Rome was still the art capital of the world. The great age of Roman painting was over, and no Italian painter now could rival Rubens or Rembrandt, but Roman architecture prospered, and Bernini was for a generation the most famous artist in Europe. Though Bologna had stolen the lead in painting, the stars of that school came to Rome for their final flourishing, and Vasari arrived in 1572 to fresco the Sala Regia of the Vatican. Painters whom fond minorities still reverence peopled the botteghe of Rome: Taddeo and Federigo Zuccaro, Girolamo Muziano, Francesco de’ Salviati, Giovanni Lanfranco, Bartolommeo Manfredi, Domenico Fetti, Andrea Sacchi. Most of these are usually classed as “mannerists”—artists who imitated the manner of one or another of the masters of the High Renaissance. We may include “mannerism” (1550–1600) as the first stage of baroque.
Federigo Zuccaro unfurled his colors in four nations. In Florence he completed the frescoes that Vasari had begun in the cathedral dome; in Rome he painted the Capella Paolina of the Vatican; in Flanders he designed a series of cartoons; in England he made famous portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart; in Spain he shared in decorating the Escorial; and back in Rome he founded the Academy of St. Luke, whose organization suggested to Reynolds the English Royal Academy of Arts. Of all Italian painters in that generation Zuccaro was in greatest demand, but posterity has preferred Pietro Berrettini da Cortona. With Renaissance versatility Pietro designed the Barberini and Pamfili palaces in Rome, and painted, in the Pitti Palace at Florence, frescoes crowded with fantastic figures in the full profusion of baroque.
The real master of Roman painting in this age was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He was a man of Cellinian spirit. Son of a Lombard stonemason, he studied in Milan, moved to Rome, enjoyed a dozen quarrels, killed a friend in a duel, escaped from prison, fled to Malta, Catania, and Syracuse, and died of sunstroke on a Sicilian shore at the age of forty-four (1609). In the intervals he effected a near-revolution in the mood and the technique of Italian painting. He liked violent contrasts of light and shade, played such tricks as illuminating a scene from a hidden hearth, modeled his figures with light, brought them out from a dark background, and began the reign of the tenebrosi—Guercino, Ribera, and Salvator Rosa—in Italy. Scorning the idealistic sentimentality of the Bolognese painters, he startled the age with his almost brutal realism. When he took religious subjects he made the Apostles and the saints look like burly workers borrowed from the docks. His Card Players (now in the Rothschild Collection in Paris) won him international fame. His Musicians—three singers and a lovely lutanist—gathered dirt for three centuries before it was found in a north-of-England antique shop about 1935; it was sold to a surgeon for £ 100 and was bought for $50,000 by the Metropolitan Museum of New York (1952). The Church usually rejected Caravaggio’s religious pictures as too plebeian and lacking in sublimity; today they are the prizes of connoisseurs. Rubens so admired the Italian’s Madonna del Rosario that he collected 1,800 gulden among the artists of Antwerp to buy it and present it to the Church of St. Paul.85 The Supper at Emmaus (London) is not as profound as Rembrandt’s, but it is a powerful rendering of peasant figures. The Death of the Virgin (Louvre)—again a peasant scene—was one of the pictures that established the school of naturalisti in Italy and realists in Spain and the Netherlands. Too often Caravaggio stressed the melodrama of violence and crudity; but history, like oratory, seldom makes a point without exaggeration. An age that had exhausted the themes of sentiment shuddered at these brawny longshoremen, and then accepted them as an invigorating entry of forgotten men into art. Ribera took up Caravaggio’s darkened brush and equaled him; Rembrandt captured the chiaroscuro of the Italian and bettered it; and even the painters of the nineteenth century felt that stormy influence.
