Rome, designed c. 1502

Architect:  Bramante





Bramante's Tempietto in Rome has been universally acclaimed as a masterpiece of High Renaissance architectural design.


In the late Renaissance, the architect and theoretician Andrea Palladio illustrated it in the Fourth Book of I quattro libri.  This section of his treatise was devoted to ancient temples, and the Tempietto was the only Renaissance building to be included.



The Tempietto was built to mark the spot where Christ's disciple Peter was believed to have been crucified.  The hole in the ground made by the cross is enshrined in the crypt and can be seen through an opening in the ground-story floor.


The Monastery of San Pietro in Montorio, a Spanish monastery of the Franciscan Order, was later built around the site.



The commission for the Tempietto was made by Cardinal Carvajal, who was acting as the agent of the Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile.



The date of the commission by the Spanish monarchs may have been as early as the late 1490s, but it had to have been made by 1502, the date inscribed in the crypt.  1502 may also have been the date it was begun rather than commissioned.


Analysis of the Tempietto's style suggests that the design was probably revised somewhat after 1502.


The date of the Tempietto's completion is also uncertain.  The fact that it was not included in a guidebook to Rome that was published in 1511 suggests that it was finished after that date.





Dome-on-Cylinders Design

The Tempietto's main parts are based on regular geometric solids.


A two-cylinder arrangement is created by the structure's main circular core, called the cella, and the ring of columns that surrounds it, called the peristyle.  The upper part of the cella is comprised of the drum, which supports the hemispherical dome.


In being centrally planned and not having projecting features that designate a front facing, the Tempietto is one of the most perfect embodiments of centralized design built in the Renaissance.



The sixteen columns forming the peristyle were constituted from both old and new parts.  (Re-using ancient building materials was a common practice in the Renaissance.)


The gray-granite shafts, which stood out in contrast to the lighter marble forming the building, had originally been part of an ancient Roman building.  The marble capitals and bases were carved in the Renaissance.


Wall Articulation

Sixteen pilasters on the same radii as the sixteen columns articulate the cella wall on each story.  This arrangement of pilasters is not directly reflected on the interior, where eight pilasters stand between large and small niches.





Roman Temples

In having a domed circular core surrounded by a colonnaded porch, the Tempietto is the first building since antiquity to be based on a peripteral temple (temple whose cella is surrounded by a peristyle.)


Because they were circular, the Temple of Vesta at the Forum Boarium in Rome and the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli would probably have been among the buildings Bramante had in mind when he designed the Tempietto.


Early Christian Martyria and Tombs

The selection of a centralized design was probably inspired by the Early Christian use of circular plans for martyria and tombs.  A martyrium was a building or structure on a site connected with a religious event, usually a martyrdom.  (Christians were persecuted and martyred by the Romans for almost three centuries after the crucifixion of Christ.)


The martyr's remains or other relics associated with the event were often enshrined.  Because of this mortuarial connection, martyriums were often circular like Roman mausoleums such as the Tomb of Augustus and Early Christian tombs like Santa Costanza in Rome.  They were small in size and functioned not as churches but as monuments, as is the case at the Tempietto.


Vitruvius' Treatise

Many points of the Tempietto's design were based on Vitruvius' De architectura, which discusses matters such as temple design, the Doric order, and the proportions appropriate to each.  This building came closer to conforming with Vitruvius' recommendations than any post-classical building before it.





First Correct Use

Bramante's Tempietto was the first building in the Renaissance to use the Roman Doric order correctly in terms of both the proportions of its parts and the inclusion of triglyphs and metopes in its frieze.  The metopes depict papal symbols and items used in prayers.


Circular Capital

The Doric order and its variant, the Tuscan order, are the only orders whose capitals are totally round because those of the Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite orders have volutes at four points, giving them an effect of having corners.  In being totally circular, the Doric order columns parallel the form of the building itself.


Suitability of the Doric Order

The Doric order's plainness and masculinity lent a gravity that was in accordance with the building's solemn purpose of marking the place of St. Peter's martyrdom.





Relative Dimensions of the Cylinders

The two cylinders formed by the building's main parts are related to each other mathematically.  The width of the wider cylinder forming the peristyle is equal to the height of the narrower cylinder forming the cella.


Whole-Number Proportions

One-to-one and one-to-two ratios govern a number of the Tempietto's dimensions.


The Tempietto is divided in half vertically by the top of the balustrade.


The drum and dome are of equal height.


The height-to-width ratios of the peristyle and the upper story below the dome are both 3:5.





Serlio's Illustration of Courtyard Plan

The Tempietto, which is located off-center in a rectangular cloister formed by buildings on three sides, was originally planned to have been part of a centralized scheme.


According to a plan of Bramante's design that was illustrated in Serlio's treatise, a circular courtyard had been planned.  It was to consist of a circular loggia in front of a circular wall formed by a series of piers that opened into niches in the corners.  Rooms at each end were to have filled the remaining space.


Correspondence between Courtyard and Building

Bramante's courtyard design turns the design of the lower story inside out:  the building's arrangement of a circular peristyle around a solid cylindrical core was to be reversed to become a circular peristyle inside a cylindrical enclosure.


Radial Coordination of Corresponding Parts

The building and the courtyard had similar features that were coordinated radially so that equivalent parts of each lay along common radii.


Columns and pilasters.  Like the Tempietto, the courtyard was to have had a sixteen-column peristyle.  The sixteen pilasters on its walls were coordinated with those of the proposed courtyard's outer wall.  


Niches.  The diagonal quadrants of both the building and the courtyard were to have been composed of apsidal niches flanking openings, which took the form of windows on the building and of archways to corner recesses in the courtyard. 


Use of Perspective to Augment Size

Because the viewer would probably assume the columns of the building and courtyard were the same size, the proposed use of columns that were 1 1/2 times larger in the courtyard would have made the building seem bigger than it was to a viewer seeing it through the courtyard's column screen.





Narrow Space

The Tempietto's diameter on the interior is only about 14 1/2 feet.  Due to its function as a martyrium rather than as a church, it was intended as a monument to be seen from the outside rather as a space to be experienced from the inside.


If the door to the Tempietto is open, the sculpture of Peter and the relief of him being crucified can be seen from the main entrance into the courtyard.


Main Story

The interior loosely corresponds to the exterior.


Each interior quadrant contains an entrance or an apse, which corresponds to four pilasters of the exterior wall and four columns of the peristyle.


Because the eight pilasters, half a many as on the exterior, are placed between large and small niches, their spacing is in pairs and does not correspond to that of the sixteen pilasters of the exterior.


The large niche opposite the entrance contains a statue of St. Peter holding the keys to the kingdom in one hand and the gospel in the other. On the pedestal below at around eye level is a relief of St. Peter's crucifixion, which was carried out in an upside-down position.


The space is evenly illuminated by placing the windows on multiple levels and facings.


Interior of the Dome

Inside the dome, the illusion of seeing a sky beyond the dome's ribs is suggested by the painting of gold stars against a blue sky.  In the Renaissance, such images were understood as references to the Christian Heaven.



On the back side just beyond the colonnade, a pair of stairs leads down to the crypt. The position corresponding to the ground-story entrance is occupied by an altar. A circular window through the ceiling of the crypt enables visitors on the ground story to see the sacred spot below through the



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Bramante 5 of 8




Tempietto, Rome, designed c. 1502, begun after 1511