Showing posts with label Donato Bramante. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donato Bramante. Show all posts

3 January 2024

Beatrice d’Este – Duchess of Milan

The brief life of a politically astute noblewoman from Ferrara

Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice D'Este, portrayed in a painting by the
19th century Italian artist Francesco Podesti
Beatrice d’Este, who became Duchess of Bari and Milan after her marriage to Ludovico Sforza and was an important player in Italian politics during the late 15th century, died on this day in 1497 in Milan.

The Duchess was said to have shown great courage during the Milanese resistance against the French in what was later judged to be the first of the Italian Wars. At the time of the French advance on Milan, with her husband ill, Beatrice made the right decisions on his behalf and helped prevent the Duke of Orleans from conquering her adopted city.

Sadly, she died when she was just 21, after giving birth to a stillborn baby.

Beatrice was born in the Castello Estense in Ferrara in 1475, but spent her early years growing up in her mother’s home city of Naples. When she was 15, her family sent her to marry the 38-year-old Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed Il Moro - The Moor - because of his dark complexion, who was acting as regent of Milan on behalf of his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza.

Ludovico and Beatrice’s wedding celebrations were directed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan for 17 years, designing elaborate festivals for the Sforza family as well as painting and sculpting.

Ludovico became Duke of Milan after Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, seemingly of natural causes. However, it was rumoured at the time he had been poisoned by his uncle.

Ludovico Sforza, to whom Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Ludovico Sforza, to whom
Beatrice was betrothed at 15
Beatrice found herself at the centre of court life in Milan, where she was much admired for her beauty, charm, and diplomatic skills.

As well as associating with Da Vinci and the architect, Donato Bramante, she spent time with poets such as Baldassare Castiglione and Niccolò da Correggio. Her husband seemed to have been genuinely fond of her, despite having a string of mistresses, and once described her as ‘happy by nature and very pleasing.’

Beatrice was trusted to represent her husband as an ambassador to Venice and she also attended a peace conference, along with many powerful political figures of the day, including Charles VIII, King of France.

She gave birth to two sons, Massimiliano, who was born in 1493, and Francesco, who was born in 1495. They each, in turn, went on to become the Duke of Milan.

Beatrice was on course to make Milan one of the greatest Renaissance capitals of Europe when her life ended abruptly.

Pregnant for the third time, she seemed to be in good health when she was seen out in her carriage on January 2, 1497.

Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Ludovico Sforza mourns his wife's death by her
tomb in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
She waved to the crowds on her way to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where Da Vinci was in the process of painting his famous masterpiece, The Last Supper, known in Italian as Il Cenacolo, on the wall of the refectory.

After saying her prayers in the church, Beatrice returned to the Castello Sforzesco, where she was said to have taken part in dancing during the evening. Afterwards, she started to suffer stomach pains and she gave birth to a stillborn son. She never recovered from the birth and died half an hour after midnight, on January 3.

Later that day, her heartbroken husband wrote about the sad news to his brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga, who was married to Beatrice’s sister, Isabella. He asked for no visits of condolence, saying he wanted to be left alone to grieve. He remained locked in his apartment for two weeks and when he reappeared, he had shaved his head and was dressed in black, wearing an old, torn cloak.

The beautiful Beatrice has been immortalised in sculptures and paintings and has gone down in history as ‘a virago who showed the courage of a man’, during a time when Milan was at war.  

The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
The Castello Sforzesco in Milan, almost 600 years
old, is one of the largest castles in Europe
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Milan is the impressive Sforza castle, Castello Sforzesco, built by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, in 1450. After Ludovico Sforza became Duke in 1494, he commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to fresco several of the rooms. The castle was built on the site of the Castello di Porta Giovia, which had been the main residence in the city of the Visconti family, from which Francesco Sforza was descended. The Viscontis ruled Milan for 170 years. Renovated and enlarged a number of times in subsequent centuries, it became one of the largest citadels in Europe and now houses several museums and art collections.  The Cairo metro station is opposite the main entrance to Castello Sforzesco, which is about a 20 minute walk from Milan’s Duomo.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he painted on the wall of the refectory
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, which he
painted on the wall of the refectory
Travel tip:

Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church and Dominican convent in Milan, is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper - Il Cenacolo, which is on the wall of the refectory where the monks used to eat their meals. Entrance to the refectory is now limited to 25 people at a time for a maximum stay of 15 minutes and it is necessary to book a visit in advance.  In addition to Il Cenacolo, the church also has a chapel decorated with the frescoes Stories of Life and The Passion of Christ, by Gaudenzio Ferrari and other works by Ferrari, Titian and Bramantino. Titian’s painting, The Coronation of Thorns, once hung in the same chapel as the Ferrari frescoes but is now in the Louvre, in Paris.

