Tag Archives: Gian Lorenzo Bernini

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by St. Peter’s – the space is so vast, even when full of tourists it doesn’t shrink down.

The baldacchino over the high altar at St. Peter’s is one of the more recognizable objects. Cast from bronze allegedly taken from the roof of the Pantheon, it was designed by Bernini (remember the staircase from earlier?) and marks not only the center of the crossing under the dome, but the grave of St. Peter. While one of its alleged functions is to provide a bit of human scale to the vast space of the basilica, it is so massive that it only compresses the space if there are no people around to provide comparison.

Baldacchino
Baldacchino

This view into the transept from the crossing with the people in the foreground I think really helps give you a sense of scale for the place.

Crossing the Nave, St. Peter's
Crossing the Nave, St. Peter’s

This is a view of the entrance with its two clocks, as seen from the mid-nave.

St. Peter's Entrance, Clocks
St. Peter’s Entrance, Clocks

On a separate but related note, it’s interesting how we refer to Rome and the Vatican interchangeably when we speak of the seat of the Catholic Church, when in fact they are two distinct entities. This was not always true, of course- especially during the Renaissance through the early 19th century, it was literal truth to say that Rome was the papal seat. Now, of course, the Vatican is in fact not only a separate city within the city of Rome, but in fact a separate nation, complete with its own passports. The Vatican is in fact the world’s smallest country.

Palazzo Barberini

In 1625, then-Cardinal Barberini acquired a property from the Sforza family in Rome that had a vineyard and ‘palazzetto’. It was on this property he decided to build the Palazzo Barberini. He would go on to become Pope Urban VIII. He hired the famous architect Carlo Maderno to design and build his palace. Along with Maderno was his nephew, Francesco Borromini, who would go on to become one of the best known Baroque architects in Rome. He is largely responsible for the design of the facade, as well as the grand salon, and perhaps most famous of his creations at the palace, the oval staircase.

Borromini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini
Borromini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini

Partway through construction, his uncle Carlo Maderno passed away. Completion of the project was then tasked to a new young upstart architect better known at the time as a sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini would design a second staircase for the palace, this time a square. The two, Borromini and Bernini would remain professional rivals until Borromini’s suicide in 1667.

Bernini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini
Bernini Staircase, Palazzo Barberini

At the ground level, an arcade connects the two staircases. This shot was taken from the entrance to the Borromini staircase, looking down the arcade to the Bernini staircase entrance.

Arcade, Barberini Palace
Arcade, Barberini Palace