Donato Bramante (1444 –1514) – a famous wrecker, who changed the face of Rome

Donato Bramante, Tempietto (Chapel of the Martyrdom of St. Peter), dome

Donato Bramante, Tempietto (Chapel of the Martyrdom of St. Peter), dome

It was Michelangelo who contributed to the new pseudonym given to this greatly influential in Rome artist – commonly known as „Bramante”, meaning „zealous”, he was given the nickname of „Ruinante” (wrecker) along with his client – Pope Julius II. Even after the architect’s death in the year 1514 there were jokes going around Rome, that Bramante was willing to go to heaven on one condition, that being the consent of St. Peter to rebuild it.

Donato Bramante, Tempietto (Chapel of the Martyrdom of St. Peter), dome
Donato Bramante, Tempietto (Chapel of the Martyrdom of St. Peter)
Donato Bramante, Chapel of the Martyrdom of St. Peter (Tempietto), in the courtyard of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio
Portrait of Pope Julius II (Raphael Rooms) in the Apostolic Palace, currently part of Musei Vaticani
Donato Bramante, courtyard of the Church of Santa Maria della Pace
Donato Bramante, courtyard of the Church of Santa Maria della Pace
Donato Bramante, presbytery of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
Donato Bramante, courtyard of the Apostolic Palace

It was Michelangelo who contributed to the new pseudonym given to this greatly influential in Rome artist – commonly known as „Bramante”, meaning „zealous”, he was given the nickname of „Ruinante” (wrecker) along with his client – Pope Julius II. Even after the architect’s death in the year 1514 there were jokes going around Rome, that Bramante was willing to go to heaven on one condition, that being the consent of St. Peter to rebuild it.

 

This outstanding architect came from a peasant family near Urbino, but his career started in Milan at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza. The period of over 20 years which he spent there, ended with the entry of French forces into the city and the imprisonment of his current client, which forced Bramante to leave Milan.

After arriving in Rome around the year 1500, the fifty-five year old artist began to diligently study antique architecture, inspiring himself with its simplicity and power of influence, which meant distancing himself from his former early- Renaissance designs. The high point of his studies was the erection in the city upon the Tiber, of completely innovative buildings, which aroused interest, admiration, but most of all the need to imitate, among his fellow contemporary artists and architects.

At that time Bramante encountered a great patron – Pope Julius II, who desired to thoroughly change the face of Rome, and he was the one who was going to help him in this task. This is how the designs of renovating the papal palace and the construction of the Belvedere in the Vatican came about. However, the greatest architectural undertaking of Bramante was the construction of the new St Peter’s Basilica (San Pietro in Vaticano), which was to replace the old building nearly in ruin by now, erected by Constantine the Great. The pope decided against rebuilding it, but rather wanted to create something truly new, monumental, corresponding to the rank of the Holy See. This gave Bramante a chance to demonstrate his talents – in his original vision the church was to have a higher ceiling than today, while the dome would have a larger diameter.  In the end his plan of a central structure based on the form of the Greek cross, topped with a great dome, was not completed, although in the beginning everything indicated that it would be so.  From his original concept only four monstrous columns remain holding the dome, in the end designed by Michelangelo.

 


Bramante was a trusted architect and an advisor to the pope. Unfortunately we know very little about his life, which in part is shrouded in mystery.  We also do not know, to what extent it was his doing, that the pope distanced himself from Michelangelo and his sculpting ideas, at the same time making the ambitious Florentine the laughingstock of Rome, as is imputed by Giorgio Vasari. However, we can be sure that Bramante was a highly influential figure, perhaps even the one who dealt the cards, when it comes to artistic commissions, an ambitious, self-confident man. Most likely his architectural plans were contradictory to the papal commissions for Michelangelo, who waited for months for decisions regarding commencement of his works and then for payment.

Bramante’s buildings in Rome:                                                                                                                                   

  •     Tempietto (1504) – courtyard of the monastery at the Church of San Pietro in Montorio
  •       Cloisters of the Church of Santa Maria della Pace (1504)
  •       The Belvedere Courtyard (Cortile del Belvedere), a spiral staircase in the present-day Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani)
  •     Plan of St. Peter’s Basilica (1506) – in Bramante’s design the colossal, central structure was supposed to be more reminiscent of ancient baths than a church.
  •     Presbytery with a finish in the form of a shell in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo