Aesthetic Analysis

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Architect: Donato Bramante

Date: 1502-1509

Location: Rome

Style: High Renaissance

Religion: Catholic

brief summary

The Tempietto, a tomb built in the beginning of the 16th century, besides being considered to be a true masterpiece of the High Renaissance, it also established the beginning of the golden Renaissance period in architecture. Its context is of great significance, being connected to Saint Peter (the first Pope) and the site of his crucifixion. A fine testimony of Renaissance’s Tuscan order, it is believed that the Tempietto is in fact a prototype of the Basilica of San Pietro, located in the Vatican, as well.

general description

The Tempietto (Italian: small temple), built by Donato Bramante (1444-1514) between 1502 and 1509, is a small circular building with a dome, surrounded by 16 outward granite columns, a number recognized as perfect by Vitruvius (81 BC – 15 BC). The temple was designed as a  commemorative monument to be observed on the outside rather than lived on its inside. It sits in a courtyard of the San Pietro Church in Montorio, Rome, Italy, which was also built around the same time, and holds various examples of renaissance art including a chapel designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). Known for its elegance and exquisite example of use of canons and proportions, the Tempietto is a clear example of a newly refined sensitivity and sensibility in High Renaissance architecture.

The Tempietto (CC BY-SA 4.0, by JTSH26)

San Pietro Church in Montorio, Rome

Raymondi Chapel in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, , by Bernin (CC BY-SA 3.0, by Quinok)

Considered the first major architectural work of Donato Bramante (1444-1514), widely considered one of the most notorious and significant architects of the Italian Renaissance. Conceived as a martyrium (a type of monument, a small commemorative architectural tomb built on the site of a religious event), the very small temple protects a sacred site. It is created to commemorate the exact site where St. Peter, the first Pope, was crucified upside down, a few years after the death of Christ. Underneath the room is a simple crypt, where a plaque on the floor protects the hole that would have been left by Saint Peter’s cross. Besides this intrinsic significance, the Tempietto is widely considered a masterpiece of High Renaissance architecture, epitomizing its countless ideals and principles, especially the use of harmonious proportions and geometric codes. It is considered to be the prototype to the Basilica of San Pietro in the Vatican. The Tempietto is also the earliest example of Tuscan order of the Renaissance.

Woodcut of Donato Bramante’s Tempietto (1570) in Quattro Libri dell’Architettura by Andrea Palladio

The High Renaissance, which can be roughly dated between 1495 and 1520 (with the death of Raphael), was a period of a special artistic proliferation, especially in Florence and Rome. Architecture, sculpture and painting all benefited from the triumphant era, propelled by Donato Bramante (1444-1514), Michelangelo (1475-1564), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Raphael (1483-1520). The first innovations in architecture were brought in the previous century (15th century) by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472). In general, the Renaissance architectural style is characterised by precise geometry, regularity, symmetry and proportional relationships of its parts, marked by arches, domes, niches, columns pilasters and lintels, features that were drawn from classical architecture from Ancient Rome and Greece. Donato Bramante had a great impact on architecture, with evident influence of Classical Antiquity – composed by the circular shapes of domes and cupolas versus the straight lines of the columns. His conception of the Tempietto proved crucial to history, setting the beginning of the High Renaissance in architecture. Immediately after designing the Tempietto, Bramante was commissioned by Pope Julius II (1443-1513) to design the  rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. Similar to the Tempietto, Bramante’s idea for St. Peter’s was that of a centralized plan with a large with four chapels filling the spaces between the transepts.

Basilica di San Lorenzo (15th century), Florence, by Filippo Brunelleschi (CC BY 2.5, by Sailko)

Santa Maria Novella (15th century), Florence, by Leon Battista Alberti

Portrait of Donato Bramante

Bramante’s designs for St. Peter’s Basilica (1505-1506)

The small temple was commissioned by Cardinal Bernardino Carvajal (1456-1493), acting on behalf of the Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella of Castile (1451-1504). It is estimated that the commission dates the 1490’s.  There are not many certainties about specific dates of design or construction. It is speculated that the design was revised after 1502. There is however a date inscribed in the crypt, the same year, 1502, which is believed to be the date in which the construction was begun. The date of completion of construction is unknown. It is speculated that it was not complete by 1511, as a guidebook of Rome was released and the Tempietto was not yet included. About the construction, it is known that it is largely constructed of bearing masonry, and that it reused parts of an old building, especially in the columns (a common practise in the Architecture of the Renaissance). It is also known that the complete Monastery of San Pietro was built afterwards, around the Tempietto, and it did not follow the design initially intended by Bramante; this church still holds numerous frescos from various Italian masters; of reference is also a chapel designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). According to a later engraving by Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554), in the original designs by Bramante, the courtyard intended to have a wider peristyle around the larger outside peripheral radius of the courtyard, and the Tempietto would be placed in the centre. There was also a great correspondence between the temple and the courtyard which acted as an extension of each other: the courtyard also had a sixteen-column peristyle, and the niches of the temple and the courtyard were to mirror each other; further, so that the columns seemed to be all of the same size, the courtyard columns were designed larger in radius, correcting visual distortions (as was tradition in classical Greek). A plan of Bramante’s Tempietto and overall plan was  illustrated in Serlio’s treatise.