Architecture now saw both the advent and the zenith of baroque. Pope after pope transmuted the sweat and pennies of the willing faithful into the glory of Rome. Pius IV completed the Belvedere and other rooms in the Vatican. Gregory XIII built the Collegio Romano and began the Quirinal Palace—which in 1870 became the residence of the King. Domenico Fontana, favorite architect of Sixtus V, designed the new Lateran Palace, the Sistine Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, and, in that chapel, the very baroque tomb of Pius V. Meanwhile cardinals and nobles added new palaces to Rome (Giustiniani, Lancelotti, Borghese, Barberini, Rospigliosi) and new villas (Pamfili, Borghese, Medici). Destruction went on, too; in this period Paul V demolished the Baths of Constantine, which had survived, almost intact, since the first Christian Emperor.
Good architects were plentiful. There was Giacomo della Porta, who ably completed several buildings left unfinished by his master, Vignola, like the façade of Il Gesù and the cupola of St. Peter’s; in that same immensity he designed the majestic Cappella Gregoriana; he gave the final touches to the Palazzo Farnese, which Michelangelo had begun; and to him are due two of the magnificent fountains that give Rome the freshness of eternal youth. The loveliest of the fountains is the Fontana delle Tartarughe (tortoises), which Taddeo Lundini set up before the Palazzo Mattei. Martino Lunghi the Elder shared with della Porta in raising from Michelangelo’s sketches the Palazzo de’ Conservatori, and himself began the Borghese Palace, which Flaminio Ponzio completed for Paul V. Domenico Fontana contributed the Fontanone dell’ Acqua Felice and the Fontana dell’ Acqua Paolina, and erected the beautiful Loggia of the Benediction on the north portico of St. John Lateran. His nephew Carlo Maderna succeeded him as architect of St. Peter’s, changed its basic plan from the Greek cross of Michelangelo to the Latin cross, designed the façade of the great shrine, and found in the baths of Caracalla and Diocletian the inspiration for its immense nave. Maderna’s disciple Francesco Borromini rebuilt magnificently the interior of St. John Lateran, and began, as his masterpiece, the sumptuous Church of Sant’ Agnese, which rivals ll Gesù as illustrating Roman baroque.
The Church of Jesus—Il Gesù—was planned (1568) by Giacomo da Vignola to meet the desire of the Jesuits for an architecture whose magnificence would awe, inspire, and uplift the worshiper. The architect and his successors designed a spacious nave without aisles, with ornate pillars, spandrels, capitals, and cornices; an imposing altar, a luminous cupola, and brilliant decoration with pictures, statuary, marble, silver, and gold; and in 1700 Andrea del Pozzo, himself a Jesuit, added the noble tomb and altar of St. Ignatius. The Jesuit attitude to life differed from that of some other Catholic churchmen, and was at opposite pole to the Puritan view; art was to be chastened of secular sensuality, but it was to be welcomed in the adornment of life and faith. However, there was no specific “Jesuit style.” Il Gesù was baroque petrified, and many Jesuit churches, especially in Germany, were baroque, but each church followed local and current forms and moods.
The final achievement of Roman art was the completion of St. Peter’s. Michelangelo had left a model of the dome, but the drum alone had been laid when Sixtus V came to the papacy. The drum was 138 feet in diameter. Only Brunelleschi, at Florence, had dared to cover so great an area without intervening supports. Architects and engineers quailed before the task proposed by Buonarotti; financiers moaned that it would take a million ducats and ten years’ time. Sixtus ordered the work to proceed, hoping to celebrate Mass under the new dome before he died. Giacomo della Porta took charge, with Domenico Fontana as his aide. Eight hundred men labored night or day, Sundays excepted, from March 1589 till, on May 21, 1590, three months before the doughty pontiff’s death, Rome was informed that “to his everlasting glory, and the shame of his predecessors, our holy Pope Sixtus V has completed the vaulting of the dome of St. Peter’s.”86
The effect of the dome, except from a distance, was diminished by the baroque façade that Maderna set up in 1607–14. The church itself was finally consecrated in 1626, 174 years after its first planning. In 1633 Bernini cast in bronze the gaudy baldacchino, or canopy, over the “tomb of St. Peter” and the high altar. The great sculptor redeemed himself by enclosing the approach to the shrine in a massive elliptical colonnade (1655–67) that helps to make St. Peter’s the most sublime building on earth, as its dome is the crowning achievement of modern art.