An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XIV

Bernini's Baldacchino Standing Over Saint Peter's Tomb in Saint Peter's Basilica (LEO Design)

Join me on my summer holiday as I travel (mostly) through Italy—as always, in search of beautiful sites, sculpture and all things sculpture-ish. 

Once the "new" Saint Peter's Basilica was constructed, it became time to design and install a fitting marker over the Papal Altar and tomb of Saint Peter, the Church's first pope. Enter architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, engaged by then Pope Urban VIII of the wealthy and influential Barberini family.

The canopy over the altar is technically called a ciborium—although the broader decorative term baldacchino is more commonly used instead. Bernini designed and oversaw its production between 1623 and 1634. It is a massive form, assembled of individually cast bronze pieces, stands some 95 feet high, and it provides a compelling visual focus within the enormous, highly-decorated basilica. Laurel leaves and little bees decorate the four spiraling "Solomonic" columns—a tribute to the Barberini family (from which Urban VIII came). "Solomonic columns" is another name for the spiraling "Barley Twist" form; tradition tells us that such columns were employed within the original temple of Jerusalem (built by King Solomon). In 333 AD, the first Christian emperor, Constantine, presented the Pope with a pair of twisting columns which he claimed had been preserved from he original temple in Jerusalem. As the first temple was destroyed in 587 BC, many scholars have questioned whether Constantine's gift could have truly come from the period—over 900 years earlier. But the name for the design seems to have taken root. 

Bernini was a true (post) Renaissance Man. He was an architect and a sculptor—and with this baldacchino, he married the two disciples beautifully.

We'll continue our summer holiday tomorrow. 


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