The Tempietto: Ad Fontes

Ad Fontes as a solution for problems in Renaissance Rome

  • Beatrijs Valk- Faculty of Medicine
  • Emmy Rommers - Faculty of Arts
  • Evija Butane - Faculty of Law

The Tempietto (Italian: "small temple") is a small circular temple surrounded by high cloister walls of the San Pietro in Montorio, Rome. By many, The Tempietto is considered the starting point of Renaissance architecture in Rome. It was built by Donato Bramante in 1502, and allegedly commissioned by the Spanish royal couple king Ferdinand of Aragon (1452 - 1516) and queen Isabella of Castile(1451 - 1504). The Tempietto is, however, a great deal more than just a "starting point" for Renaissance architecture in Rome. The Tempietto is in fact the first artwork in Rome that brought together humanistic and Christian values, something past artists had tried numerous times but never quite managed to accomplish. This means that the Tempietto was the first artwork in Rome which represented the solution to the multiple problems that both Renaissance humanism and Christianity were facing at the time: the search for an ideal form of living by means of either perfect measurements (humanists) or the centralization of faith (Christians).
The combining of these different ideals is presented through the Renaissance concept of "Ad Fontes". In this regard, the Tempietto can be seen as the first representation of an ideal form of living in Renaissance Rome, by fusing humanistic and Christian ideals.

This Wikipage is the main page of the project about Bramante's Tempietto. Further information can be found on the following pages

Christianity versus Humanism Donato Bramante Similar Buildings to the Tempietto

1. Ad Fontes
2. Christianity
2.1. Problems
2.2. Ad Fontes in the Tempietto
2.2.1. Location
2.2.2. Architecture
2.2.3. Symbolism
3. Renaissance Humanism
3.1. Problems: Political Instability in Renaissance Italy and Rome
3.2. The Response: Renaissance Humanism
3.2.1. Renaissance Architecture
3.3. Ad Fontes in the Tempietto
3.3.1. Renaissance Architecture in the Tempietto

1. Ad Fontes

During the Renaissance in Italy, an essential belief of the humanists was "Ad Fontes"[1] , meaning "back to the sources". In a time of chaos, both ecclesial and humanistic Italian intellectuals wanted to go back to the time when all was well. This concept of Ad Fontes can be found in many aspects of the Tempietto, both externally and internally. The choice of Bramante to make his Tempietto a representation of Ad Fontes had several reasons because Ad Fontes proved to be a solution to different problems presented around 1500. The problems for which "Ad Fontes" was the solution, can be roughly divided into two major conflicts at the time of the commissioning of the Tempietto: the troubles Christianity was dealing with and humanistic problems. In this sense, the Tempietto can be regarded as the representation of a cultural narrative: the history of Roman conflicts around 1500 (see: Christianity versus Humanism).

2. Christianity

2.1. Problems

The end of the fifteenth century was in many ways a problematic time for the Christian faith with regard to the papal reign. Starting from 1471 with pope Sixtus IV (1414 - 1484), several consecutive popes made sure that Catholics had little to look up to.[2] Incest, corruption, bloodshed, illegitimate children, licensed brothels, selling everything that could generate money and meanwhile trying to cover the still slowly evaporating treasure depository of the church are merely details of the ongoing list of irreligious practices.[3]
Christians from all over Europe started to lose faith in not only the papal governance, but in Christianity itself. In order to restore faith, the Catholic church had to implement drastic modifications. During the reign of pope Julius II (1443 -1513) the renewal of Christianity got clear direction: Christianity had to become central again, with clear rulers and followers, and above all a clear reason to believe.[4]

The urge of Julius II to make Rome this spiritual center was stressed by the turmoil in Constantinople in 1453. The Hagia Sophia, until then the largest Christian church, was converted into a mosque by the Turks. This provided an opportunity for Rome to become the new center of Christianity[5]. Consequently, the Catholic faith had to become rapidly visible again in Rome, which resulted o.a. in a major increase of the construction of churches and monuments.[4] The central concept throughout the city had to be the presence of the origin of Christianity. This way, the attention of the faithful was directed away from the misbehaviours.

