Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Navona Square Writing Assignment Postcard Revisited

The front side of the postcard in the morning

The backside of the postcard in the morning

The front side of the postcard

The backside of the postcard

The front side of the postcard

The backside of the postcard

Friday, November 2, 2007

Creative Writing Assignments Part 1

Writing Assignment #4.

A Roman Haunting

The ceiling of Chiesa del Gesù haunts me. When I first gazed upon the vaulted the ceiling I saw richly painted figures struggling to reach heaven. Their faces were full of anguish and despair. Hell strikes at those who could not reach the whisper violet clouds. Desperate hands reach out from above grasping those who are stuck below. I turn my back to them. I once again stare up and to my amazement they had moved! No, this can be, they are but figures painted on the ceiling. But wait, are they figures or sculptures? I cannot tell. An arm here and a leg there stick out teasing me. Gesturing, begging, and taunting for me to go to them. But how? How can I join them? I take a step back, I cannot help them, and once again they move! Am I dreaming? I circle around the ceiling and still they continue to move. They entreat me to help them. I quickly leave the church. The hot dusty Roman air fills my lungs and I am brought back. I am awake.

A Poor Attempt at the Taste of Gelato

The taste of gelato is too delicate and exquisite to write down in words. The light texture is reminiscent of cold smooth yogurt with a slight hint of sugar. The flavor quickly washes over my palette feeling my mouth with the essence of chocolate meringue, stracciatella, or panna cotta. The taste lingers on my tongue as I swallow. It does not leave a coat of sugar on my throat; but a longing to experience another spoonful. Spoonful after spoonful but I do not rush. With a sigh of regret I toss my small paper cup away after I had licked away the last drops. The desire comes back the next day for the refreshing gelato. The allure of the pale pink strawberry, daffodil lemon, and blood orange gelato draws me in. But it is the light green pear gelato that wins. Each mouthful is like biting into a juicy ripe pear without ripping through its flesh. I feel no regret. Tomorrow the cycle will begin again and who knows what I will pick.

1. Buy a Journal somewhere in Rome. Describe why you bought that journal, where you bought it, and was there anything interesting or unusual about the purchase or the person you bought it from?

For three days I searched for a journal to use and it was not until the class visited Lisa’s special store by the Pantheon that I found a journal. The store is called Cartoleria Pantheon and is located on a typical Roman side street facing part of the Pantheon. Many tourists pass by the store hardly giving it a moment’s glance unaware of the treasures that lie inside. But as soon as I stepped into Cartoleria Pantheon I could tell the difference. Outside the store the air is hot, dusty, and humid. Inside though, besides the quiet ambiance, the air is still. No longer are people jostling by trying to make the most of their short time in Rome. Rather people leisurely stop, stare, and touch the hand made paper and gift wrapping. I even felt lighter as I walked about the store as if I was walking on thick rugs that absorbed any noise that I made.

I smiled to the store owner and said, “Ciao” as I stepped inside but she just smiled back. I found the different piles of journals stacked neatly on a small table. One pile contained leather bound journals with different borders and engravings on the outside. Another pile contained paper journals with thick string used to wrap around the journal. Yet another pile contained simple journals with graceful flowers on the cover. This particular pile lacked the flair of brightly colored ribbons or thick leather binding instead they gave the impression that they were inviting with their lined pages. These journals would not mind if I did not draw pictures and only wrote on the lines. It was from this pile that I selected my journal. I preferred the simple elegance and the lined pages to the blank spaces of the handmade paper journals.

Along with the journal I decided to buy an ink set for one of my brothers. Choosing which ink set to buy was a difficult task. Each pen had a different handle ranging from slender sleek wood to extravagant silver detailing. Then after picking the pen I had to choose the color ink that I would like, black, blue, green, or red. I also had to decide if I would like any additional note cards or pen tips to complete the set. I chose a simple pen set with blue ink. The pen was silver and shaped like a large ostrich feather. With my ink set and journal in hand I mustered “Per favore” in the best Italian accent that I could to the shop attendant to signal that I was ready to pay for my items. But the shop attendant spoke English and was determined to use it. Rather than waiting for me to try and speak Italian to her, she said the price, and I was soon out of the store back on the noisy streets of Rome, but now with a journal in hand.

After buying the journal I intended to write about the different sites that I visited as well as any interesting experiences. However, I also brought a simple journal with me from Seattle and as time went on I scribbled my notes in the Seattle journal as well as my interesting experiences. In my elegant journal I recounted only the visits to sites that I went to with the whole honor’s group because I wanted to keep this journal tidy. I did not want to put random notes inside its graceful pages. However, because of this desire it lacks many of my most fond memories of getting lost south of the Vatican and my numerous experiences with different vendors. I hope now that as time goes on I will be able to write in my more humorous experiences as well as the different site visits before I return to Seattle.

