see it clearly

Michelangelo, Bramante and Other Great Architects

After the Dark Ages, in the earliest period of the Renaissance, Pope Nicholas V., in 1450, finding that the old church was rapidly falling into decay, commissioned Leon Battista, Alberti, and Bernardo Rossellino to make plans for a new and larger church. Five years later Pope Nicholas died; and not until the time of the Venetian Pope, Paul II., was the work continued. He, too, lived but a short time, and little progress was made until Julius II. came to the papal throne in 1503.

Image of Michelangelo

This Pope was a great man. No longer young, and delicate in health when elected Pope, he was possessed of an energy which overcame physical suffering, and all other kinds of obstacles that came between him and the ends he had in view. His great desire was the establishment of one grand national kingdom. He went to the field to fight in his own battles, and conquered; he gathered much treasure together, and left it in the vaults of the Castle of S. Angelo at his death. And whatever he conquered or gained, he did it for the Church--not for his relatives, the Rovere. He was rough, but dignified; fierce, but not cruel; and more noble than all other popes in his appreciation of great artists and their works, to which quality was added a marvelous power to discern those who merited his protection, and to draw them to himself and enlist their devotion to his schemes.

While a cardinal, Julius had employed the architect Giuliano di Sangallo; and the Pope at once summoned him to Rome and occupied him in various works, but did not make him architect of S. Peter's, for which post Sangallo had hoped. To this service he appointed Bramante d'Urbino. As pontifical architect under both Alexander VI. and Julius II., Bramante was employed on the cloister of the monks della Pace; the fountain of Trastevere; a large portion of the Palazzo della Cancellaria; the arrangement of the space between the Vatican and the Belvedere; and the basilica of S. Peter's.

Under Bramante the work on S. Peter's advanced rapidly; he had great fertility of invention and undoubted genius. His style, at first cold and stiff, became majestic and elegant. He had small regard for the remains of antiquity, and became notorious for his destruction of such monuments at Rome. The only remnants of his work in S. Peter's are the four great arches which support the tower of the dome. Bramante was a bitter enemy of Michael Angelo, being jealous of him as an architect on his own account, and jealous of him as a painter on account of Raphael, who was Bramante's nephew. Michael Angelo cordially returned the dislike and enmity of Bramante; and on one occasion these two artists indulged in a most violent scene in the presence of the Pope.

It had become evident that Bramante was scheming to drive Michael Angelo from Rome, that he and Raphael might be the first two in the capital. Michael Angelo, fully aware of his intrigues, upbraided him with all he had endured from him; he also demanded his reasons for demolishing the splendid old columns which had supported the ceiling of S. Peter's, and which then lay in fragments where he had thrown them down; "to place a million of bricks one upon another is no art," exclaimed Michael Angelo, "but to execute a single column like those you have destroyed is a great art." And having begun, he freed his mind of all his indignation and his hatred of Bramante, as he would have done had the Pope not been there.

But Julius, who justly estimated the value of each, permitted Michael Angelo to bluster, while he could not prevent Bramante from showing the despicable traits of his character. But as an architect Bramante must have been worthy the Pope's confidence, when even Michael Angelo, years after Bramante's death, paid him the following tribute:--

"Bramante was, if any one deserves the name, one of the most able architects since the days of the ancients. And, as it is evident now, whatever the standard of beauty, whoever departs from his idea, as Sangallo did, departs from the very rules of art."

In 1514 Bramante died, and was interred in S. Peter's with great honors.

Julius had been Pope but two years when he summoned Michael Angelo to Rome in great haste, and he speedily left his important work in Florence to attend upon the Head of the Church. The first commission which Julius gave the artist was the erection of a colossal mausoleum for himself, to be built in S. Peter's. The design made by the master satisfied the Pope, who ordered him to decide at once upon the spot in the basilica best suited to the purpose. This church was already a treasure-house of artistic works; and surrounded as it was with various chapels, cloisters, dwellings for the clergy, and the Vatican Palace, it was an ecclesiastical stronghold, so important and so exalted among the churches of the world that even so grand and proud an artist as Michael Angelo might well be pleased to be added to its makers by some more imposing work than his exquisite Pieta, already in the chapel of S. Petronilla. In this basilica emperors were crowned, anathemas pronounced, and pardons promulgated, while here the tribute of all lands was brought. Where else could an artist place his work with greater confidence that it would be seen and judged by the greatest of all nations?

