Bernini and the Bell Towers: Architecture and Politics at the Vatican

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In 1638, The Great Artist-Architect Gianlorenzo Bernini began one of the most ambitious architectural projects of his career: to design and construct massive twin bell towers atop St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican. But the project failed spectacularly. Bernini's reputation was permanently tarnished, and the scandal of the bell towers sparked a controversy that persists to this day. What happened? Who was responsible? How did events unfold in this dramatic episode of architectural history? This engaging and beautifully illustrated book tells the complete story of the bell towers for the first time. Presenting a wealth of new visual and documentary evidence, Sarah McPhee reconstructs the entire affair, the architectural and political milieu, the evolution of the designs, and the varying influences of all those involved in the project. Built under the patronage of Pope Urban VIII Barberini, Bernini's partially completed first tower caused cracks in St. Peter's facade within months of construction. When the ground beneath the tower was judged unstable, the pope's successor staged an architectural competition to solve the problem, but ultimately the tower was dismantled and the project itself was abandoned. McPhee examines the multiple constraints under which Bernini worked, including the ambitions of the pope, the criticisms of rival architects, the financial and political constraints of the building committee, the monumental history of the basilica, and the geology of the site. She reinterprets Bernini's role as architect in the light of fresh evidence and shows convincingly that the failure of the bell tower was not Bernini's own. Instead, it was the failure of the institution of the Vatican, driven by liturgical and political imperatives that doomed the project despite the architect's heroic efforts.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Perhaps best known for his design of the Piazza di San Pietro (1656-67), with its elliptical space and converging colonnades, Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) left a body of theatrical architecture in Rome that epitomized the Baroque and its relation to the reassertion of the Vatican by the Counter-Reformation. In 1638, he began the design and construction of twin bell towers for St. Peter's basilica. When the first tower caused structural damage in the part of the building supporting it, Bernini's reputation suffered, and the tower was removed. Using the present tense, the author relates the architectural history and political struggles of the story with dramatic flair. The final chapter, "Twin Towers," is an insightful set of observations on the pervasive influence in Rome of Bernini's prototype: matching towers used in conjunction with a central, ribbed dome. Despite a tendency toward redundancy within paragraphs and the occasional absence of a floor plan, this first book by McPhee (art history, Emory Univ.), which boasts ample documentation and handsome illustrations, is suitable for larger architecture collections with strengths in Baroque art and architecture.-Paul Glassman, New York Sch. of Interior Design Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300089820
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 7.84 (w) x 11.50 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Paul V, Carlo Maderno, and the Bell Towers of St. Peter's 5
2 Bernini's Bell Tower 36
3 Innocent X, Virgilio Spada, and the Cardinals of the Congregation 82
4 Virgilio Spada, Francesco Borromini, and the Foundations of St. Peter's 95
5 The Fabbrica of St. Peter's: Families, Function, Politics 121
6 Competition or Consultation?: The Real Contenders and the Evolution of the Design 136
7 Truth and Time 165
8 Twin Towers 190
Documents 213
Catalogue of Drawings 263
Notes 295
Works Cited 333
Index 347
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