(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

Model for the dome

Lime wood, 500 x 400 x 200 cm
Musei Vaticani, Vatican

The picture shows the original wood model for the dome of St Peter's (left) and a section of it (right).

In his eighty-fifth year or thereabouts, Michelangelo ordered a large wooden model of the dome. It has been preserved, and proves that his successors kept more or less closely to the original. Deviations are confined mainly to three particulars: instead of confining themselves to the proposed self-contained triangular window cornices, they alternate them with segment cornices. Between the ribs of the vaulting run three concentric and ascending groins to each section, breaking and enlivening the bare, vaulted surfaces. The handsome consoles of the attic above the tambour have been omitted.

When one looks at the building the feeling persists that something is missing here, for the bare right angles are abrupt and unmotivated. Why were the consoles left out? Probably because of the prevalent aversion to the Gothic style; any suggestion of the buttress was to be avoided, although in this particular instance it was needed and is in fact present, though camouflaged by Neoclassical pillars in pairs. Here more than in any of his other works the medievalist tastes of the aged Michelangelo, still so fertile of mind, shine through the 'draperies' of antiquity. Saint Peter's is a medieval dream; in its every rhythm it aspires to heaven and glorifies God. The cupola is the apotheosis of the Romanesque and the Gothic arch, with a lantern that in spite of its classical columns and candelabra reminds us of a belfry studded with mysterious carvings. This archetype of a Baroque church is made of the stuff of Gothic cathedrals and is the ultimate perfection of Brunelleschi's pointed cupola.