On page 115 of Dante in Love, Rubin writes, “The Middle Ages were full of ‘folle voles’ – ‘mad journeys’: knights chasing dragons, crusaders routing infidel, sailors searching for new lands, popes plunging into politics. Patience is for wines and chesses and siestas. Otherwise Italy does not hold still. All those in Hell are there because of mad voyages.”

What, during your visit to Rome, was your folle vole? It can be real or a dream or a blend of both.

From the first day that I arrived in Rome I began my quest for a wedding dress. I wanted a heavily embroidered a-line champagne dress with a cathedral train. I was sick of looking at the same bridal white wedding dresses that every store in the US sold. None of the dresses were unique. I kept my jet-lagged eyes open on the drive to the Campo de Fiori hoping I would see a bridal store window showcasing their white, ivory, and champagne dresses. But I was in no such luck, I arrived only days after August 15, and almost all of the stores were closed.

I waited patiently for the first few days hoping with the long art history walks that I would stumble across a boutique. But time dragged on, and I still hadn’t glimpsed even a bridal white dress. Then we went to Florence, and the real hunt was on. I found an Italian yellow book in English and swiftly flipped through the pages. I checked the bridal section and there was nothing listed. Then I flipped to the wedding section and again nothing was listed. I asked the hotel attendant and then the waiters at dinner but no one knew a local boutique. So I was left to wander through the leather market, past the Duomo, and down to the gold market hoping I would find my precious store; or rather, that the store would find me. But all I found were gelaterias, restaurants, and pizzerias.

A few days into our Florence trip I was teased by the sight of a newly married couple. The bride was wearing a beautiful ivory dress with large puffy sleeves and a long silk train. She was busy posing for the photographer with her new husband. I started to walk towards her and then she smiled at me. It was a smile of pure joy and exuberance. It was the rare smile that people only smile when they realize they are pregnant or when they get married. I stopped suddenly and realized that I did not know enough Italian to ask her where she bought her dress; I could only imagine her smile turning into a frown as we stood there desperately trying to communicate. So instead of approaching her I waved and walked away.

After returning to Rome, Shawn, one of the instructors, mentioned that he had found a bridal store very close to the Campo. I took off immediately and found the store moments later. I eagerly pressed my face to the store window to look inside. I was only inches a way from the sparkly ivory dresses. I looked around the window hoping to see the store hours posted but there was nothing but the name of the boutique Atelier Aimée. I pulled on the door handle but it did not move. I then knocked on the door but nobody came. I switched back to yanking on the door but it still did not move. After a few minutes had passed, I stopped tugging and resolved to come back later.

When I returned the store had its hours posted, however, I had managed to come when it was closed for siesta. So I got dinner and came back. There were people inside sitting down probably waiting for the bride to be to step out of the changing room. I was giddy with excitement. The store was open! But then I tried the door handle. It was still locked. I knocked and knocked and eventually some men in the store glanced over at me. But that was it. I was once again stuck on the sidewalk starting in.

At this moment the store became my mad journey. I was determined to try on a dress in this store before I left Rome. I came back to the store a few more times but each time the same thing happened, the door was always locked. By the fourth time I stopped and looked up at the door. I thought to myself that I had to be missing something. But what? What was I doing wrong? Then it dawned on me that there was a buzzer that I had to push. It was located six inches above my eye level. I pushed the buzzer and a lady quickly walked over and opened the door.

I stepped inside and told the lady that I would like to make an appointment. She said to look around while I wait for her to return with her appointment book. I did so gladly and found three dresses to try on. I booked an appointment, listed the dresses that I would try, and soon found myself back on the sidewalk outside the door. But this time, I had a small invitation card in my hand. I was one step closer to completing my mad journey.

The day of the appointment came and so I went back to the store, past the window full of other women looking in and rang the door bell. I felt triumphant. Unlike the other women standing outside I held an invitation card. It was my exclusive pass to trying on dresses. A different lady this time came to the door. She asked for my name and upon hearing it she shook her head. She said something in Italian, but all I could say was “Non capisco”. She pulled out the appointment book and pointed to the days. It was Tuesday, the day that I thought I had the appointment, and my appointment was for Thursday of that week. With a great sigh, I left. My determination only grew stronger.

