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Garden History  in Baroque Rome

Pope Nicholas V , on his deathbed in 1455, urged his cardinals to re-establish Rome as the greatest city on earth. Julius II, remembering his predecessor’s last wish when he became Pope in 1503, commissioned Bramante to re-design St Peters, Michaelanglo to paint frescoes on the Sistine Chapel and Rapheal  to decorate his private apartments. The Old St Peter's had been commissioned by Emperor Constantine in 330. It was a Basilican church, built on the site where St Peter had been martyred in the circus of Emperor Nero. It had an atrium which, one must assume, influenced the construction of arcaded cloisters throughout the Middle Ages. The atrium was originally grassed and planted. Later it was paved. The illustrations below show Rome before it came under the influence of Renaissance and Baroque ideas.

Above: a drawing of Old St Peter's in 1493. Below: a reconstruction of Old St Peter's.
The Belvedere which gave its name to Bramante's famous design can be seen on the left of both illustrations. The axis which
Bramante used to link the Belvedre to the New St Peter's was the foundation  of what later became the Baroque style.

The Vatican in 1602, Showing the
Belvedere Court . The dome of the
new St Peter's can be seen but
Bernini's colonnade is not yet built.
Sixtus V plan for Rome, 1588,
wtih St Peter's top right
The Vatican c1980

The Baroque style began in Rome, in association with the determination of Popes Julius II and Sixtus V to establish Rome as the greatest city in Christendom. This led to the re-building of St Peter's as the mother church of the Roman Catholic Faith. The drawing to the left shows the dome of new St Peter's, before the basilica was added, and the Belvedere Court, designed by  Bramante, which linked St Peter's to the Belvedere. See Gothein's discussion of Bramante. In her book on Italian Gardens, Georgina Masson wrote:

"Fortunately there was already living in Rome the architect who was best qualified to put Julius’ ideas into effect. This was Donato Bramante, whose tempietto in the cloister of San Pietro in Montorio had already demonstrated that here was a man who could design a building in which ‘the classic Renais sance has achieved its conscious aim to emulate classic Antiquity’. Before he went to Milan in 1474 at the age of thirty, Bramante had seen Laurana building the famous Ducal Palace of Urbino in his native province of the Marche, and his own work in Lombardy was infused with the same spirit of grandeur allied to simplicity, in which the influence of Alberti was also evident. In 1499 Bramante had settled in Rome with sufficient money upon which to live for some time without accepting commissions. According to Vasari, during the next few years he ‘worked in solitude and contemplation, examining and measuring the Roman ruins in and around the city as far as Naples, studiously measuring the Villa Adriana’ (Hadrian’s villa near Tivoli). Vasari also says that he had been commissioned by the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, to design some fountains, probably before he embarked upon the cloisters of Santa Maria della Pace and the tempietto.
"Bramante thus came fully prepared to meet what was undoubtedly the greatest challenge of his career — a carte blanche commission from the newly-elected Pope to create the first great Roman pleasure garden since classical times for the personal use of this connoisseur of the arts. How he acquitted himself of his task may be judged from the fact that in 1506 Julius asked him to prepare the plans for the new Basilica of St Peter’s. That Bramante’s designs for what was called the ‘a/rio di piacere’, which we now call the Cortile del Belvedere, immediately created a sensation there can be little doubt. The number of descriptions, drawings and prints that have come down to us provide evidence of this, and even in its present dismembered state its revolutionary design can still be recognized. In the words of a modern critic: ‘Bramante met the challenge with a design that brought into existence a new concept of space and dominated the future course of garden architecture.’"

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see Fontana designed the Villa Montralto (c1585) [see illustration, left]  for the man who became Pope Sixtus V.  Gothein comments that  "Villa Montalto had not only its own points de vue to rejoice in, but also the help of buildings outside. This attraction was not the least that was felt by the Pope when he chose the site for his villa, seeing that on one side there were the mighty towers and cupolas of the church of S. Maria Maggiore, on the east, looking through a great avenue, the little church of San Antonio, and on the west the ruins of the baths of Diocletian which extended right up to the park. Ever since Alberti's time the view from the  garden had been an important consideration, and in a country that was so rich in the beauties of landscape scenery, it was easy enough to find a view. But Rome offered more than this with its abundance of ruins and churches, and it did not take long to see how a villa would be enriched by a view of such architecture."


Images of Bramante's famous design for the Belvedere Court at the Vatican in Rome

The use of view points was highly significant. Sixtus V, in 1588 and with the aid of Domenico Fontana, planned a nexus of avenues to link St Peter's with a set of focal points in Rome. He is regarded as one of the founders of the Counter-Reformation because he established the administrative machinery which implemented the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-63). He wanted to stop the spread of Protestantism