The interior of St. Peter’s Basilica is a vast space
filled with sculptures and 10,000 square meters of mosaics.
Many of the finest artists are represented in works of art which include
Michelangelo’s Pieta, Bernini’s Baldachino and Cathedra,
 and Arnolfo di Cambio’s ancient statue of St. Peter.

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Cherub, Holy Water Font
Monumental Architecture

Sacristy and St. Andrew
The Pier Sculptures
St. Peter (Arnolfo di Cambio)

Altar Mosaics
Papal Monuments

Bernini’s Baldachino
Solomonic Columns

St. Elijah Statue
Apse and Cathedra
Michelangelo’s Dome

Our Lady of the Column Dome
Michelangelo’s Pieta


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Rome Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to images of St. Peter’s Basilica

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


There are 18 Galleries in the Photoshelter Rome Collection


St. Peter’s Basilica

The interior of St. Peter’s is truly vast, and it is filled with a large number of sculptures,
monuments and other works of art. In any other building, it would be cluttered, but the
tremendous dimensions of the interior dwarf even the enormous Bernini Baldachino.

Below, I have detailed some of the Altars, Monuments and Sculptures of St. Peter’s,
along with some architectural views. I was selective in the images, but there are still
over 50 images on this page (there are several angles of some of the sculptures).


Cherub Holy Water Font St. Peter’s 7594 M
1000 x 1600 (367 KB)

A cherub at the Holy Water Font on the right of the nave


Cherub Holy Water Font St. Peter’s 7595 M
1000 x 1600 (355 KB)

by Giuseppe Lironi and Giovanni Battista de Rossi.


Cherub Holy Water Font St. Peter’s 7596 M
1130 x 1500 (386 KB)

This is the most beautiful cherub sculpture I have ever personally seen.


St. Peter’s Right Nave piers 2-3 7650 M
937 x 1600 (442 KB)

The view across the nave of the arch between piers 2 and 3 shows the height of the nave to the cornice below the ceiling vault. The monument you see is to Innocent XII (detail below).


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7652 M
976 x 1600 (568 KB)

St. Peter’s is probably the largest church in the world, and it dwarfs the largest bronze structure on the planet. Bernini’s Baldachino is 98 feet tall and uses 100,000 pounds of bronze stripped from the portico ceiling of the Pantheon.


St. Peter’s Sacristy 7733
1500 x 1092 (466 KB)

The octagonal Sacristy is in a building attached to the basilica. Pope Pius VI commissioned
Carlo Marchionni to build it in 1776. The Ionic order columns are from Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli.


St. Andrew Sacristy St. Peter’s 7740
795 x 1290 (329 KB)

Commissioned in 1570 by Francesco Bandini Piccolomini, the Archbishop of Siena and grandnephew of Pope Pius III, this over-life-size statue of St. Andrew by Niccolo Longhi da Viggiu used to stand at the altar of St. Andrew where the relic was kept in the ancient basilica.


St. Andrew Sacristy detail 7740
(detail crop — no linked image)

It was moved to the Sacristy sometime after the pier sculpture by Francois Duquesnoy was installed (next image).

Niccolo Longhi da Viggiu was best known as a restorer of ancient sculptures (he also completed unfinished works).

Pier Sculptures

In the enormous crossing space under Michelangelo’s Dome, GianLorenzo Bernini placed his monumental bronze Baldachino. As part of his design for the use of the space, he had the huge piers supporting Michelangelo’s Dome hollowed out to form niches, and had staircases built into them leading up to four balconies to display the four most precious relics of the basilica. There was much consternation over whether the dome might fall, but everything worked out as Bernini planned. The Loggias of the Relics were adorned with eight of the Solomonic Columns donated to the 4th century basilica by Emperor Constantine and decorated with bas-reliefs which were related to each relic. In the niches, over-life-size statues were to be placed of St. Andrew, St. Veronica, St. Longinus and St. Helena, each associated with one of the relics. Below are those statues.


St. Andrew 7714
795 x 1290 (332 KB)

Francois Duquesnoy’s sculpture of St. Andrew was the first to be started, but it took a long time to complete. After the four blocks of marble were delivered to his workshop, the stucco model was moved from the niche back to his workshop, but it fell and shattered, requiring a new stucco model. He carved the marble between 1635 and 1639, and it was unveiled in 1640 while the sculptor was still applying finish work. St. Andrew is shown with his characteristic X-shaped cross.