I returned to the store two days later. I was graciously led in to the one changing room after reconfirming the dresses that I wished to try. A few minutes later I had a wedding dress on. I did it! I made it into the store and tried on three of their expensive wedding dresses. Sadly, none of the dresses were the “one”. My folle vole was complete.

16. Silence and Belief
Santi Quattro Coronati is truly an exceptional cloister when compared to other cloisters like that of S. Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane. The cloister of S. Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane is roughly the same size of that of Santi Quattro Coronati but that is where the comparisons end.
Both cloisters are located near busy streets in Rome. In S. Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane you can hear the Mercedes, Fiats, and Alfa Romeos zipping by, however, at Santi Quattro Coronati it is quiet. Only the sound of pigeons flying into the cloister breaks the silence. The air is so still that you can hear the beat of their wings five yards away.

Both cloisters are rectangular shaped but the intentionality of each design is different. At Santi Quattro Coronati the cloister is inviting. It has multiple places for you to sit, and to enjoy the soothing sound of the fountain. You can gaze at the simple garden design, and memorize the lime green grass swaying with the wind. Time causally passes by allowing you to meditate on life and religion. It is the perfect enclosure. At S. Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane the ground is covered in taupe gray concrete, and its walls are bare and white. It is meant to be nothing more than an open courtyard before you enter Borromini’s masterpiece. There is no where to sit, and at the center of the courtyard is a concrete statue that vaguely looks like a well with a dull metal cross mounted on top.

Santi Quattro Coronati also has a covered walkway which surrounds the small garden. It encourages you to say and sit beneath the arches decorated with blue and red teardrops. Its walls glitter in the sunlight as if they were speckled with gold. They calmly invite you to enjoy the serenity of the garden and to remember its small details. S. Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane’s cloister on the other hand is completely exposed to the elements. It is not a pleasant place to stay for more than a few minutes. Only the sight of a person entering the cloister from the street reminds you that there is life outside of this barren cloister.

The dominant image of S. Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane is the dull concrete statue in the middle of the cloister and its monotonous walls. It is the only thing that comes to mind because the rest of the cloister is bare. Even the air tastes gritty from the un-swept bits of concrete kicked up by people passing through. As for Santi Quattro Coronati the dominant images are the small bronze cross on a wall above the cloister, and the cross shaped fountain. The sound and feeling of the cloister are also part of the image; the sound of the small drops of water falling from the fountain, the rustle of the wind as it plays with branches of the rose bushes, and the feeling of the sunlight resting on your skin. These are the dominant images because they convey the sense of peace, security, and harmony that comes from the cloister.

10. The Pantheon

Piazza Navona and the Pantheon are both very structured and follow almost rigid geometrical shapes. Piazza di Sant’Ignazio on the other hand is more chaotic and does not follow a geometrical shape. Piazza Navona’s main focus is Bernini’s four rivers sculpture. When I first saw the sculpture it was completely hidden from sight. However, the sheer size of the sculpture is still commanding. I came back a few weeks later and could only glimpse at the immense hands or feet that peeked out. Only after walking around the piazza did I get the sense of its shape. It is a gigantic ellipse. I could almost image the sweat on the horses’ faces as they raced around the edges with their chariots.

When I first entered the circular Pantheon my eyes were drawn to one side where mass was held. Leading up to that side was rows of white chairs neatly lined up. I then proceed to look up and saw the enormous oculus. I could not image how this building was built with such a large hole in the top. The sunlight poured through the oculus and lit up the Pantheon. I came back the next morning and saw the heavy doors open. The first door swung open easily. The second door put up an awful fight. Two men huffed and pushed the door open and yelled at each other in Italian. I was one of the first visitors in that day and the maintenance crew was still cleaning up. The air tasted like lemon scented floor cleaner. One small hunched Italian lady swept the floor. The dust bunnies danced across the floor like she had poured liquid nitrogen on them. Just outside the door a dark Italian man was deep cleaning the floor trying unsuccessfully to remove the green bird poop. Inside the Pantheon the noise of his deafening machine echoed and sounded like a trio of leaf blowers. It was also cloudy outside and the Pantheon was much darker than it was the day before. Little sunlight shone through the oculus and I felt alone.

I came back in the afternoon and it was still cloudy. It was the darkest I had ever seen the Pantheon. The oculus did not cast a bright shadow and the Pantheon was filled with a depressing ambiance. The Pantheon was also packed with tourists. Camera flashes went off left and right and I felt like I was in Saint Peter’s Basilica. I waited to see if it would rain but the continuous waves of groups led by umbrellas made me feel nauseated. On the way out I almost stepped on people who were laying on the floor trying to take photos of the dim oculus. I ventured back that evening and I could hardly see inside. It was so dark! Tourists in response increased the intensity of their flashes and for a while I could see red spots dancing in my vision. The statues inside the Pantheon were completely dark and almost no light shone through the oculus. The poor lightening inside the Pantheon seemed to signal the intention that it was about to close. Even though one door was closed multiple groups continued to press inside. Children too were not intimidated by the dark and ran about screaming.

