We The Italians | Italian art: Donato Bramante

Italian art: Donato Bramante

Italian art: Donato Bramante

  • WTI Magazine #68 Sep 19, 2015
  • 2491

WTI Magazine #68    2015 September, 18
Author : Enrico De Iulis      Translation by:


In common belief, it is thought that Donato Bramante was born in Milan or rather in Lombardy, but the truth is that he was born in 1444 in Fermignano, a small town near Urbino in the Marche region. In fact, the typical education from the center part of Italy, especially from a town of such a high culture as Urbino, is particularly present in the roots of the artist, who began his career as a painter.

He arrived in Milan only in 1478, and established contacts with most of the artists working in the city, including Leonardo da Vinci, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and other actors of the golden age of the Sforza family Milan. Among all, however, Bramante was certainly the most incisive, leaving his name strictly related to the great innovations of the Milanese Renaissance that the Sforza family wanted for the city.

The first major work was the construction of the church of Santa Maria sopra San Satiro, in which two elements prelude to the greatness of Bramante's artistic and revolutionary soul: the perspective apse and the first reuse of a classical order in Milan. This proves that the development of the relationship with the old, theorized by Leon Battista Alberti in the "De re aedificatoria" and then leading to the architectural Renaissance, was already well captured by Bramante.

With the help of Bartolomeo Suardi, such a faithful pupil that he will be later known as Bramantino, Bramante was very active between Milan and Bergamo in many works ordered by the Sforza and the Colleoni. But two other works are considerably above his pictorial works: the transformation of St. Ambrose and the construction of the tribune of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Even in these masterpieces the classical and the Roman elements are no longer only of secondary boundary, or small decorations: they come together in a unified way reinventing the balance between the colors of the materials, the old Roman solutions and the new taste of the late fifteenth century.

The arrival of the new century saw Bramante in Rome, and the proximity to the ruins of the imperial buildings will have a definitive influence on him.

In the cloister of Santa Maria della Pace we have the first solutions on the entablature of pointed arches, entablature that in the second order does not hold new arches, but a sloping roof, donating an unusual domestic lightness to the cloister. Here, the use of climbing up orders from Doric to composite is a literal revival of the decorative conception of the imperial Rome: the Coliseum looks exactly like that.

In 1502 comes the final proclamation of the architectural Renaissance in Rome: The Temple of San Pietro in Montorio. It is a temple built at the behest of King Ferdinand of Spain, on the site where it is believed St. Peter had been martyred, on the Janiculum hill. The construction is perfect, a circular from which flows the cylindrical shape of the temple, surrounded by a single row of columns, the whole raised three steps and closed by a dome which proportions exactly recall those of the Pantheon.

In the original project, all was at the center of a square courtyard with pilasters. The result is a classical monument that revives the in sixteenth-century Rome, unique clear reference to the classic greatness. From this moment, for at least a century, all the eternal city will be built according to these laws: from Michelangelo to Raphael, from Giuliano da San Gallo to Maderno.

Even the design for the new St. Peter's building refers to the ratio of the square and of the circle, in a monumental Greek cross plan with four other smaller Greek crosses in recreating a square in plan-view, all of it surmounted by a hemispherical dome. A mausoleum, a huge mausoleum of imperial ancestry had been proposed to the Roman church to celebrate its epicenter: Roman architecture was about to relive his most striking revival.