Tempietto’s Crypt (CC BY-SA 4.0, by Peter1936F)

Woodcut of Tempietto floor plan (1545) by Sebastiano Serlio in the treatise: General Rules of Architecture.

aesthetic/architectural analysis

The temple has one single chamber sheltered by a prominent concrete dome, and perfectly spaced 16 outward granite columns. It is based on pure regular geometric solids, and can be perceived as the intersection of two cylinders. It’s plan is carefully designed as an agglomeration of varying radius of concentric circles, defining a centralized plan. Widely considered one of the most perfect embodiments of centralized design, its structure aimed to be harmonious at all levels. The single chamber, a cella (name given to an enclosed structure that protects a statue of the deity) holds a statue of St. Peter. Surrounding this cella is a ring of columns that define a peristyle composed of 16 columns (name given to covered colonnades that are around an enclosed space or around a courtyard). This is highly innovative, making the Tempietto the first temple (since the classical tradition of Ancient Greece and Rome) to have a peristyle around a cella. In the interior, 8 pilasters are distributed in the same radius, equally dispersed between large and small niches.

Schematic Plan from the book The Architecture of the Renaissance (1892) by Léon Palustre

Frontal View (CC BY-SA 4.0, by JTSH26)

It uses the Tuscanic order, which is a type of variation of the Doric order. Used accurately ( the Doric order is the earliest order invented by the Greeks), following its proportions, and includes metopes in the frieze. The Doric, a plain and robust order, order uses round capitals, which follows the geometric form of the building. The circle is repeated throughout various points at both macro and micro scale, and there is a radial correspondence between all the parts.

Five orders (16th century), engraving from Rules of the Five Orders of Architecture by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola

Bramante had a profound consideration of the proportions, and based the dimension of the circles mathematically to each other; width and heights were also proportionally calculated. Two ratios are used throughout: 1-1 and 1-1/2; for example, the total height of the temple is exactly halved to define the height of the balustrade, dividing the temple in two; and the top part is further divided in two again, defining the midpoint in the beginning of the dome. The foundation for these various applications of proportion, which was very common for centralized designs of temples and churches, was the idea of designing according to the principles of nature, creating a correlation between man and the universe. In regards to its materials, the tempietto uses light marble for almost all of its structure; it also uses gray-granite shafts, which were adapted from an ancient Roman building. The hemispherical dome, which crowns the structure, was created in masonry.

Exterior View (CC BY-SA 4.0, by Peter1936F)

The small internal space is just over 4m in diameter. Since its interior space is secondary, as it was designed to be seen from the outside, the development of the interiors are of secondary importance. Its internal space corresponds to its outside format. Between the eight pilasters are small niches, some large and others small. These eight column projects to the outward facade as pilasters. The main niche holds a sculpture of St. Peter (symbolically holding the keys to the holy kingdom) and a relief of his crucifixion at the far end opposite segment to the front door. Windows, placed on various levels, flood the interior with partial and contained light. Small stairs, which contour the outside circle, lead down to the crypt.

Interior of the Tempietto, Painted Dome (CC BY-SA 4.0, by JTSH26)

Interior Cella (CC BY-SA 4.0, by JTSH26)

Interior View (CC BY-SA 3.0, by Quinok)


The tempietto reflects various multi-cultural influences. The centralized design or plan, designs which can be circumscribed within a circle and use a vertical axis, in its various sources, had a profound influence on Bramante, who was following this long tradition which had its origin in Roman Ancient temples and tombs. Two notorious circular temples that might have influenced Bramante are: the Temple of Vesta (between the 8th and the 7th centuries BC), in Rome and the Temple of Vesta (1st century BC), at Tivoli, both of which were studied by Bramante when he was in Rome. Also of reference and a possible influence is the Roman Pantheon. The centralized design is believed to also have been inspired by Chistian early tombs, like Santa Costanza in Rome. Connections can also be established with the Roman Tomb of Augustus and early other Christian tombs. These functioned as a monument, much like the Tempietto. The design was also greatly influenced by Vitruvius (81 BC – 15 BC) treatise De Architectura, following its suggestions in terms of orders and proportions. Lastly, it is believed that the Doric entablature was modeled after the ancient Theater of Marcellus.

Temple of Vesta (1st century BC), Tivoli

Pantheon (113–125 AD), Rome

Temple Types: Amphiprostyle from De Architettura (1530-1545, Book 3, Chapter 2, no. 4) by Vitruvius

Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral (1059-1128)

It is said that as soon as the temple was constructed its beauty was admired by everyone, including much praise from Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). Taking notice of its exquisite perfection, a few decades later after Bramante, in the late Renaissance, the architect and theoretician Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), studied the Tempietto thoroughly and incorporated studies with illustrations (plan and section) into his treatise on architecture, the notorious I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (1570). The Tempietto was the only Renaissance building to be included. The Tempietto also exerted influence on the Renaissance as a whole, helping define its principles and founding ideas. Through this small temple, by using perfect proportions and mathematical ratios, and by using classical designs, the harmony of man within the universal order was clarified. It is possible to establish connections with the Vitruvian Man (1490), by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who a few years later, also encapsulating and systemizing Vitruvius (81 BC – 15 BC), clarified the same aims and principles. Of reference is also the fact that this small temple is considered to be the prototype for the basilica of San Pietro in the Vatican. The Tempietto was a huge influence on classical inspired architecture for the following 400 years.

St. Peter’s Basilica (current construction: 1506-1626), Vatican City

British Museum (19th century)

Italian Renaissance Architecture
By Andrea Palladio (2018)

Italian Renaissance Architecture
By Marco Bussagli (2012)

De Architectura
By Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (2008)

Classical Architecture: A Complete Handbook
By Robert Adam (1990)

Renaissance Thought
By Robert D. Black (2001)

reference images

related videos

related works

Title: Theater of Marcellus
Date: 13 BC

Location: Rome, Italy
Image Credit: CC BY 2.0, by Sjaak Kempe

Title: St. Peter’s Basilica
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Title: Santa Costanza
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