St. Veronica 7628 M
1000 x 1600 (397 KB)

St. Veronica, by Francesco Mochi. She is displaying the Veil of Veronica (vera icona, or true icon), which she used to wipe Jesus face on the Way of the Cross. The frantic activity shown in her pose is vastly different than that of the other sculptures, and caused considerable controversy and criticism when it was unveiled in 1640. Bernini asked where the wind had come from that disturbed her garments, and Mochi replied that it came from the cracks Bernini had caused in the dome.


St. Longinus 7612
795 x 1290 (340 KB)

Made from four blocks of marble, Bernini’s St. Longinus exhibits Bernini’s famed sense of theatricality in the extension of the arms, occupying a large portion of the niche,  and the complex folds of the drapery, easily visible at a distance. Longinus holds the spear with which he pierced the side of Jesus on the Cross. The outstretched arms were a first in monumental sculpture, and were a source of controversy when later critics began to denigrate Bernini’s accomplishments.


St. Helena 7615
795 x 1290 (342 KB)

St. Helena of Constantinople, sculpted by Andrea Bolgi (a Bernini pupil). Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine who traveled to the Holy Land and by tradition, discovered the True Cross and the nails of the Crucifixion, which she placed in Constantine’s helmet and the bridle of his horse. Helena founded several churches in the East and in Rome, and stored a number of relics in her palace, which was converted into the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (in Rome).


St. Peter 7660
800 x 1290 (432 KB)

Arnolfo di Cambio’s sculpture of St. Peter, c. 1300. Placed against the Pier of St. Longinus, this highly venerated sculpture has feet worn down from centuries of pilgrims kissing and rubbing them. St. Peter is seated on an alabaster throne, and is mounted on an alabaster base. The right foot protrudes from the base and is the most worn of the two.


St. Peter 7657 M
966 x 1650 (620 KB)

The alabaster base was created in 1757 by Carlo Marchionni. The statue has long been regarded as having been created in the 5th century, commissioned by Pope Leo I (440-461), but modern analysis has dated the statue to the 13th-14th c.


St. Peter 7655 M
1000 x 1600 (657 KB)

Behind the statue is a mosaic designed to resemble brocade drapery, installed in 1871 along with a medallion of Pius IX.


St. Peter 7656 M
1000 x 1600 (557 KB)

Pius IX was the first to exceed the 25 year term attributed to St. Peter. The mosaic and medallion honor this feat.


St. Peter 7668
795 x 1290 (374 KB)

The style of the statue is consistent with the attribution to Arnolfo di Cambio, who made use of the antique curl design (snail curls) in the hair and beard in numerous sculptures.


St. Peter detail 7668 M
1000 x 1600 (498 KB)

The shape of the eyes and ears (difficult to see in the deep shadows caused by the lighting) are also consistent with the style of Arnolfo di Cambio’s later works.


St. Peter 7670
795 x 1290 (338 KB)

The color of the bronze patina is exceptional, especially considering how difficult bronze was to get during Arnolfo’s time and the inability to test various compositions of metal.


St. Peter detail 7669 M
1000 x 1600 (473 KB)

This is one of very few bronze statues that has survived from antiquity. Until the Renaissance, bronze statues and structures were often scavenged for metal for cannons and other uses.

Return to the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Rome Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to images of St. Peter’s Basilica

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


There are 18 Galleries in the Photoshelter Rome Collection


Altars and Monuments


Altar of the Lie Roncalli 7647 M
1000 x 1650 (372 KB)

“The Punishment of the Couple Ananias and Saphira”

Pietro Paolo Cristofari and Pietro Adami created a mosaic reproduction (1727) of the canvas by Cristoforo Roncalli (Pomerancio, 1604). Early Christians shared their property, but this couple (who had converted) kept some of the sale proceeds and lied to St. Peter about it. After lying, they each fell down dead. In the background two men carry off Ananias’ body covered in a shroud. Moral: do not lie to St. Peter. Brutal.