A month later I could barely remember the gigantic metal doors and the herds of tourists seem like a distant memory. I can only recall the honey-comb shape of the ceiling and the gray oculus. I can almost hear Lisa’s voice in the background speaking about pagan symbols infused with the building.

Piazza di Sant’Ignazio is much different from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. When I first entered the piazza I did not know where to look. The church façade jutted out into the piazza almost mocking it. The edges of the other buildings surrounding the piazza stuck out giving the piazza a sense that it was intruding. When I compare it with the perfect piazzas elsewhere in Rome it seems to be the Piazza that Pope Alexander VIII missed! Surely if he had seen this piazza he would have moved the church façade back, and cut off the encroaching edges of the buildings. The traffic too seemed confused and unsure of where it should be. I bravely walked into the center and thought how I was the only one there. I doubt few other people during the day enter the roped off center of the piazza.

Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Beata Ludovica Albertoni

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa inside Santa Maria Della Vittoria by Bernini is surprisingly different from Beata Ludovica Albertoni. One of the first things that caught my attention was the size of the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa; it is much smaller than Beata Ludovica Albertoni. I am also visually drawn to the Angel in the sculpture. It is much larger than Saint Theresa, and holds a suspiciously sharp arrow that at any moment it will plunge into Saint Theresa. Only after the Angel has first absorbed my attention do I then look at Saint Theresa. The only light shining on the whole sculpture comes from a small window above. It lights the Angel but leaves Saint Theresa mostly dark. It is very hard to see the expression on Saint Theresa’s face. Her robes appear too heavy and cover much of her body. All I could see besides her face was one foot poking through the robes and a small hand.

As for Beata Ludovica Albertoni I’m first drawn to her face, and the upward tilt of her chin. Then I see her hands clutching her chest and the swirls of light robes that surround her. Her back appears arched and her knee projects out of the robe. Her facial expression too appears to reveal that she is in complete ecstasy. Her eyes appear heavy and her lips appear slightly parted as if she was letting out a moan of rapture. It is hard to ignore the sexual overtones in this sculpture. The single light source on this sculpture also comes from a small window and falls mostly on Beata Ludovica Albertoni face, emphasizing the idea that this piece does not belong in a church. However, it is not a violent sculpture like The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, but one of joy.

I do not find it hard to believe that Bernini completed the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa when he was first beginning his career and Beata Ludovica Albertoni when he was finishing his career. The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa is a sculpture that was made to please a patron and I think it lacks his typical originality. Beata Ludovica Albertoni on the other hand is classic Bernini sculpture that is very unique and expressive. It truly displays Bernini’s genius, humor, and gift with sculpture.

2. My most striking details of my arrival into Rome.

I could not believe the different sounds that I heard when I arrived in Italy.
On the plane ride in I was surrounded by young high school aged Italian youth. Throughout the flight they yelled Hola to each other in their sing song Italian accent. I think that they may have just learned the word and they were very excited to practice it with each other. It was so strange to be surrounded by Italians speaking Italian. I thought that since I was on a British Airways flight I would be surrounded by British people flying to Italy for a vacation. Also the noise of them saying Hola to each other reminded me so much of my roommate and me practicing different Italian words and playing with the intonation of each.

My taxi ride to my hotel was one of my scariest moments of my life. The driver paid little attention to the lines on the road that separated on coming traffic and would constantly swerve over the line. When we were on the freeway the lines that separated the traffic into efficient equal spaces meant absolutely nothing. Most of the time he would drive straddling a line and would make other drivers go around. I am also pretty sure that he did not pay attention to the speed limit as he yelled into his cell phone. The driver would also take a left turn when he was in the furthest right lane blocking traffic and angering other Italians. We almost rear-ended three cars before we made it to the hotel. But that was after we had almost run down two pedestrians who just so happened to walk across the road when it was their turn. Eventually I shut my eyes and tried to relax but it was hard with the abrasive sound of tires screeching on the pavement desperately trying to bring the car to a stop.

