. The lion crouched in a position about to drink water while the Ganges River God straddled an oar between his hands. All four river gods were frozen in very energetic poses adding an element of life to the fountain. The talent required to design and create such a work of art is beyond my understanding. Bernini carved the finishing touches on the travertine base, the lion, horse, and palm tree on site. This is an amazing feat considering the cramped, constricted space he had to work in.

The most enjoyable aspect of researching the Four Rivers Fountain was discovering the symbolism behind each figure carved on the fountain. From the covered Nile River God’s head to the lion and palm tree, every aspect of the fountain had a meaning behind it. To see the fountain as more than just aesthetically pleasing decoration and to know its symbols, meanings, and intentions proved to be the most rewarding part of my studies.

VI. Bibliography

Angelini, Alessandro. Bernini. Milano: Jaca book, 1999.

Briggs, Martin S. “The Genius of Bernini.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 26.143 (1915).

Fehrenbach, Frank. “Bernini’s Light.” Art History 28.1 (2005): 17-20.

Marder, T.A. Bernini and the Art of Architecture. New York: Abbeville Press, 1998.

Morrissey, Jake. The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini, and the rivalry that transformed Rome. New York: William Morrow, 2005.

Petersson, Robert. Bernini and the Excesses of Art. Florence, Italy: M & M, Maschietto & Ditore, 2002.

Wittkower, Rudolf. Bernini: the sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London: Phaidon Press, 1997.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Sariah Khormaee
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction

By the time Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to renovate the Capitoline Hill into a cohesive architectural square in 1536, this area had already achieved its reputation as a unique symbolic site in Roman history. It was atop the Capitoline Hill that Romulus, the founder of Rome, established the first sanctuary for new Roman citizens. In the 6th century BCE, the Temple of Jupiter was built on this site, where legend ascribes the name Capitoline to the excavation for this Temple. Because of Jupiter’s symbolic role as the special guardian god of Rome, most triumphal marches ended on top of the Capitoline with victorious generals making sacrifices at the Temple to thank the gods for their good fortunes. A matching temple to Juno was also built at this time.

In 78 BCE, the Tabularium or state archive, was built on Capitoline Hill. This marked the beginning of government offices on the Capitoline that have functioned continuously to modern day. During the following centuries, fires and restorations reshaped the nature of the Hill’s structure. In the Middle Ages, a towering fort that later became the Palazzo Senatorio was built on the site of the Tabularium, and this enormous fort eventually became the site of Senate meetings in 1143. A second building that is still standing today, called the Palazzo dei Conservatori, was completed in 1447-1455 as a seat for magistrates to whom the city administrators were responsible. Unfortunately, in ensuing decades, the Capitoline fell into disrepair. By the time Michelangelo received his commission in 1536 to redesign the Capitoline, the area had become a dirty, haphazard space where Senators conducted business amidst grazing livestock. It would require another 109 years of construction, including building the Palazzo Nuovo from 1603 to 1660, to create Michelangelo's cohesive Campidoglio Piazza that is visible today.

II. Description

The Campidoglio is widely considered an superior example of urban design. To reach the square, one must first ascend the gently sloping, ramped staircase lined by unique pieces of sculpture. At the base of the staircase, or cordonata, lie two black Egyptian lions from 2nd century ACE. Originally installed as sculptures, they were later transformed into fountains with urns collecting streaming water by the architect Giacomo della Porta.

As one continues to ascend the staircase, two giant statues of the Dioscuri stand on the ballistrade. Hatched from an egg, these devoted brothers were the mythical twin sons of Zeus and Leda; since according to legend, Zeus had impregnated Leda in the guise of a swan.

These two statues have two oddly shaped caps, representing the remnants of eggshell from which the twins were hatched. Since they are believed to be the special protectors of Rome, their special placement on the ballistrade is well warranted.

Beside the Dioscuri are two coats of arms representing the spoils of war that were returned to Rome from military victories. Because of the Capitoline Hill’s special significance as the final site for triumphal marches, these serve as reminders of ancient Rome’s military power. Finally, also on the ballistrade farthest from the stairs, are two statues representing Constantine and his son, Constantine II. Recognition of Emperor Constantine as the first Christian emperor accounts for the prominent placement of these statues on the ballistrade.

As one reaches the top of the cordonata, the square emerges slowly and magnificently. The three buildings facing the viewer create a sense of enclosure. Directly in front of the viewer lies the Palazzo Senatorio, with its enormous triangular staircase leading up towards the entrance. Framed within the staircase foundation is an ornamental fountain. Like the Egyptian lions at the base of the cordonata, this fountain is a deviation from Michelangelo’s original design. In a central curved niche stands a statue of a blended Minerva and Roma. She holds in her hand a globe symbolizing Rome’s hold on the world, a theme that is often repeated throughout the square. On either side, she is flanked by two river gods representing the Nile and Tiber Rivers, thus symbolizing the geographical expansiveness of the Roman Empire.

On the right and left sides of the square lie the Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo respectively. These two buildings currently house the Capitoline Museums. Although it is not obvious to the viewer, the two palaces form an unusual 80 degree angle with the Palazzo Senatorio. As a result, the square is really a trapezoid, with the equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius located at its center. When Pope Paul III had originally ordered the placement of this statue, he had mistakenly believed that it was a depiction of Constantine, the first Christian emperor. Although the current statue is a replica, the original may be found in the Capitoline Museums.

This equestrian statue is highlighted by its oval pedestal and the unique star- shaped design of the surrounding pavement. The pedestal itself was Michelangelo’s first task for the square when Pope Paul III contacted him to redesign Capitoline Hill, and it still bears the Papal Seal of Paul III. However, Michelangelo’s original design of the stellate pattern was only recreated recently in 1940 by Mussolini, who ordered that the radiating pattern of Giacomo della Porta (the architect who carried out most of the building of the Campidoglio after Michelangelo’s death) be replaced.

Overall, the square is defined by a strong sense of traditional symmetry. Michelangelo firmly believed in Vetruvian dynamics through architecture, and designed the Palazzo Nuovo specifically to fulfill a symmetric, not functional, requirement. In an undated letter, Michelangelo wrote that “the central elements are always free”, but that “corresponding parts of a plan must be identical, just as one hand is obliged to be like the other in the human body”. This sentiment is clearly followed in the Campidoglio. Despite its unique trapezoidal character, each element of the square firmly adheres to symmetry along a strong central axis that leads to the Palazzo Senatorio.

However, not all of Michalengelo’s design was based in tradition. Importantly, his design of the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the corresponding Palazzo Nuovo incorporate the first examples of a “giant column”, defined as a column that extends higher than one story. These façade elements, along with smaller, one story ionic columns, disguise the actual structural building support and imbibe a commanding presence to these buildings.

III. Function

The design of the Campidoglio masterfully manipulates the flow of people from the lower level of busy streets, up the cordonata and through the square, leading up to the Palazzo Senatorio. The piazza is meant to be enjoyed by all Romans, and thus, is easily accessible from the streets below. The heavy axis deliniated by the Campidoglio’s symmetry runs from the center of the cordonata straight through the square, and directs viewers towards the Palazzo Senatorio. However, movement is impeded by the Statue of Marcus Aurelius, delaying progression from the top of the cordonata towards the Palazzo Senatorio. The stellate design encourages revolution around the statue. In addition, the entryways to the Palazzo Senatorio staircase force a diversion from the central axis because of their position away from the central axis of the square. Michelangelo’s purposeful direction of the viewer through the space emphasizes the importance of Palazzo Senatorio as the focal building of the Campidoglio, but also encourages the viewer to pause and focus his/her attention towards the statue of Marcus Aurelius.

