St. Peter's baldacchino

St. Peter's baldacchino is a large sculpted bronze artwork designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and located over the high altar of the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City.

The large canopy was intended to mark in a monumental way the place of Saint Peter's tomb. It was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII. Works began in July 1623 and ended in 1633.

The baldacchino was the first of Bernini's works mixing sculpture and architecture. The result was a Baroque construction which replaces the usual ciborium by showing a scenographic allegory of a funerary catafalque. The work was executed in collaboration with numerous collaborators of the artist, including Francesco Borromini for the architectonic part, and Stefano Maderno, François Duquesnoy, Andrea Bolgi, Giuliano Finelli and Luigi Bernini for the sculptural one.

As the bronze was taken from the ceiling of the Pantheon's portico, Pasquino, a Roman satirical figure, issued the following mot: Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini ("What the barbarians did not do, the Barberinis did"), Barberini being Urban VIII's family. However, according to at least one expert, the Pope's accounts state that about 90% of the bronze was used for a cannon, and that the bronze for the baldacchino came from Venice.

The four columns are 11 m high, each composed of three metal pieces plus the capitals and the basements. Their twisting shape hints to the ancient Solomon's Temple and to the ciborium of the old St. Peter's Basilica. They are crossed by nature-inspired motifs including leaves of laurus (a symbol of Urban VIII's passion for poetry), lizards (symbols of renaissance and search of God) and bees, which were part of the Pope's coat of arms and are also present in the basements.

For the upper part a "dolphin's back" shape was used in order to make it lighter. It includes gilded statues of angels (designed by Borromini) and putti holding festoons, while the trabeation has waving drapes in Baroque style.

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