Also on this day:

106BC: The birth of Roman politician and philosopher Cicero

1698: The birth of opera librettist Pietro Metastasio

1785: The death of composer Baldassare Galuppi

1877: The birth of textile entrepreneur and publisher Giovanni Treccani

1920: The birth of singer-songwriter Renato Carosone

1929: The birth of film director Sergio Leone

1952: The birth of politician Gianfranco Fini


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11 April 2023

Donato Bramante - architect and painter

Father of High Renaissance style left outstanding legacy

Bramante made his mark in Rome in the 16th century
Bramante made his mark in
Rome in the 16th century
The architect and painter Donato Bramante, credited with introducing High Renaissance architecture to Rome, died on this day in 1514 in Rome, probably aged around 70.

Bramante, who was also a perspectivist painter, worked in Milan before moving to Rome, where he produced the original designs for St Peter’s Basilica and built several buildings and structures considered to be masterpieces of early 16th century architecture.

These include the Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio on the summit of the Janiculum Hill, the Chiostro di Santa Maria della Pace near Piazza Navona, the Cortile del Belvedere and Scala del Bramante in the Vatican and the Palazzo della Cancelleria, located between Campo de' Fiori and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

Bramante was born Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio in around 1444 to a well-to-do farming family in Fermignano, a town in what is now the Marche region, a few kilometres south of Urbino. He was also known as Bramante Lazzari. 

Little is known of his early life, although it is possible he worked on the construction site of Federico da Montefeltro's Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, having trained under its architect, Luciano Laurana.

He moved to Milan in 1476 and the first work definitively attributed to him was in Bergamo, 50km (31 miles) or so to the northeast, where he painted murals, notably on the facade of the Palazzo del Podestà in 1477. His mastery of perspective is thought to have been influenced by Piero della Francesca, his contemporary.

In Milan, Ludovico Sforza appointed Bramante his court architect on the recommendation of his brother, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. His work there included the a rectory and cloisters of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which featured his characteristic use of arches, and alterations to the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie - famously the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper - where he added a cloister, a rectory and a dome surrounded by columns. 

Bramante's original design for the dome of St Peter's Basilica
Bramante's original design for the
dome of St Peter's Basilica
In 1499, however, Bramante’s time in Milan came to an abrupt end in 1499, when Ludovico Sforza was driven out by an invading French army. Bramante moved to Rome.

There, he immersed himself in the study of the architecture of ancient Rome, which would influence the style that became known as High Renaissance.

He became known to Giuliano della Rovere, the Cardinal who was the future Pope Julius II, his biggest patron. It was Julius who commissioned Bramante to build a new St Peter's, replacing the basilica erected by Constantine in the fourth century, which he envisaged would be the greatest Christian church ever constructed. 

There was a competition organised, which Bramante won with a design based on an enormous Greek-cross structure topped by a central dome inspired by that of the huge circular Roman temple, the Pantheon. However when Pope Julius died in 1513, his successor replaced Bramante with Giuliano da Sangallo and Fra Giocondo, and the commission then passed to Raphael in 1514, a few months after Bramante’s own death. It was not until 1547 that Michelangelo took over as chief architect, making substantial changes to Bramante's original plan.

St Peter’s Basilica apart, Julius II employed Bramante on many more projects, including whole complexes of buildings, fountains and street layouts as the pontiff set about a programme of urban regeneration. 

Among these, his Cortile del Belvedere - Belvedere Courtyard - a long, rectangular courtyard connecting the Vatican Palace with the Villa Belvedere in a series of terraces, linked by stairs, influenced the design of courtyards across Europe.

The Tempietto di San Pietro is considered a Bramante masterpiece
The Tempietto di San Pietro is
considered a Bramante masterpiece
His Scala del Bramante, meanwhile, though described as a staircase, was in fact a ramp, an innovative double-helix spiral connecting the Vatican's Belvedere Palace to the outside world of Rome. Lined with granite Doric columns and featuring a herringbone paving pattern, it was designed to allow Julius II to enter his private residence while still in his carriage.  

Two of Bramante’s most acclaimed masterpieces, those that earned him the description of Father of the High Renaissance, were the cloister at Santa Maria della Pace, commissioned by Cardinal Oliviero Carafa around 1500, with a magnificent upper gallery characterised by alternating Corinthian pilasters and columns, and the Tempietto di San Pietro, commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, a circular temple composed of slender Tuscan columns, modelled after the ancient Roman Theatre of Marcellus.

An extrovert character who wrote poetry and music, Bramante was a close friend of Raphael, in whose fresco The School of Athens he depicts Bramante as the mathematician, Euclid.