When commissioning Michelangelo to redesign the Campidoglio, Pope Paul III had two specific goals in mind. First, he wanted the space to serve as an appropriately grand representation of Rome’s symbolic importance as the caput mundi or center of the world. Second, he wanted to clearly delineate the role of the Church in this long-standing seat of secular government.

Several architectural elements carryout Pope Paul III’s first goal of emphasizing the role of Rome as the center of the world. All of the previously described statues lining the ballistades and in the Palazzo Senatorio’s fountain represent historical symbolism that recalls the power of ancient Rome. As mentioned earlier, the river gods and Egyptian lions represent the geographical extent of Rome’s historical influence, and the coats of armor on the Cordanata ballistrade represent the spoils of Roman conquest. Additionally, the Statue of Minerva/Roma grasping the world in her hands symbolizes Rome’s hold on the world. More subtle is the gentle curve of the stellate paving pattern surrounding the Statue of Marcus Aurelius. This curve is designed to represent the shape of Earth exposed, and thus, Rome’s role as the center of global power. Finally, the strength of the vertical and horizontal lines in the building facades imparts a commanding presence to all three Palazzos.

There are three other main elements that focus on Pope Paul III’s desire to emphasize the power of the Church in secular governance. First, the placement of Marcus Aurelius in the center of the square was meant to imply the importance of Christianity in the Roman Empire. As stated earlier, this equestrian statue was long thought to be that of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, and thus, had special significance for the Paul III. Its identification as Marcus Aurelius occurred only several decades after Paul III’s death; therefore, its mistaken symbolism was probably shared by visitors to the Campidoglo for a corresponding period of time. Second, the base for the equestrian statue has a clear representation of Paul III’s crest, thus symbolizing the role of the Church on Capitoline Hill, the ancient and modern seat of secular government. Third, the entryway to Palazzo Senatorio was redesigned to directly face St. Peter’s Basilica. Originally, the entry to the Palazzo Senatorio was through the Forum. However, in Michelangelo’s redesign, he reversed the direction of main entry and exit, so that all senators moving into the Palazzo Senatorio would clearly see St. Peter’s in the Roman skyline. Paul III clearly sought to emphasize the connection between the secular and religious capitals of Rome.

IV. Patron

Pope Paul III’s motivation for commissioning Michaelangelo’s redesign of Capitoline Hill was in expectation of Emperor Charles V’s visit to Rome. Paul III’s predecessor, Pope Clemens VII, had aligned himself and Rome against Charles V in one of his many wars with the King of France. In retribution, Emperor Charles V attacked Rome and drove Clemens VII back into the Castel Sant’Angelo, where he was eventually killed.

Eager to avoid the fate of Pope Clemens VII, Paul III actively orchestrated Charles V’s visit to Rome. Returning from a campaign against the Turks in Tunesia, Charles V wished to demonstrate his domination and prevent future Roman rebellions by staging a triumphal entry in the traditional manner of the ancients. Therefore, Charles V’s arrival simulated previous Roman conquerors, by marching through important historical sites such as the Arch of Constantine, Colosseum and the Campidoglio. During the organization of this march, Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to redesign the base of the equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, for its placement in the center of the Campidoglio. At the time of Charles V’s procession through the city, only the base had been completed; however, Paul III was so pleased with Michelangelo’s work, that he requested an entire redesign of the square.

As the Pope and leader of Rome, Paul III wished to impart both religious symbolism and the greatness of Rome in the square’s redesign. However, part of Michelangelo’s challenge was to work with the available elements to meet the Pope’s functional requests. By focusing on elements of symmetry and using the Statue of Marcus Aurelius as a center of the design, Michelangelo was able to reshape the square’s existing elements into a cohesive design.

V. Conclusion

Architecturally, the Campidoglio remains one of the best examples of the complete transformation of public space. From an original pair of oddly angled buildings, Michelangelo was able to reformat the area into a square with spatial symmetry and cohesion. In addition, the important introduction of giant order columns to convey a commanding and powerful presence is now a widespread architectural feature found in many other buildings. For example, both the White House and many different financial institutions use giant order columns in their facades. In recognition of its architectural merits, the Campidoglio served as the ceremonial site of the Pritzker Prize, a prestigious architectural award of modern day.

The symbolic and functional significance of the Campidoglio continues even today. The Palazzo Senatorio houses secular government offices and serves as the mayor’s office. The Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo house the Capitoline Museum collections, and additionally, the Palazzo dei Conservatori contains several Roman municipal offices. The square itself is the site of frequent wedding parties and political protests.

Currently, the Campidoglio remains symbolically important in world politics. In 2002, it served as the site of the Nobel Peace Laureate meetings to consider the challenges of ensuring peace, humanity and equality in the advent of the Iraqi War. In addition, the Campidoglio was selected as the location for signing the first European Union Constitution by twenty-five EU nations.

VI. Personal Observations

In reading about the Campidoglio, one constantly encounters praises about the harmony of this site. H.V. Morton wrote that “In all cities, there are certain places, a church or a garden, where one may go as a sanctuary in moments of happiness or sorrow; and in spite of grand and stormy memories, the piazza on the Capitol is such a place to me.” Repeatedly, similar sentiments emerge from numerous writers reflecting the peaceful atmosphere of the Campidoglio.

Upon my visits to the Campidoglio, I was struck both by its ambient harmony and sense of aesthetic balance. Of particular interest to me was the interplay between the stellate pavement pattern and the enclosed trapezoid resulting from how the Palazzos are positioned. These two design elements relate different, opposing forces. Radiating from Marcus Aurelius, the white stripes of the paving seem to push outwards in contrast to the bold lines in the Palazzo façade that enclose the space. The trapezoidal configuration of the buildings welcomes the viewer into the square, as if the Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Senatori are giant arms that embrace all who enter. As a result, the inward force of the Palazzos balance the outward force of the paving. It is fascinating to me that Michelangelo was able to so skillfully balance the illusions of these forces in his designs to give both movement and harmony to the space. As a result of its historical symbolism and architectural balance, the Campidoglio has retained its special beauty, harmony and function throughout the ages to modern times.

VII. Bibliography

Belford, Ros and Oliva Ercoki. “Rome.” London: Dorling Kindersley, 1999.

Brouse, Micheal and Sari Gilbert. “National Geographic Traveller: Rome.” New York: National Geographic, 2003.

Ching, Francis D. K. “Architecture: Form, Space and Order. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1979.

Gletcher, Sir Banister. “Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975.

Grundmann, Stefan. “The architecture of Rome : an architectural history in 400 individual presentations.” Manitoba: Stuttgart, 1998.

“Fordor’s Rome.” New York: Fodors, 2003.

“EU Leaders Meet to Sign First Constitution.” China Daily. Oct 30, 2004: 1.

MacAdam, Alta. “Blue Guide Rome.” London: A. & C. Black, 2003.

Miller, John Fizhugh. “Classical Architecture in Renaissance Europe 1419-1585.” Virginia: Thirteen Colonies Press, 1987.

Morton, HV. “A Traveler in Rome.” Milan: Del Capo Press, 2001.