2.2. Ad Fontes in the Tempietto

As has been mentioned, Christianity was faced with difficulties around the time of the commissioning of the Tempietto. These problems were however closely related due to their underlying purpose, namely centralisation of the Christian faith. The Tempietto presented a solution by means of going back to the origins of the faith. This was done by respectively the location, the architecture and symbolism.

2.2.1. The Location

St. Peter
From all the questions one can have concerning the Tempietto regarding its meaning, the unconventional location and the subsequent royal patrons are among of the most prominent. Hidden by the surroundings of monastery-walls, on top of the deserted Janiculan Hill in Montorio does not seem an appropriate position for a center of the Christian faith. [6]
The reason for this unconventional location is related to the major problems Christianity faced at the time of commissioning around 1500. The solution slowly came into focus with the search for the fundamentals of Christian faith.[7]. This meant that just about everything that could be regarded as a reference to the beginning of Christianity would be useful. The place of St Peter's crucifixion would be a perfect location to bring to the public's attention. Conveniently enough, this happened to be the exact location of the cloister site (assumed at that time) on which later the Tempietto would be built.[5]

Spanish Royal Family
There could also be a different reason however, less tied to religious reasons and more to power and money. The commissioning of the Tempietto was in fact not just a papal one, but also a royal one; the Spanish royal couple king Ferdinand of Aragon (1452 - 1516) and queen Isabella of Castile (1451 - 1504)[8] . A marble tablet functioning as the foundation stone shows this very well:

Lapidem Apostolor(um) Principis martirio sacrum Ferdinandus Hispaniar(um) Rex et Helisabeth regina Catholici
post erecta(m) ab eis aedem posuerunt anno sa/utis Christian(a)e 1502.
Ferdinand and Isabel, Catholic King and Queen of the Spaniards,
set up this stone sacred to the martyrdom of the Prince of the Apostles after the church had been erected by them. In the year of Christian salvation 1502.

The reason for their exorbitantly helpful funding was based on their own profits to be gained from this collaboration.

First, they had personal reasons. Just two years before, King Ferdinand had vowed to build a church in honor of St Peter. This was due to the spiritual help of Amadeo (the owner of the cloister at Montorio but even more importantly the brother of Beatrice of Silva (ca. 1424 - 1492), who was a friend of the Kings wife Isabel of Castile), to give him a male heir. This heir, Juan, was born on the 30th of June 1478, just one day after the remembrance-day of St. Peter and St. Paul. [10]

The second reason for the royal funding was the promotion of the prestige of the Spanish crown in Rome. King Ferdinand had just taken control over the southern regions of Spain, which had been engaged in many battles between the Muslims and the Catholics for over 8 centuries. The ending of this conflict was regarded by many as a victory of the Catholic world. When not long after this victory the Titulus Crucis was found on the grounds of Granada, the sacred sign was evident. The royal Spanish couple soon became the "Catholic Kings" and were celebrated by many.[11]

Thirdly, there was the personal history between King Ferdinand and Pope Sixtus IV. Both men wanted to empower the Catholic faith, though they differed about the means means. As has been said before, Pope Sixtus IV wanted to distract from the problems of the Church by focussing on the foundation of the Catholic faith. King Ferdinand however, wanted to form the Spanish Inquisition. The only problem was the necessity of the approval of the pope. King Ferdinand had already threatened to withdraw military support at the time when the Turks were a threat to Rome[12]. For this reason it is not unlikely that King Ferdinand had some troubles with his personal conscious and wanted to render his service as a way to make amends with the pope.

The only question remaining is why, when Ferdinand and Isabella so proudly funded a Catholic building, there is virtually no trace left of the royal ties to the Tempietto in the history books? It seems that the traces have been erased indeed. At the time of restoring the Tempietto in 1630, the relationship between the Spanish royal family and the pope in Rome worsened. The new pope, Urban VIII preferred working with the French monarchy, while the Spanish royal family wanted their, according to them, well deserved recognition for the funding of the Tempietto and their central position within the Catholic faith[13]. Because a central position within the Catholic faith, meant a central position in the universal church, which equaled political and religious power[14].