Altar St. Jerome Cristofari Domenichino 7605 M
1000 x 1600 (438 KB)

“The Last Communion of St. Jerome”

Pietro Paolo Cristofari created a mosaic reproduction (1744) of the canvas by Domenico Zampieri (Domenichino, 1614). The canvas was considered a masterpiece only surpassed by Raphael’s Transfiguration (the original canvas was seized by Napoleon and returned to the Vatican in the 19th c.). The saint is depicted with a lion (one of his attributes). Domenichino researched the work of other artists before creating it, causing accusations of plagiarism by jealous rivals which proved false.

Pietro Paolo Cristofari was the first Director of the Vatican Mosaic Studio (from 1727). He was responsible for the creation and maintenance of 10,000 sq. meters of mosaics on the domes, altars and inscriptions in the basilica. The paintings by many of the prominent 15th to 17th century artists were being damaged by the humidity and were replaced with exact, detailed copies in Smalti Filati, a micro-mosaic technique which was developed by Cristofari and other mosaic artists in Rome. Multi-colored glass is melted in a crucible and stretched into rods as thin as a millimeter. After they cool, the 15-20 inch rods are cut to the desired lengths and inserted into the glazing putty. The technique is used by only 30 artists today, and can create extremely fine mosaics that depict highly detailed scenes, which at normal viewing distances are nearly indistinguishable from paintings.

Smalti Filati (filament micro-mosaic) is the most refined of the mosaic techniques. The ancient technique evolved into the two Byzantine direct methods: (1) apply lime cement and set the glass stones (tesserae) directly into the cement; (2) apply into clay or lime, then glue cheesecloth or gauze onto the mosaic. Once the cloth dries, the mosaic can be removed from the clay and moved as a unit to the site and mounted (this was primarily used for portraits where the stones may have to be adjusted). The second method evolved into the indirect method developed by Cimabue (13th c.) for the mosaics of the Florentine Baptistry. The artist glues the tesserae face-down with water-soluble glue on paper prepared by cutting up a cartoon of the mosaic (in the Florentine Baptistry, the cartoon was drawn on canvas). When the glue dries, the sections are put in place as units and when the cement dries, the mosaic is wet down to remove the cartoon substrate. This technique revolutionized mosaic art after 1280.


Monument Pius VII 7648 M
965 x 1600 (403 KB)

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Monument to Pius VII (1823-31). The Danish sculptor was a pupil of Canova, and created the monument with two small winged spirits which represent History (left) and Time, and on separate bases are allegorical figures of Fortitude (left) and Wisdom (with the owl and book).


Monument Innocent XII 7598
795 x 1290 (364 KB)

Filippo della Valle sculpted this Monument to Innocent XII (1741), seen earlier in environmental context in the image of the Nave directly under the Cherubs. It was created in a very limited space between two columns over a door, and thus was made quite tall. The Pope is flanked by Charity (left) and Justice. Charity is considered to be a masterpiece of allegory.


Monument Pius VIII 7642 M
1000 x 1600 (425 KB)

Over the door to the Sacristy and Treasury Museum is the Monument to Pius VIII by Pietro Tenerani (1866). Created in Neoclassical style, the Pope is shown kneeling in prayer over the door, below sculptures of Christ Enthroned and Saints Peter and Paul. The allegory reliefs are Prudence and Justice.


Monument Alexander VII 7636 M
1000 x 1600 (592 KB)

The final masterpiece of GianLorenzo Bernini: the Monument to Alexander VII (1678). Bernini, who was the Chigi Pope’s favorite, created the monument with the assistance of several talented artists in his studio. The Pope is surrounded by the allegorical statues of Justice, Prudence, Charity and Truth.

Pope Alexander was sculpted by Michele Maglia, with a billowing cloak created by Domenico Bassanoma; Justice was sculpted by L. Balestri; Prudence was created by Giulio Cartari (Bernini’s favorite pupil); Truth by Lazaro Morelli (finished by Giulio Cartari), and Charity by Giuseppe Mazzuoli. Prudence is hidden on the upper level (left), Justice is on the upper right. Pope Innocent XI ordered Bernini to cover the statues of Charity (front left) and Truth (front right). Bernini created lead draperies and painted them to resemble marble (Innocent XI was the pope who ordered that all statues had to be covered... no breasts or genitals allowed). The monument is swathed in an enormous drapery of Jasper which defined the shape of the base, and Bernini used the Jasper over the door (an exit from the basilica) in an innovative way. He has a skeletal representation of Death holding an hourglass (clypsedra) in one hand and the drapery with the other. The skeleton’s placement is a theatrical device used to imply that the exit is the Door to Eternity.