Murray, Peter. “Architecture of the Renaissance.” New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1971.

Partridge, Loren W. “The art of Renaissance Rome, 1400-1600.” New York : Harry N. Abrams, 1996.

Roche, Douglas. “World Summit on Nobel Peace Laureates.” UN Chronicle. Mar-May 2003: 76-78.

Serra, Victorio. “Rome & the Vatican: Practical Guide: 2, 3 & 4 Day Visits.” Milan: Bonechi Edizioni, 2000.

Sear, Frank. "Roman Architecture." Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.

Touring Club of Italy. “The Heritage Guide Rome: The Eternal City and the Vatican, Their Churches, Museums, Monuments and Archeological Sites.” Milano: Touring Club Italiano, 1999.

Turner, Jane. “The Dictionary of Art.” New York : Grove's Dictionaries, 1996.

Varriano, John. “A Literary Companion to Rome : Including Ten Walking Tours.” New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1995.

Imperial Rome vs. Roman Republic

Joel Nishimura
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005
small presentation

Historical Background of the Site or Topic

Coming from the US we have very fixed ideas about the words "republic" and "imperial". We tend to focus on the philosophical differences and thus conclude that a Republic is fair, just and upheld by some proto-conception of a social contract while an imperial system by nature is harsh, brutal and ultimately a tyranny. Our modern conceptions of these forms of government do not necessarily transfer to the times of ancient Rome, rather a look at the functional differences reveals something different. Indeed, one of the surprising things when one reads the histories of Rome is that the transition from republic to imperial changed everything and yet everything essentially remained the same.

The largest functional difference between the late republic and the early imperial government was essentially that the republic was unable to control the vast empire while the imperial system could. The key problem raised by the Roman republic’s size was it was not able to control the military, a problem that led to several rounds of civil war and political murder. By contrast the centralized autocratic powers vested in an emperor combined with a small personal army were usually enough to control the military.

While it might be expected that a republic would have a fairer and more peaceful foreign policy it is important to remember that both governments engaged in brutal wars of conquest. Indeed much of the key expansion of the Roman Empire occurred while it was still a Republic. Rome was an empire long before it was imperial.

However, perhaps the key difference that the modern viewer sees between an imperial system and a republic is one of political participation and by extension legitimacy. While it is true that the “common man” had more political power under the Republic the reality was that in both systems it was really only a select few who had the true political power. The real irony may arise from the fact that the imperial system had times when it acted far more in the favor of the “common man” than the Republic ever did. In any case it is important to remember that the average inhabitant of ancient Rome was either a woman or a slave, people who had essentially no political power (except a few vestal virgins).

This however is not to say that the forms of the governments were not different.

The Roman Republic was based off a collection of documents that collectively acted as a constitution. This constitution had several novel features that were designed to prevent autocratic rule and a general system of checks and balances. The two most notable features of the constitution were strict term limits and collegiality, where each position was held by at least two people. For the most of the Republic and parts of the Imperial ages Romans held this constitution as almost sacred, it had after all allowed Rome to become the dominant world power. In practice though the Roman Republic really operated more as a combination between oligarchy and republic than a strict republic.

The base of the political system in the Roman Republic were three different assemblies in which the male citizens of Rome would perform everything from ceremonial duties, to passing laws and electing magistrates. The three assemblies where the Curie, the Centuries and the Tribes. These assemblies were supposed to be advised by the Senate but in practice the Senate was often the real source of policy and power. The power of the Senate was largely due to the fact that it was the only permanent governing body and the only body in which debate was permitted. The assemblies by contrast only had voting capacities and could thus only approve or not approve the Senate’s policies.

The executive powers of the government were managed by a set of magistrates elected from the assemblies. The most notable positions where the two Consuls, who could introduce legislation, lead armies and where generally the head of the government. Some other positions included the Censors; who took the census and determined who were senators, the Praetors; who were essentially judges, and the Tribunes; who were supposed to protect the lower classes from the higher classes. Another position of great prestige and power was that of the Pontifex Maximus who was the head of the state religion. This one position had great political power, as it was religious omens that determined the political calendar.

The Romans understood though that in a true crisis their republic might be too slow to react so they had an emergency position, the dictator. Dictators could be elected for six months during which the constitution would be suspended and they would have complete autocratic control.

This system of government though was fraught with social tension between the two major classes of citizens. The two initial classes were the Plebeians and the Patricians. The Patrician class was an inherited status dating back to the founding of Rome while the Plebeians were everyone else. However, after successive reforms this system was abolished in favor of a fairer system based on wealth instead of blood. The wealthiest citizens were known as equestrians and were entitled to certain benefits. This however did not truly change much; there still existed a tension between the small group of superrich and the vast majority of the citizenry.

It was from this divide in the class structure of Rome that the two major political schools of thought arose. The Optimates were republican conservatives representing the short-term interests of the equestrians, while the Populares were essentially populist reformers. As problems associated with rapid expansion began appearing the tensions between these groups escalated. This combined with the decreasing ability of the Senate to control the military since the Marius reforms led to a series of civil war that finally culminated in the young Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor, Augustus.

The imperial system of government started by Augustus was notable for its attempts and success in being able to guise an authoritarian dictatorship behind a quasi-constitutional framework. The general pattern used to consolidate power was by moving power from the assemblies to the senate, packing the senate with supporters and then having the senate elect the would-be emperor to positions for life. Additionally the imperial system included a personal army, the Praetorian Guard, which was allowed to operate in Rome, where no previous army was ever allowed to occupy. The most important change to the government though was the addition of a civil service. In retrospect it is baffling how the Roman Republic was able to function without non-military government employees to manage the state.

The imperial age can roughly be divided between the Principate, and the Dominate. During the Dominate the emperors declared themselves to be what we would roughly call kings or emperors. By contrast during the Principate the emperors would not describe themselves in a way that we would consider similar to the word emperor today. Rather the earlier emperors declared themselves “princeps”, or first citizens.

Ultimately though, despite these difference both of these governments were distinctly Roman inventions. On their own the different Roman governments were incredibly successful in their own ways. Combined these governments defined an entire age as distinctly Roman.


McManus, Barbara. Roman Government; accessed 23, August 2005. romangvt.html

McManus, Barbara. Roman Social Class and Public Display; accessed 23, August 2005.
~bmcmanus/ socialclass.html

Wikipedia. Roman Republic; Roman Empire; Princeps; Principate; Dominate; Imperium; Roman Assemblies; Roman Senate; Pontifex Maximus; Augustus. accessed 23, August 2005.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Masonry of Rome

Zinnia Zheng
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005
small presentation

I. Historical Background of the Site or Topic
OPUS latin for “work”, describes the technique/method/style of connecting
building elements

During the more ancient times of 800 BCE up until 2nd century BCE, opus quadratum – a technique involving stacking large tufa blocks on top of each other – served as the Roman’s most common masonry.
Opus Reticulatum

Everything changed post 2nd century BCE, when the Romans discovered the pulvis puteoli (present day pozzolana). Found in the town of Puteoli (Pozzuoli) neighboring Naples, pozzolana was a chocolate/red colored volcanic ash very abundant back then. Traditionally, Romans had used mixed lime, sand, and stone (or travertine, brick, marble) together with water to form concrete. With the discovery of pozzolana, Romans substituted sand with this volcanic ash, resulting in concrete that’s a lot stronger and weather-resistant (water)! Opus caementicium was the new masonry technique subsequently created that dominates wall construction from then on. It employed the new concrete as core of walls, and other materials covered the exterior for a more workable surface. The wide spread use of opus caementicium was due to two major reasons. One, the technique does not require skilled artisans to carry out; common laborers did the job quite sufficiently and at a much lower cost. Second, because of how it’s made – a mixture of lime, pozzolana, stone and water is poured in wooden formwork for shaping, after solidification the mold is removed – concrete is a lot more convenient to use when building designs involved domes and curved walls.