During the 16th and 17th century, the Tempietto became a central place of admiration for many Catholics, which caused even more tension with regards to the rights of patronage of the Tempietto and the cloister altogether[14]. It is likely that during this time the pope assembled all the historical proof there was to find of the Spanish royal family's link to the cloister, in order to eliminate the proof they had of rightful patronage. This way, the church was once again the only center of attention.

2.2.2. Architecture

Bramante's choice of constructing the Tempietto as a round temple with a colonnade of Doric columns shows that it commemorates St. Peter as a hero.[15] According to Vitruvius (ca. 85 - 20 BC), the Doric order was especially appropriate for male deities: masculine, perfectly proportioned, and strong. Hercules, for example, the mortal who achieved immortality through his self-sacrificing labors, was often allegorized in the Renaissance as a Christ type.[16]

Similarities between the Temple of Hercules Victor [30]and the Tempietto

The circle-shape is not the only reference to centrality however. The Tempietto is also planned at the center of a square, isolated on a platform. This isolation is emphasized by the absence of statues or obvious ornamentation. [17]

Map of San Pietro in Montorio, showing the centrality of the Tempietto
in the courtyard as displayed on the informationboard
next to the Tempietto

2.2.3. Symbolism

Links to St. Peter can also be found when entering the Tempietto. A marble inscription is visible on the right embrasure of the doorway, translated as follows: "This church and this altar in honor of the blessed Apostle Peter, crucified in this place, were consecrated, and the relics written below have been enclosed within it."[18] Although scholars agree that the inscription is a modern creation (the date has never been determined), the intended effect on the audience visiting the Tempietto is still to commemorate St. Peter.

Inscription commemorating St. Peter [31]

The interior design reflects the same idea: above the elegant altar, a marble predella shows the upside-down crucifixion of St. Peter in low relief. Framed by strips of glass mosaic, the altar's antependium shows Noah's Ark directly beneath an image of St. Peter enthroned, evidently as a pope. The Ark is an ancient symbol of the church. By lining the Ark with the carved images of St. Peter crucified, St. Peter enthroned and the center of the Tempietto itself, Bramante tries to reinforce the association of Noah's Ark with St. Peter and his specific role as founder of the Church by means of geometry.[19]

Statue of St. Peter inside the Tempietto [32]

Further symbolic references to Christianity can be found on the outside of the Tempietto. Several liturgical symbols are placed above the Doric columns, for instance the tiara of the pope, wine, bread, the keys (as a sign of St. Peter's service at heavens' gate).

Details of the triglyphs and metopes on the Tempietto, displaying several liturgical symbols[33][34][35]

3. Renaissance Humanism

Map of Italy 1494 [35]

3.1.Problems: Political instability in Italy and Rome

The Renaissance was a period of great cultural change and achievement that began in Italy in the 14th century and lasted until the 16th century, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe. This period marked the end of the middle ages. [20]

At the end of the fifteenth century, it was politically a very unstable time in Italy. Tensions between Italy and France were rising and a war was feared and war eventually broke out. Also, Italy consisted of different kingdoms, city states and principalities (see map). In other words, Italy was divided. The north of Italy, including the cities of Milan, Florence and Venice, were economically more stable than the south of Italy. This also caused tension within Italy itself.

In the early Renaissance, Rome was all but the metropolis she is now. In those days, the population of Rome was probably less than 50.000 people; a stunning difference to the days of the Roman empire, when more than a million people lived in the city.[21] Around 1460 there was an average of fourteen murders a day in Rome, political corruption was the standard [22] and the once glorious Forum Romanum now consisted of a field of grass where cattle grazed and where occasionally a column or arch peaked through the soil. In other words, Rome was in chaos and but a mere shadow of her glorious former self. But during the age of the Renaissance, this was all about to change again. Perfection and glory would return to Rome once more.

