(b. 1444, Fermignano, d. 1514, Roma)

General view

begun 1505
Cortile del Belvedere, Vatican Palace

The construction of Cortile del Belvedere was the initiative of Pope Julius II and Bramante who wanted to connect an ancient pontifical palace on the right side of St. Peter's, and the palace which was built for Innocent VIII by Pollaiolo on the little hill known as del Belvedere. Pope Julius was a great collector of statues when he was still a cardinal. After he was elected as pope he carried all his collection to the Vatican. The Belvedere was one of the places that contained the pope's several sculpture collections and started making the place more attractive and popular.

As a result of the demand to connect the two palaces, Bramante designed two long corridors which created a big courtyard. Pope Julius II was a great fan of architectural works and wanted to build something impressive which would enhance the grandeur of both palaces. Just as expected, Bramante designed a spectacular court yard which connected the Vatican Palace and the Villa Belvedere. He designed a series of terraces which were connected by stairs and had narrow wings on its sides.

Bramante was very innovative when designing the Cortile del Belvedere. The courtyard contained six narrow terraces which were crisscrossed by a central staircase that led to the wide middle terrace. The long wings on the sides of the terraces of Cortile del Belvedere are what now house the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library.

The Cortile del Belvedere provided an easy and comfortable means of passing from a garden terrace to the palace court. Bramante made another decorative erection of a garden structure within the colossal semicircular exedra set into a screening wall devised by Bramante to disguise the fact the villa façade was not parallel to the facing Vatican Palace façade at the other end.

The court was incomplete when Bramante died in 1514. It was finished by Pirro Ligorio for Pius IV in 1562-65. To the great open-headed exedra at the end of the uppermost terrace, Ligorio added a third story, enclosing the central space with a vast half-dome to form the largest niche that had been erected since antiquity - the nicchione ("great niche"). He completed his structure with an uppermost loggia that repeated the hemicycle of the niche. This part of the courtyard is called the Cortile della Pigna after the Pigna, a large bronze pinecone, mounted in the nicchione.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.