Five major forms of covering for opus caementicium evolved in the course of the Roman Empire. All with the exception of opus testaceum were covered with an additional thick layer of plaster. Opus incertum was the most ancient. With the burgeon of concrete in 2nd century BCE, the covering was made of pyramid shaped tufa blocks with the vertex inserted in opus caementicium. The exterior showed the pyramid bases that were randomly shaped. For the next one hundred years opus incertum evolved into opus reticulatum. The more recent technique called for a unification of the shape of the pyramid base; on the exterior walls consisted of squares that formed diamond-shaped patterns. Opus testaceum was developed and used in 1st century CE. From the outside they look like normal bricked, but in actuality the kiln-baked tiles are triangles with the hypotenuse visible and vertex set in mortar.

Opus Testaceum

During the reign of Hadrian (70-138 CE), opus mixtum superceded opus reticulatum. From its name mixtum, the method united opus reticulatum with opus testaceum: pyramidal tufa blocks interlocked with bricks. Under Antoninus Pius, the fourth of the Five Good Emperors, opus vittatum – rows of alternating bricks and small tufa blocks – gained popularity and eventually flourished with Constantine’s reign in the 4th century.

Opus Mixtum

Ancient Roman’s variations in brickwork confined the erection date of buildings to different periods. Moreover, brick makers between 1st century BCE and 200s CE systematically stamped their bricks with trademarks detailing current consuls. So long as the bricks were not reused in new construction, archeologists could narrow down the date through their knowledge of individual consuls.

Opus Vittatum

II. Bibliography
Gallico, Sonia. "Guide to the Excavations of Ostia Antica". 2000: Ats Italia Editrice srl.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

St. Peter's Piazza

Minh-An Nguyen
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction

The aspirations of patron Pope Alexander VII (1599-1667) and his favorite architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) led to the extraordinarily magical construction of St. Peter’s Piazza. Also known as Piazza San Pietro, the area before St. Peter’s basilica was redesigned to its full glamour during the period of 1656 to 1667 by Bernini as part of the pilgrimage approach to the basilica. It stands today in the smallest country in the world, the Vatican City. The shape of the piazza was purposefully designed to symbolize St. Peter’s basilica, “the mother church of Christianity” and its embracing welcome to the world.

The piazza was named in honor of St. Peter. St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles and the first pope played a major role in Christianity. In the Bible, Jesus said to Peter, “You are ‘Rock’, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:19). Jesus was entrusting Peter to be the foundation stone of his Church.

St. Peter’s Basilica originated from the Martyrdom of Peter in 64 AD. There was a huge fire that destroyed the greater part of Rome. Emperor Nero held Christians responsible and ordered many of them to be executed. Peter was sentenced to crucifixion in Nero’s Circus, which was at the foot of the Vatican hill. He was crucified upside down because he did not feel he was worthy enough to be crucified upright like Jesus Christ. He was buried in a burial ground near the Circus, where pagans had also been buried. In 319 AD, Emperor Constantine the first Christian Emperor, at the request of Pope St. Sylvester I, built St. Peter’s Basilica above St. Peter’s Tomb by filling the Vatican Necropolis and part of the Circus. This original basilica was half the size of the modern one. The original basilica suffered much looting throughout the years during barbarian invasions and in the 15th century, the old basilica showed signs of collapse. Many patrons tried to repair the basilica but nothing was completed until 1506 when Pope Julius II decided to rebuild with the help of Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo. In 1605, Paul V rebuilt the façade, assigning Carlo Maderno as the chief architect.

Bernini’s talent was recognized by many nobles and patrons such as Pope Urban VIII, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, and Pope Alexander VII. As a result, when the decision was made to redesign the piazza on July 31, 1656, he was given the appointment as the architect of St. Peter’s by Pope Alexander VII. Peter’s major role in the Catholic Church is one of the main reasons why Pope Alexander VII felt it was necessary to redesign the open area before St. Peter’s basilica. The approach needed to fully represent the greatness of St. Peter’s and authority of the Catholic Church. Bernini’s main objective was to fully interpret the great meaning of the basilica and provide a sacred area where the faithful could come and be protected from the harsh outside world. Logistically and spiritually, the area required precise and creative planning. Bernini had to work around previously built structures and build both an opening that had a grand welcoming approach and an area which allowed “the greatest number of people to see the Pope give his blessing….” According to Bernini himself, his Baroque Neoclassical architectural design of the piazza allowed the faithful visitors to be embraced by “the motherly arms of the church.”

II. Description

The general shape of the piazza is composed of an oval area, the Piazza Obliqua, and a trapezoidal area, the Piazza Retta. There is a clear central axis that leads straight to the basilica. At the center of the Piazza Obliqua stands the Egyptian Vatican Obelisk. Bernini used the obelisk as the centerpiece for the piazza. The 25.5 meters tall obelisk originally from Egypt was moved to Rome in the 1st century AD (37AD) and later moved to its current position in 1586 by Sixtus V. The obelisk in the piazza is an important element to the Catholic community. At the top of the obelisk, Constantine put a relic from the True Cross. It is also believed that the obelisk once stood in the same place where St. Peter was crucified, Nero’s Circus. There are many coat of arms and symbols representing the various patrons that played a major role in the basilica and the piazza. The most noticeable is the Chigi star representing the family of Pope Alexander VII. There are also pictures of mountains and star of Sixtus V. Surrounding the obelisk are stone-relief ellipses symbolizing a mariner’s compass with carvings of various winds. On either side of the obelisk lies a fountain. The designer of the façade Carlo Maderno designed one of the fountains, which contains the eagle of Borghese, and Bernini added the other fountain to provide symmetry. Bernini used these fountains as the foci of the oval made by his colonnades.

In the 16th century, the use of cobblestones was first adopted to pave the area of St. Peter’s Piazza. Cobblestones are actually also called Sampietrini, which literally means “little stones of St. Peter’s” and were first used in the piazza before the usage expanded to the rest of Rome. The pavement today is not the original cobblestones because in 1817, the obelisk was used to also function as a gnomon. A gnomon is a device that can be used to tell the day of the year. At noon the obelisk casts a shadow that lines up with various discs of white marbles, which had to be added. These marbles have figures of the Zodiac and represent the cardinal points of the compass.

The defining characteristic of the piazza are the 284 travertine thirty-nine feet colonnades, which frame the piazza. Bernini originally wanted to also add a third arm, terzio braccio, a triumphal arch, to connect the colonnades but the plan was not completed due to monetary limitations. The piazza is surrounded by these two colonnades, creating an elliptical shape that is 320 m long and 240 m wide. The Doric colonnades are four columns deep down the arms of the colonnades, which creates three continuous passages, two for pedestrian and one for carriage. This theme of three aisles was commonly used to represent the approach to the apse in churches. The passageways were used for various ceremonial processions and also provided shelter from sun, wind, and rain. Bernini’s talent is best exemplified when looking at the placement of the columns. The columns are “radially aligned, as though set along the spokes of a wheel whose hubs are points located between the fountains and the obelisk.”

