The Italian architect and painter Donato Bramante (1444-1514) was the first High Renaissance architect. He transformed the classical style of the 15th century into a grave and monumental manner, which represented the ideal for later architects.
In the first decade of the 16th century Donato Bramante was the chief architect in Rome, which had just replaced Florence as the artistic capital of Europe because the patronage of Pope Julius II (reigned 1503-1513) attracted all the leading Italian artists to that city. It is particularly the triumvirate of artists—Michelangelo the sculptor and painter, Raphael the painter, and Bramante the architect— who dominated this period, usually called the High Renaissance, and whose influence overwhelmed the following generations.
Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio, called Bramante, was born in 1444 at Monte Asdruvaldo near Urbino. Nothing is known of the first 30 years of his life. During that period, however, the court of Federigo da Montefeltro at Urbino was a flourishing humanistic and cultural center, attended by artists such as Piero della Francesca, Melozzo da Forll, and Luciano Laurana, who probably influenced the young Bramante. The first notice of Bramante dates from 1477, when he decorated the facade of the Palazzo del Podestàat Bergamo with a frescoed frieze of philosophers.
In 1481 the engraver Bernardo Previdari issued at Milan a print after a design by Bramante, who had settled there about that time. The major interest of the engraving, which depicts the interior of a partially ruined church, is the careful perspective delineation of the architectural interior. Shortly thereafter Bramante entered into the service of the Sforza rulers of Lombardy as court architect. His first important commission was the reconstruction, beginning in 1482, of the church of S. Maria presso S. Satiro in Milan. As it was a basilica church with transept and dome over the crossing, there was not enough space for a deep choir. Through the ingenious use of sculptural and painted relief in perspective, Bramante feigned a choir. He also built a tall, octagonal sacristy richly decorated in the North Italian manner with relief sculpture covering even the shafts of the classical orders. Bramante also continued to paint, executing frescoes of armed men for the Casa Panigarola and the panel painting Christ at the Column.
In 1488 Bramante was called as consultant to the architects Amadeo and Cristoforo Rocchi for the building of the Cathedral of Pavia, but in 1492 he withdrew from the project with only the crypt completed. Meanwhile in 1490 he submitted an opinion on the project to complete the tiburio, or great crossing vault, of the Gothic Cathedral of Milan, in which he advocated a design conforming to the past style. Although there is no documentary proof, he presumably designed the large, square tribune with apsidal arms added to the Gothic church of S. Maria delle Grazie in Milan, beginning the work in 1492. The interior was made spacious and monumental, and the exterior was completed in the decorative Lombard style. At the same time Bramante began the Canons' Cloister of S. Ambrogio in Milan, whose southern wing alone was built; in 1497 he planned four more cloisters there, of which only the Doric and Ionic Cloisters were completed in the 16th century.
During 1493 Bramante was briefly and mysteriously absent from Milan, as letters of Duke Lodovico Sforza seeking him in Florence and Rome indicate, but Bramante soon returned to the ducal seat at Vigevano. He also wrote some sonnets at this time, which are preserved in a manuscript dated 1497.
Early Roman Style
When the French captured Milan in September 1499 Bramante fled to Rome, where he frescoed the arms of Pope Alexander VI at St. John Lateran, in preparation for the Holy Year of 1500, and explored the Roman antiquities. The impact of the ancient monuments is evident in his cloister of S. Maria della Pace in Rome (1500-1504). The simple gravity and monumentality of the small square court marks a distinct break with the Lombard style and foreshadows the new classicism of High Renaissance Rome. The ground-floor arcade is supported on piers with engaged Ionic pilasters; the upper floor alternates Corinthian columns and piers bearing an architrave.
The tiny circular Tempietto at S. Pietro in Montorio, in Rome (1502), with a Doric colonnade surrounding a small cella closed by a semicircular dome on a tall drum, represents the perfection of Bramante's Roman style. The architect intended the chapel to stand in the center of a circular, colonnaded court to emphasize its self-containment and centralization, but the court was never executed. The church of S. Maria della Consolazione (1504-1617) at Todi, probably executed after Bramante's design, is likewise centralized, being square with semicircular apses. The mass is built up of simple geometric forms capped by a drum and dome. The interior is characterized by a sense of quiet, harmonious spaciousness.
Papal Architecture and Late Works
With the election of Pope Julius II in 1503 Bramante soon became the papal architect, and he did extensive work in the Vatican Palace and began rebuilding St. Peter's. The tremendous Belvedere Court of the Palace (begun in 1503) was terraced up a hillside on three levels joined by monumental stairs and defined by arcaded loggias with superimposed orders. The lower terrace was to serve as a theater. Completed with many revisions in the late 16th century, it is now altered almost beyond recognition. Nearby is a spiral, ramped staircase (begun before 1512) that provides access to the statue court beyond the Belvedere Court. As a new facade for the Vatican Palace, Bramante designed a series of superimposed loggias (1509-1518), later converted into the Court of S. Damaso. Completed by Raphael, there are two superimposed arcades with Tuscan and Ionic pilasters and above them a colonnade of the Composite order.
In 1505 Bramante prepared a plan for the New St. Peter's which called for a centralized Greek cross with a large dome on a colonnaded drum at the crossing, four smaller domes, and corner towers. When the Greek cross plan was not accepted, he planned to lengthen one arm to form a nave and to add ambulatories in the apsidal arms. The foundation stone was laid in April 1506, but at the time of his death Bramante had erected only the four main piers and the arches which were to support the dome.
Bramante accompanied the Pope on the military campaigns to Bologna in 1506 and in 1510, and during the latter campaign he is reported to have entertained the Pope every evening with his commentary on the writings of Dante. In 1513 the Pope bestowed the office of Piombatore, or sealer of the papal briefs, on him. Bramante planned a huge palace on the Via Giulia for the papal courts of justice. It was begun in 1509, but with the death of the Pope in 1513 the work was abandoned, leaving only a few massive, rusticated blocks of the ground floor.
Bramante's last work was probably the Palazzo Caprini (after 1510; destroyed). It had a rusticated ground floor with shops and an upper story with coupled Doric half columns. Owned later by Raphael, it became the prototype for numerous palaces, especially in northern Italy, by Michele Sanmicheli, Giulio Romano, and Andrea Palladio. Bramante died on March 11, 1514, and was buried in Old St. Peter's.
Further Reading on Donato Bramante
There is no monograph on Bramante in English. A study in Italian is Arnaldo Bruschi, Bramante architetto (1969). Another useful work, in Italian, is Costantino Baroni, ed., Bramante (1944). An excellent study in English on an important Roman building is James S. Ackerman, The Cortile del Belvedere (1954). For background works on Renaissance architecture see Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (1949; 3d rev. ed. 1962), and Peter Murray, The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance (1963).