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Architecture of Bramante: An Evaluation of Importance

Updated on November 3, 2019
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Myranda Grecinger is a graduate student in interdisciplinary studies at Liberty University studying American History & Executive Leadership.


By Myranda Grecinger

According to the textbook, “Gardner’s Art through the Ages” by Fred S. Kleiner, an architect known as Bramante was hired by Pope Julius II to design a new Saint Peter’s to replace the Constantinian basilica in 1503. Although Saint Peter’s is certainly not his only contribution to renaissance architecture, it is most definitely one of the ones for which he is most well known. Bramante had already designed a few magnificent structures by this time and would go on to create many more, paving the way for modern architecture and design and making his way into the history books right alongside famous artists such as Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Bramante’s death occurred prior to the completion of Saint Peter’s, but his work had already lead to a major revolution in architecture, design, and ultimately in art and would continue to influence artists and architects for many years.

Bramante’s accomplishments in architecture earned him such acclimates as Sebastin Serlio’s comment when he stated that Bramante was “a man of such gifts in architecture that, with the aid and authority given him by the Pope, one may say that he revived true architecture, which had been buried from the ancients down to that time" (Ackerman, 1966). This was because Bramante’s designs incorporated his interest and understanding of important elements such as spatial volume, perspective illusions and three-dimensional massing. Equally important to the magnificent visions of Bramante was his knowledge of ancient structures, this helped him successfully create some the most memorable and recognizable structures on the face of the Earth (Ackerman, 1966). Bramante’s ideas incorporated the use of geometric shapes such as the cylinder and the cube as well as the use of empty voids such as flat walls which became extremely useful to artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo, who used them as grand canvasses for their most important works (Ackerman, 1966).

In addition to Saint Peter’s, Bramante is also accredited with the planning of such notable monuments as the Tempietto of San Pietro, some of the main features in Santa Maria Della Pace, the Cloisters of Sant’Ambrogio, and Belvedere courtyard in the Vatican. Along with his direct designs and planning for many important structures during renaissance times, he is also credited with influencing architects such Luciano Laurana and buildings such as the Cathedral of Como. Each of the buildings listed display a clear use of Bramante’s signature use of cylinders, cubes, and space. The artists who followed Bramante’s work also made use of these basic elements that seem to make any structure stand out.

Bramante’s love of ancient designs and structures lead him to design buildings and court yards that took on a more classical look. This return to tradition and grandeur fit right in with the ideals of the renaissance era whose art work had already begun to take a turn towards classic styles. Likewise, his use for perception, perspective, and illusion also mimicked the other progressive artists such as painters of the time. It is said that while the renaissance revolution in painting took several years and many artists to develop, the renaissance revolution in architecture and design was started by Bramante himself. It is also important to note that it is believed that some of Bramante’s inspiration came from Leonardo Da Vinci, which would account for how well his architecture meshed with renaissance painting of the time painting.

Bramante’s first major work in Rome was the cloister at Santa Maria Della Pace. This amazing structure consisted of pillars and columns, and has two levels and a square appearance with distinct lines (Catt, 2011). The Cloisters of Sant’Ambrogio, however consist of pillars that seem to cascade upwards into lovely swooping arches. So, unlike many before him, Bramante was not rigid and unbending in his methods.

The Tempietto of San Pietro, built in 1508, was constructed in such a way that it incorporated the use of slender pillars and columns, somewhat mimicking the ancient Theater of Marcellus. Its shape is that of a circle, symbolizing Godly perfection (Catt, 2011). The building was not intended to be a worshiping hall, but more of a symbolic monument or a three dimensional portrait of a temple, its name in fact, means “little temple”. Yet, even with its small size, this structure is an amazing display of Bramante’s talent (Sullivan, 2006).

Belvedere courtyard in the Vatican features the use of perspective through a screening wall that hides the fact that two points are not parallel, split stair cases, slopes and terraces and was built approximately 1505 (Catt, 2011). This courtyard is a wonderful example of Bramante’s clear understanding of space, dimension, and perception, but does not compare to the geniuses of St. Peter’s. St. Peter’s was started in 1503. Bramante’s intention for the structure that it would have “four pillars to support the dome as opposed to a continuous wall, the dome would then be topped with a lantern. Bramante had envisioned that the central dome be surrounded by four lower domes at the diagonal axes. The equal channel, nave and transept arms were each to be of two bays ending in an apse. At each corner of the building was to stand a tower, so that the overall plan was square, with the apses projecting at the cardinal points.” (Catt, 2011) Unfortunately, Julius II died prior to its completion and Bramante was replaced. Bramante’s full vision would never be realized and the project would still be in the works in the time of his death.

For all of his accomplishment and even all of his failures, Bramante will forever be remembered and revered as one of the fathers of modern architecture, and certainly the original revolutionary architect of his time. His work continues to influence building design today and will continue to do so. His use of artistic tools and elements in architecture earned him a place in history forever.


Kleiner, Fred, 2006, Gardner’s Art Through The Ages


Catt, Kasey. 2011, Donato Bramante

Sullivan, Mary Ann, 2006, Bramante

© 2011 Myranda Grecinger


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