‘Whilst the men of the Middle Ages look on the world as a vale of tears…here in this circle of chosen spirits, the doctrine is upheld that the visible world was created by God in love’. With this quote from the closing lines of his book on Renaissance Italy, Art Historian Jacob Burckhardt captures the attitudinal shift that epitomises the Christian Renaissance — the change from Christ as sufferer for humanity to Him as the essence of perfection. This period, as the ‘rinascitá’, or rebirth, of the Classical, was characterised by a rejuvenation of classical elements, including the architectural orders, due to a sharp focus on ‘studia humanitatis’, including Platonism, and the associations humanism had on the visual world. This humanistic approach gave rise to alternative representations of liturgical and domestic buildings and the concept of simplistic representation of mathematical complexity. It is the simple appearance of the building that initially gives rise to the notion of harmony — the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole — but as we delve further into the geometrical and compositional elements we discover the harmony that is presented in the individual components and the ways in which they produce concord. Donato Bramante in his 1502 work of San Pietro in Montorio’s Tempietto, commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, shows a magnificent example of this focus on antiquity, proportion and simplicity, an example that highlights the development of the Renaissance in Rome. Further North, Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, an intellectual endorser of Bramante, generated many of his own responses to the period, the contradictory elements of which can most vividly be seen in Il Redentore. This later church, built between 1577 and 1592, reflects notions of harmony in its characteristic elements, but shows the adaptations to the ‘Late Renaissance’ philosophy, with a renewed sense of originality.
Tempietto is a component of Bramante’s larger church in the Chiesa di San Pietro in Montorio, overlooking the eastern slope of Gianicolo Hill. Surrounded by the cloisters of the church, it sits perfectly in the centre of a little courtyard, atop the sacred site of Saint Peter’s martyrdom on the cross. The temple is peripteral, with a colonnade of sixteen Roman Doric columns, modelled on the Temple of Vesta on the acropolis in Tivoli, and the Temple of Hercules Victor near the River Tiber in Rome, which was likely direct inspiration on Bramante’s doorstep during his extensive studies of the remnants of ancient architecture. The Tempietto columns are unfluted and have a base, distinguishing them from Greek Doric columns as are found on the Parthenon in Athens. Corinthian was the order used for both of the classical temples, and Bramante’s choice of Doric plays a big role in the depiction of harmony.