Angel of Death detail Alexander VII 7636
1200 x 1050 (541 KB)

The statue of Truth on the right also represents Faith. Truth holds a symbol of the sun and has her foot placed on the globe, directly over England, where Alexander VII had so much trouble in his attempts to reduce the spread of the Anglican Church and return England to Catholicism. Bernini’s three-dimensional skeleton was unprecedented in tomb construction and the idea very likely came from a mass Bernini attended in 1639 at the Chiesa del Gesu, where mechanized skeletons with crowns and swords were used in a theatrical production during the services to symbolize Death’s dominance over the world. This must have strongly influenced him, because with this monument Bernini strayed from the normal representation of the skeleton as the body of the deceased and clearly made his 3D skeleton as a representation of Death holding up the draperies to the Door of Eternity.

Bernini’s Baldachino

When Pope Urban VIII was appointed Pope in 1623, he had already been aware of Bernini’s work. Bernini had come to the attention of Maffeo Barberini (Urban VIII) when as a boy he helped his father work on several major projects in Rome, including the Borghese Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore. Bernini was noticed by Pope Paul V (Borghese) as he had commissioned the chapel. The Pope’s nephew (Cardinal Scipione Borghese) bribed Bernini to create sculptures for the gardens at Villa Borghese. Maffeo Barberini arranged for Bernini to study the sculptures at the Vatican Museum, and encouraged him to try greater things, such as David and his Apollo and Daphne, both created for Cardinal Borghese and both revolutionary sculptures for their time.

One of Urban VIII’s early actions as Pope was to appoint Bernini as the master of the Vatican Foundry, as he needed to learn more about the technical aspects of art and architecture. He then placed Bernini in charge of the Aqua Felice, getting him ready for work with the Reverenda Fabbrica, the organization in charge of creating decorations for St. Peter’s.

Soon after this, in late 1623, he commissioned Bernini to create an enormous Baldachino. There had been a canopy in the ancient basilica over the high altar which was supported by the Solomonic Columns donated to the basilica in the 4th century by Constantine (detail below), but in the new basilica there was no such arrangement. The high altar had been moved from its spot over the Tomb of St. Peter to the western wing and nothing but the tomb occupied the crossing. Paul V built a small baldachino over the tomb, but Urban VIII wanted to one-up Paul V and create something spectacular.

He figured that Bernini was just the fellow to do the job, and he prepared him for it by his assignments to the foundry and the aqueduct project, getting him used to working with bronze and thinking in terms of architectural construction. He gave Bernini a commission to create a spectacular permanent Baldachino.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7601 M
1000 x 1600 (620 KB)

Bernini’s 98 foot canopy used 100,000 lbs. of bronze from the portico ceiling of the Pantheon and the same amount from the dome ribs to create the world’s largest bronze structure.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7603 M
1500 x 1290 (687 KB)

This image shows two of Bernini’s works and part of a third. Lower left center is a balcony and
niche in the pier below the spandrel medallion of St. Luke. This is the Loggia of the Relics, one
of four Bernini created (one on each pier) to house the four major relics of the basilica. Each is
associated with a major statue related to the relic stored in the Loggia above (detail is below).
The relics are: a fragment of the blade of the Spear of Longinus, fragments of the True Cross,
a piece of the Veil of Veronica, and until 1966, the relic of the Head of St. Andrew, which was
given to the City of Patras (1966) by Pope Paul VI (the city where St. Andrew was martyred).

