Such is St. Peter's church, which, though it has been much criticised, has been more generally lauded as a model of architectural greatness. Its real character has rarely been analyzed or rationally considered. That it has qualities of majesty and grandeur need not be denied; but these qualities are mainly due to its vast magnitude, and to what it retains of the design of its first, and greatest, architect. The manner in which the scheme of Bramante was modified and distorted by his successors, and chiefly by Michael Angelo, notwithstanding his professions of admiration for Bramante's intentions, is far from admirable, as I think the foregoing account of its structural and artistic aberrations must show. The building as a whole is characterized by incongruity and extravagance, and when we consider further that the ornamentation of the interior is for the most part a cheap deception, the rich coffering of the vaulting and the pilasters of the great order being wrought in stucco on a foundation of brickwork, we get the measure of the ideals and architectural standards of men who, like Vasari, could write of it that, " not in Christendom, nor in all the world, can a building of greater magnificence and grandeur be seen." 1 And this short-sighted admiration did not abate as time went on, as we learn from the estimates quoted by Fontana in his well-known book,2 among which are the following: " Temple more famous than that of Solomon," " Unique miracle of the world," " Chief among the most celebrated of Christendom," " Compendium of the arts," " Basis of the Catholic faith," " Unique edifice of the orb of earth," etc., etc.
Before leaving St. Peter's a word may be said of a project for the building which was prepared by Antonio San Gallo the younger, Michael Angelo's immediate predecessor as architect for the fabric. This design, no part of which was ever carried out, is embodied in a wooden model preserved with that of Michael Angelo in the existing edifice. The most meritorious feature of this model is the dome which, from a structural point of view, is better than the one that was built, since it is well abutted both at the springing and at the haunch. This important condition is secured, however, by an architectural treatment that cannot be commended, and consists of two superimposed concentric arcades, the lower one surrounding the drum and abutting the vault at the springing, while the upper one is set in retreat and fortifies the haunch. The architectural effect of these arcades, which are of course adorned with classic orders, is not happy because an arcade with a classic order is not an appropriate form of abutment, though it may be made mechanically effective, and also because the upper circle, rising from within the circumference of the lower one, gives the composition an unpleasantly telescopic effect.
Our consideration of St. Peter's has led us to an advanced phase of the church architecture of the Roman Renaissance, and we must now go back and examine a few of the earlier structures in Rome and elsewhere that were produced under the distinctly Roman influence.
1 Le Vite, etc., vol. 7, p. 249.
2 Il Tempio Vaticano e sua Origine, etc. Discritto dal Cav. Carlo Fontana, Rome, 1694, vol. 2, p. 406.