Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Book 1: Basilica

NUMBER: 1
TITLE: Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's
AUTHOR: R.A. Scotti
STARTED: January 1, 2007
FINISHED: January 4, 2007
PAGES: 300
GENRE: Art & Architecture

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the author's note] I first saw St. Peter's Basilica on a scorching late September day of my first week in Rome.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Out of the clash of genius and the caprice of popes came the most glorious monument of the Renaissance

It was the splendor-and the scandal-of the age. In 1506, the ferociously ambitious Renaissance Pope Julius II tore down the most sacred shrine in Europe-the millennium old St. Peter's Basilica built by the Emperor Constantine over the apostle's grave-to build a better basilica. Construction of the new St. Peter's spanned two centuries, embroiled twenty-seven popes, and consumed the genius of the greatest artists of the age-Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael, and Bernini. As the basilica rose, modern Rome rose with it as glorious as the city of the Caesars. But the cost was unimaginable. The new basilica provoked the Protestant Reformation, dividing the Christian world for all time.

REASON FOR READING: It was on my TBR list, and just happened to be on a cart of books to grace my desk at work.

THOUGHTS: My sophomore year of college, during Spring Break, I visited St. Peter's Basilica. I thought it was an awesome sight and quite beautiful too boot. Not once did it cross my mind that this gargantuan church actually had to be built by someone. To me, it was just there. Something breathtaking to behold and nothing more. Reading Basilica was eye-opening to me simply because it made me consider how St. Peter's came to be. St. Peter's is not just a building; it's a living, breathing work of art.

In her book, Scotti breaks down the history of St. Peter's construction in such a way that it shows how the birth of the physical church marched in time with the metamorphosis of the religious church. What the pope wanted, or what the artist/architect wanted, drove the building of the Basilica. Scotti does not hide the fact that creating St. Peter's was oftentimes and contemptuous project. Pope's pilfered materials from the ruins of Rome, including stripping the Parthenon of its bronze. The book chronicles the many stalls, starts, funding problems, architectural and design problems, and ego problems of building of St. Peter's. It's a fascinating history that truly brings meaning to the existence of the Basilica we see today.

Scotti's writing is also very readable, to the point of merging with the prose found in most fiction. She truly brings the artists, architects, and popes to life. Most authors of this genre tend to just say the name and assume the reader knows about their character. Scotti does not do that. Instead, she talks about the artist's arrogance and womanizing ways. She discusses the Pope's need for power and his every vice. In Scotti's work, these people are not merely historical figures; they are living, breathing, philandering characters. It gives the book a depth that other art histories lack. In portraying their character, Scotti can show how their art and desires came to be.

MISCELLANEOUS: Totally thought the author was a man.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

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