Monday, February 20, 2012

Ciborium of St. Peter’s: The Prevailing Form of the Columnae Vitineae

The Baldacchino by Bernini at St. Peter's-current day.
Standing in St. Peter’s Basilica is as awe inspiring today as it was one-thousand years ago.  The present-day bronze baldacchino erected in 1633 is reminiscent of the structure built over St. Peter’s tomb in the fourth-century.  More specifically, the twisted vine column, or the columnae vitineae, form was present in the earlier version and persisted in the latter structure.  The form, therefore, has existed within St. Peter’s Basilica for nearly fourteen-hundred years.  This essay addresses why this form has prevailed and what exactly lends to its transcendental quality.  In exploring the columns in St. Peter’s it is apparent that deeply embedded within the history of the twisted vine column form exists the idea of spolia.  Whether it is the original placement of the ancient columns in St. Peter’s, the re-usage of the form during the Renaissance, the existence of the form in other structures after St. Peter’s, or later representations in print, the concept of spolia can explain its continuity.  The ideas of spolia in re and spolia in se discussed by scholar Dale Kinney, aid in the explanation of the columnae vitineae form’s reuse.  Through an application of these concepts, it is evident that religious connotations, evocation of ancient authority, and symbolism of military and cultural prowess provoked the replication of the form.  These significant connections created an iconographic symbol and lent to the form’s transcendental qualityThe use of Kinney’s theory of spolia to the columnae vitineae form illustrates how the concept is not limited to a place, time, or material and can be applied to numerous circumstances.

One of the ancient Solomonic columns brought to St. Peter's by Constantine the Great.
Brenk, Beat. “Spolia from Constantine to Charlemagne: Aesthetics versus Ideology.”
Dumbarton Oaks Papers 41, Studies on Art and Archeology in Honor of Ernst Kitzinger on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday (1987): 103-109.

Kinney, Dale. “Roman Architectural Spolia.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical
Society 145, no. 2 (June, 2001): 138-161.

Kinney, Dale. “Spolia. Damnatio” and “Renovatio Memoriae.” Memoirs of the American
Academy in Rome 42 (1997): 117-148.

Kinney, Dale. "Spolia." In St. Peter's in the Vatican, edited by William Tronzo, 16-47.
CambridgeCambridge University Press, 2005.

Ward-Perkins, J.B. “The Shrine of St. Peter and Its Twelve Spiral Columns.” The Journal of 
Roman Studies 42, Parts 1 and 2 (1952): 21-31.


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