1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > St. Peter's, Rome

(Part 102)

St. Peter's, Rome

Perhaps no two edifices display more, and in a greater degree, both the merits and defects of the school which produced them, than the Farnese palace and the basilica of St Peter in Rome.

The principal front of the former edifice is noble in its proportions, but frittered in its details. It has an immense crowning cornice, whose general effect is certainly grand; but the mouldings are too much projected, and its vertical parts want the breadth which the blocking courses possess. The lowest of its three tiers of windows is characterized by extreme simplicity and good taste in almost every particular; but the other two are crowded with sins against both those qualities in the dressings of the windows. The cortile and back front though very differently arranged from the front and from each other, are filed with contrarieties, and the same may be said of the structure throughout.

The front of St Peter’s is not more distinguished by its magnitude than by its littleness and deformity. It contains the materials of a noble octaprostyle, and consists of an attached tetrastyle. It is divided into three unequal stories, within the height of the columns, whose entablature is surmounted by a windowed attic. In length it is frittered into a multitude of compartments, between which not the slightest harmony is maintained, while tawdriness and poverty are the distinguishing characteristics of its detail.

A total absence of everything which produces grandeur and beauty in architecture, marks, indeed, the whole of the exterior of the edifice, except the cupola, than which, if its bad connection with the building out of which it grows is overlooked, architecture seldom produced a more magnificent object.

Internally, the structure is open to similar praise and similar dispraise. Gorgeousness in matter and meanness in manner characterize the interior of St Peter’s, except the sublime concave which is formed by its redeeming feature without.

It must be said also that, probably, no building was ever erected in which the eye is so successfully deceived as to the actual dimensions. Its architect raised enormous walls, arches, and vaults, but gave every one the impression that they were on a very moderate scale.

The tawdry and inappropriate sculptured decorations of the Renaissance school can nowhere he criticised with more advantage than in St. Peter’s. It is not too much to say that, throughout the interior, there is scarcely an ornament which is not offensive; whilst not one of them has the slightest natural connection with, or use in, a sacred building. Perhaps sculpture never reached so profound a bathos as in the hideous cherubs which are stuck, like petrified acrobats, against all the piers of St. Peter’s; and when we hear of such a building being treated as a model for our guidance in the completion of St Paul’s, we are driven devoutly to hope that St Paul’s may never in that sense be completed at all.

Few people ever seem to trouble themselves to look at any part of St Peter’s except the entrance front and the dome. If they would examine the rest of the exterior they would find it to be a building without one other redeeming feature, or a single grace of outline or detail, and so absolutely unscientific in its constructional arrangements as to be beneath contempt as a complete work of architecture.

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