When Nicholas V. died he left an unfinished tribune behind the old basilica. Michael Angelo advised the Pope to finish this and place his mausoleum there. But this plan, with many others, came to naught. We cannot here give all the story of the "Tragedy of the Mausoleum," as Condivi called it; but it was the first association of Michael Angelo with Julius II. and with S. Peter's, and so leads on to other matters in connection with the famous basilica.

In April, 1506, Julius, in presence of thirty-five cardinals, laid the corner-stone of Bramante's foundations, which neither pope nor architect lived to know were all too weak. In 1513 Leo X. succeeded Julius, and the master survived but a year. He was followed by Giuliano di Sangallo, Giocondo da Verona, and Raphael, making what we should now term an architectural commission. But these colleagues did little more than make plans, that of Raphael being the one they intended to follow. In actual work they had accomplished little more than the strengthening of some piers before Sangallo and Raphael died.

Leo X. then employed Baldassare Peruzzi, who found that Raphael's plan of a Latin cross would be far too costly to be carried out, and returned to the earlier design of a Greek cross. Leo died the year after the death of Raphael, and almost nothing was accomplished at S. Peter's by his immediate successors.

When Paul III. succeeded to the papacy in 1534, he appointed Antonio Sangallo as architect of the basilica, and this master died too soon to have accomplished much more than to make his plans, which is also true of his successor, Giulio Romano, who died in the year in which he was appointed. This singularly repeated fatality would seem to have been sufficient to deter an artist from attempting the work; but Michael Angelo accepted the position of architect of S. Peter's from Paul III., when he was in his seventy-second year, and prosecuted its building with great vigor during his remaining years, retaining his office until he died, at the age of eighty-nine.

During these years he suffered many annoyances, but met them with his wonderful determination. His first care was to strengthen the piers, enlarge the tribune, and begin the dome on a different plan from that of Bramante, retaining the design of the Greek cross. Leonardo da Vinci laid down a law that the less resistance in the material that is worked, the greater the art. Accordingly the poet and musician would stand as the highest artists, the painter second, the sculptor third, and the architect last. Michael Angelo had executed mighty works as a sculptor and a painter, and had written poems that give him a place among the honored poets of his country, and lead Italians to call him "a poet, a painter, and one who was great in all arts."

This wonderful man was now to crown his career by showing his power in an art which Leonardo considered the least. But there are other views of this question; and while to-day such an argument could scarcely arise, it is interesting to consider its bearings. There is a view in which architecture is the most mechanical of arts, for the reason that when the artist has conceived his plan and given it life in his drawing, mechanics of various grades can erect the edifice. This is but one way of saying that when architecture embodies artistic ideas it is an art; and when, as often happens, a work of a mere builder and one of a true architect are so situated that they can be compared, the most untrained eye at once perceives the difference.

In the abstract and loftiest view of architecture it cannot be mechanical. It is customary to use the word "architecture" where the word "building" would be much nearer what is intended to be said; for example, we speak of the architecture of many human dwellings in which there is not a particle of anything but the product of mechanical skill. Dwellings can be made practically comfortable, well ventilated, spacious, and in every way delightfully usable, and still be as far removed from anything that merits the term "artistic" as plain wall painting is removed from Raphael's decoration in the Loggie of the Vatican.

The nations who first excelled in architecture were those who loved their soil perhaps even more than their people. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were eminently of this class, while the Germanic peoples were happy wherever their friends surrounded them. Intense love of soil leads to the passion for adorning it, as men desire to bring tribute of adornment to the women whom they love; and when the gifts are accepted and worn, men have a sense of personal acceptance as well, and a dawning sense of possession of the beloved one. Grimm well expresses this thought when he says: "And the temples of the Acropolis and the Capitol were, as it were, jewels which the people set in the golden soil of their home, crowns and golden chains which they placed upon it."

As the adjuncts of architecture, sculpture and painting have made their greatest achievements as pure or abstract arts. The temples afforded the opportunity for their display in their highest forms, and the decline of these arts begins when the artist must endeavor to meet the wishes of his employer. Michael Angelo had the misfortune to undertake his great works just when this decline began; when it was possible for Pope Julius II. to threaten to throw the artist off the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel.

