The Tempietto: Radiating a Divine Presence 

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages

Architect Bramante’s contemporaries recognized the Tempietto for achieving “all'antica” (like the ancients) design. Although at the time it was a modern design, its composition was so perfect that it seemed as though it had always existed. (JHSmith/The Epoch Times)
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By James Howard Smith

The Tempietto in Rome is at once a reflection of divine order and a monument to St. Peter. It was designed by Italian architect and painter Donato Bramante in 1502 during the High Renaissance, a time when architects sought to give form to the enlightened understanding of life and the universe and transcend the heights of classicism.

The Tempietto, or small temple, unites heaven and earth with perfect geometry and proportions that emulate the perfection of divine realms. The sphere and circle repeated throughout represent unity and completeness, and they are associated with spiritual attainment.

The temple inspires contemplation of divine realms. The lower level is defined by a solid platform with a colonnade of weighted Doric columns and the thick, cylindrical walls that form the body of the building. By contrast, the upper level extends the circular form. A balustrade establishes a balcony; with open niches, subtle ornaments, and an open feeling, it beckons us to a desirable place. 

However, without passage to ascend to the balcony, we are left to ponder whom it is for. The balustrade and dome gesture skyward, where the mind is set adrift to ponder what may lay beyond.

The small temple is a monument to St. Peter, who was the first pope, appointed by Jesus himself. In honoring St.Peter, the building appropriately speaks to his character. The temple has a noble and dignified presence, yet its modest size and ornament reflect Peter’s simple honesty. The robust structure and materials show his strength: his perseverance in divinely bestowed virtues. 

The harmonious composition of Bramante’s Tempietto is simply beautiful, illuminating life and the universe.

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Italian architect Donato Bramante’s Tempietto greets and welcomes those visitors who ascend Janiculum Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, and pass through the courtyard entrance of the monastery of San Pietro. (Herbert Weber, Hildesheim/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Architect Bramante’s contemporaries recognized the Tempietto for achieving “all’antica” (like the ancients) design. Although at the time it was a modern design, its composition was so perfect that it seemed as though it had always existed. (JHSmith/The Epoch Times)

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A sphere surmounted by a cross sits atop the hemispherical dome. (JHSmith/The Epoch Times)

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Architect Bramante integrated salvaged building components into the Tempietto, such as these granite columns, which in his day were believed to have come from ancient Egypt. In doing so, the building acquired an existing heritage and immediate maturity. (JHSmith/The Epoch Times)

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Inside, the statue of St. Peter is centrally positioned. The circle in the center of the room is meant to mark the exact spot of St. Peter’s martyrdom. (JHSmith/The Epoch Times)

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Bramante would have been aware of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, which was built toward the end of the Roman Republic in the early first century. While he may have taken inspiration from its classical form, the composition of the Tempietto was a Renaissance invention, which transcended classical forms and would later inspire numerous domed structures around the world, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. (LPLT/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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The radiating circular geometry emanates from the small temple. The stairs gently rest on the courtyard, inviting visitors to pass through a ring of circular Doric columns, and then to experience and revere the divine within. (JHSmith/The Epoch Times)

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The divine geometry continues in the interior. A view up from within reveals the immense cosmos portrayed by the stars on the interior of the dome. (JHSmith/The Epoch Times)

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Architect Bramante used Cosmati tiling, a craft that draws on long traditions. The mosaic technique was practiced by 12th- and 13th-century Roman decorators and architects. (Palickap/CC SA-BY 4.0)

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A statue of John the Evangelist in the Tempietto. (JTSH26/ CC SA-BY 4.0)

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A statue of Matthew the Evangelist. (JTSH26/ CC SA-BY 4.0)

James Howard Smith, an architectural photographer, designer, and founder of Cartio, aims to inspire an appreciation of classic architecture.

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