The ingenuity of the exact placement of the column and the location of the center and foci allowed for a “visual elasticity between side and central elements” or a kind of smoothness in the connection between the side and central spaces of the piazza. Also Bernini’s colonnades had more strength because of his unique and unorthodox decision to put an Ionic entablature, the unit above the colonnades, on the Doric colonnades. This combination gave strength to the columns and gave a pleasing contrast to the slender Corinthian columns of the façade. Another unique design of Bernini was to build temple fronts ending with a portico in the middle of each of the two colonnade arms. The portico has a giant coat of arms of Alexander VII, mountains and oaks. These porticoes allowed the colonnades to be less monotonous but still have a natural flow.

Above the colonnades on the Ionic entablature lie 96 statues, 15 feet in height, each designed by Bernini. The statues include the most famous saints and martyrs of the church. Fifty two statues were finished during Pope Alexander’s time while the rest were finished during Pope Clement XI’s time. These statues welcome the pilgrims into the piazza and guide the pilgrim to the basilica.

Another component of St. Peter’s Piazza is the Piazza Retta. The colonnades from the Piazza Obliqua are connected to the corridors of the Piazza Retta with the use of pillars with oblique edges. The pillars allow a very smooth transition between the “curved geometry of the colonnades to the linear geometry of the corridors.” The corridors of the Piazza Retta line each side of the path leading to the basilica. The size of the corridors is very deceptive because although they look small, the length of the corridor is similar to the arms of the colonnades. The colonnade and the corridors contrast each other, and it is this contrast that makes each component very complimentary. The corridors create a very firm and focused emotion when walking up to the basilica, while the colonnade creates a very open and gentle path emerged with “light, atmosphere, and intermittent view of buildings beyond.”

III. Function

Bernini designed the piazza using the Tuscan form of Doric because of the strength needed but also the emotion that was evoked from this style. Although the roots of the architectural designs chosen by Bernini, the trapezoid and the oval shapes, were already in the Renaissance urban schemes, his use of the idea, “shapes, sequences, and components” created a new era – his own era. The traditional Baroque style together with Bernini’s unique creativity allowed Bernini to create many optical illusions and various perspectives evoking various emotions depending on the approach to the piazza by using the colonnades and both the trapezoidal and elliptical shape of the piazza.

The approach of the piazza was carefully designed by Bernini. The pilgrim would enter the piazza after going on the Ponte dell’Angelo across the Tiber River, passing the Castel Sant’Angelo and then going through the narrow streets connecting to the ends of the colonnade. The Ponte dell’Angelo is lined with ten angels, each holding a relic form the Passion of Christ. This passage was to ready the pilgrims to a spiritual state after getting a glimpse of the great St. Peter’s Basilica before dwelling back into the narrow streets. Since many pilgrims came from all across the world and had traveled long distances, first seeing the basilica gave many pilgrims that extra energy to keep going. When the pilgrim reached the end of the narrow streets, the piazza with its open lighten space would feel heavenly. The approach allowed for a revelation experience for the pilgrim.

The Piazza Obliqua, the transverse oval component, allowed the pope to offer blessings clearly to the visitors in the piazza from more than one place. The pope would give Christmas and Easter blessings from the Benediction Loggia, which is in the middle of the façade, and could also give blessings from the window of his high private apartment in the Vatican Palace.

The Piazza Retta, with its wider side of the trapezoid towards the St. Peter’s façade, creates “a heightened perspective for a visitor leaving the basilica.” The low unparallel corridors that become further apart the nearer they are to the façade make the basilica seem shorter than it really is. The visual illusion from the shape of the Piazza Oblique and Retta causes the distance between the basilica and the far rim of the piazza seem shorter. Overall, this creates an optical illusion of St. Peter’s being closer to the viewer, and in turn the façade looks shorter and more proportional to its width.

Along with the emotional, spiritual feeling denoted by the shape of the piazza, Bernini also thought about the visual effects. He used the High Renaissance theme of “depth and illusion, solid and void, and light and dark.” Usually when looking at the sunlit columns, the viewer sees them as gradually row-by-row fading into the darkness. Furthermore, these rows of columns has a visual impact called stereoscopic, which means that closer columns pass the viewer’s eye faster than the rows farther away. The open columns with no solid background create an open airy area. Together, these effects create a sense of constant movement and create a sense of ease, which would not occur if it was a solid rigid circle.

The redesigning and building of the piazza represented a “monumental revival of the city’s ancient glories.” It provided a nurturing and sacred environment for the faithful, which at that particular period the Catholic Church “strongly depended for as its appeal.” The piazza transformed the Vatican City by creating a path that commemorated the triumph of Christ. Even rival architects, such as Stendhal, agreed on the beauty of the piazza. Stendhal commented on how the narrow streets of the Borgo accentuated the impact of the piazza; “the great open space was a revelation … which literally took the breath away.” Overall, the piazza provided a source of inspiration for both worshipers and visitors.

IV. Patron

Before Pope Alexander VII and the building of St. Peter’s Piazza, nepotism and the Castro War had resulted in the weakening of the prestige of the papacy and reputation of the popes. The middle of the seventeenth century, during the time of Pope Alexander VII, marked a time of great economic decline and loss of population due to a major plague and malaria epidemic. The national debt had risen to 48 million scudi. However, Rome was still able to remain the center of the Catholic world, the primary place of Christian pilgrimage, and played a role in the culmination of the High Baroque art.

Pope Alexander VII was greeted with much joy and high hopes during his coronation. He was admired for his political experience and wisdom, and his modesty and integrity. He was very caring towards the poor, he would spend six to seven hours a day in audience to welcome and comfort the poor. However, his weakness was that he was not firm in his decisions and relied on the advice of others too much. This caused many abuses in the legal administration, contributing to the financial problems and the public’s complaints about the papacy and its authority. However, through all the problems the pope was facing, his great commitment to St. Peter made him hold in very high regard the task of completing the decoration of St. Peter’s and the remodeling of the open space in front of the basilica.

The task had been on the agenda of other popes but it was not until patron Pope Alexander VII that anything would be accomplished. Before the redesigning, the north end of the open area was very irregular, the south border had a “row of mean houses,” and the east end was filled with unsymmetrical clustering of buildings. The pope did not find the setting to be an appropriate place for faithful pilgrims to come and receive the blessing of the pope. Also the basilica’s façade was known to have awkward proportions, being too long for its height, but with the help of a clever design of the surrounding area, the problem was corrected. Exactly what the pope had hoped for, the redesigning of the piazza to fully honor St. Peter’s revitalized the papacy and the faith of the people.

V. Conclusion

St. Peter’s Piazza represents even more of the heart of the Catholic Church than ever before. More than 300,000 people have been known to congregate in the piazza. Every Sunday, the pope gives his blessings and at Easter and other special days, the pope extends his blessing urbi et orbi, which means “to the city and to the world”. The approach today has changed from the original plan of Bernini. The narrow streets with two rows of houses of Bernini’s time were demolished by Mussolini in 1936 and replaced with a boulevard called Via della Consiliazione that stretches across the Tiber River to the center of Rome. This change was not what Bernini had planned because it took away the narrowed curvy path which helped contribute to the revelation the visitor experienced upon arrival to the piazza. However, today from the Via della Consiliazione, many visitors approach the square, Saint Peter’s and the Vatican as a whole and are still able to experience the breathtaking view of what lies ahead of them and experience the uplifting feeling that Bernini’s original goal entailed.