Architecture is far less individual than other arts. In its grand achievements it emphasizes the political power of a people or the religious power of a faith. In the sixteenth century Catholicism was renewed in strength, the apostasy of the Germans having called up the extremist loyalty of the entire Catholic Church; and Michael Angelo devoted himself to making S. Peter's what has been well called "a religious fortification," an ecclesiastical stronghold, the Mother Church of the faithful of the world.

Michael Angelo had gained reputation as an architect in Florence, where he had erected the facade, the sacristy, and the library of S. Lorenzo, before he was made architect of S. Peter's. But these gave him no opportunity to conceive the colossal in a truly masterly manner, as did his office at S. Peter's. Other architects brought together numbers of small towers or other lesser features, which, thus assembled, produced the effect of a great mass; but they were separable, while truly great architecture must be the production of a single conception, great in itself. In this way, as a whole, Michael Angelo conceived and made his plan for S. Peter's. He boldly declared that he would suspend the dome of the Pantheon in air above Saint Peter's grave.

As the great artist refused a salary, declaring that he would work but for God and Saint Peter, he held an advantage over his enemies, and was able to ignore the many intrigues by which they attempted to injure him. He was also better able to treat peculations by his subordinates with severity and thus put a new element of honesty into the work on this basilica.

Although nearly forty years had passed after Bramante laid the foundation-stone, and although so many and such different artists had done their share in this great work, it was not so far advanced but that Michael Angelo could give it any form he chose. A vast amount of substructure work had been done. The four pillars were erected and connected by the magnificent arches,--such pillars and arches as have not been excelled. But as, from this slight and imperfect beginning, the plans of Michael Angelo, with but small exceptions, were followed, he may be regarded as the real founder of the present S. Peter's.

The dome is strictly his work. In one respect, which is much to be lamented, his plan was changed, and the form of the Latin cross adopted, when he intended to follow Bramante's plan and use that of the Greek cross. By this change the dome is rendered ineffective as one approaches the church. The long, projecting nave and the elaborate facade were not contemplated by either Bramante or Michael Angelo. The facade of the latter was simple, but grand in effect, it being a pure Corinthian portico. Had the Greek form been retained, and this front erected, the entire dome would have been visible from the Piazza.

When Michael Angelo began his actual work, his first care was to strengthen the four pillars so that they might support his dome. He then proceeded to erect the drum, on which the dome is raised. This drum was not finished according to his design, although, with its surrounding columns and the windows between them, it is a masterpiece in architecture, and as light and symmetrical as could be desired. Michael Angelo, however, intended to have the columns which stand free from the walls of the drum in pairs, finished with pedestals and surmounted with statues, which were "to surround the dome like tapers."

Paul III. died in 1549, and was succeeded by Julius III., who, in spite of the intrigues against Michael Angelo, confirmed him as architect of S. Peter's without limit to his authority. This greatly displeased the old, or Sangallo's party, as under that architect many had made money. Michael Angelo was so determined, first, that no one should make money, and second, that no material which he did not approve should be accepted, that the sub-contractors greatly desired his removal.

On one occasion, when some cement was furnished which he thought of an inferior quality, he wrote a scathing letter to the cardinals in charge of the work, in which he expressed his suspicions of those who were endeavoring to make money out of the building. He declared that he would not use unsuitable material, saying, "Even were it to come down from heaven, it shall not be done."

At another time Julius III reported to Michael Angelo that certain defects in his work had been brought to his notice. The artist demanded that the complaints be made in his presence; and when Cardinal Marcello appeared before the Pope and the master, the latter explained that his completed work would overcome the objections. The cardinal, satisfied with what he heard, expressed surprise that he had not been informed of this sooner. Michael Angelo answered: "I am not, nor will I consent to be obliged to tell, to your Eminence or any one else, what I ought or wish to do. Your office is to bring money and guard it from thieves, and the designing of the building is left to me."

Then to the Pope he said, "Holy Father, you see what I gain: if these fatigues which I endure do not benefit my soul, I lose both time and labor."

