In 1656, Pope Alexander VII, Chigi, and the Congregation decided to move the relic to a focal point, in the center of the apse, between the funerary monuments of Paul III, Farnese, and Urban VIII, Barberini. Bernini’s design, presented in March 1657, was accepted, and is recorded in a workshop drawing in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle,2 which, although less elaborate than the present sheet, shows in nuce a very similar design, already including many of the elements adopted by Bernini in the final, much altered scheme. Two pairs of Doctors of the Church stand opposite each other on raised pedestals, flanking the central altar. These figures hold the reliquary in the form of a chair, which is decorated on the back with the dove of the Holy Spirit, flanked by two palm-bearing winged putti. At first Bernini contained most of the design within the space of the central niche in the apse, except for the crowning element: an angel in glory, holding the tiara and the keys.
Early in 1658, this first design for the apse was, however, abandoned, and Bernini developed the solution recorded in the present sheet. Here, the niche has lost its predominance and the two columns, rather than the pilasters of the niche, are now the limits of the new, enlarged composition. The upper part is totally concealed by the glory, with at the center the dove of the Holy Spirit, flanked by two kneeling angels surmounting the entablature above the columns on either side of the monument. The Holy Spirit takes the place of the central angel holding the symbols of the papacy, and the papal tiara and keys are now held by two putti flanking the back of the reliquary, in place of the previous ones holding the palm branches. The back of the chair is decorated with two episodes from the New Testament: Feed my sheep and The Miraculous Draft of Fishes. In this new design, Bernini has also given the Doctors of the Church a more preeminent position, holding aloft the Cathedra Petri, its elaborate baroque base adorned with scrolling, volute-type legs and a central head of a winged putto.
In the subsequent stages of the project’s development, Bernini further expanded the Cathedra in front of the niche, and some time between 1658 and 1660 he created a full scale model that was erected in situ, of which no visual record survives. At this point, Bernini's vision seems to have changed yet again, and he introduced an oval window in the center of the glory, and further increased the scale of the whole monument, which was to be viewed from the crossing of the Basilica, through the monumental 'Baldacchino', the bronze masterpiece commissioned from Bernini by Urban VIII, and completed in 1634. Although several more drawings are known that witness various aspects of this complex and lengthy project,3 no other so complete record survives of any of the successive stages through which the plans for the Cathedra Petri went as they arrived at their final form and scale.
The present drawing is a rare and important testimony of one of the most important projects undertaken by Gianlorenzo Bernini, and it is witness to the elaborate development of the final scheme, a magnificent celebration of the triumphant Church of Rome, realized with pure baroque splendor.
1. Bernini’s initial scheme is recorded in a drawing by Domenico Castelli; see Lavin, op. cit., p. 176, fig. 68
2. Windsor Castle, Royal Library, RL 5614; A.F. Blunt and H.L. Cooke, The Roman Drawings of the XVII & XVIII Centuries in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, London 1960, p. 22, no. 26; for an image see Lavin, op. cit., p. 177, fig. 69
3. See Lavin, op. cit., pp. 174-181 and 182 note 7, reproduced pp. 186-193, nn. 37 to 44
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