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Bernini, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, 1658-70, Rome; commissioned by Cardinal Camillo Francesco Maria Pamphili for the nearby Jesuit seminary. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Beth Harris: We're standing, the three of us, outside of Sant' Andrea al Quirinale. I don't know how my Italian sounded there. Male: Perfect, perfect. Beth: A church by Bernini. Male: A small church because there was not much space to build it. He was told by the Jesuits that he should build and design the architecture within this limited area. And he's done a magnificent thing. He's used what's called a giant order of architecture, which means that the steps that lead up to the church or the porch and the whole body of the church itself are enclosed within a single, giant pilaster on each side and a huge elevation, which gives it a monumentality that really makes you forget how relatively small it is. He also has the steps spilling out into the street in a series of concentric ovals, like ripples. He loved movement. There's always movement in his architecture which prepares us for the inside as we will see, the inside has an oval plan. Let's go inside. Dr. David Drogin: Absolutely. I can't wait to see it. So, we've just entered into the church and we're in this beautiful oval form and that's actually ... As we walk in, it opens more broadly to our left and our right. Male: It's a horizontal oval. Not what you would expect. Well, first of all, a church you would erect a quadrangular space of some kind, a cross shaped space and this too is something which could not have happened during the Renaissance era. There would have been a circular plan. This is an oval one and it's interesting to see that we'll come to an oval again just down the street with Borromini, is often compared as a kind of rival to this and in some ways it is as Camillo. David: It also seems ... Saint Peter's Square. Male: Yes, which is elliptical actually. It's two ellipses. In that sense of, of well, it's like the difference between classical ballet and modern ballet. There's a sense of, sort of, expansion while keeping to certain symmetries. This is rigorously symmetrical. The thing that most strikes us as we go in is beyond and above the altar we have light. It looks like theatrical light, but it's actually real light filtered in through a window that we can't see. Beth: Bernini does that often. Male: He loves doing that. He does that ... David: In the Saint Teresa. Male: ... in the Saint Teresa and in Saint Peter's and it filters down on this group of tumbling. When they're moving up and down at the same time, joyous, musical angels and cherubs set against massive rays of light and they're made of stucco and gold and bronze. Beth: Let's go a bit closer. Male: Yes. Male: Well, as we approach the altar in the curve of the oval, we have a richly appointed altar and seats and all of that, but we have a central painting of the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew. Sant' Andrea is Saint Andrew in Italian. That is the dedicatee of the church and he is very important in the Christian faith not just for Catholics. He is the brother of Saint Peter so there are many churches dedicated to him in Rome. And he is the figure nailed to a X shaped cross which we call Saint Andrew's Cross and that is what is framed within these cherubs and angels and fictive, but very solid rays of light. David: What's so interesting is that the painting itself is framed in the same marble ... Beth: As the columns and pilasters. David: Yeah, so that it really is not a painting as we would normally understand it within an architectural space. Male: It's fully integrated. Again, it is that combination of solid and void of rich material and sculpture in architecture and painting, it is this complete work of art again and theatricality. And if we get too close, as it were, we're standing right in front of the altar and look up, we see the source of that light that the congregation wouldn't normally see and whether it's daylight or electric, but there is space for daylight. That is what bathes the area in light. David: This beautiful second lantern. Male: Exactly. David: Yeah, yeah. Male: And that, of course, is pure theatrical expedience. The color of the columns and the pilasters and the gorgeous colors of the different stone materials that we used to build this church are earthly colors. Some people have compared these columns to, I would think of prosciutto, maybe. Some people say hamburger meat. We're not being flippant. We're looking at browns and whites and streaks of what would be the fat in the prosciutto, but this relates to food in a perfectly serious way. That is something of the earth. All of that gives way when your eyes are taken up into the vaulting of the whole church to pure colors and they're Heavenly colors. Down below it's earth and up above it's only white and gold and those are the colors of paradise and as we'll see, Saint Andrew, dying on the cross in the painting yields to a statue actually exploding out of the level down below into the upper level and that is a white statue and he's being carried up to Heaven. Beth: And that gold in the lantern. That's just ... Male: Yes, well that gold is enhanced, of course, by having stained glass. A simple expedient ancient landmark and we simply use glass that is, in this case, yellow so even on a cloudy day like today it's gives this sense of a glow like the Holy Spirit above. Beth: Heavenly. Male: And that is what is shown in that lantern. Beth: In the center. Male: The very top of the building. David: What I'm really taken by is the way that the structural ribs of the dome are structured as rays that emanate from the dove. Male: It's a two way thing and you've hit it on the head. It both emanates from that dove and brings us divine grace which comes from the Holy Spirit an inspiration, but also it leads the eye upward. Whichever way you look at it, it works to go from this very decorated oval shape that we have below to something that resolves into, as I said, pure gold and white and light. And that vaulting, that dome itself, which is so oval is full of people in white. Now, they're made of stucco. These are statues of both men and boys. The boys, of course, are little cherubs. We can see them with the angels. The men are fishermen and they have nets and this is to remind us that Andrew was a fisherman like his brother Saint Peter. They're the first two apostles who were called to the ministry by Jesus of Nazareth. Beth: Some of the figures seem to be moving from the lantern down. Male: Yes, in the Renaissance, well let's say 150 years before this, Mantena's famous ... Beth: Camera de Espose. ... Camera de Espose. The view up or down according to which way you look at it, included figures that look down on us. Beth: Yeah. Male: And we have the illusion that Beth: Exactly. ... and this does that perfectly. We have this dissolving of the earthly and the spirituals by having figures midway between one and the other and none is more obvious than Andrew himself, who stands in a white statue in the broken pediment. And the pediment is broken so that he can be released from earth up to Heaven where he is going. David: And there's the fact that this contrast then between the suffering of Andrew in the painting and then the spiritual representation. Male: The spiritual release and eternity. And remember that everyone at that time would have believed in death as something that is almost comforting. We refer to this in the Jesuit, this God's time is the best time. Beth: The release from the body. ... of course, the release. The absence of what we now have as fear and apprehension and even terror of death because we don't think much about the afterlife. Everyone was sure that they were going to an eternal place. Not of ultimate happiness, you had to work your way through and that's what purgatory is for and as long as you weren't going to hell, but it was a certainty and it was something that was seen as better than this life. And death was, of course, ubiquitous because of infant mortality, current outbreaks of plague. Beth: People lived with it in a way that we don't. Male: People lived with it. We absolutely don't. We don't even like to talk about it. Beth: That's right. Male: And this kind of painting and sculpture and architecture is also reassuring and comforting even. It sounds paradoxical, but about death. Well, it's not death. It's a new life. Beth: That's right. I think often about that when we see images of saints or the death of Christ or the death of Mary, being at a death bed was not unusual. Male: No. Beth: You know, they could relate to that. because we're going to ... I'm going to show you now, the ultimate deathbed in Rome. Beth: Let's go see. Male: And that is a statue upstairs behind the church. Let's go there. (piano playing)