Donato Bramante

By Kasey Catt

Donato Bramante was a famous Italian architect and painter who is best known for his work on St. Peter’s Basilica [1]. Born in 1444 to a farmer’s family, he began his artistic career under the guidance of the noted Renaissance artists of Mantegna and Piero della Francesca [2]. In his early studies he was most interested in the rules of perspective [2]. Although his architecture skills eventually surpassed his artistic skills, his early art training can be seen throughout his buildings [2].

Barmante moved to the city of Milan in approximately 1474 to continue his architectural development [3]. The city of Milan was filled with buildings of the gothic style which influenced Bramante during the creation of several churches in the city [2]. His works were noticed by the Duke Ludovico Sfora and Bramante completed many works for his new patron [3]. In addition to essentially being Sfora’s personal court architect, Bramante’s relation with Sfora culminated with the rebuilding of the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro. Bramante also built the structures of Santa Maria delle Grazie, cloisters of Sant’Ambrogio, and Palazzo Caprini among other smaller works in Milan. As the French army invaded Milan in 1499, Barmante’s patron, Sforza, fled and Bramante followed suit moving to Rome where he spent the rest of his life [2].

Once in Rome, Bramante’s talents were soon recognized by Cardinal Della Rovere. The cardinal becoming Pope Julius II gave Bramante a very powerful and wealthy patron. Early in his relation with Pope Julius, Bramente worked on the plans for the Belvedere courtyard in the Vatican in [1]. Another one of his notable works for the Pope included the cloister of santa Maria della Pace near Piassa Navona. One of Barmante’s most amazing works for the Pope was the Tempietto of San Pietro in Montoria on the Janiculum. This building could be considered “one of the most harmonious buildings of the Renaissance,” consisting of more aspects of sculpture than architecture this piece could be considered an architectural masterpiece [2]. Bramante had planned on adding a courtyard around his work, but Pope Julius had bigger plans for him. In November 1503 Barmante was tasked with the re-building of St Peter’s Basilica [3]. This task was “the grandest architectural commission of the European 16th century.” [3] The grand scale of the Basicilla occupied Bramante’s time until the end of his life in 1514. Although the basilica was not completed before Bramante’s death his architectural brilliance can be seen in its construction.

Church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro [3]

The church was built on commission by Duke Sfora and was dedicated Saint Satyrus. Although the structure was initially attributed mainly to Bramante, it has recently come to light that he had more of a minor roll. Still his characteristic style focusing on perspective can be seen in aspects of the building. “The edifice has a nave and two aisles with barrel vault. The nave is surmounted by a dome at the crossing with the transept.” Bramante’s contributions can be seen in the choir area that had to be remodeled. In order to make up for the reduced choir size, Bramante used a perspective painting to make it look bigger than it actually is. This was one of the “first examples of trompe l'oeil in history of art.” Trompe l’oeil is an art technique that utilizes a realistic painting style to create an optical illusion of three-dimensionality.[4]

Image of the church’s exterior [3]

Image of the church’s interior displaying Bramante’s use of perspective [3]

Church at Santa Maria delle Grazie [5]

Although the structure was built initially by Guiniforte Solari, it is believed that Barmante was hired to remodel it and prepare it to be the burial place of the Sfora family. To do this the cloisters and apse were remodeled by Bramante

Image of the apse designed by Bramante

Cloisters of Sant’Ambrogio [6]

Palazzo Caprini [7]

Belvedere courtyard in the Vatican [8]

This work is an example of the high renaissance style consisting of a courtyard, piazzas and a garden. A series of terraces that are connected by steps serve to connect the Vadicant palace with the Villa Belvedere. Although Barmante never saw the work completed and the final product had alterations, his designs contained many unique ideas. “He regularized the slope as a set of terraces, linked by rigorously symmetrical stairs on the central longitudinal axis, to create a sequence of formal spaces that was unparalleled in Europe, both in its scale and in its architectural unity.” Bramante also integrated another innovation when he split the set of stairs running to the top terrace around the retaining wall and then returning to the center. The wings that flank the courtyard have three levels in the lower court and end on the terraces with the upper most level reaching the top most terrace. Bramante used his artistic perspective training to add another feature to the courtyard when he added a screening wall to hide the fact that the villa façade was not parallel to the vadicant wall.

Image displaying Bramante’s design for the courtyard

Santa Maria della Pace[9]

Built in 1500-1504, Bramante’s work on the cloister became a main feature in the church monastery complex. The cloister consisted of two levels “the first is articulated by shallow pilasters set against an arcade; the second also has pilasters set against an arcade which is vertically continuous with the lower storey, but with columns located in between each arch span.” This piece of art was recorded as Bramante’s first work in Rome.

Image of the cloister designed by Bramante

Tempietto of San Pietro[10]

Built in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio, this piece of architecture is “considered a masterpiece of High Renaissance architecture.” Built as a monument to a martyr, this works is more artistic than structural. The structure “is composed of slender Tuscan columns, a Doric entablature modeled after the ancient Theater of Marcellus, and a dome.” This masterpiece has warranted such comments from architectural conissures:[11]

“The emphasis here is on the harmony of proportions, the simplicity of volumes (cylinder, hemisphere) and the sobriety of the Doric Order. The circular plan symbolizes divine perfection. Inspired by ancient temples, the Tempietto is both a homage to antiquity and a Christian memorial."

— Mitchell Beazley. The World Atlas of Architecture. p276.

"For Bramante, the planning of the Tempietto must have represented the union of illusionistic painting and architecture he had spent his career perfecting. The building, too small on the inside to accommodate a congregation (only 15 feet in diameter), was conceived as a 'picture' to be looked at from outside, a 'marker', a symbol of Saint Peter's martyrdom."

— Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p302.

Image of the tempietto

Sketch of Bramante’s tempietto

St. Peter’s Basilica [12]

The rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica was comissiond by Pope Julius II and was the subject of a competition. In order to decide which designer would be used, the designers had to submit their plans and a winner would be chosen. From this grou, Bramante was chosen to to rebuild the basilica. Drawing inspiration from the Pantheon, the first stone in the project was laid in 1506. Barmante’s design did different from the pantheon in that it utilized four pillars to support the dome as opposed to a continuous wall. The dome was then topped with a latern. “Bramante had envisioned that the central dome be surrounded by four lower domes at the diagonal axes. The equal chancel, nave and transept arms were each to be of two bays ending in an apse. At each corner of the building was to stand a tower, so that the overall plan was square, with the apses projecting at the cardinal points.” However when pope Julius died, Bramante was replaced from the head desiging position. However, many of his original designs greatly influenced the future designers that eventually finished the construction of the basilica.

Image describing Bramante’s plan for the basilica

Sketch showing Bramante’s design for the dome of the basilica