Rotunda. Architecture and the ideal in Renaissance Italy
Paul Davies is Professor of History of Architecture at the University of Reading. He is the author of Michele Sanmicheli (with D. Hemsoll) (Electa, 2004) and The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo. A.X. Renaissance Architecture and Later Architecture and Ornament, 2 vols, (with D. Hemsoll) (Royal Collection, 2013), and editor of Architecture and Pilgrimage: the Southern Mediterranean and Beyond (with D. Howard and W. Pullan) (Ashgate, 2013), and has published many articles on Italian Renaissance architecture. His particular interests lie in sixteenth-century architecture in the Veneto, ecclesiastical architecture (1350-1600), especially pilgrimage architecture and the centrally planned church, and in architectural drawings.
Centralized churches surged in popularity in Renaissance Italy, and many—such as Bramante’s Tempietto and Giuliano da Sangallo’s Madonna delle Carceri—have since become the most celebrated buildings of their age. With their characteristics of symmetry and harmony, they have come to be seen as a quintessentially Renaissance manifestation, and most scholars argue that this trend received its impulse from the revival of interest in the forms and ideals of classical antiquity, derived from such ancient texts such Plato’s Timaeus. This explanation is in part correct, but it fails to tell the whole story. By focusing on the buildings themselves rather than on the theoretical writings and drawings of architects (very much the norm up until now), this research project offers a rather different picture. Through a survey of the corpus of known buildings, it can be shown that most of them were associated in some way with miracles. Some were built to house miraculous images, others to commemorate places where miracles took place, and still others as votes of thanks for miracles received. Moreover, the remainder are often buildings whose function remains unknown, raising the possibility that they might have had miracle-related origins too. Given this particular function, this research project sets out to consider whether the origins of this trend can be found in earlier approaches to housing the miraculous.