Donato Bramante

Donato Bramante (1444 – March 11, 1514), Italian architect, who introduced the Early Renaissance style to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, where his most famous design was St. Peter’s Basilica.

Bramante was born in a very small place near Urbino, where in the 1460s Francesco Laurana was adding to Federico da Montefeltro’s ducal palace an arcaded courtyard and other features that seemed to have the true ring of a reborn Antiquity.

Bramante’s architecture has eclipsed his painting skills: he well knew the painters Melozzo da Forlì and Piero della Francesca, who were interested in the rules of perspective and illusionistic features in Mantegna’s painting. About 1474 Bramante moved to Milan, a city with a deep Gothic architectural tradition at the time, and built several churches in the new Antique taste. The Duke, Ludovico Sforza, made him virtually his court architect, beginning in 1476, in commissions that culminated with rebuilding the choir of the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro (1482-1486). Space was limited, and Bramante made a theatrical apse in bas-relief, combining the painterly arts of perspective with Roman details. There is an octagonal sacristy, surmounted by a dome. As at Brunelleschi‘s Pazzi Chapel Renaissance architecture was born at Florence, so at Bramante’s Santa Maria presso San Satiro the Renaissance arrived in Lombardy.

In Milan Bramante also built Santa Maria delle Grazie (1492-99); other early works include the cloisters of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan (1497-1498), and some other smaller constructions in Pavia and Legnano; however, in 1499, with his Sforza patron driven from Milan by an invading army of the French, Bramante made his way to Rome, where he was already known to the powerful Cardinal Riario.

In Rome he was soon recognized by Cardinal Della Rovere, soon to become Pope Julius II.

For Julius, almost as if it were a trial piece on approval, Bramante designed one of the most harmonious buildings of the Renaissance: the Tempietto (1502, possibly later) of San Pietro in Montorio on the Janiculum. Despite its small scale the construction has all the rigorous proportions and symmetry of Classical structures, surrounded by slender Doric columns and surmounted by a dome. Bramante planned to set it within a colonnaded courtyard to complete the scenery, but larger plans were afoot. Within a year of its completion, in November 1503, Julius engaged Bramante on the construction of the grandest architectural commission of the European 16th century, the complete rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica. The cornerstone of the first of the great piers of the crossing was laid with ceremony on April 18, 1506. Many drawings by Bramante survive, and many more by assistants, which show the extent of the team that had been assembled. Bramante’s vision for St Peter’s, a centralized Greek cross plan that symbolized sublime perfection for him and his generation (compare Santa Maria della Consolazione, Todi, influenced by Bramante’s work) was fundamentally altered by the extension of the nave after his death in 1514. Bramante’s plan envisaged four great chapels filling the corner spaces between the equal transepts, each one capped with a smaller dome surrounding the great dome over the crossing. So Bramante’s original plan was very much more Romano-Byzantine in its forms than the basilica that was actually built.

Occupied with St Peter’s, Bramante had little time for other commissions. One of his earliest works in Rome, before the Basilica’s construction got under way, are the cloisters (1504) of Santa Maria della Pace near Piazza Navona. The handsome proportions give an air of great simplicity. The columns on the ground floor are complemented by those on the first floor, which alternate with smaller columns placed centrally over the lower arches. Bramante is also famous for his revolutionary palazzo design for the Palazzo Caprini in Rome. This palazzo was later owned by the artist Raphael and since has been known as the House of Raphael.


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