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Donato Bramante

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(Also called D'AGNOLO after his father Angelo)

Italian architect and painter, b. about 1444 at Monte Asdrualdo (hence, sometimes ASDRUALDINO); d. in Rome, 11 March, 1514. Nothing is known of his early youth. His early artistic development also, about which Vasari has made so many erroneous statements, is mostly a matter of conjecture. Today, however, it seems fairly certain that Laurana, the architect of the ducal palace at Urbino, showed him the way to the impressive style of the High Renaissance. Bramante's artistic activity is divided into two periods of which the first was spent in Milan and the other in Rome. His work in Milan is characterized by a pronounced picturesque, decorative style. In Rome, on the other hand, we find a style which is more proper to the High Renaissance, exemplified in works that are, as far as possible, free from all external decoration, impressive by reason of their proportions, and recalling the antique by their grandeur and power. In 1476 Bramante became the court architect of Lodovico Sforza (Il Moro), having been in Milan, as has been abundantly shown, from 1474. At first he seems to have been engaged principally as a painter, following the vigorous manner of Mantegna and Melozzo da Forlí. It is true that only scanty remains of his work at this time have been found. Such are the recently discovered fresco fragments, transported from the Casa Prinetti to the Brera (single figures of warriors, philosophers, poets, and singers); the more poorly preserved decorative paintings of the Casa Fontana, and among panel pictures undoubtedly the Scourging of Christ (Badia Chiaravalle near Milan). Bartolomeo Suardi, called Bramantino [cf. Suida in Jahrbuch der Kunstsammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses (1905), 1 sqq.], was his assistant and rather weak imitator in the field of painting, but not his teacher as was thought by Vasari (ed. Milanesi-Sansoni, IV, 175). If Bramante occasionally devoted himself to Gothic, as he unquestionably did in some designs for the Milan cathedral, he exhibits from the start an excellent style, which, as Stile Bramantesco, became typical for the Renaissance architecture of Lombardy. It is characterized by ambitious proportions, internal concentration, a greater organic relation of parts, and by rich and fresh decorative forms.

His first great achievement in this line is the choir of the church of Santa Maria presso S. Satiro, begun in 1476. The choir has a flat end and a false apse, rendered in relieved perspective. The adjoining sacristy, octagonal in plan and surmounted by a dome, is charming on account of the richness of the interior articulation and most effective space-development. Its two interior stories are separated by a splendid terra-cotta frieze overlaid with bronze. The church came to have the same significance in Northern Italy as the Pazzi Chapel or the Sacristy of Santo Spirito in Florence. Still richer in ornament are the transept and choir of Santa Maria delle Grazie (1492-99), by which the superiority of the imposing new style over the Gothic can best be shown. In addition to these great churches, the Canonica, or canons' residence, of San Ambrogio (1492, only half completed) and the remodelled court of the Ospedale Maggiore are the only examples of Bramante's genius in Milan. A further development of this somewhat more decorative style to the larger, simpler proportions of the Roman period is suggested by the church of the Barnabites, Santa Maria di Capenuova in Pavia (1492), and also by the churches of Busto Arsizio and Santa Maria in Legnano. The magnificent articulation of the façade of Abbiategrasso shows in full development the powerful boldness of the Roman style whose growth, in Rome, was influenced not only by the antique, but also by the use of a more intractable material (travertine) which made small, detail treatment an impossibility. The date of this church is probably 1497 instead of 1477, as Geymüller read it. Other ecclesiastical structures of Lombardy upon which the influence or imitation of Bramante is perceptible, are the Cathedral of Como (south portal), the Pilgrimage Church at Cremona, and the Incoronata at Lodi.

Even greater is the number of structures indirectly influenced by Bramante in Northern and Middle Italy after the downfall of the Sforza in Milan (1499). Bramante at the end of the same year moved to Rome where he found in Alexander VI and still more in Julius II magnanimous patrons. Here, too, very little is known of his early work. It is still disputed whether or not the cloister of Santa Maria della Pace and the façade of the Church of the Anima can be ascribed to him. This is also true of the immense palace of Cardinal Raffaello Riario (the present Cancelleria) with the adjoining church of San Lorenzo in Damaso. On account of the inscribed dates (1489 and 1495) Gnoli ascribes them not to Bramante but to a Tuscan master, whereas Geymüller more correctly persists in ascribing them to Bramante, basing his view on considerations of style and on Bramante's relation with the Sforzas and the Riarios; this would also explain Bramante's working in Rome prior to 1492 [cf. Gnoli in Arch. stor. dell' arte (1892), IV, 176 sqq.; Riv. d'Italia (1898); and Geymüller in Rassegna d'arte (October and December, 1901), I]. The Palace Giraud Torlonia is a structure similar to the Cancellaria in its beautiful rhythmic articulation, its simplicity, and its monumental character. Undoubtedly Bramante is the designer of the pretty little circular temple in the court of San Pietro in Montorio (completed in 1502). It is planned quite after the manner of an antique temple and is the first structure consciously designed and executed in the classic spirit, embodying the purest and simplest forms and the most agreeable proportions. A peristyle, never carried out, was intended to complete the building. Other works of Bramante's first Roman period are the choir of Santa Maria del Popolo, the plan for the reconstruction of the Vatican, the extension of the Belvedere court, etc. The most majestic creation, not only of Bramante and of the High Renaissance, but in fact of Christian art, is the new St. Peter's. According to Vasari, this was intended originally to enclose the magnificent tomb of Julius II, begun by Michaelangelo. But on account of the hopelessly ruinous condition of the old St. Peter's, its rebuilding became an immediate necessity and, indeed, was determined upon shortly after the accession of Julius II, probably in connexion with the reconstruction of the Vatican. As early as 18 April, 1506, the cornerstone of the pier of St. Helena was laid, and a year later those of the other three piers at the transept were in position. The ways and means employed by Bramante in dealing with the old building brought him many reproaches for his lack of sentiment, and earned for him the nickname of Ruinante. Nevertheless, the incomparable significance of this creation must not be overlooked because of such romantic sentiments, nor must it be forgotten that the pope had Bramante's plan carried out in spite of all remonstrances and of the enormous cost.

