Friday, December 2, 2016

Bramante's Tempietto, Rome

On vacation last month my number one destination whilst in Rome was a pilgrimage to one of the most fascinating and influential buildings known to architects; Bramante's Tempietto.
Overlooking Rome from high upon the Janiculum hill, San Pietro in Montorio is a 15th century church supposedly built on the site where Saint Peter was crucified (which replaced an earlier 9th century structure).  Works by Michelangelo, Vasari, Raphael, and Bramante originally decorated its' halls; a veritable who's who of the Renaissance.
I can tell you it was a pilgrimage as the walk up this hill is brutal; bring your climbing gear! But the reward at the end of the slog is one of the masterpieces of the High Renaissance which would inspire architects for centuries to come including Palladio who included it in his Quattro Libri (and don't miss the astonishing views of Rome!).
Once inside the museum (The Spanish Royal Academy) one weaves through cloisters and exhibition spaces to come to the small temple, hence named the Tempietto.
Designed by architect and true Renaissance man Donato Bramante in 1502, the Tempietto was based on earlier Christian churches and ancient Roman temples creating one TINY perfect jewel box of symmetry.
The temple is located in the center of a small cloister which Bramante originally intended to fill with a covered colonnade, which would have obstructed the view of the building. Probably why it was never built although no one knows for sure.
One gets a perfectly framed view of the front face of the Tempietto from the exterior gates (first picture) which faces Rome. Even if the museum is closed you can still at least see the exterior of the Tempietto!
I've been fascinated by this small, perfect structure since college when I first studied the building in both architectural and art history courses. Small buildings give one the opportunity to craft truly perfect buildings. Not only will the entire design be visible in one glance (talk about instant gratification) the budget also tends to be smaller and probably more achievable!
 The rear is what one first experiences upon entering the cloister, or courtyard.
The colonnade surrounding the temple is only a few feet wide and built with perfect proportions of elongated Doric columns (my favorite order!) taking your eye up to God.
 But lets go inside the main floor.
The interior is just under 15 feet round with the top of the dome being double that amount above you providing perfect proportion.
The ceiling of the dome is decorated with gilt stars on a blue background. The ribs become more slender towards the center to fool your eye into thinking it is higher than it actually is. 
As sophisticated as this structure is on every level, it still is an early 16th century building, attested to by the simple wood doors exiting to either side below elaborate shell niches.
Contrast this structure with other buildings from the early 16th century and you can see how it was so influential.
 Niches on either side of the altar hold statues depicting St Peter.
Don't miss the lovely ancient hand blown glass windows at ground level and stained glass at the mezzanine level above.
The extraordinary marble mosaic floor contains an open grill through which you can see the tomb chamber below.
 Around the back where we first entered are exterior stairs which lead you down to the crypt level.
 The ornate plaster (or perhaps stonework?) on the ceiling is beautiful and highly elaborate.
This room is kept gated but can be viewed from the base of the stairs. The hole in the enter of the ceiling is the same grate in the floor of the temple above.
If you ever find yourself in Rome I highly encourage a trip up the Juniculum hill to view Bramante's masterpiece the Tempietto or at least the city views.  Also be sure to check out the interior of the church which is filled with a treasure trove of Renaissance art.
See plenty of drawings and read more about the Tempietto HERE at Great Buildings Online.
Learn more about Renaissance proportioning at the Tempietto HERE.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hofburg Palace Vienna - King's apartments tour

As Thanksgiving is upon us I wanted to share a fitting place from my last European trip -the Hofburg Palace King's apartment museum in Vienna.
Located right on the edge of historic city center, the Hofburg palace complex was built upon from the 14th century up until the end of the Hapsburg empire in 1918 to become the epicenter of the government. As you can imagine it is immense!
The entrance to the museum is under the green dome above through a tight hallway in the St. Michael's wing - apparently grander entrances still serve other governmental purposes. The tiny entry barely could coral the hoards of people jockeying to see the collections. It was as crowded as a Macys the day after Thanksgiving!
The first part of the tour is through the extensive pantries of the palace: acres of cabinetry holds the Emperors' china, silver, and gilt-ware used over the centuries.
 Some of it was rather familiar and ordinary, if lovely, such as the 19th century porcelain above.
However other offerings were as exotic and extraordinary as the far reaches of the Hapsburg dynasty. A large service of china for the short-lived Hapsburg Emperor of Mexico is seen above. Wouldn't you like to set your Thanksgiving table with this?!
As with all monarchies nothing impresses more than gold. The museum holds the largest collection of gilt-ware in the world. That's sterling silver covered in a thin layer of gold. Until the late 19th century the Hapsburgs ONLY ate official meals on and with gold, porcelain was reserved for dessert. Seriously.
The lovely cruet above has little stands for the lids which you can see if you zoom in. Who said gilt-ware wasn't practical?
Extensive quantities of silver are laid out showing the amount of tableware required for numerous coursed meals. Daunting to say the least.
Room after room held display cases with more and more spectacular stuff. How many gilt candlesticks could one emperor possibly need?
Some of my favorite china was the most 'simple' - well at least more neoclassic. Simple is a relative term when dealing with the Hapsburgs!
 Surprisingly a lot of the things seemed quite modern like the Biedermeier coffee service below dating from 1822.
My favorite china service was perhaps this set which had a different castle or chateaux painted on each plate.
I could see Martha Stewart collecting this 18th century faux bois china from the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory.
A surprising thing to learn was that the emperors each had their own commissioned tableware -but rather than a set for each castle they traveled with it. Each item has a corresponding travel case!
 How is that for economizing? haha
All of these items were of course hand made and cost prohibitive even centuries ago so they were royal commodities.
 Sometimes the cases were more interesting than the items they contained.
 As the collection spans centuries there is something to everyone's taste.
How about some Agyptisieren (German for Egyptian Revival) from 1810.
 This time period had tons of the famous Austrian crystal. Lobmeyr is just down the street afterall (talk about tempting! be sure to visit their top floor which houses their museum collection).
There were dozens of table top decorations like the set above. So impressive! The Government still uses much of this for state dinners. In other words, sometimes in your lifetime manage to get invited to an Austrian state banquet!
Part of what made the collection so great was the labeling.  I always wonder 'what was this strange glass or fork used for?'.  Well the museum is here to tell you!
 The green glass goblets were reserved for the local Rhine wine.
 Around every corner was more and more china from the short-lived Emperor of Mexico.
Did I mention how much I like this? I suppose as his reign was so short there wasn't much chance for breakage before he was executed.
Much like the current fascination with Princess Diana the Austrians still have an obsession for their last empress Elisabeth, known as Sisi. A large part of this museum is devoted to this rather odd monarch who died a century ago.  Did I mention the hoards of people? Above is a statue of her with her husband Emperor Franz Joseph. As highly recommended as it came I could have easily skipped this portion of the tour and stayed in the pantries.
The takeaway above is that the Hapsburgs had a lot of gold which equals money and power. How about some of these very understated gold candlesticks for your Thanksgiving table? I bet your table would break in half.
I had to share more of the china depicting different palaces. Above is their main summer palace Schonbrunn, located just outside of Vienna, which I also visited (and where Marie Antoinette was raised).
Above is the nearby picturesque Belvedere which I also visited. Today it houses an excellent modern art museum and beautiful gardens.
There was a sterling silver tag for every type of wine you could imagine. I wish they sold some of these in the gift shop!
I highly recommend this portion of the museum although I could have happily left after the pantries. A century later, the Hapsburgs still impress; I hope you enjoyed these treasures!