For 54 years, Bernini worked in some way or another with St. Peter’s basilica and the surrounding area. Throughout his work, he always thought about how everything worked and accentuated the other in terms of the meaningful spiritual pilgrimage of the faithful visitors. His goal in creating the historical, uplifting atmosphere and feelings that was induced in visitors when they stepped into the piazza still remains today as many come from across the world to visit one of the most inspirational work.

VI. Personal Observations

In researching St. Peter’s and the history of Rome, I found it quite interesting to notice the shift in power and beliefs. Whether it was paganism or Christianity, the general theme was that the victor would allow the defeated to practice their beliefs as long as it was in private. It was interesting to read about the transition of Rome being the center of the civilized world and its inhabitants honoring the pagan gods to becoming the heart of the Catholic Church.

Personally as a Buddhist, I did not know much about the history of the martyrs of Christianity. Through researching, I learned so much and looked forward to seeing St. Peter’s Piazza through my eyes, someone that is not Christian but someone that appreciates the history and the spiritual importance of what St. Peter represented. Also, throughout the researching I began to form a passionate connection with the piazza and because of this, I understood more the importance of every detail Bernini designed. When I shared Bernini’s approach with the class as we went on our own little pilgrimage to the piazza, the class noticed the effects of light as they walked through the streets and then into the piazza. They noticed how in the streets, the only light source was above, which meant the pilgrims were drawn to look up, symbolizing looking up to God. It made my day to have them still be able to see the details of Bernini’s amazing talented work.

Most importantly, when I researched the piazza, it soon became apparent how important the theme of entryways was. Bernini’s son describes what Bernini had wanted to express in his piazza, “The Piazza and the cattedra are, as it were, the beginning and the end of that great church, and the eye is as much infatuated at the beginning on entering the piazza as at end on seeing the cattedra.” Bernini used the theme of entryway and exit ways by combining the two to form the piazza, where the pilgrim is doing both at the same time. As he/she enters the piazza, he/she is exiting the harsh world and as he/she is exiting the piazza, he/she is entering the basilica. Bernini’s path to the basilica contained many components of crossing the threshold, and each act of crossing the barrier had its own function and each induced its own set of feelings.

VII. Bibliography

Borsi, Franco. Bernini. New York: Rizzoli, 1984.

Hager, June. “Eternal Ark of Worship.” Inside the Vatican. New Hope: Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, c1994.

Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1966.

Kitao, Timothy K. Circle and Oval in the Square of Saint Peter’s: Bernini’s Art of Planning. New York: Published by New York University Press for the College Art Association of America, 1974.

Krautheimer, Richard. The Rome of Alexander VII. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Lees-Milne, James. “Saint Peter’s.” St. Peter’s Basillica. c1967. 2 August 2005 .

Magnuson, Torgil. Rome in the age of Bernini. Stockholm, Sweden : Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1982-1986.

Marder, Tod A. Bernini and the Art of Architecture. New York: Abbeville Press, 1998.

Morrissey, Jake. The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini, and the rivalry that transformed Rome. New York: William Morrow, 2005.

Petersson, Robert T. Bernini and the Excesses of Art. Florence, Italy:artout-maschietto& editore, 2002.

Wallace, Robert. The World of Bernini. New York: Time-Life Books, c1970.

Bernini's Sculptures in the Villa Borghese

Nicole Day-Bazhaw
Honors in Rome - Summer 2005

I. Introduction

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, as Rome began to make its artistic transition from the late Renaissance to early Baroque, the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini was just starting to make his mark in the art world. The talents of this budding prodigy did not go unnoticed by Scipione Caffarelli Borghese, and it was his patronage that set Bernini’s career on a firm foundation.
Bernini Self Portrait

Scipione Borghese was a man who attained great wealth and power due to his greed and the good fortune of having a powerful uncle. His education itself was financed by that uncle, Camillo Borghese. The relationship between Scipione and Camillo proved to be invaluable. In 1605, Camillo Borghese was elected to the papal throne as Paul V. Using his position he was able to ordain his nephew as a priest within the year. Ten days later, he appointed Scipione cardinal. At this time the official post of Cardinal Nephew had not yet been abolished, and with it came the responsibilities of managing the internal and external affairs of the Papal States. The Cardinal benefited further from the papal nepotism when his uncle placed the management of both the papal and Borghese family finances into his care. Scipione Borghese exploited his authority as Cardinal Nephew and amassed great fortunes for the Borghese family. Papal_Library/PaulV/PaulV.html
Bust of Pope Paul V
Bust completed by Bernini in 1618.

In contrast to his uncle, Scipione Borghese was an ambitious connoisseur of art. Pope Paul V was not interested in the experimental techniques and novel designs of the art world; rather he focused on urban embellishment and works of engineering or private commissions for himself and his family. He did, however, indirectly support Rome’s rising Baroque sculptor, Bernini, through his supportive connection with his nephew.

Bernini was born in 1598 in Naples and moved with his family to Rome in 1605. His talents were fostered at a young age by his father, Pietro Bernini, who was also a gifted sculptor. Pietro Bernini taught his young son the fundamentals of sculpture and introduced him to artists such as Annibale Carracci who helped further his education. Additionally his work in Santa Maria Maggiore for Pope Paul V provided the connection to the Borghese family that revealed his son’s talents to Scipione Borghese. When he was approximately sixteen years of age, Bernini completed his first commission for the Borghese family, the Goat Almalthea. Following soon after, he sculpted a bust of the pope which seemed to secure Scipione Borghese’s opinion of him and resulted in six years of patronage from the Cardinal. Bernini completed several more sculptures of much greater magnitude than the first two commissioned for the family, for display in Scipione Borghese’s grand villa. The villa itself, designed by architects Flaminio Ponzio and Giovanni Vasanzio, was built mainly to house and display the Cardinal’s extensive art collection. This was a very appropriate setting for the early works of one of Rome’s greatest sculptors of the seventeenth century. Galleria_Borghese_by_Mike_Reed.jpg
Villa Borghese

II. Description

Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius Fleeing Troy (c. 1618-1619)

The first of Bernini’s life size sculptures commissioned for Scipione depicts the man Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome, fleeing Troy while carrying his father on his shoulders with his young son, Ascanius, following close behind. The robust man balances his aging father on his left shoulder, stabilizing him with both hands while his gaze is fixed on the ground ahead, as if carefully watching his steps. The old man steadies himself on his son with one hand while the other hand grasps a family relic above his son’s head. Ascanius is close to his father’s legs with a look of fear in his eyes. Bernini’s father was a Mannerist sculptor, and this influence can be seen in his son’s sculpture. The three generations are arranged in a precarious vertical composition. The group of three figures is centered on a small pedestal, from which Aeneas almost seems to be slipping, which enhances the spiraling movement of the bodies. Both of these characteristics follow in Mannerist tradition. The sculpture is not entirely Mannerist, however; Bernini conveys much more movement in the figures. The action of muscles and tendons can be seen against the skin, and the veins bulge. The skin of the old man is distinctively different from that of his son, as can be seen in the sagging skin and more pronounced veins. These features were not found in Mannerism; rather they were products of Bernini’s own genius and his ability to mold marble as if it were clay. As Howard Hibbard states: “[Bernini] was out of sympathy with the aesthetic aims of Mannerism but was as yet unable to abandon its principles.” The composition was decidedly Mannerism, but the features of the figures themselves were not. This was a transitional piece for Bernini, in which he shed his last attachment with Mannerism from his early training and began creating works in his new realistic style. sculptur/1610/aeneas.jpg
Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius Fleeing Troy
Bernini (c. 1618-1619)