The partial Bernini work is seen at the lower right. You can just see the top of the Gloria over
the Cathedra Petri, shown in detail further below. The other major Bernini work is of course
the upper part of the Baldachino. He created the upper part to resemble the ancient canopy
cloth of the first basilica, thus creating a true Baldachino rather than the small temple within
a temple of the medieval Ciborium. He topped the canopy with four gigantic bronze angels
bearing floral festoons (a string or chain of flowers). The angels were created by Francois
Duquesnoy, who sculpted St. Andrew on the Pier (seen earlier). On the 4 sides are 8 putti,
some carrying the Keys and Tiara of St. Peter and others the Sword and Book of St. Paul.

The term Baldachino (baldachin, or baldacchino in Italian) is a general term for a canopy over
an altar or throne. The name is derived from a luxurious cloth from Bagdad, which was often used
to make the canopies. The formal name in ecclesiastical architecture is Ciborium, but as that is also
the name used for containers or tabernacles used to house the Hosts of the Eucharist, many people use
the general term Baldachin or Baldachino for these canopies, as will I for those shown on these pages.


Loggia of the Relics 7603c
(detail crop — no linked image)

Eight of the original Solomonic Columns that were donated to the Basilica of St. Peter in the early 4th century by Emperor Constantine are used in the four Loggias of the Relics which are mounted on the four piers that support Michelangelo’s Dome. Three of the columns were lost (possibly during the demolition of the original basilica by Bramante), and one is displayed in the Treasury Museum (image shown to the right). The column in the Museum is the legendary “Holy Column”.

Reliefs on the Loggias show Angels carrying the Relics.


St. Peter’s Solomonic Column 7731 M
1000 x 1600 (361 KB)

In the medieval period, this was known as the “Holy Column” because it was said to have been leaned against by Jesus when it stood in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. It is actually 2nd century Greek marble and was brought to Rome from Greece by Emperor Constantine as part of the group of 12 columns which he donated to the first Basilica of St. Peter.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7749 M
1000 x 1650 (625 KB)

The columns are gilded and divided into three spiraling sections. The spirals were designed to emulate the original Solomonic Columns used in the ancient basilica’s canopy and to carry the eye upward to the canopy. The divisions were to avoid the monotony that would be caused by 66 ft. tall smooth columns. The smaller baldachino that this replaced (designed by Carlo Maderno 10 years before) also had twisted columns. Note the Loggia of the Relic relief above Helena has a Cross.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7640 M
1000 x 1632 (634 KB)

The canopy itself was designed to resemble the cloth canopy of the ancient basilica (and funeral catafalques) as well as the papal baldachino of state (a cloth canopy), thus tying together the ancient basilica, the Tomb of St. Peter and the Pope in one elegant design. The spiral columns are decorated in the upper sections with laurel leaves, and putti, bees and a lizard climb the leaves. Laurel and Bees were Barberini symbols. The lizard leads to an interesting story (described below).


St. Elijah 7682
769 x 1290 (376 KB)

At the bottom right of the previous image you can see the statue of St. Elijah pointing to the light entering the apse. This was the third Founder Statue placed in St. Peter’s Basilica, and it finally established the Carmelites as a valid Order.


St. Elijah 7689 M
1000 x 1600 (422 KB)

The Carmelites unveiled Agostino Cornacchini’s sculpture in 1727. St. Elijah had by Carmelite tradition founded the order, although historical data (as argued by the Jesuits) said otherwise. The issue went to the Inquisition, and lawsuits were argued, but finally the Pope told both parties to stop arguing. Innocent XII’s Bull Redemptoris essentially said “shut up”.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7698 M
1000 x 1632 (599 KB)

In this image and the next you can easily see several of the climbing putti traversing the laurel on the columns, sort of like Jack and the Beanstalk. Just beyond the first spiral above the helical grooves on the far right is one of the putti. Another putto has nearly made it to the top of the right column. Note on the left column (below the capital), a putto peeks out and waves to the viewer, while another a little farther down the left side of the same column hangs on for dear life. Quite amusing.

Note on the two outer lappets are three Barberini Bees. More Urban VIII heraldry.

