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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XXV

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.  I see sculpture all around me: in carved-stone buildings, in carved-stone fountains and in carved-stone monuments. Let's end our Summer Roman Holiday with one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rome, with the fountain in its piazza, and with the ancient obelisk which punctuates that fountain. The Pantheon was built around 120 AD under the Roman Emperor Hadrian and it was used to honor the pantheon— that is, all of the many Roman gods. One enters through a classical "portico" (like a front porch) and into a large, circular room. It is topped with an enormous rounded...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XX

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.  Can one have a favorite basilica in Rome? Can one choose a favorite child? I suppose Saint Peter's will always be my favorite (how could it not be?)—though the Archbasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano would have to be in second place. It is the cathedral seat of the Pope (as "The Bishop of Rome") and is the oldest and highest-ranking of the four basilicas major. And just look at that massive, deeply-coffered ceiling! Consecrated in 324 AD, it has been renovated and redecorated numerous times through the centuries. Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) reworked the main central space (the...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XVI

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.  Not far from the tomb of Saint Peter—above which the Papal Altar, Bernini's baldacchino and Michelangelo's dome rise—sits this bronze sculpture of the first pope, Saint Peter, clutching the keys to the kingdom close to his breast and raising his right hand in blessing. For centuries, the faithful have venerated the sculpture; in the Middle Ages, pilgrims (on their months-long walk to Rome) would petition the saint to help them make it home from their journey. Christians have traditionally kissed or touched the sculpture's extended right foot—which is now worn-down to a nub. For years, it was...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XV

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.  This animated dragon decorates the monument of Pope Gregory XIII in Saint Peter's Basilica. He died in 1585 and the monument was completed over 100 years later (1715 - 1723) by late Baroque sculptor Camillo Rusconi. Despite this delay of honor, Pope Gregory XIII had an illustrious reign—for example, replacing the inaccurate Julian calendar with the better Gregorian calendar (which we still use today). Gregory was a church reformer. Under him the papacy grew in strength at the expense of (a sometimes corrupt) College of Cardinals. He put into effect the Council of Trent, covened (1545 - 1563) to address the Protestant Reformation....

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XIV

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...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XII

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.  While Michelangelo is my all time favorite artist, perhaps Gian Lorenzo Bernini is my second-favorite sculptor. He was born 34 years after Michelangelo's death and his work defines the motion (and emotion) of Italian Baroque marble sculpting. But Bernini was also an architect. He is responsible for creating the "welcoming arms" of the Piazza San Pietro—the two colonnades which line the sides (and define the shape of) the Basilica's massive front square. A church has been maintained on this site since the early 300's AD. From 1506 to 1626, Saint Peter's Basilica as we know it was...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XI

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.  The bridge crossing the Tevere (or Tiber River), shown above, is called Ponte Sisto. It connects the Jewish Quarter (where I stay) to Trastevere, the new "Williamsburg of Rome."  It was commissioned by Pope Sixtus (hence the name), and was built from 1473 to 1479.  What's most important about the photo, however, is the beautiful dome glimmering in the background. It was designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti—the world's greatest sculptor—in 1547 and work was begun under his supervision. At the time of Michelangelo's death (in 1564), the lower "drum" had been completed. Pope Sixtus assigned Giacomo della Porta to...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part X

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.  Saint Michael, the protector, is one of the three Archangels recognized by the Catholic Church (alongside Saints Gabriel and Raphael). An enormous bronze statue of him stands guard above his namesake Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome—a fortress overlooking the River Tiber. The sculpture was modeled by Flemish artist Peter Anton von Verschaffelt and installed in 1753. He is shown sheathing his signature sword, commemorating the end of the plague in 590 AD. The Castel itself has a much older history. It was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family (between 134...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part IX

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.  Rome is "The Eternal City," and I never get tired of visiting her. What more dramatic symbol to mark my arrival than the Roman Colosseum? But, as beautiful a work of sculpture as il Colosseo remains, it does have a sordid, disturbing history.  The Colosseum was built between 72 and 80 AD, and underwent various modifications in the century after that. Constructed of travertine limestone, volcanic tuff, and brick-clad cement, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. Unlike typical Greek or Roman amphitheaters which were usually built-into a hillside, the Colosseum is a completely free-standing, oval structure....

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part VII

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.  My time is Genova was wonderful—a surprisingly interesting time in a city bustling with a rich, muscular energy. Although the city is not one of Italy's "top draws" for tourists, there is certainly plenty to see: a generous helping of "aesthetic evidence" of Genova's multiple centuries as a top player in the international world of shipping, finance and trade. Walking the streets of the city, one realizes that Genova did not develop itself through high-minded callings like academics, religion or artistic patronage. Genova built itself through hard work and industry. As a visitor, I felt like I...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part VI

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.  If ever sculpture and architecture were to marry, an "Atlas" would be their progeny. An atlas is an architectural support structure—like a column, pier or pilaster—presented in the form of the male figure (usually his top half). In Greek mythology, Atlas is the character who was required to forever hold-up the sky on his shoulders. The plural form is "Atlantes" and Romans called them "Telemon." They were first utilized in Greek Sicily and Southern Italy. Later, during the late Renaissance, they were revived, this time with Mannerist (twisting) or Baroque attitudes. Atlantes were almost always at least...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part V

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.  Genova was amongst the World's richest and most powerful port cities during the 1400's - 1600's, resulting in no shortage of beautiful and impressive architecture dating to this period.  Genova's cathedral, dedicated to San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence), was a beneficiary of the communities wealth—specifically the largesse of wealthy trading and banking families. Although it was built in the 12th - 14th Centuries, wealthy patrons continued to "update" the interiors in later years. Shown above, a detail of stonework framing one of the front doors. A mix of colorful, exotic materials all work together to create a harmonious...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part IV

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.  Genova—called "la Superba"—is a muscular and bustling port city along the Northern Mediterranean coast of Italy. From the Middle Ages, Genova profited from brisk International trade within the Mediterranean (and eventually beyond) and, as a result, became a World center of banking and finance from the early 1400's. Though the city saw continued industrial growth into the Twentieth Century, the city is replete with landmarks and shrines to its previous world-dominating wealth. Even today, the port of Genova is Italy's busiest and also the most important on the Mediterranean.  Iconic seamen, Christopher Columbus and Andrea Doria, were...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part II

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.  We sailed from Athens to Sicily, an interesting route considering how important the island was to the Ancient Greek Empire. Due to its considerable size (it's the largest island in the Mediterranean) and strategic position, many conquering armies came and went over the centuries: the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Germans, French, Spanish, Neapolitans and, eventually, unified Italy. The city of Syracuse—enriched by trade under the Greeks—rivaled Athens in size and beauty. The doorway pictured above, on the side of the Duomo di Taormina, could certainly be called "sculpture." The cathedral, named after Saint Nicholas, was built around 1400, over...

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An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part I

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.  We landed in Athens (which, yes, I know, is not in Italy) to spend a couple of days re-visiting some of our favorite sites. Athens (and the whole of Greece) had a tremendous impact on Roman culture and aesthetic sensibilities. Much of Ancient Rome's best architecture and sculpture was inspired by (if not a copy of) earlier Greek masterpieces. The photo above shows the Acropolis of Athens—truly a "Shining City on a Hill"— as seen from atop the Areopagus, (known as Mars Hill). The word "Acropolis" combines the root words for "highest point" + "city." Although this...

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