After surviving the drive I arrived at the hotel quite late and did not venture out on my own until the next morning. Since all of my clothing and toiletries had been left in London I realized that I needed to go out and buy what I needed. But first I needed to obtain Euros. I tried three different bancomats but they would say some weird phrase in Italian that I interpreted to mean that they did not take my card. I wandered around for a bit and realized how different Rome was from the US and England. In Rome the cobblestones are much smaller and coarser from those in rural England. For some reason they do not last as long as those in England and the pavement is full of holes which I constantly tripped on. Also the sheer noise of the scooters is very terrifying at first. When I could not see the scooters coming I was worried that they would pop around the corner going very fast and would run me over as I waited to see if the bancomat would accept my card. However on a more pleasant note my hotel was located next to a Forno so I walked buy and could smell the freshly baked bread. It smelled heavenly. I could almost taste the soft texture of the bread surrounded by a thick homemade crust. It was strange however to walk around Rome. Most of the stores were closed and I did not understand why. The streets were like mazes and the buildings would curve with the direction of the street. I felt lost as I would try and look up at the sky and only see laundry hanging out of a window on a five-story building.

7. Postcard Revisited
Visit the same Roman site or work of art at least three times and do the postcard assignment each time. On the back of the postcard, describe what is different.
***On actual postcards****

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Part Two: Creative Writing Assignments

Necessary Photographs

I should have taken a photograph of the Coliseum. Then I could show you how small people look compared to the large arches of the ancient Roman amphitheater: So very tiny, like colorful ants waiting to climb a cracked porcelain pot. But then you would have missed the sound of hundreds of people surging to the top.

Swarms of eager ants
Each follow different flags
Racing to the top

I should have taken a photograph of St. Peter’s square. Then I could show you Bernini’s grand Doric colonnades and twin fountains. Complete with 140 saints and martyrs that look down on you as you complete your pilgrimage with the other 1,000 people who also chose this day. But then you would have missed the heavenly gathering formed by the saints and martyrs that surround you. You would have missed Bernini tricks as you walk towards the Basilica. I could have shown you the pattern in the pavement that forms a flat shell. But then you would have missed feeling the nurturing arms of the church.

Middle of a shell
The end of a long journey
Washed upon the shore

I should have taken a photograph of the Spanish Steps. Then I could have shown you where Audrey Hepburn sat and ate her gelato. The people who walk up and down the marble steps are like models. They swing their hips and pout their lips and show off their latest outfits. Every shoe looks more precarious the first; first the flats, then the heels, and now the stilettos. 134 steps in all, I counted. But you know what steps look like. Solid and firm as they ascend upwards like the muscles on a man’s back.

I should have taken a picture of the Trevi Fountain. Then I could have shown you Neptune, and the hippocampi that gallop through the water. How the fountain encompasses an entire side of Palazzo Poli. But you would have missed the sound of the rushing water. You would have missed the crowd of people waiting to toss coins over their shoulders into the fountain, guaranteeing their return to Rome. You would not have been able to feel the cold as you dipped your hand into the water.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Art History Paper

Bernini’s Piazza di San Pietro

Piazza di San Pietro is the main entrance to the St. Peter’s Basilica, the mother church of the Catholic religion. Just like St. Peter’s Basilica, Piazza di San Pietro is just as commanding and grand in its design. The piazza functions to welcome pilgrims in to the motherly arms of the church.

Alexander VII was the pope behind the creation of Piazza di San Pietro. His original name was Fabio Chigi, and on April 7, 1655 he was elected Pope and took the name of Alexander VII. He took the name from another pope that was also from Siena and who had worked hard to keep the papacy strong (Krautheimer 12). Before Alexander became a cardinal he was an envoy for Pope Innocent X at the conference of Munster in 1648. At the conference the Treaty of Westphalia was signed which ended the 30 years war. As a result of the conference much of the papal political power was lost, and the Papal States were relegated to a “minor position among European powers” (Krautheimer 12). Alexander believed that the “papacy towered both temporally and spiritually over all secular kingdoms” and he “never overcame the Trauma of Munster” (Krautheimer 12). He has since strived to regain the power that was lost as a result of the Treaty. This desire for power can be seen in his building projects.

Alexander in particular loved architecture. Much of his papacy was defined by his building projects and he was affectionately called, “il papa di grande edificazione” (Marder 126). He spent much of the papal finances on widening streets, correcting and clearing squares, finishing off façades, and of course Piazza di San Pietro. He wanted to “raise Rome to the grandeur it held in ancient times” and beautify Rome (Krautheimer 12). Piazza di San Pietro was one of Alexander’s most magnificent projects. The Piazza is also said to be a “reconstruction of the Neronian circus” (Kruft 800). Many of Alexander’s building projects were done on roads that pilgrims who were traveling to St. Peter’s would pass through. One the pilgrim reached Rome he would enter into the Piazza del Popolo and would eventually end up in Piazza di San Pietro (Krautheimer 138). The building projects were meant to show the power and strength of the Catholic religion to all of those who came to Rome. On all of the buildings and squares that Alexander built or finished he attached his coat of arms. However, because of all of his building projects he left the papal finances in near ruin (Kruft 800). Nevertheless, Alexander truly changed the face of Rome.