By the way, remember the lizard story I promised you? Bernini used to put natural objects and small creatures in his wax molds to add realism. These were reduced to dust under the heat of the molten bronze, and led his detractors to complain that he was using real branches, instead of doing the modeling traditional artists had done for centuries, and they also complained that he replaced the traditional vine leaves representing the Eucharist for leaves more closely resembling the laurel (which was a Barberini symbol). Detractors called his method the “Lost-Lizard” method of casting (rather than Lost-Wax). The leaves, fruit, vines, lizards and bees were ‘lost’ during the casting process. The annoying critics also complained that he used professional founders to cast his work (they thought an artist was expected to do his own casting). Bernini just let them talk and continued creating his Baroque masterpiece.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7702 M
1500 x 1290 (690 KB)

Under the Baldachino Canopy is the Barberini Sunburst (more heraldry) and the Dove.
Note the climbing putti and the ever-present Barberini Bees on the columns and lappets.
If you look carefully at the top of the column, you will see the Barberini Sunburst there too.


St. Peter’s Bernini Baldachino 7654 M
1200 x 1650 (697 KB)

Atop the canopy are four enormous volutes rising from behind each corner angel to an
upper cornice which supports a bronze orb (symbolizing the world) topped with a cross.
This was originally to be a gigantic statue of the Risen Christ, but the engineering issues
this design entailed caused Bernini to rethink the design. He filled in the hollow shafts of
the columns with concrete to increase the stability of the structure and switched to the
volutes, orb and cross. He attached the canopy structurally to the column cornices.

The Baldachino stands under Michelangelo’s Dome in the vast space of the
crossing under the dome and acts as a visual centerpiece to the nave.
It provides a visual intermediary between the human scale and the
enormous architectural scale of the basilica, and fits perfectly
into the space. Along with his Cathedra (which can be seen
behind the Baldachino in this image), he created two
artistic elements which were perfectly proportioned
to the enormous space in which they were placed.

Return to the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Rome Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to images of St. Peter’s Basilica

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


There are 18 Galleries in the Photoshelter Rome Collection


Apse Cathedra 7616
751 x 1290 (389 KB)

When Alexander VII became Pope (1655) he decided to move the Chair of St. Peter (Cathedra) to a more prominent place in the Apse from its spot in the Baptistry. He commissioned Bernini to encase it in a bronze throne (the wooden chair was deteriorating and was no longer usable).


Ceiling above Cathedra 7679 M
1000 x 1600 (615 KB)

The intricately carved gilded stucco ceiling over the Cathedra, with the tiara, keys and an inscription of Pius XII.

As you can see from the image below (taken about 20 seconds earlier) the upper reaches of the apse were quite hazy. To create a usable image, I increased the contrast of this shot. The shadows are a bit dark, but it looks far better.


Apse Gloria 7675
1089 x 1290 (605 KB)

The stucco Gloria was a major production requiring an army of assistants,
including Ercole Ferrata (who also created angels for Ponte sant’Angelo),
Antonio Raggi, GianLorenzo’s brother Luigi Bernini and 36 other sculptors.

The gilded stucco Gloria was Bernini’s major design challenge. He agonized over what
to do with the existing window, and finally incorporated the window into the composition.
Golden stucco clouds and rays emanate from a stained-glass window placed in front
of the existing window. The Bohemian glass window is split into twelve sections
to suggest the Apostles, and a Dove is painted in the center of the window.
The clouds are populated with a host of angels and cherubs. The angels,
clouds and rays all extend far beyond the central apse to overlap
the giant pilasters designed and installed by Michelangelo.
This design became the prototype for Baroque Glorias
which were installed in many European churches.


Bernini Cathedra 7622 M
1000 x 1600 (603 KB)

By tradition, the Chair of St. Peter was the actual chair used by the first Pope, but when the archaeologist G.B. de Rossi examined the chair in 1866 he determined that only the acacia wood skeleton was ancient. The oak parts attached via iron strips and the ivory plaques were 6th-9th c. See the image and information at the bottom of this section.


Cathedra Petri detail 7684 M
1000 x 1600 (550 KB)

Detail of the Cathedra Petri by GianLorenzo Bernini (1666). Bernini executed the reliefs on the chair personally, including “Feed my Sheep”, the highly detailed relief on the back face. Two putti cavort over the chair, carrying the Papal Keys and holding the Tiara surrounded by a candelabra. Two figures stand atop cornices over the front legs, holding candelabra.


