On this rock…’. The Fabric of St. Peter’s


‘The exhibition narrates the major aspects concerning the building of the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome. It takes a look at a work that everyone knows but which is not easy to straight away appreciate in terms of the complexity of the historical and artistic factors that affected its construction and the meaning it bears. No other architectural work has in fact grown over the centuries with such an overlapping of ideas and projects and the contribution of so many great artists of every age, from Bramante to Raphael, from Michelangelo to Bernini… Equally interesting is understanding the meaning and contribution given by “minor” artists to the building and whose combined efforts produced the building as we know it today. The exhibition narrates the historical stages through which this place, from the martyrdom of Peter, has become the foundation of Church unity. One by one, the different churches imagined and erected above those bones, have been attempts to represent – including through stones – the evidence and exceptionality of the Christian faith. Starting with the first mausoleum over the tomb of Peter, a small funeral chapel, right up to the building of the Constantinian Basilica, its subsequent destruction and finally, the modern Basilica project. In the atmosphere of the ‘renovatio urbis’ of Julius II, Bramante’s first project aimed at creating the great church of Christianity, beginning with the forms of pagan classicism: the challenge of reason which endeavours to represent the infinitely large according to its own scale. The idea of the four central pillars determines a conception of space that was immense and exceptional for the period, to the extent that not even the artist was able to fully define the project. After making attempts that lasted twenty years, after the dream of rebuilding a new Rome finally came to an end with the sack of 1527, the genius of Michelangelo came onto the scene. His idea was to terminate Bramante’s unfinished work with a large “Dome” and retrieve the idea of a “clear and straightforward, luminous and isolated ” central plan. He gave the Basilica unity, destroyed whole parts he believed confused Bramante’s original idea and introduced a series of layout and structural innovations. Michelangelo worked on the Fabric during the last twenty years of his life, when he was between 70 and 90 years old. It is clear how his work is closely tied to his humanity: in the conflict produced in his mind by the task entrusted to him, in the relations, often not easy, with the pope and the workers. After the death of Michelangelo, up to the mid-seventeenth century, of considerable importance was the work of two great architects: Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Carlo Maderno extended the central plan and built the current façade with the colonnade of the blessings: this way, the new liturgical and functional requirements of convening the faithful were met, without in actual fact contradicting Michelangelo’s idea. The picture we have of St. Peter’s is closely tied to Bernini’s reinterpretation in the seventeenth century, once again through the valorisation of the large dome and church as a whole, with the elliptic-shaped square – the Mother Church embraces the faithful, a new dome open onto the heavens. The unitary interior image of the Basilica is also due to the work of Bernini on the central nave and the two masterpieces of the baldachin in the presbytery and the see of the apse. We could in fact risk saying that it was thanks to Bernini that St. Peter’s was completed as a church. This is the last stage taken into consideration in the history of the Basilica, a stage that has continued, in an evident and important way, through changes and restoration work, up to the present day.’