novel architecturale



Acadia National Park Headquarters Building

Dominican Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci

Bramante was able to invent buildings whose appearance and effect were to seem the same to his contemporaries as those of ancient Rome because his approach was essentially different from that of other architects. Like Alberti, he conceived a building as he would a painting. But in the same way that the painters of his time no longer sought to convey meaning through an ideal representation of the object but through a more naturalistic one, so Bramante's means of achieving the desired visual effects were different from Alberti's. Perspective, in the hands of Bramante, was not an instrument for achieving an image that the spectator would perceive as beautiful or perfect because of a divinely ordered system, but a means of giving a painted object the illusion of being a real one.

Bramante's own work as a painter of illusionistic facade decorations inclined him to follow the same approach in architecture. In his early work at Milan, painted architectural members are often the means by which Bramante creates the image he desires the building to present to the spectator. The most dramatic example of this approach occurs in the choir of S. Maria presso S. Satiro which gives the illusion of being a deep barrel-vaulted recess but is in actuality only a shallow, painted relief. But these expressions of an essentially Northern, non-Florentine delight in using perspective to deceive the viewer, are only surface symptoms of the basically different attitude toward the relationship between appearance and reality that underlies Bramante's approach. This attitude, for example, allowed him to follow in his work advice contained in Vitruvius about the application of a proportional system that was not believed, or was misunderstood, by both Alberti and Francesco di Giorgio. The statements by Vitruvius concerning the necessity of taking into account the fallacies of human vision when applying a proportional system could not be accommodated within Alberti's method of creating a building by applying to its structure a design determined within a rigid network established by the proportions themselves. Since, for Alberti, the perfection and beauty of the building rested in this mathematically determined system, it could not be altered to make its presence apparent. The spectator was to sense the presence of this system through visual effects that were achieved by altering the structure to fit the design-not, as Vitruvius advised, by altering the design to create an illusion that the structure contained such a system. Not bound by Alberti's philosophical belief in the divine origin of such proportions, Bramante was free to introduce into his buildings the kind of optical refinements advised by Vitruvius. Their presence in such works as the Tempietto, is singled out for particular comment by contemporary writers."
Bates Lowry, Renaissaance Architecture (New York: George Braziller, 1965), pp. 38-9.



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