Pluto and Persephone (c. 1621-1622)
The next sculpture in the series commissioned for Scipione begins the three great Bernini works of the Villa in which Bernini achieved his new style. The work shows the maiden Persephone being abducted by the god of the underworld, Pluto, and being taken to Hades, past the three headed dog Cerberus who guards its borders. Pluto’s fingers press into her flesh as he holds her to his chest while she pushes at his head in her struggle to escape. The turbulent emotion in this scene pours from the marble. Rudolf Wittkower states: “Bernini interpreted this old rape-theme as a conflict between brutal lust and desperate anguish, emphasizing the contrasting feelings of the two figures by various compositional subtleties…” Persephone’s body twists away from her captor and her face is frozen mid cry with tears running down her cheek. Bernini’s intricate details show movement and struggle with her hair in tendrils flying back from her shoulders. Pluto’s face is slightly distorted as Persephone’s hand pushes at its side. His expression reflects bemusement at her futile struggle, as he is obviously triumphant in his goal- indicated by the presence of ferocious Cerberus as his feet. The three heads of the beast snarl, bearing their precisely carved teeth, with such detail from the swirls of fur on their body to their claws that it looks as if it might come alive. Bernini was a master at being able to convey emotions through marble. Each nuance of the piece contributes to the feelings it portrays: from Persephone’s tears to the way Pluto’s fingers sink into his captive’s flesh. This work was the first of a monumental trio. sculptur/1620/proserpi.jpg
Pluto and Persephone
Bernini (c. 1621-1622)

Apollo and Daphne (c. 1622-1625)
Bernini based the subject of his next work on the Ovidian tale of the god Apollo and nymph Daphne. Daphne is being pursued in a chase by a love sick Apollo, and just as she is running out of strength she cries out to her father, the river god, to change her form which has caused this problem. The nymph is then transformed into a laurel tree, saving her from her pursuer. Bernini depicts the scene in which Apollo has just caught up to Daphne and reaches his arm around her waist. At the instant that she feels his touch, her body starts transforming into a tree. Apollo observes this transfiguration, and in his expression, one can see his momentary elation being broken by the shock of seeing the subject of his love turning into a tree. His elation itself is false, as his hand only grasps the bark covering her torso. Her fingers sprout intricate leaves as her arms are thrown up in her last effort to escape. Even her body begins to be encased in bark as her toes sprout roots into the ground. The expression carved by Bernini on her face shows her fear of the pursuer who has finally caught up to her. At the same time she seems unaware of her transformation that has Apollo so astounded. Bernini masterfully captures this moment in time. Daphne’s hair is whipped around, even as it begins to sprout leaves, showing her sudden halt from flight at her metamorphosis and capture by Apollo. Even the drapery around the figures is flung around them and trailing out in the space behind them, showing the speed of the chase. Apollo’s right hand steadies him as he runs and reaches out to capture his love. Bernini takes a scene traditionally depicted through literature and painting, and successfully captures the psyches of the characters, as well as the elaborate physical details of each, all to convey this snapshot in mythology. 1301/images/IN412Bern.jpg
Apollo and Daphne
Bernini (c. 1622-1625)

David (c. 1623-1624)
Though technically this sculpture was completed before the Apollo and Daphne was finished, it was the last to be commissioned in the trio of Bernini’s monumental Borghese works. It is also typically regarded as the final work because it is considered to be the most psychologically advanced of the three statues. This sculpture depicts the biblical character, David, summoning his strength while aiming his slingshot at the giant, Goliath. David’s adversary, however, is not sculpted in this piece, but his stance and intense gaze suggest its presence, prompting the viewer to imagine the towering Goliath. Bernini modeled the facial expression of the David after watching his own expressions in a mirror. Sheer concentration is expertly demonstrated through the tense facial muscles, clenched mouth, flaring nostrils and knitted brow. The figure’s stance is wide, with his toes gripping the ground as he prepares for his shot. A shield and harp at his feet, David’s entire body is twisted to his right, counterbalanced by the turn of his head and position of his arms to face his adversary. Bernini masterfully conveys a scene of great tension and psychological implications through the David, successfully securing proof of his talent at a young age. sculptur/1620/david.jpg
Bernini (c. 1623-1624)

III. Function

The Villa Borghese was built primarily to showcase the extensive collection of art that Scipione Borghese had acquired. The villa itself had little living space. It served to entertain and impress guests by means of the magnificent pieces of art it housed. The Cardinal, as a powerful politician, certainly must have used his villa to impress or gain influence among his peers and colleagues. Indeed, Pluto and Persephone did not even remain in the villa for long because Scipione Borghese gave it to the nephew of the new pope, Pope Gregory XV, to regain favor after the death of his own uncle. This, however, was only a facet of the impact of the villa and the art it contained.
Joy Kenseth (p.196)
Ground Floor of the Villa Borghese
(A) Original location of David; (B) Original location of Apollo and Daphne and proposed intended location of Pluto and Persephone

Bernini was an ambitious man, and he realized the potential of his great talents. According to Bruce Boucher, Bernini’s works in the Villa Borghese “pitted him against Michelangelo and Giambologna, the greatest sculptors of the previous century.” Bernini’s ambition drove him to compete with the talents of the masters, and he could not have picked a better place to showcase his beginning works than the Cardinal’s villa. Not only did Scipione Borghese entertain his own private guests at the villa, but also it became a popular place for foreign visitors and Roman citizens to marvel at and discuss the wonders of Bernini’s new works and the rest of the collection. As Genevieve Warwick states, “Both [artist and patron] understood that the role of the villa was to attract an educated international audience.” This role helped spread word both of Bernini’s talents and of Scipione’s wealth and fine taste.

The villa itself is compact, consisting of twenty rooms across two floors, making it possible to view the entire collection in two hours. Originally, the first floor housed primarily sculptures, while the second was devoted to paintings. Bernini’s main trio of works thus resided on the first floor. Today they are located in the center of three separate rooms, which provides quite a different effect than was intended by the artist. With the present positioning, the viewing of the sculpture is not under any control, and it is possible to view it in the round in any manner desired. Early guides written for visitors of the villa certify that originally, each of the works was placed up against a wall. Many artists argue that this placement supports the idea that Bernini intended there to be one dominant view of each sculpture. However, due to the fact that there has not been a unanimous decision on a particular dominant view for each sculpture among art historians, it seems that Bernini may have had something else in mind.