On the day of his election, Alexander commissioned Bernini to design Piazza di San Pietro. Alexander and Bernini had all ways been friends. They both shared the philosophy that “princes must build grandly or not at all” (Marder 123). Bernini had also worked for Urban VIII and Innocent X before Alexander and did much of the work on St. Peter’s Basilica. In 1629, Bernini was given the title Reverenda Fabbrica, or Architect of St. Peter’s by Urban VIII. Alexander also spoke to or about Bernini at least three times a month during his papacy (Marder 123). All of this made Bernini the logical choice for designing the square.

Bernini started work on the piazza in 1656 and it lasted until 1667. Bernini’s first design for the square was trapezoidal. After a while he switched to circular, than square, and finally to an oval shaped design, which is what we see today. The piazza is also considered to be in the shape of an elliptical and has a central obelisk. The square measures 1,115 feet by 787 feet.
Bernini had many problems that he had to consider when designing the piazza. First, the piazza had to hold the maximum number of people for mass which meant that the piazza had to be very large. Secondly, the maximum number of people in the square had to be able to see the pope when he blessed them during the Loggia della Benediction from St. Peter’s Basilica. Third, the maximum number of people in the square had to be able to see the pope from the papal apartments, located on the northern side of the piazza, for when the pope blessed the pilgrims. Bernini was also told that part of the square had to include areas that were covered in the square for the many processions that take place at St. Peter’s. These areas had to provide relief from the sun and shelter from storms. The piazza also had to incorporate the obelisk that was slightly to the right of the axis of the Basilica’s façade. Also the original entrance to the Vatican had to be retained. Nevertheless Bernini was able to design a piazza that successfully worked with all of the considerations and problems.

As a result of all of the problems and considerations it took two years for Bernini to plan the piazza. As he was designing the piazza he also had to work with the Fabbrica di San Pietro, which was a group of cardinals who oversaw everything that was done to St. Peter’s including the square. They often complained about his designs. Since Bernini design would most likely require demolishing buildings they wanted two-story colonnades, with the second story providing apartments. However, Bernini rejected this idea and stuck with the one-story colonnade design that we see today. When Bernini’s final design was unveiled it was criticized because in order to build the square the Cibo and Cesi palaces as well as the Penitenzieria had to be demolished. The cardinals were worried that when the foundations were dug it would cause malaria and make the Borgo and Vatican uninhabitable (Krautheimer 70). The cardinals’ main concern however, was the cost of building such a grandiose square that was just for show. The plague had struck Rome the year before and Alexander had spent a lot of his money on other architectural projects and so the papal finances were low. When Bernini presented the transverse oval plan to the Congregation he credited the pope with the invention. Alexander defended Bernini’s design (Krautheimer 70). He said that the piazza would relieve some of the congestion of the streets because it could be used as a parking lot. Alexander also believed in providing jobs for the poor rather than giving arms, and the construction of Piazza di San Pietro would provide many jobs for the poor. The elliptical shape was commissioned by Alexander on August 28, 1656. Five days later, Bernini presented Alexander with the final sketch and that is the transverse oval plan is what we see today.

On August 28, 1671 the first stone of the piazza was laid. For the foundation ceremony Alexander had a medal struck. The medal shows the third colonnade that was never built. When Bernini originally designed the square it was to be composed of three colonnades that wrap around the square. Unfortunately, in February of 1667 Alexander became very sick and was also worried about the papal finances. So rather than building the third arm he had the piazza paved. Alexander died a few months later. The third colonnade played a major role in the intention of the design of the square. With the third colonnade in place, pilgrims traveling to the square would not be able to see the façade of St. Peter’s. They would have to first walk through one of the colonnades and be wrapped in the motherly arms of the church before they could gaze upon Maderna’s façade.

