St. Peter's Basilica


St. Peter's Basilica is characterized by its  to tower above the building  Michelangelo was the chief from 1546 to 1564, but the artist never saw it. See more pictures of works by Michelangelo.

In 1546, Michelangelo was appointed chief architect for the reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy. Though aging and in poor health, he accepted the appointment with the grace and gratitude of a man chosen by God.

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During the seventeen years that Michelangelo held the position of chief architect of St. Peter's Basilica, he restored and improved upon Bramante's original elegant design -- which had been severely altered by Antonio da Sangallo. After ridding the site of thieves and para­sites, Michelangelo ensured the timely and cost-­effective completion of the project. But Michelangelo's greatest achievement for St. Peter's Basilica was the majestic and exquisitely crafted dome that now dominates Rome's skyline.

Despite his repeated protests to the contrary, Michelangelo proved himself to be a pioneer of outstanding ability in architecture. He far surpassed previous masters of architecture with his innovative designs for buildings both civic and religious.

The dome of St. Peter's, the crown jewel of Rome's skyline, is also Michelangelo's crowning architectural achievement. The artist took on the ambitious commission late in his life, in 1546. He worked diligently and without pay to complete the basilica to serve his Creator and to secure the salvation of his soul.

The following pages of this article show some of the features of this great architectural work in detail.

First, take a look at the beautiful façade of this impressive building, St. Peter's Basilica.

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St. Peter's Basilica Facade by Michelangelo

St. Peter's Basilica façade (1546-64) by Michelangelo.
St. Peter's Basilica façade (1546-64) by Michelangelo.

The largest church in the world and a grand symbol of papal authority, St. Peter's Basilica (completed 1626) is the crowning achievement of Michelangelo's career. Michelangelo was named its chief architect at Antonio da Sangallo's death in 1546. Before then, a number of lesser architects had been involved with the project. However, the underlying plan for the structure had been conceived by Donato Bramante, who won the commission from Pope Julius II in 1506. Bramante was an inspired architect but a poor engineer, and subsequent architects had created more problems than they had solved. Michelangelo's first step was to remove some of the later construction in order to recapture Bramante's original vision. That vision was for a mighty dome to rise from the basilica, which was in the form of a Greek cross.

Go to the next page to get a detailed view of the exterior of St. Peter's Basilica.

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St. Peter's Basilica Exterior by Michelangelo

The exterior of St. Peter's Basilica (1546-64) by Michelangelo, located in the Vatican.
The exterior of St. Peter's Basilica (1546-64) by Michelangelo, located in the Vatican.

Returning to St. Peter's Basilica's "clear, luminous" design by Bramante, Michelangelo made sure that its outer appearance was compact and well articulated. On the façade, he employed the "giant Corinthian order" already seen in his restoration of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

Get a glimpse of St. Peter's Basilica's interior nave on the next page.

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St. Peter's Basilica Interior Nave by Michelangelo

The interior nave of St. Peter's Basilica (1546-64) by Michelangelo in the Vatican.
The interior nave of St. Peter's Basilica (1546-64) by Michelangelo in the Vatican.

For St. Peter's Basilica interior nave, Michelangelo ensured that the basilica's interior, the largest in the world, would be a soaring, well-lit space in spite of its gigantic, overwhelming proportions.

The focal point of the cathedral is its enormous dome, for which Michelangelo created a wooden model to work from. See this model on the next page.

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St. Peter's Basilica Model of Dome by Michelangelo

St. Peter's Basilica model of the Dome by Michelangelo is made from wood (17 feet 8 inches high x 12 feet 8 inches in diameter). and is located in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican.
St. Peter's Basilica model of the Dome by Michelangelo is made from wood (17 feet 8 inches high x 12 feet 8 inches in diameter). and is located in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican.

For the dome's exterior, Michelangelo used a Florentine ribbed design. The original wooden model, created by the artist's own hand (1560), is on display in the Vatican.

Go to the last page of this article to see a photo of this imposing structure: St. Peter's Basilica Dome realized by Michelangelo.

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St. Peter's Basilica Dome by Michelangelo

Michelangelo worked on St. Peter's Basilica from 1546 until his death in 1564. Thanks to him, the great dome (dome 265 feet high x 190 feet in diameter) became reality. The basilica can be visited in the Vatican.
Michelangelo worked on St. Peter's Basilica from 1546 until his death in 1564. Thanks to him, the great dome (dome 265 feet high x 190 feet in diameter) became reality. The basilica can be visited in the Vatican.

St. Peter's Basilica dome was completed in 1626. Michelangelo was so impressed by Bramante's original plan for the dome that he based his design on it. By reinforcing the central piers, the artist made it possible for them to bear such a large dome.

Though he did not live to see the completion of his artistic idea, in the years that followed his death the present dome, an inspiring tour de force, was built according to his exact designs.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lauren Mitchell Ruehring is a freelance writer who has contributed promotional commentary for the works of many artists, including Erté and Thomas McKnight. She has also contributed to publications such as Kerry Hallam: Artistic Visions and Liudmila Kondakova: World of Enchantment. In addition, she has received recognition from the National Society of Arts and Letters.