Rome, Architecture in

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ROME, ARCHITECTURE IN. In the early sixteenth century, the architectural development of Rome was spurred by a campaign to reclaim the city as the caput mundi, while the century closed with the more pragmatic goal of providing Catholic pilgrims with a coherent and forceful spiritual experience as they moved about the city. Early-seventeenth-century efforts celebrated what was hailed as a triumph for the Catholic Church over the Protestant Reformation, but by the early eighteenth century, as the power of the Church waned and the papal budget for building flagged, triumph turned to a hope that Rome would become a destination on the grand tour of Europe. On more than one occasion over this span of 300 years, observers commented that the city itself resembled one big construction site, as architecture became the visible sign of these shifting goals.


Two projectsone sacred and one secularspanned much of the sixteenth century. Reconstruction of the church of St. Peter's began in 1506 at the command of Pope Julius II Della Rovere (reigned 15031513) on the design of Donato Bramante (14441514), who projected a Greek-cross plan with a massive central dome, a radical departure in design from the Latin-cross plan of the original fourth-century foundation of Old St. Peter's marking the burial site of Peter, the first pope. The scheme was fantastic and promised to rival the scale of Roman imperial public architecture. Although the massive piers for the crossing were begun according to Bramante's design, the plan was revised repeatedly after his deathby Raphael (14831520), by Baldassare Peruzzi (14811536), by Antonio Giamberti da Sangallo the Younger (14831546), and finally, beginning in 1546, by Michelangelo Buonarroti (14751564), who simplified the plan by embedding the Greek cross in a square, capped with a magnificent double-shelled dome offering a striking skyline image for this, the city's most important pilgrimage destination. The great sculptor turned architect was also responsible for the restructuring of the Campidoglio, the civic center atop the Capitoline Hill, close by the Tabularium and Forum Romanum of the ancient city. Beginning in 1539, the work was carried out in phases (Palazzo Nuovo was not even begun until 1603), but Michelangelo's mark is apparent in the brilliant design of the oval space, focused on the ancient equestrian statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius and framed by the angled placements of the flanking structures.

Highlights of private building in the city include Bramante's Palazzo Caprini (c. 15011510), an elegant townhouse design that spawned a new category of urban domestic architecture. In contrast, the majestic Palazzo Farnese, built over time on designs by Sangallo, Michelangelo, and Giacomo della Porta (c. 15371602), established the aristocratic Roman palace type. In the category of church building, noteworthy developments include experimentation with oval designs, such as S. Anna dei Palafrenieri, Vignola (begun 1565) by Giacomo Barozzi (15071573) and S. Giacomo degli Incurabili, Volterra (begun 1592) by Francesco Capriani (c. 15301594). In contrast, the newly sanctioned Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius of Loyola and headquartered in Rome, built the church of Il Gesù (begun 1568), designed by Barozzi, financed by Pope Paul III Farnese (reigned 15341549) and responsive in its architecture to the reforms called for at the close of the Council of Trent (1563). Strategically located in the city center, the church is Latin-cross in plan, with a shallow transept and a broad nave, devoid of side aisles, but with a series of discrete side chapels. The unified interior space was to accommodate large crowds with good acoustics for preaching, while the side chapels provided individual altars for serving the requisite daily masses. Likewise, the facade, designed by Della Porta, established a new type of aedicular composition with two stories of unequal width reflecting the elevation of the church. The plan, the interior articulation, and the facade of the Gesù were widely imitated; notable among these offspring are the churches of S. Maria in Vallicella (begun 1575), S. Andrea della Valle (begun 1591), and S. Susanna (begun 1595).

In the same spirit of reform, the century drew to a close with the election of Pope Sixtus V Peretti (reigned 15851590) who instituted, with his architect Domenico Fontana (15431607), an urban scheme to unify the city by establishing a network of straight streets and vertical markers, ancient Roman commemorative columns, and ancient Egyptian obelisks, each topped with Christian symbols. The Sistine plan for the city, aimed at pilgrims in anticipation of the holy year of 1600, served to link the city center with the outskirts where the early Christian basilicasobligatory stops on the pilgrimage routewere located. In this way, Sixtus stimulated growth of the city and established a framework for its later urban development.


