Donato Bramante (1444–1514)


Bramante was one of the first of the great High Renaissance architects, influencing numerous
prominent architects of Rome such as Peruzzi and Sangallo. He is best known for reviving the architecture
of classical antiquity, which had begun with the works of Alberti (Allsopp, 1959). Vasari
reported that Bramante spent much of his time studying and sketching the buildings in Rome (Vasari, 1907).

Born Donato di Angelo di Anthonio da Urbino/Pascuccio, it is speculated that he studied with
Piero della Francesca and/or Andrea Mantegna. His first notable building was S. Maria Presso S.
Satiro in Milan. In Rome, some of Bramante’s most celebrated and influential projects were for
Pope Julius at the Vatican, where he designed the Cortile di S. Damaso and the Cortile del
Belvedere. With an interest in centrally planned churches similar to Leonardo, he also designed a
Greek cross plan for St. Peter’s with a vast central dome. His expressive building of the classical tradition
was the Tempietto of S. Pietro in Montorio, 1502.

Bramante’s design for the Tempietto was sited in the courtyard of the Church and Monastery of
San Pietro in Montorio. It constitutes a diminutive temple acting as a Martyria, standing on the place
presumed to be St. Peter’s Martyrdom. Small and circular, it revisits antique forms appealing to contemporary Christians’ preferences, crowned with a hemispherical dome resembling the Pantheon.
This small monument displays simple proportions where the width of the dome is equal to the height
of the interior cylinder (Allsopp, 1959).

The sketch above exhibits a small shrine-like structure, representing an example of a centrally planned building. The sketch reads as an elevation of an octagon-shaped dome on a raised foundation. In plan, the building presented appears to be shaped in the form of a cross with small projections containing porches; it is vaguely reminiscent of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda.

Bramante’s concern with the reference to a shrine led him to draw this sketch demonstrating its volume
from the exterior, rather than interior space. Here, he used the porch to accent the central
domed space, stressing the qualities of a monument, a temple from antiquity.
The building’s organization describes an octagon within a Greek cross imposed within a square,
but the sketch presents an image somewhere between a perspective and an elevation, as the face of
the porch has been drawn slightly taller than the side porches. To stress the central altar and promote
a three-dimensional effect, Bramante employs shading on the side of the octagon, further confusing
the flat façade of the elevation. The sculptural figures on the roof have been drawn with the same lack
of complexity as the scale figures standing on the stairs. Although the sketch does not appear to be
hurried, Bramante describes the stairs with minimal detail. The set on the left display some definition,
while the other set of stairs have been represented simply by double diagonal lines. This technique
concentrates the focus to the center, and emphasizes the fact that the building was designed to
be viewed equally well from all angles.

The sketch suggests a self-reflexivity, as it refers to the many centrally planned structures designed
by Bramante. It also recalls the three-dimensional/volumetric qualities of Bramante’s concern for a
building’s mass. The architectural historian James Ackerman wrote about the volume of Bramante’s
walls: ‘[W]e sense that where the earlier architect drew buildings, Bramante modelled them’ (1961,
p. 27). Although this design for a small building may not be directly related to the Tempietto, it is representative of a theme, one that Bram ante explored throughout his career.

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