The artistic aims of the structure, or more especially of the original plans, are revealed by the numerous drawings, executed partly by the master himself, and partly by his assistants. Their critical examination and æsthetic appreciation are among Geymüller's chief achievements. According to him this brilliant plan passed through three stages: in the first, only a small chapel for the tomb of Julius II was contemplated; in the second, the continuation of the erection of the new buildings undertaken during the reigns of Nicholas V and Paul II; only in the third stage was an entirely independent new building decided upon. For it Bramante had in view, from the first, a building of centralized plan, more particularly the plan of a Greek cross. In this he saw the architectonic ideal which combined the greatest harmony, the most serviceable space-relations, as well as a tendency to the monumentally sublime. It was only as an alternative, so far as can be judged from extant sketches, that the master seems to have reserved for himself the possibility of using the Latin cross, being evidently compelled to make concessions to the liturgical needs of the Church. According to the oldest drawings and a memorial medal of Caradosos, dated 1506, the original ground plan was a pure Greek cross, the termination of whose arms was apsidal on the interior, rectangular on the exterior. An immense dome was carried over the crossing. The predominant form of the interior was rotunda-like. For the four corners immense chapels were planned, which again repeated the Greek cross; they were crowned by smaller domes, and each was flanked on the exterior by a tower. Between the apses of the cross-arms and these corner-towers lay large vestibules for the chapels of the flanking domes. In a second design the cross-arms are rounded and enclosed by immense ambulatory halls. The main dome is encircled by an arcaded colonnade. The piers of the domes were enriched by niches emphasizing the dominant idea of the interior. In Milan, San Lorenzo, a church of centralized plan (see BYZANTINE ARCHITECTURE), evidently served as a model for this design. The principal ideas, however, were taken from the Pantheon and the Temple of Peace. The master was permitted to see only the initial steps towards the execution of his plan. He was able, nevertheless, to establish firmly its main lines for the architects who followed, inasmuch as the dome-supports with their arches, the southern transept, and the side domes were carried out under his direction. After his death in 1514 the continuation of the work was entrusted to the aged Fra Giocondo, and soon after (on a recommendation made by Bramante during his lifetime) to Raphael. Later on, San Gallo and Peruzzi were placed in charge. Bramante's plans suffered many changes and encroachments under the various directors until Michaelangelo returned to the fundamental ideas of the brilliant creator, and by the completion of the dome substantially carried the work to a conclusion. The curvature of the dome is not quite as bold and effective as that planned by Bramante; on the other hand it offers in its greater rise, a much more elegant and vigorous silhouette.

Under Julius II the influence of Bramante was predominant. Not only were the most daring works of architecture entrusted to him, but all other important building operations, and, in general, all artistic undertakings depended on his initiative and approbation, as the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and of the loggie and the stanze, or halls, of the Vatican. In this way Raphael, his younger townsman, received the greatest possible aid and favour, whilst Bramante's intrigues against Michaelangelo were positively spiteful according to Vasari. Through envy of Michaelangelo's mighty genius, he assigned to this great master only unsuitable and unpleasant commissions. Though these tragically strained relations between the two great artists at the court of the Rovere pope seem to be a psychological puzzle, the key is to be found in the hard and self-torturing character of the Florentine. Bramante, on the contrary, was a man who enjoyed life in a happy and liberal way, and who knew how to live up to the dignity of his prominent position. The manifold character of his interests and activities is yet visible in his poems which have come down to us. With Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo, he is one of the great intellects of the High Renaissance; he resembles them also in the fact that only a small part of his plans was completed.


PUNGILEONI, Memorie interno alla vita di Bramante (Rome, 1836); VON GEYMÜLLER, Les projets primitifs de la basilique de S. Pierre (Paris, 1875); SEMPER in DORME, Kunst u. Künstler (Leipzig, 1879), III, nos. 56-57; RICCI, Gli affreschi di Bramante (Milan, 1902); CAROTTI, Leonardo, Bramante, e Raffaello (Milan, 1905).

About this page

APA citation. Sauer, J. (1907). Donato Bramante. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Sauer, Joseph. "Donato Bramante." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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