The expansion of St. Peter's to form a Latin-cross plan and the completion of its facade, all at the direction of Pope Paul V Borghese (reigned 16051621) on designs by Carlo Maderno (15561629), opened the seventeenth century on a note of celebration. This tone is evident in both private and public architecture, where new forms and hybrid solutions abound. The grand tradition of Palazzo Farnese was transformed in the designs of Palazzo Borghese (Maderno; 16051614), Palazzo Barberini (Maderno and Bernini; 16281638), Palazzo Pamphili at the Piazza Navona (G. Rainaldi and Borromini; 16461647) and Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi (Bernini; 16641667), each a palace of family members of the reigning pope. What had appeared as formidable blocks showing reserved faces to the city grew into organic structures with facades replete with arcades and orders orchestrating opened and closed wall segments in response to the immediate urban context and the larger cityscape. Likewise, church architecture attained new levels of invention, both in plan as well as in elevation. Central plans attracted renewed attention, as for example in Pietro da Cortona's SS. Martina e Luca (begun 1635) and Francesco Borromini's S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (begun 1638). Facades that were planar as aedicular compositions (horizontal elements that support a vertical element), stemming from the Gesù, grew increasingly complex with heavily tectonic designs marked by a dramatic repetition of the columnar order in planes that break forward into space, as for example at SS. Vincenzo ed Anastasio (M. Longhi the Younger; 16461650), S. Maria in Campitelli (C. Rainaldi; begun 1662), and S. Marcello (C. Fontana; 16821683). These inventions, with their marked attraction to the dramatic in purely architectural terms, define what we mean by the term "baroque."

Nowhere is this baroque mentality more apparent than in the architectural works of the triumvirate of design personalitiesFrancesco Borromini (15991667), Pietro da Cortona (15961669), and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680)and their papal sponsors, Urban VIII Barberini (reigned 16231644), Innocent X Pamphili (reigned 16441655), and Alexander VII Chigi (reigned 16551667). At S. Ivo della Sapienza (16401660), Borromini offers a purely architectural composition celebrating the theme of wisdom, appropriate to the chapel of a university and revealed in the highly unusual star-hexagon plan, the undulating walls, the pleated dome, and the extraordinary lantern. Cortona's facade design for S. Maria della Pace (16561661) involved formation of an urban setting, a small polygonal opening carved into a dense neighborhood that not only facilitated access to the church by carriage, but also offered a dramatic setting for the semicircular portico of the facade that ironically seems to fill the open space as the church aggressively seeks its visitor. Bernini's S. Andrea al Quirinale (16581676) offers a stage like architecture that begins on the street with its grand, one-story aedicular facade announcing the aedicule of the altar opposite where the crowning pediment opens to reveal Andrew in his ascent to the heavenly dome where his fellow fishermen await him. The drama of the sculptural event in this small oval church highlights Bernini's role as impresario and his manipulation of the viewer for whom he stages spectacular events, whether in his design of the Baldacchino (16241633) at the crossing of St. Peter's, in the Cornaro Chapel (16451652) in S. Maria della Vittoria, or in the monumental Piazza S. Pietro (16561667). The Piazza S. Pietro, the crowning achievement of the papacy of Alexander VII, completed the campaign to rebuild St. Peter's. Here, the defining lines of the giant colonnades unite the opposing forms of the latitudinal oval, a gathering space for the faithful, and the trapezoid, a funnel-like space leading to the church. These spaces also function to frame the ritual appearances of the pope in the Benediction Loggia at the center of the church facade and in his apartment at the upper story of the papal palace to the north. In each case the architects of baroque Rome focus on the participant and in so doing offer exciting challenges fraught with subtleties of scale, of surface, of space, and of time.


Although the pace of building in Rome slowed at the end of the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century brought an interesting combination of architectural styles, stemming from the baroque, while also offering a contemporary aspect. The classical strain of architecture, employed for official commissions, recalls Bernini's (and even Michelangelo's) architecture and reflects the growing fascination among her tourists with Rome's ancient past. The more playful rococo style, apparent in urban planning and smaller church and domestic architecture and spawned by the fanciful creations of Borromini, offered an important foil, yet the two strains seem perfectly compatible. On the one hand, new facades for S. Giovanni in Laterano (Galilei; 17331736) and S. Maria Maggiore (Fuga; 17411746) demonstrate both the severity as well as the drama of the classical style in which the wall has been eliminated to reveal dark recesses in space while the order alone remains to define the skeletal structure of the whole. On the other hand, the curvilinear shapes of the open-air designs of the Spanish Steps (De Sanctis; 17231726) and Piazza S. Ignazio (Raguzzini; 17271735) offer an alternative sensibility of refinement and elegance suitable to a new leisure class of Romans as well as to tourists drawn to Rome to study both ancient and contemporary art and architecture. On occasion, the two styles merge in monuments such as the Fontana di Trevi (Salvi; 17321762), where the classical language furnishes a luxurious backdrop for the extraordinary sculptural display and waterworks, and the main facade of Palazzo Doria-Pamphili (Valvassori; 17301735), where the skeletal aspect of the classical conjoins with the decorative and curvilinear elements of the rococo.

The appeal of this architecture, beginning in the early sixteenth century and continuing well into the eighteenth century, is its grandeur and drama, aspects that enjoyed success whether in the service of the church, of public institutions, or of individuals. The wonder of this architecture lies not only in the sheer number of buildings that were built, but also in the staggering variety of these buildings that together created Rome's marvelously variegated and unified urban fabric.

See also Architecture ; Art: Artistic Patronage ; Baroque ; City Planning ; Classicism ; Grand Tour ; Rococo ; Sculpture .


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Dorothy Metzger Habel