Baccio Pontelli - cabinetmaker and architect of the Sistine Chapel

Baccio Pontelli

When it comes to the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo's unsurpassed biblical frescoes and the history of their difficult creation almost automatically come to mind. But no less important is the figure of the main architect of the project, the Florentine Baccio Pontelli. Thanks to the extraordinary Italian, now, in the very heart of the Vatican, under the sky of the eternal city, the prototype of the Great Jerusalem Temple has been standing for the sixth century.

Bartolomeo Pontelli was born in Florence in 1450. The beginning of his career was work in the studio of Francesco Di Giovanni, a wood painter and an outstanding encrustor. There he studied redwood art, carpentry, inlay and design principles. Already at the rise of his work, Pontelli showed extraordinary abilities in the work of an encrustor, remaining for his followers not only a talented architect, but also a cabinetmaker.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Coat of arms of the Duke of Urbino, Pontelli's work on wood
Duke Federico's studio in the palace of Ducale

Friendship and cooperation with the brothers Giuliano and Benedetto da Maino, Florentine woodcarvers, had a significant influence on his formation as an architect. In this tandem, he significantly improved his engineering skills. In 1980, Baccio went to the Italian city of Urbino, where he got acquainted with the work of the outstanding artist, sculptor and military engineer Francesco Di Giorgio Martini. The Siena school of painting makes a great impression on the young architect. In Urbino, Pontelli worked for two years in the studio of Duke Federico, directly in the Ducale Palace (residence of the Duke of Urbino). The wood-inlaid frescoes, in the creation of which the maestro took part, have been preserved to this day.

Residence of the Dukes of Urbino

Returning to Rome, Baccio Pontelli became one of the architectural favorites of Pope Sixtus IV, on whose behalf he took part in the renovation of many Italian cities. He died at the age of 42 in Urbino, devoting the last part of his creative life to the architecture of military fortresses.

Fortress of Aquaviva-Picena-Gesu

Fortress in Senigallia

Pontelli's most famous project is the majestic Sistine Chapel. Pope Sixtus the Fourth, fearing a military threat from the Medici and Turkish troops, decides to strengthen the building of the "Grand Chapel" - the place in the Vatican where the new Pope was elected. To develop the project, he invites Baccio Pontelli - Umbrian craftsmen, at that time, were very popular. At 23, Pontelli designs the Capella, which will immortalize his name in history and make him immortal. The building is rectangular in shape with a height of 27 meters. Three floors, marble floors and external asceticism - but the interior decoration makes you breathless. Sandro Botticelli, Petro Perugino, Cosimo Rosselli and, of course, Michelangelo Buonarroti created a separate unrivaled world by painting the walls and ceiling with frescoes based on biblical motives.

The Sistine Chapel

In the same year, Pontelli designs a bridge in Rome, which also takes the name of the architect's patron, the Sixtus Bridge. It is the first stone bridge built in the city since Roman times. Rome, which then had about 30,000 citizens, had three pedestrian bridges across the Tiber - but according to the Pope's design, this might not have been enough for major Catholic holidays. Sixtus the Fourth personally laid the foundation stone of the new bridge.

Sixtus Bridge

And already in 1475, Pontelli designs another outstanding church in Rome - Santo Spirito in Sassia, the Church of the Holy Spirit di Sassia, near St. Peter's Square near the Vatican. Three centuries earlier, on this site, next to the then church, the first hospital in Europe dedicated to the Holy Spirit was built, in which the reformer Martin Luther was successfully treated.

Church of the Holy Spirit di Sassia

In 1983, the architect travels to the Mediterranean Ostia, where he builds the fortress and the Basilica of Santa Aurea. The church is the seat of the city diocese, built in a laconic style, which has already become the recognizable style of Pontelli.

Basilica of Santa Aurea
Ostia Fortress

In 1479, Baccio Pontelli was one of the architects of the renovation of the Church of St. Augustine on the Champ de Mars in Rome. The church was built from blocks mined from the ruins of the ancient Roman Colosseum. The façade of the church is considered one of the first examples of early Renaissance architecture in Rome. The church houses the famous painting by Caravaggio "Madonna del Pellegrini".

Basilica of St. Augustine

Another Renaissance church of Santa Maria del Popolo, whose façade was designed by Pontelli, was built in Rome between 1472-1477. The chief architect of the project was Giovannino de Dolci, with whom Pontelli is already collaborating on the construction of the Sistine Chapel.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Baccio Pontelli is the great name of the birth of the Italian Renaissance, an architect who, in just two decades of creativity, left an imprint in the image of the immortal Rome and was immortalized in the construction of the Sistine Chapel. Its buildings are laconic and elegant, sustained in a single ensemble, confidently conveying the master's handwriting. His woodwork is sophisticated, luxurious, timeless and inspires us to work on new achievements. The work of great masters is a source of inspiration and rethinking of contemporary art through the prism of eternal cultural anchors.