Bernini Cathedra detail 7684
1500 x 1092 (625 KB)

The chair is flanked by four Doctors of the Church (theologians whose teachings had a great impact on the formation of Christianity). From left, the four statues represent: St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius, and St. Augustine. The two outer figures (St. Ambrose and St. Augustine) represent the Latin Church, and the two inner figures (St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius) represent the Greek Church. The four Doctors act as a bridge between East and West, symbolizing Catholic Unity.


Bernini Cathedra detail 7624
1500 x 1110 (503 KB)

The four Doctors are seemingly not lifting the Cathedra as much as holding it down
to keep it from floating away on the clouds of the Gloria. They are barely touching it.

My researchreveals that the chair which is enclosed in Bernini’s Cathedra was donated to the church by the Carolingian King Charles the Bald after his coronation by Pope John VIII (872-882) on December 25, 875. The legs and back of the oak throne are decorated with pierced ivory bands (School at Tours). 18 ivory plaques on the front (added later) depict the Labors of Hercules and six other images which depict monsters, zodiac signs or constellations (they include a scorpion). Charles the Bald also donated a Bible to San Paolo fuori le Mura (Outside the Walls) with an image on the cover which represents his coronation on this very throne. A copy of Charles the Bald’s throne is kept in the Treasury Museum of St. Peter’s Basilica.


Old photograph of Charles the Bald Throne (Cathedra Petri)
image from (Univ. of Delaware) 1668 x 2088, 515 KB

There are also some sources which claim that the throne was not enclosed in Bernini’s Cathedra. The copy in the Treasury Museum does not have the rings on the sides present on the chair depicted in this old photograph. There are also several smaller images and illustrations available showing the throne with rings, and several others show the copy in the Treasury.

This image was taken in 1866 when the chair was exhibited during the celebration of the martyrdom of St. Peter, and the chair was examined by experts including G. B. de Rossi and Padre Rafaelle Garucci. A treatise on the chair was published (Two Memoirs on St. Peter’s Chair, Society of Antiquaries 1870) describing the chair in exhaustive detail, which may be of interest.

The Vatican Museum also states that the chair is Charles the Bald’s
throne, but they state that the chair is enclosed in Bernini’s Cathedra.
The various websites, guides and brochures mostly perpetuate the
story stating that the chair is the ancient relic used by St. Peter.
Enough on the controversy. Let’s return to the photographs.

Michelangelo’s Dome


St. Peter’s 8023c
960 x 1290 (409 KB)

St. Peter’s facade and the ovoid exterior of Michelangelo’s Dome from Via della Conciliazione. Michelangelo completed the dome to the top of the drum by the time he died in 1564.


St. Peter’s Dome Dusk 7798c
960 x 1290 (311 KB)

I am providing these two exterior crops for context (more exterior images on the Exteriors page). Note the people lining the railing below the lantern for a sense of the scale.

Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana completed the dome between 1585 and 1590.
Domenico Fontana built the lantern in 1591, and placed the orb on top of the lantern in 1593.
The cross was added by Clement VIII, taking all day to raise (every church bell in Rome rang).

Michelangelo designed a two-shell parabolic dome to reduce the outward thrust based on the
design of Brunelleschi’s Dome for Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. He used 16 exterior ribs
instead of the eight used by Brunelleschi as buttresses to absorb the outward thrust, but cracks
appeared in the mid-1700s, and chains were added between the shells to reinforce the dome.


St. Peter’s Michelangelo Dome 7632
1500 x 1092 (725 KB)

The dome is directly above Bernini’s Baldachino, supported by four gigantic piers and rising
to a height of 395 feet over the marble basilica floor. The dome is divided into 16 segments
divided by ribs, with a window at the base of each segment. The mosaics were designed by
Giuseppi Cesari (Cavalier d’Arpino) between 1603 and 1612. The mosaics were executed
from his cartoons by the best mosaic artists of the period, and portray (from the bottom):

                  busts of 16 popes buried in the Basilica;
                  figures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, and the Apostles;
                  angels bearing instruments of the Passion in rectangular frames;
                  faces of cherubim and seraphim in circular medallions:
                  the angelic custodians of St. Peter’s Tomb;
                  the faces of winged angels.

Above the 96 figures is a blue sky with stars, surmounted by the lantern with inscription:
“To the glory of St. Peter, Pope Sixtus V in the year 1590, fifth of his pontificate”.