The Pope loved the great artist, and, laying his hands on Michael Angelo's shoulders, he answered, "Your eternal and temporal welfare shall not suffer from it. There is no fear of that;" and so long as Julius III lived, Michael Angelo was not again disturbed.

Angels of Bernini's

Julius III died in 1555; and after the brief reign of Marcellus II., Cardinal Caraffa became Pope, and took the name of Paul IV. Meantime Michael Angelo, although he made a journey and executed other works, had his mind fixed upon the dome of S. Peter's, and carefully constructed a wooden model of his design, which is seventeen feet high, and so made that it could be followed in every detail by his successors. He was asked if this dome would surpass that of S. M. del Fiore in Florence, to which he replied, "It will be more grand, but not more beautiful."

By still another Pope, Pius IV., was the brave old man confirmed as autocrat over the building of S. Peter's, and he continued, though a sufferer from a fatal disease, to apply himself to this great trust, and to execute a few other works, until, in February, 1564, his strength gave way; and, on the eighteenth of that month, surrounded by his friends and faithful physicians, he ceased to breathe, but not to live; for does he not to-day survive in a sense beside which physical death loses its meaning?

In spite of all the precautions which he had taken, the successors of the great master seriously lessened the grandeur of his plans. After his death Vignola and Pierre Ligorio were appointed to carry on the building, and were strictly enjoined by the Pope to adhere strictly to Michael Angelo's plans. These artists did not live to complete the dome, which was accomplished in the pontificate of Sixtus V., by Giacomo della Porta, in the spring of 1560.

So impatient of delay had the Pope become that the work was pushed day and night by eight hundred workmen. Everything, even decency, was sacrificed to haste, for, being in need of an additional trough for water, the masons tossed the bones of Pope Urban VI. aside, and took his sarcophagus to fill their need, and this coffin was used as a tank for about twenty years. The ball and cross were not placed on the summit of the dome until 1593.

So long as Della Porta lived,--1601,--the plans of Michael Angelo were essentially followed, although even in the dome a serious omission had been made. The model has a triple dome, and it was intended that the inner one should duplicate the dome of the Pantheon; the second should support the lantern, while the outer one should give majesty to the exterior of the church. But the inner dome was entirely omitted, the two outer were constructed of brick and bound with chains at weak points, while the statues which were to encircle it were never made.

After the death of Della Porta, Carlo Maderno, being architect under Paul V., changed from the plans of Bramante and Michael Angelo, and ruined the effect by the long nave and unsuitable facade of which we have spoken. Not until the thirteen hundredth anniversary of the original consecration of S. Peter's, by Saint Sylvester, was the present edifice consecrated by Pope Urban VIII. in 1626.

Bernini began the decoration of the Piazza of S. Peter's in 1667, and Pope Pius VI. erected the sacristy and made some minor additions in the late years of the eighteenth century; so that from the beginning of the foundations to the time when S. Peter's could be said to be complete, three and a half centuries had elapsed, forty-three popes had reigned, sixteen architects that I can name had been employed, and I doubt not there were others. The cost of this church could scarcely be estimated; and so great had the financial burden proved that at two periods, in the time of Julius II. and Leo X., the sale of indulgences was instituted to support it. At the end of the seventeenth century its cost was estimated at about fifty million dollars, which does not include the sacristy, the bell-towers, mosaics, etc. The last important work was done by Pius IX. on the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Michael Angelo, when the dome and lantern were thoroughly repaired and newly covered at a cost of about sixty thousand dollars.

Other architectural works attributed to Michael Angelo in Rome are the Porta Pia, begun by Pius IV. in 1564 after the plans of the master, but not completed until 1869, so that it is not possible to know how faithfully the plan was executed; the Sforza Chapel in S. Maria Maggiore, which Della Porta completed; and he is said to have been the chief architect of the church of S. Mary of the Angels in the Baths of Diocletian. The Piazza del Campidoglio is made after the design of Michael Angelo, as well as the facades of the palaces on three sides of the Piazza, although it was not completed until after his death. He also designed the cornice of the Palazzo Farnese, built its upper story, and made the plan of its court. He made a design for a bridge over the Tiber and the necessary road by which the Farnese Palace and the Villa Farnesina could be united; but these, like other undertakings for which he made the plans, were not executed.