The town of Fermignano can be found  a few kilometres south of Urbino
The town of Fermignano can be found 
a few kilometres south of Urbino
Travel tip:

Fermignano, Bramante’s birthplace, has a history that dates back to Roman times, when it was the location for the defeat of Hannibal’s Carthaginian army, led by his brother, Hasdrubal, in 207BC.  Significant buildings include the Delle Milizie tower and a Roman bridge over the Metauro river. A former paper mill located in Via Santa Veneranda used to be rented out by the Montefeltro family. The church of San Giacomo  in Compostela is an important historical monument with 14th and 15th century frescoes. A contemporary art gallery in the town is named after Bramante.

The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
The rectangular Cortile del Belvedere, designed by
Bramante, can be found in the Vatican City
Travel tip:

The Vatican City, which contains some of Bramante’s most significant work, occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens. Since 1929, it has enjoyed the status of the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.


Also on this day:

1512: The Battle of Ravenna

1890: The birth of dictator’s wife Rachele Mussolini

1987: The death of writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi


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7 March 2019

Baldassare Peruzzi - architect and painter

Pupil of Bramante who left mark on Rome


The portrait of Baldassare Peruzzi in Giorgio Vasari's  1568 book Lives of the Most  Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects
The portrait of Baldassare Peruzzi in
Giorgio Vasari's 1568 book Lives of the Most
 Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects
The architect and painter Baldassare Peruzzi, who trained under Donato Bramante and was a contemporary of Raphael, was born on this day in 1481 in a small town near Siena.

Peruzzi worked in his home city and in Rome, where he spent many years as one of the architects of the St Peter’s Basilica project but where he was also responsible for two outstanding buildings in his own right - the Villa Farnesina and the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne.

The Villa Farnesina, a summer house commissioned by the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi in the Trastevere district, is unusual for its U-shaped floor plan, with a five-bay loggia between the arms.

Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo were among those who helped decorate the villa with frescoes, but Peruzzi is acknowledged as the chief designer, possibly aided by Giuliano da Sangallo. He was relatively inexperienced at the time but was personally selected by Chigi despite the huge array of talent on offer in the city at the time.

Some of the frescoed paintings on the walls of the interior rooms are also by Peruzzi. One example is the Sala delle Prospettive, in which the walls are painted to create the illusion of standing in an open-air terrace, lined by pillars, looking out over a continuous landscape.

Peruzzi's brilliant Sala delle Prospettive, with its illusion of an open-air terrace, inside the Villa Farnesina
Peruzzi's brilliant Sala delle Prospettive, with its illusion
of an open-air terrace, inside the Villa Farnesina
Originally known as the Villa Chigi, the house in 1577 became the property of the Farnese family after whom it was renamed. Michelangelo at one time proposed linking the villa with Palazzo Farnese on the other side of the Tiber. The project was never completed, although there are remnants of a few arches still visible in the back of Palazzo Farnese.

The Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne on the present-day Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is still more unusual, featuring a curved facade, dictated by the shape of the foundations of the building that had previously stood on the site - destroyed during the 1527 Sack of Rome by mutinous troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V - which had owed their pattern to the semi-circular Odeon of Domitian, an ancient Roman theatre.

Commissioned by Pietro Massimo, descendent of one of the oldest noble families in Rome, the palace has an entrance characterised by a central portico with six Doric columns. Inside, a courtyard and a loggia feature more Doric columns, hence the palace’s name.

The monument to Peruzzi at the Pantheon
The monument to
Peruzzi at the Pantheon
Peruzzi, born in the town of Sovicille, about 10km (6 miles) southwest of Siena, began his career as a painter of frescoes in the Cappella San Giovanni in Siena’s cathedral. He moved to Rome in his 20s, receiving the commission for the Villa Farnesina in 1509.

With the death of Raphael, in 1520 he was appointed as one of the architects engaged on the massive programme to build a new St Peter’s Basilica.

However, he fled Rome following the events of 1527 and returned to Siena, where he was employed as architect to the Republic. He built new fortifications for the city, remodelled the Church of San Domenico and designed a remarkable dam on the Bruna river near Giuncarico.

From 1531 he was back in Rome and again working at St Peter's, where he was appointed the principal architect to the basilica in 1534.

Other works attributed to Peruzzi include a mosaic ceiling for the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, paintings in the churches of Sant'Onofrio and San Pietro in Montorio and in Santa Maria in Portico a Fontegiusta in Siena.

Peruzzi’s son, Giovanni Sallustio, was also an architect. Another son, Onorio, learned painting from his father but then became a Dominican priest in the convent of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome.

He died in Rome in January 1536, aged 54.

