July 27: Bramante before Bramante

2016/07/27 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1452 Ludovico Sforza was born.

Ludovico’s story takes us to Milan, where he was duke and head of the city’s most powerful family.  The Sforzas were one of those magnificent Renaissance clans, Milan’s answer to the Medici in Florence.  In addition to their various means of acquiring wealth and stirring up scandal (one of them would marry Lucrezia Borgia, after all), they knew from art, and supported–one might say made, in some cases–some of Milan’s greatest artists.  Ludovico ordered Leonardo to paint an image of the Last Supper that you may have heard of.

He also supported the work of an architect who was born near Urbino and moved to Milan in 1474.  In quick order Donato Bramante (1444-1514) made the medieval city a center of the new architecture inspired by the ancients: witness the tribune of Santa Maria delle Grazie (1492–99) and the cloisters of Sant’Ambrogio, (1497–1498).  More impressive yet is a small church near the center of town built either for Ludovico or his nephew Gian Galeazzo called Santa Maria presso San Satiro (1482–1486).  The church posed special challenge by not really having a big enough site to accomodate a full apse.  If you look closely at the picture above, and compare it with the plan, you will see how Bramante, as skilled in perspective drawing as he was in architectural design, managed the problem.

When the French invaded in 1499, the Sforza were toppled and Bramante forced to seek other patronage.  He fled to Rome where he attracted the attention of Cardinal  Giuliano della Rovere.  Anyone in the della Rovere clan would be a happy patron to net, but he turned out to be a real catch after his election in 1503.  As Pope Julius II, Bramante’s great patron elevated a significant Milanese architect to the position of father of the Roman Renaissance with projects like the Cortile del Belvedere (this shot gives a better sense of its scale) and, of course, the rebuilding of a certain church.  Not a lot of Bramante is left in St. Peter’s as finished (some 150+ years after his start), but all who followed, from Michelangelo to Bernini, followed the scale and direction set out by the master from Milan.  Moreover, Bramante had shown the way for all subsequent Italian Renaissance architects who endeavored to achieve the glories of the ancient past in their modern architecture.  So good, so perfect, was he that Raphael used his portrait as Euclid in the bottom-right corner of the amazing School of Athens (the interior of which, by the way, is probably St. Peter’s as Bramante had imagined it); Michelangelo said to veer from the way of Bramante was to steer from the truth; Palladio deemed his work worthy of precedent study of the same quality as the Pantheon.  Bramante’s journey to becoming the north star of Renaissance artists and architects began with his experiments in Milan and culminated in his great works in Rome.

Image: interior of Santa Maria presso San Satiro

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You are currently reading July 27: Bramante before Bramante at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.

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