The Chiostro del Bramante, one of the high points of Renaissance architecture in Rome, was designed by Donato Bramante (1444-1515), who had arrived in the city after the fall from power of his employer Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan, to become the leading architect of Pope Julius II and a fierce rival of Michelangelo.
The Chiostro, or cloister, is the central element of what was originally a monastery complex which also included the adjacent church of Santa Maria della Pace, home of Raphael’s famous Sibyls fresco. The monastery was commissioned by Cardinal Oliviero Carafa around the year 1500, and the Cardinal’s patronage is declared by the dedicatory inscription which winds around the inner facade of the cloister and by his coat of arms which adorns the columns and doors of the building.
Bramante’s design reflects typical Renaissance concepts, like harmony and equilibrium, with it’s elegant geometric lines and perfectly proportioned spaces. Renaissance ideals, which aimed at a rebirth of classical Greek and Roman aesthetics, are visible in the Chiostro’s architecture with it’s stark, well-proportioned forms and it’s sober, understated approach to decorative elements.
Stylistically, Bramante was making a break with his work in Milan, which had been influenced by the Gothic architecture of northern Europe. Built on a square plan, the Chiostro itself comprises two superimposed orders: the first is a spacious portico with four arches on each side, featuring Ionic columns with capitals and bases and a vaulted ceiling; the second, an upper open gallery in a composite style, with alternating Corinthian pilasters and columns supporting an architrave and a flat ceiling.
The atmosphere and the effects of light and shadow created by these classical structures project an idea of harmony thanks to Bramante’s skill in combining different features with apparent ease so as to form a perfectly integrated whole. This is most evident in his placing of an architrave order above an order of arches, with the small columns of the upper mezzanine aligned perfectly with the arches below, the arches on the ground floor are arranged symmetrically, with a combination of Ionic, Corinthian and composite columns, and upper pilasters matching the composite pillars above.
The communal areas were situated on the ground floor and the sleeping quarters on the first. These areas now host cultural events. At the base of each pillar of the upper gallery are stone seats once used by the monks as places to sit and read, converse, or relax. Now visitors to the Chiostro sit immersed in similar activities on the same seats. The walls of the portico on the ground floor are adorned by late 15th-century funerary monuments. Almost all of the lunettes at the top of these walls are decorated with frescoes depicting episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary.
CHIOSTRO DEL BRAMANTE | Via Arco della Pace, 5 – 00186 Roma
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