The Villa Farnesina is one of Baldassare Peruzzi's two masterpieces from his time working in Rome
The Villa Farnesina is one of Baldassare Peruzzi's two
masterpieces from his time working in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Farnesina can be found on Via della Lungara in the Trastevere district of Rome.  After the Farnese family, the villa belonged to the Bourbons of Naples and in 1861 to the Spanish Ambassador in Rome, Bermudez de Castro, Duke of Ripalta. Today, it is owned by the Italian State and accommodates the Accademia dei Lincei, a long-standing academy of sciences. The main rooms of the villa, including the Loggia, are open to visitors from 9am to 2pm on Monday to Saturday, and on every second Sunday of the month from 9am to 5pm. For more details, visit http://www.villafarnesina.it




The beautiful Romanesque-Gothic cathedral in Siena
The beautiful Romanesque-Gothic
cathedral in Siena
Travel tip:

Siena’s Duomo - the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption - was designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has a beautiful façade built in Tuscan Romanesque style using polychrome marble. There had been plans to build an enormous basilica, which would have been the largest in the world, but the idea was abandoned because of lack of funds due to war and the plague. Nonetheless, the cathedral built in its place to plans drawn up by Giovanni di Agostino, with a pulpit designed by Nicola Pisani, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.

3 August 2018

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger - Architect

Talented Florentine was commissioned by the Popes


The Church of Santa Maria de Loreto in Rome was Sangallo's first major commission
The Church of Santa Maria de Loreto in
Rome was Sangallo's first major commission
Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who left his mark on Rome during the Renaissance, died on this day in 1546 in Terni in Umbria.

Sangallo was the chief architect on St Peter’s Basilica from 1520 onwards and built many other beautiful churches and palaces in the city and throughout the Papal States.

He was born Antonio Cordiani in Florence in 1484. His grandfather had been a woodworker and his uncles, Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo, were architects.

The young man followed his uncles to Rome to pursue a career in architecture and ended up taking the name Sangallo himself.

He became an assistant to Donato Bramante and started by preparing sketches for his master.

Recognising his talent, Bramante gave Sangallo projects to complete with no more than an outline of the design and motifs.

Sangallo’s first major commission was for the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto in 1507.

He came to the attention of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who later became Pope Paul III, and was commissioned to design the Farnese Palace in Piazza Farnese and a palace and church in the Cardinal’s home town of Gradoli.

Sangallo designed the Palazzo Farnese on behalf of the future Pope Paul III
Sangallo designed the Palazzo Farnese
on behalf of the future Pope Paul III
Sangallo designed the Palazzo Baldassini for Melchiore Baldassini and was responsible for the final design of the Villa Madama for Cardinal Giulio de' Medici.

Having acquired a reputation in Rome as a master architect, he was appointed by Pope Leo X to oversee the construction of St Peter’s Basilica.

He was also responsible for some inspired engineering feats, such as building the foundations for the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini on the banks of the Tiber, following Jacopo Sansovino’s design, which called for the church to extend into the river.

He shored up the foundations for the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto and did similar work on the Vatican loggias. His reinforcements are still standing today.

His last engineering project was the draining of the Rieti Valley. Because of the marshy environment he was working in, Sangallo contracted malaria and died before finishing the task.

When Cardinal Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534 he asked for the Palazzo Farnese design to be expanded. In 1546 during the construction he became dissatisfied with Sangallo’s original design for the cornice and held a competition for a new design, which was won by Michelangelo.

At the time it was said that Sangallo had died from shame soon afterwards, but his biographer, Giorgio Vasari, later wrote that he was an excellent architect whose achievements deserved to be celebrated. Antonio Sangallo the Younger was buried in St Peter’s Basilica.

Sangallo's construction of St Patrick's Well in Orvieto is considered one of his most accomplished engineering feats
Sangallo's construction of St Patrick's Well in Orvieto is
considered one of his most accomplished engineering feats
Travel tip:

One of Sangallo’s amazing engineering feats was St Patrick’s Well in Orvieto, built for Pope Clement VII. Ramps around a central open shaft allowed oxen carrying water to do down one of the ramps and up the other without having to turn round. Despite the depth of the well, the ramps were well lit through windows cut into the centre section.

The Scala Regia was built by Sangallo and later restored by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The Scala Regia was built by Sangallo and later restored
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Travel tip:

Sangallo was capomaestro in charge of the day-to-day construction of St Peter’s Basilica from 1513 until about 1536. A wooden model of his design for the basilica is still in existence. He also worked on the Vatican apartments, building the Pauline Chapel and the Scala Regia, the main staircase to the Apostolic Chapel. Therefore it was fitting that the architect was allowed to be buried in St Peter’s.

More reading:

The Renaissance pope who turned Rome into the cultural heart of Europe

How Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted Rome

The story of La Pietà - Michelangelo's ultimate masterpiece

Also on this day:

1486: The birth of Imperia Cognati - courtesan

1778: Milan's Teatro alla Scala opens for business

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