The Vitruvian Man
by Leonardo Da Vinci [36]

3.2. The response: Renaissance Humanism

As a response to the instability and chaos in Italy during the fifteenth century, Renaissance Humanism was born. The humanists wanted a society where people were eloquent and erudite, and the humanists devoted themselves to the study of the humanities: grammar, rhetoric, history etc [23]. This was the total opposite of the chaos Italy was experiencing at the time.
The Humanists introduced Italy to new insights; people were fascinated by the achievement of perfection in a political unstable time. The renaissance was vivid in the richest part of Italy, the North, and mostly so in Florence. The humanist spirit was taught at school and during this era, one of the most famous humanists and the prototype of a renaissance man and homo universalis worked on anything that his mind could master: Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519) was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He also was inspired by antiquity and he refers very clearly to the ancient Roman Architect Vitruvius (ca. 85 - 20 BC) in his drawing "The Vitruvian man" . The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions described by Vitruvius in his book "De architectura" .[24] It is believed that Donato Bramante worked with Da Vinci during Da Vinci's work on the Vitruvian man and it is possible, Bramante was inspired by the perfect proportions Da Vinci was working on. (See Donato Bramante

It was during the Renaissance that people started to rediscover the Greek and Roman architecture (see Renaissance Architecture) the works of Greek and Roman philosophers, most notably the works of Plato (ca. 430/20 BC - 348/347 BC) . One of his most important works was "De Republica" in which, among other things, he sketches a perfect city[25]. Also during this time, Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), a well-known discoverer of ancient Roman manuscripts, discovered De architectura by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius . In his work, Vitruvius describes building techniques in the Roman era and what the perfect relations and dimensions in a building are. An important point he makes in his work is that in a perfect building, all dimensions have to be multiples of each other[26]. Vitruvius stresses three important requirements of a perfect building: "Firmitas", which means solidity, "Utilitas", which means usefulness and "Venustas", which means beauty[27].

During the early Renaissance a painting of the Ideal city was made, presumably by the Renaissance painter Fra Carnevale (1420/1425 - 1484). In this painting, a square is shown where buildings stand that probably have perfect proportions and symmetry. The similarities with the Tempietto are clear: both the Tempietto and this painting use the building style of Ancient times for their buildings. Both the art works contain a lot of symmetry and perfect shapes, both square and circle.

"The Ideal City" by Fra Carnevale[37]

3.2.1. Renaissance Architecture

Renaissance Architecture is the architecture that reflects the developments in Italy at the end of the 15th century, namely the "rebirth" of the culture practiced by Romans and Greeks in ancient times. In Renaissance architecture, the architecture of ancient cultures is mirrored by the use of columns, arches, domes and vaults. [28]

The architecture of the Renaissance was inspired by Vitruvius (see above) and the contemporary work De re aedificatoria, inspired by Vitruvius, by famous renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472).

The High Renaissance Architecture, started by Donato Bramante and his building of the Tempietto, was characterized by harmony and clarity and the Late Renaissance or Mannerism was characterized by sophistication and complexity. [29]

3.3. Ad Fontes in the Tempietto

First, the evident "Ad Fontes" idea in the Tempietto means going back to the source of the Italians: Roman Antiquity. This is visible in the style of the architecture. The building follows the guidelines given by Vitruvius almost to the letter in the sense that all proportions are multiples of each other and the perfect roundness of the building. For example, the diameter of the Tempietto is a multiple of the length of the columns. The building is solid (Firmitas) and beautiful (Venustas

The style of building used is that of the Doric order, the most robust style used in antiquity and was used to honor heroes. The Doric order consists of columns without ornaments and above the columns, triglyphs (three little columns) and metopes (the figures of liturgical objects) are used.

Detail of metopes and triglyphs on the Tempietto [38]

Lastly, the Tempietto is reminiscent of antique buildings such as the Temple of Vesta on the Forum Romanum and the Temple of Hercules Victor near the Theatre of Marcellus. This also indicates a reference to Roman Antiquity.

3.3.1. Renaissance Architecture in the Tempietto

According to the standards of the Renaissance Humanism, Bramante had designed a perfect building. As mentioned above, Bramante has followed the instructions of Vitruvius to the letter, regarding shapes and perfect proportions. He also worked according to the rules set by Leon Battista Alberti in "De re aedificatoria", which was the Golden standard in the Renaissance. For example, Alberti stated that the circle is a divine shape, according to observations of nature: insects build their nests in a round shape, the sun and the moon are circular and the sky is a circle. This observation was based on the shape of the dome of the Pantheon. In a time of chaos, Bramante had brought perfection to Rome.


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