Pluto and Persephone was, as mentioned previously, given away as a gift. To fill its place in the villa, Apollo and Daphne was commissioned as its replacement. Thus the original position of the latter can be assumed as the original place for the former as well. As seen in the diagram of the ground floor of the Villa Borghese, there are two entrances to the room in which Apollo and Daphne was located. Both of which place the viewer entering in such a way that they would be facing Apollo’s back. This was obviously not the intended dominant view of the statue, yet it was enough to intrigue the viewer to follow around the figure and see the rest of the sculpture. With the statue placed against the wall, this left a 180-degree viewing range of the work. Beginning at the entrance of the room, the viewer first sees the figure of Apollo running. Following along and approaching the front of the sculpture, the viewer now sees the object of Apollo’s pursuit, Daphne. The viewer’s eyes can then follow up Daphne’s figure to the frozen cry on her face and see her fingers transforming into leaves. Once the viewer has reached the last portion of the statue, the metamorphosis of the nymph is fully visible and one can see Daphne’s form becoming encased in bark and her toes sprouting roots. In this way, Bernini creates a narrative view of the Ovidian tale he has sculpted. Had Pluto and Persephone been in this position as originally intended, a similar narrative tale would have unfolded to the viewer. First one would see the strong form of Pluto, then the maiden he has in his clutches, and finally her tears and Cerberus at their feet welcoming them to Hades.

Bernini again uses the 180-degree narrative viewing strategy with David. In this instance, the original positioning of the statue in the Villa Borghese, as the diagram shows, places David against a wall in a room in which there are two entrances. Each entrance places the viewer to see the right side of the statue first. As in Apollo and Daphne, this is not the intended dominate view, but a view that is engaging and invokes curiosity to continue to move along the statue. The right side of David does not show any specific action, but once the viewer progresses around to the front, the figure is clearly seen sighting the imaginary Goliath. Continuing further to the final side of the statue, David’s sling is seen with the rock aimed at his adversary and a facial expression of extreme concentration. The narrative Bernini projects with David is more of a psychological story, one that shows the development of the character’s mental process in regards to his impending action. This is in contrast to the narrative of Apollo and Daphne, which is derived from a poem by Ovid and is more literally a story.

VI. Patron

The broad goals Scipione Borghese intended to achieve through Bernini’s work in his villa have been previously discussed. The subject matter of each statue, however, had its own agenda that supported the patron. The magnificence of each work housed in the Cardinal’s impressive villa was not all that helped support the positive image that he hoped to project; each of Bernini’s sculptures, in fact, served Scipione Borghese in their own unique way.
Portrait Bust of Scipione Borghese
Bernini (c. 1932)

The first major work, Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius Fleeing Troy, done by Bernini is a scene from the legendary founding of Rome. This in itself seems to show the love the Cardinal had for his city, but there was another personal side to it. According to Boucher, the image of the man, Aeneas, carrying his aging father was “representing, by use of allegory, Cardinal Borghese’s piety and support for his uncle in the affairs of state.” In Rome during this time period, the pope was an extremely powerful figure, and it was very beneficial for any citizen to show the strength of their allegiance. Even as Pope Paul V’s nephew, Scipione Borghese was not exempt from the need to use this strategy.

Since Apollo and Daphne was commissioned in place of Pluto and Persephone, both sculptures share similar purposes. After Pope Paul V died, the pope who succeeded his uncle was not in great favor with Scipione Borghese, and it seems this feeling was mutual. The Cardinal, however, was a political man, and his power had previously come from the pope. With the loss of his title as Cardinal Nephew, he lost his important role in the papal court. To regain Pope Gregory XV’s good graces, he gave his nephew the recently completed Pluto and Persephone as a sort of peace offering. The replacement commissioned was similar: both consisted of a male in pursuit of a female. This time, however, instead of a triumphant god with his catch, Apollo lost his prize as she was transformed into a tree. The similarity can be noted between Scipione Borghese’s loss of power as Cardinal Nephew and the transformation of his role in the papal court.

The final statue, David, contains a bit more subtle connection to Scipione Borghese. The Borghese family symbol is an eagle and a dragon, both to be found in various forms throughout the villa. At David’s feet, the harp that he was to play after his victory is decorated with an eagle’s head, a direct reference to the Borghese family. This connects the Borghese family to a symbol of victory, a connection by which Scipione Borghese would have been flattered. Additionally, the biblical story of David and Goliath tells the tale of a small force defeating a larger one. It is a story that the Borghese family would be proud to portray as the church triumphing over pagans.

V. Conclusion

Bernini’s works for Scipione Borghese began the Baroque style of sculpture. As Boucher states: “…a sculptural equivalent [of the Baroque movement] only emerged with Bernini’s early works during the second decade of the new century.” It wasn’t only Bernini’s talents that began this movement, for merely creating the works was not sufficient. Rather, his work had to be readily available and well known, and the Villa Borghese provided the opportunity for both. According to Caterina Volpi, “…[the Villa Borghese was] a showcase for the marvels in his [Scipione Borghese] collection that the more innovative aspects of Roman artistic culture on the threshold of the baroque era were able to find expression, thanks to the patronage of its owner…” Establishing the foundation for this artistic movement opened the door for many artists to follow and expand upon.

Today there are many visitors still attend the Villa Borghese to view the magnificent art within. Bernini’s talents make the figures in the statues come alive, and the viewer feels as if they are a part of the scene themselves; whether they feel as if they are actually hearing Persephone cry, experiencing Daphne’s horror or looking over their shoulder for the imaginary Goliath for which David aims his sling. One doesn’t need to be entirely familiar with the stories behind the statues, for it is their realism and artistic mastery that truly connects them with generations of humanity.

VI. Personal Observations

Throughout my research, the element I found most intriguing was the sheer talent that Bernini possessed. This fact didn’t really hit home for me until I was standing in the Villa Borghese and seeing his sculptures through my own eyes, not those of a professional photographer. I had read all about Bernini being a prodigy, and heard of his great talents from others, but nothing quite prepared me for actually seeing his works of art. Researching in books and seeing pictures on the internet convinced me of his capabilities, but truly understanding his skill was only possible when seeing his sculptures in reality. To stand in the presence of such great works, knowing the background behind them- just how quickly they were finished and at such a young age- was overwhelming. It is almost incomprehensible to fathom how Bernini was able to take a piece of marble and turn it into the work that I’m staring at in awe; to be able to make the figures seem as if they were once living and breathing until he transformed them into marble in an instant. For me, it wasn’t facts or figures that I will bring away with me from this project, but the experience of being in the presence of the work of a true prodigy.

VII. Bibliography

Baldinucci, Filippo. The Life of Bernini. Trans. Catherine Enggass. London: Pennsylvania UP, 1966.

Bolland, Andrea. “Desiderio and Diletto: Vision, Touch, and the Poetics of Bernini's Apollo and Daphne.” The Art Bulletin. 82.2 (June 2000): 309-330.

Boucher, Bruce. Italian Baroque Sculpture. New York: Thames, 1998.

Conconi, Maria, et al. Art and Archaeology of Rome: From Ancient Times to the Baroque. Ed. Andrea Augenti. New York: Scala, 2000.

Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. Baltimore: Penguin, 1965.

Kenseth, Joy. “Bernini’s Borghese Sculptures: Another View.” The Art Bulletin. 63.2 (June 1981): 191-210.

Warwick, Genevieve. “Speaking Statues: Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne at the Villa Borghese.” Art History. 27.3 (June 2004): 353-381.

Wittkower, Rudolf. Art and Architecture in Italy: 1600 to 1750. Baltimore: Penguin, 1972.

Wittkower, Rudolf. Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. New York: Phaidon, 1997.