Before Alexander died he saw the first two colonnades of Bernini’s design. Work began in the square in 1658 with stone coming from Tivoli and Monertondo. In 1659 work on the Northern colonnade began and was finished in 1662, while the northern corridor axis that went to the Scala Regia started in 1663 and was completed in 1666. In 1660 work on the Southern colonnade began and was completed in 1664. The southern corridor was not completed until after Alexander died. As a result the southern corridor contains the coat of arms of Clement IX. It is the only other coat of arms in the piazza other than the Chigi coat of Arms for Alexander.
The square that we see today is Baroque in style and constructed from bearing masonry and cut stone. It contains a central obelisk, two identical fountains, and two colonnades. The red granite obelisk was moved to the square in 1586 under the orders of Sixtus V, and was the first element of the piazza. 16 days after it was erected Sixtus exorcised the pagan cross and placed a cross on the top. The next element that was added was the fountains. Pope Paul V instructed Carlo Maderna to built two twin fountains for the piazza. The southern fountain was completed in 1613 by Maderna. The northern was finished sixty years later in 1673 by Bernini under the pontificate of Pope Clement X, since Pope Alexander VII died in 1667.

The main element of the square is the two colonnades that encircle it. The colonnades are made up of 284 Doric columns. Each colonnade has 88 pillars, is four rows deep, and has an Ionic entablature. The entablatures support 140 travertine statues of saints and martyrs, and are surmounted by a balustrade. The saints are 12 feet tall and 96 of the 140 were designed by Bernini. The other 44 were created more than 20 years later after Bernini died during the reign of Clement XI in 1700-1721. As the saints and martyrs look down on visitors in the square, their active poses and presence turn them into “actors and audience for the oval theater space” (Marder 145). On the western portion of the northern colonnade the statues are of the saints of the Early Church. The eastern range supports female saints and male founders of religious orders. On the southern colonnade higher ranking men can be seen on the western portion of the colonnade, while newer saints are seen on the eastern side. The “saints compose a heavenly gathering over the space dominated by the obelisk, which is a symbol of triumph over death at the site of St. Peter’s tomb” (Marder 145). The 140 saints add to the extravagant design of Piazza di San Pietro.The colonnades are similar to ancient Roman porticoes. The four rows form three pathways much like the ancient porticoes did (Marder 136). The central pathway was designed for carriages while the side passages were meant for pedestrians. The pathways were created to provide shelter from the sun and from storms. The colonnades are also surmounted by gigantic coats of arms of Alexander VII, which display the mountains and the oaks. The columns also “work to be the motherly arms of the church that stretch out to receive Catholics, so as to confirm them in their faith, heretics to reunite them with the church, and infidels to enlighten them in the true faith” (Scribner 98). The colonnades work to provide a nurturing enclose that protects all those who enter into the piazza.

The colonnades also serve to fix the excessive width of Maderna’s façade. When Bernini designed the colonnades he kept them as low as possible at 52 feet and also extended them horizontally against the façade. Because of this the colonnades “optically correct the excessive width… and make it appear taller” (Scribner 98). Originally the façade was to have two large bell towers. Bernini built one of the towers under Urban VIII. However, the ground was too instable and the tower had to be demolished. Also since the façade has slender Corinthian columns, Bernini chose the “simple, sturdy, Tuscan order for the columns of his colonnades to contrast with… and accentuate” them (Marder 126). Bernini worked hard to fix Maderna’s mistake.

The colonnades also contain three different inscriptions written by Alexander. The North West inscription and the southern inscription “invites the beholder to ascend to the mountain of the Lord to worship in his holy temple” (Marder 143). The North East inscription refers to the function of the colonnades as “secure” protection against inclement weather. The furthest south inscription reads 1661 and refers to Alexander as Pontifex maximus.

Piazza di San Pietro is a combination of three different piazzas. The first is the Piazza Retta. It is located immediately in front of the St. Peter’s façade and is shaped like a trapezoid with the bottom part widening into the ellipse. The Piazza Retta rises towards the church and the ascension is accelerated through the stairs. The colonnades also do not meet the façade in a right angle. All of these in turn function to make the façade appear narrower. The second is Piazza Oblique. The piazza is an oval arranged on an axis that is perpendicular to the main orientation of the Basilica. The obelisk defines the center of Bernini’s design while the fountains on either side develop the lateral dimensions of the layout. The design in turn creates spatial tension (Zucker 4). Also the piazza appears to be an ellipsoid through the pattern in the pavement, but it was actually constructed as two half circles with a rectangle located between them. The pattern seen in the pavement had not only 2-D importance but 3-D as well. The spikes radiate from the obelisk and tie together the colonnades, fountains, and the obelisk, forming the image of a flat shell (Zucker 5). The third is Piazza Rusticucci. Its main function is to collect and direct visitors to Piazza Oblique. However, due to the lack of funds at the end of Alexander’s life Piazza Rusticucci was never brought into artistic shape.

