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Donato Bramante (1444 - March 11, 1514)

Donato Bramante was an 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.

Donato Bramante

Bramante was born in Monte Adrualdo, near Urbino: here, in the 1460s, Luciano Laurana was adding to the Palazzo Ducale an arcaded courtyard and other features that seemed to have the true ring of a reborn antiquity to Federico da Montefeltro's ducal palace.

Bramante's architecture has eclipsed his painting skills: he knew the painters Melozzo da Forlì and Piero della Francesca well, who were interested in the rules of perspective and illusionistic features in Mantegna's painting. Around 1474, Bramante moved to Milan, a city with a deep Gothic architectural tradition, and built several churches in the new Antique style. The Duke, Ludovico Sforza, made him virtually his court architect, beginning in 1476, with commissions that culminated in 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 with Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel, Renaissance architecture was born in 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 French army, Bramante made his way to Rome, where he was already known to the powerful Cardinal Riario.

Tempietto, San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, 1502: the High Renaissance began here.
Tempietto, San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, 1502: the High Renaissance began here.

In Rome, he was soon recognized by Cardinal Della Rovere, shortly 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, 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 for the construction of the grandest European architectural commission of the 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, demonstrating the extent of the team which 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. (See St Peter's Basilica for further details.)


Occupied with St Peter's, Bramante had little time for other commissions. Among his earliest works in Rome, before the Basilica's construction was 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 design for the Palazzo Caprini in Rome. This palazzo was later owned by the artist Raphael, and since then has been known as the House of Raphael.