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St. Peter’s Basilica by Gian Lorenzo Bernini Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 4th, 2018

The St. Peter’s Basilica is a catholic church which has been revived with the influence of classical models present between 14th and 16th centuries (McCurry, 58). Contrary to what many people believe, the church is not a cathedral. The basilica has been the recipient of many Christian worshipers from all over the world since 4th century.

Pilgrims have traveled from countries like Japan and Greenland to worship there (McCurry, 60). Others have just come to adore the architectural expertise evident from the building which has immense history. It is located right in the middle of the Vatican City in Italy. The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world and has been dedicated to catholic worship.

Its interior is larger than any other Christian church in the world, and most Catholics regard the church as the holiest place on earth. Others believe that the church is special in the eyes of God. Catholics view it as the supreme church or the father of all churches. According to history, the church was initially intended to be the burial site for saints with the name Peter.

Therefore, Peter (the Jesus’ disciple and the first pope) is believed to have been buried at a place which the basilica was built. It is believed that his burial place is just beneath the altar in the church although the exact location has never been proven yet. Afterwards, popes have been buried in this church since the era of pioneering Christians (McCurry, 80).

The church is an outstanding piece of architectural work and even some regard it as the greatest structure in the modern history. It has a dome centrally placed on top of it which forms a prominent part of the city’s skyline. The dome is one of the largest in the world and is placed at the center of the basilica; therefore, it occupies a lot of space.

The basilica is shaped in the form of a Latin cross which has one elongated side. The initial building was still in form of a cross but all the sides were equal. The interior is enormous decorated with limestone, thin covering of gold, sculptures and designs standing out from the wall surfaces. There are various tombs belonging to popes, but the major attraction is the ceremonial canopy over the altar which was designed by Michelangelo (McCurry, 81).

The initial St. Peter’s Basilica was built in the middle years of the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine; who was trying to convert the whole Roman Empire citizens to Christians. The church had a basic cross shape with a large semi-circular recess with a domed roof at the part near the altar reserved for the clergy. Its length was 341 feet and like many other churches at that time, the entrance was on the eastern side. Nowadays, that church is called Old St. Peter’s Basilica to differentiate it from the present one (McCurry, 84).

The church was in bad condition nearing the end of 15th century and needed major repairs. The first notable pope to make effort to repair it was Pope Nicholas the fifth. He gave special instructions to three architects to come up with a plan to repair or do an extreme makeover. However, he died before anything could have been done although the Colosseum had been demolished.

The building of the Basilica continued from the proceeding Pope Julius the 2nd to Pope Innocent the 10th. The building was mainly funded by fund-raisings in a very strange way. People were offered indulgence in return for their contributions. This method brought a lot of controversies that it formed the basis of the emergence of Protestants (McCurry, 85).

One of the designers of this basilica was Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini was among the top sculptors of his time; therefore, he was able to earn a commission in the designing of the church. He was the one who designed the Piazza San Pietro that is found at the front of the church. The Pizza San Pietro is one his groundbreaking piece of art work to this day. He was also responsible for designing the interior of the church giving it its smooth finish (Posner, 26).

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was an Italian who majored in sculptures and a great enthusiast of artistic expressions. Other than creating sculptors, he also painted and wrote stage plays while in Rome. Bernini had the talent of making limestone sculptors have a storyline with such great reality; that was a shock to many people.

With such talent, he was able to rise in the ranks of the greatest sculptors, even defeating Alessandro Algardi. In fact, he was able to produce artworks that combined various forms of art as demonstrated by the interior of the basilica. Bernini was a deeply religious person, and that is evident from his works. He was using light figuratively to give an insight on his thoughts regarding religion. He made sure that the hidden light brought out the theatrical moment of the sculpture’s storyline (Posner, 27).

Bernini was the son of Pietro and Angelica who lived in Naples until Bernini turned 7. When he was seven, he and his father re-located to Rome. His father was also a sculptor who was involved in the high profile projects in Italy. His talent was immediately recognized by Pope Paul the fifth and immediately, Pope’s nephew started sponsoring his projects. He received much of his inspiration from sculptures made by Hellenistic. Under the sponsorship of Cardinal Borghese, the Pope’s nephew, he was able to rise through the ranks.

