St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

Movement High Renaissance

Located at Vatican City, Rome


The new basilica was commissioned by Pope Julius II as a way of reinstating the papal authority within Rome and its neighboring states.


Bramante’s 1506 Design

As in Il Tempietto, Bramante utilizes the simple, perfect forms of the square and circle to create a dazzling space in the shape of a Greek cross; the structure certainly would have made an impact – its original width would have reached 500 feet. As the ancient Roman emperors had incorporated Classical Grecian themes into their structures, so did Pope Julius II wish to employ early Roman designs into St. Peter’s basilica; note the dome’s high drum and the basilica’s pediment, both of which recall the Pantheon.


Michelangelo’s 1546 Design

A number of architects were charged with designing St. Peter’s basilica—this ultimately fell to Michelangelo in 1546. Bramante had originally intended for St. Peter’s elevation to be layered; instead, Michelangelo creates a significantly more compact structure, utilizing piers of the colossal order to link the numerous stories; instead of placing a balustrade atop the structure, he installs an attic, adding an even greater sense of unity from the base to the dome. Bramante’s original plan for the dome called for a squat hemisphere atop a narrow drum; Michelangelo does away with this by including a tall drum and dome that thrusts upward, culminating in the lantern above; this verticality is emphasized by the stark supporting beams of the dome, supported in turn by the prodding double-piers of the drum below.


Michelangelo simplified the interior space as well; instead of a multitude of spaces; he designs one great square, broken by the massive piers atop which the dome rests. Though this plan is centralized, Michelangelo did wish to emphasize the basilica’s main axis, and to that end designed a portico at the eastern apse, though this was never carried out.