St. Peter’s Our Lady of the Column Dome 7751
1500 x 1092 (534 KB)

Small dome over the Chapel of Our Lady of the Column,
decorated in 1757 with mosaics from the Litany of Loreto,
based on cartoons which were created by Giuseppe Zoboli.


Our Lady of the Column
800 x 1108 (211 KB)

Our Lady of the Column is a
Byzantine Madonna and Child
that was painted on a column of
porta santa marble in the original
Basilica of St. Peter (Constantine).

There is no detailed information on the
original painting available, but from the
style it appears to be 11th-12th century.

When the new Basilica was built in the
16th century, the column and painting
were preserved, and in 1581 it was
placed in a marble frame created
for it by Giacomo della Porta,
who designed an altar of
exquisite marble with
alabaster columns.

Click the thumbnail to the left for a larger version
 (image from defunct website

Michelangelo’s Pieta

Originally created for the Chapel of Santa Petronilla in the ancient basilica, Michelangelo’s Pieta
was completed in 1499 when the sculptor was 24 years old. The Pieta is probably the world’s most
famous religious sculpture, and it is very likely one of the most recognizable sculptures of any kind.

It was installed in 1500 for the Jubilee Year, and Michelangelo stood by proudly when
his masterpiece was unveiled (it was after all only his third completed sculpture). To his
dismay, he overheard someone who attributed his work to Cristoforo Solari. Picking up
his hammer, he immediately carved the following into the sash across Mary’s breast:


(Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence Created This)

He later regretted that his emotions got the better of him, vowing to never sign work again.


Pieta St. Peter’s 7763 M
1200 x 1600 (420 KB)

This image of the Pieta made Michelangelo’s reputation, and it was just one of several he created during his career (the theme was not his, as it originated in 14th c. Germany, but his was the first sculpture to depict the Pieta with such elegance). The finish on the sculpture is superb. Note the plasticity of the skin under the arm of Christ. Michelangelo never again finished a sculpture to this level of refinement. Michelangelo was criticized for portraying Mary as a young woman, and was accused of heresy (dangerous in the age of the Inquisition). He responded by saying that chastity preserved her youth.


Pieta St. Peter’s 7768 M
1000 x 1600 (496 KB)

You have to be careful or lucky in your timing when you shoot the Pieta, as many tourists ignore the rule about the use of flash, and there is bulletproof glass between the viewer and the sculpture (see the caption to the last image). The reflection of the flash can easily ruin an image, even if it isn’t your flash.


Pieta St. Peter’s 7760 M
1200 x 1600 (390 KB)

The Pieta was originally intended to be viewed from the right, which foreshortens
the elongated limbs of Christ’s body, and Mary’s arm extends towards the viewer.

Michelangelo depicted the signs of the Crucifixion by small nail marks and a slight
indication of a wound in Christ’s side. He did not display marks of the Passion as
he did not want his sculpture to represent Death, but instead the composure of
the sculpture was intended to show the “religious vision of abandonment”.

The composition forms a pyramidal structure with the apex at Mary’s head.


Pieta St. Peter’s 7772
1500 x 1092 (541 KB)

One Saturday in May of 1972, a disturbed man named Laszlo Toth leaped over the railing in the Chapel of the Pieta with a hammer, and with 15 blows knocked off Mary’s nose, chipped her head, eyelid, neck and veil, and broke her left arm off at the elbow.The fingers snapped off when the arm hit the floor. He claimed that he was Jesus Christ, and that Mary didn’t look at all like his mother. There were over 50 shards of marble recovered with feather dusters, and a few which were picked up by witnesses were returned. Several shards were not returned, including Mary’s nose.

The statue was restored after careful study of the 1934 copy which is located in the Treasury Museum. At the time that the restoration was done, chemical restoration methods were in their infancy, and many experiments were done by the restoration team with various adhesives and methods, including the use of a glue mixed with marble dust to fill small gaps. The left eye proved the most difficult... over 20 attempts were made with the mold. In case better adhesives are made in the future, reversible adhesives were used to allow further restoration.


Click the display composite above to visit the St. Peter’s Exteriors page

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If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).


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