Some of the works he did for the Cardinal was “The Goat Amalthea” and a couple of head, shoulder and chest sculptures like the “Damned Soul”. In his early twenties, he finished the Pope’s bust. Most of these works were secular and not religious at all. Being a high profile sculptor, Bernini was never short of funds. He was highly paid and his fame had spread even to France. In fact when he went to France, he was idolized by most of the French artists (Posner, 29).

After Maffeo Barberini was made Pope, he adopted the name Urban the eighth and he was very close to Bernini. He himself was an art lover and he had urged Bernini to concentrate on sculptures when he was young. Urban had great plans to do a complete make over of the Catholicism through arts. The most significant work that was done under the pope was the designing of Baldachin which was headed by Bernini. The baldachin was to be located on St. Peters grave (Posner, 33).

The initial plan required the angels, which are presently on the pillars, to clutch a trailing plant but, Bernini swiftly altered it so that the angels appeared as they do today. The building of the Baldacchino was such a daunting task; its 94 feet 3 inches tall and 94 tons. It had the expenses of approximately 10% of the Church’s earnings of 1624. During the construction, the major setback was that the bronze was not an adequate.

Pope Urban travelled to the ancient temple of traditional gods to take the bronze from the veranda. While there, he took more than enough such that the left over metal casted 81 canons. In molding the pillars, Bernini used the ‘Lost Wax Process’ which was clever, although, he got unfavorable opinions from some architects for combining art and simple replication (Posner, 40).

Even before the Baldacchino project was over, he was reassigned to design and oversee the renovation of St. Peters Basilica. The first thing he designed was a container for holding holy relics which was actually St. Peter’s Chair. The reliquary was later redesigned under the proceeding pope.

The new one depicts 8 saints gripping a bronze container that had a chair. The saint’s fingers hold the edges of the container to show how Christianity can be strong under the leadership of the pope. It means that the authority of pope is beyond other earthly spiritual beings, which was odd since the Popes only ruled a small part of Rome. Like in his previous project, Bernini’s message remains the same; the authenticity of the Pope leadership (Posner, 47).

Bernini’s concluding major contribution to St. Peter’s Basilica was requested by Pope Alexander; Pope Alexander’s grave. It would also the last major task done at St. Peter’s. Bernini was now 81, and he only engraved the hands and head of Alexander’s form, and he supervised the rest of the work to the end.

There was only one area left to construct the grave, and it was smaller than expected since there was a huge door at the center. Bernini cleverly included the door as a part of the grave. The door appeared as if it was a way to the life after. Alexander’s statue is decorated with a veil, and he appears to be kneeling praying that his spirit gains victory over death (Posner, 50).

In conclusion, all of the work that Bernini was involved in during the make over of St. Peter’s Basilica, bared a single theme; the confirmation of Pope’s power in the world and in heaven.

It has been known that Rome was a city of immense corruption, but that changed in the 17th century. Urban made a resolution to revive the profligacy of arts in religion. Pope Urban the eighth made use of the chance he got to use combined forms of art to depict the Papal authenticity. He was able to bring back the Papacy to a point of esteem status.

This is the very reason he selected an artist who was able to combine different forms of arts like painting and sculpture; Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini was able to bring out the political plan of the Papacy via the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Through the church, he was able to encourage the viewers to have more trust in the popes. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was indeed a skilled sculptor, since he was able to describe the creative styles of the ornate (Posner, 56).

Despite of the Basilica making quite a landmark, it did not in the people’s heart eventually. The Roman Catholic soon lost grip of the people due to the mixture of Roman ancient religion and Christianity. Thus, there was the emergence of the Protestants. Although the basilica has spiritual significant to staunch Catholics, the rest of the world views it as a great piece of architectural work (Posner, 56).

Works Cited

McCurry, Steve. “St. Peter’s Basilica.” Christianity 12.5 (2002): 58-89. Print

Posner, Nick. “Gian Lorenzo Bernini.” Sixteenth Century Artist 34.7 (1997): 24-56. Print

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