The piazza that was constructed in 1648 was designed to address the three roads that lead towards it. Also at this time only two small narrow paths led from the Tiber River to St. Peters. Pilgrims traveling on one of these paths would come upon the square suddenly, and the “vast piazza in front of St. Peter’s came as a surprise, as an unexpected explosion of space” (McClendon 39). So in 1936, Mussolini decided to link the piazza to the Tiber River with a large road. However, the Via della Conciliazione was too grand, and was detrimental to the feel and function of Bernini’s design. In particular the illusion that St. Peter’s façade was actually taller and narrower that was created by the colonnades was ruined. The illusion only works in the piazza and so with the large road, pilgrims could see the wide façade from far away. In 1950, two arms were built at the end of the road to narrow it in an attempt to recapture the effect of the optical illusion. If Bernini’s third colonnade had been built the two arms added in 1950 would have not been needed. Bernini originally had planned for a large road to connect the Tiber River to the piazza since the area where the road is now was crowded with buildings and that is why his design included three arms.

The colonnades of Piazza di San Pietro also play with the light that passes through their columns. As one views the columns, the “sunlit columns nearest the viewer in the piazza gradually fade into darkness row by row in three installments” (Marder 134). Also “behind the light bathed in brightness the shafts fall into progressively deeper shadow,” and you also get a “flickering effect of solid and void, light and dark” (Marder 134). Finally the “rows of columns closest to the viewer pass the eye more quickly than the rows behind it, so the visual impact is stereoscopic: the more distant rows appear to move backward as the line of columns in the front moves forward” (Marder 134). The Piazza too plays with the viewer. The Basilica seems closer than it really is so it feels like it takes longer to cross the piazza. This long journey is like a pilgrimage and prepares the pilgrims for entering the holy church. Also is the viewer stands on of the two circles located on the axis that connects the fountains to the obelisk, the columns on one side of the colonnade perfectly line up, so the view can only see a single set of columns.
Piazza di San Pietro is said to be one of Alexander’s and Bernini’s grandest accomplishments. It is said to have the “ideal relationship between space and movement to the artists of [the] late baroque” (Zucker 3). The piazza is often compared to the ancient Roman amphitheaters and in particular the coliseum (Scribner 98). This refers back to the idea of Alexander building up Rome to its past glory.

Bernini did an incredible job building a piazza that was exceptionally large and grandiose without taking away from the splendor of St. Peters. Piazza di San Pietro is considered to be one of the greatest Baroque architecture works. It works to welcome in pilgrims into the nurturing arms of the church. The piazza is also the entrance to St. Peters and displays the incredible papal power and wealth that Alexander had.

Works Cited

Bergere, Richard and Thea Bergere. The Story of St. Peter’s. New York: Dodd,
Mead and Company, 1966.

Hibbert, Christopher. Rome the Biography of a City. London: Penguin book,

Krautheimer, Richard. The Rome of Alexander VII 1655-1667. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1985.

Kruft, Hanno-Walter. "The Origin of the Oval in Bernini's Piazza S. Pietro." The
Burlington Magazine 121(1979): 796-801.

Marder, T.A.. Bernini and the Art of Architecture. New York: Abbeville Press
Publishers, 1998.

McClendon, Charles. “The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.”
Perspecta. 25 (1989): 32-65.

Scribner III, Charles. Bernini. New York: Harry N. Abrams, INC., 1991

Zucker, Paul. "Space and Movement in High Baroque City Planning." The
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 14(1955): 8-13.

Pictures of Piazza di San Pietro

Piazza di San Pietro, taken from “The Origin of the Oval in Bernini's Piazza S. Pietro"
Side picture of Piazza di San Pietro from the top of the southern colonnade taken from “The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome”.

View of St. Peter’s square from the Mussolini’s road built in 1936 and taken from The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Before and after aerial shots of Mussolini’s new road, and taken from The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Another aerial shot taken from The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Pilgrims coming upon the Piazza and seeing it as “an unexpected explosion of space” (McClendon 39).
Picture taken from The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

One of the designs made to criticize Bernini’s idea of a trapezoid opening into an ellipse. St. Peter’s is superimposed on the design. Bernini’s drawing is on the left and shows the unnatural bending of his arms. Picture taken from The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

Medal showing the planned bell towers to go on Monderna’s façade. Taken from The History of the Site of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

Medal commissioned by Alexander VII showing the third arm of the Piazza that was never built. Picture taken from Bernini and the Art of Architecture.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Blog Number 1

Ciao to all of my fellow students!!!
Can you believe it? We're heading to Rome!!!
Okay well nothing much to report now,
see you in Rome!