Museum of the Bible Exhibit Explores Architectural History of St. Peter’s Basilica
The exhibit features numerous original prints of design ideas put forward by infamous artists of the 16th century.
WASHINGTON — Known for its grandeur, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City has long been an architectural inspiration worldwide. Now the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is honoring the history of the structure’s architecture with a new exhibit.
“Basilica Sancti Petri: The Transformation of Saint Peter’s Basilica” opened May 27 and will remain in the museum's long-term Vatican exhibit, Treasures from the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library, through Sept. 25.
The exhibit features numerous original prints of design ideas put forward by infamous artists of the 16th century such as Antonio da Sangallo, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Carlo Fontana, Agostino Veneziano, and Antoine Lafréry.
“We have that historical perspective, but also these unique and beautiful prints at the same time,” Jeff Kloha, chief curator of the Museum of the Bible, told CNA. “So it's a combination of a historical exhibit and an art exhibit. You get to see what [the artists] started on, an idea, and how it changed.”
St. Peter’s Basilica is designed with a combination of primarily Roman and Latin influences. Its current state depicts bits and pieces from each artist’s prints.
Basilica Sancti Petri, the 2014 book by Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, inspired the Museum of the Bible exhibit. Kloha told CNA that Jatta’s collection of the prints for the book led her to offer the original copies for display in the exhibit.
St. Peter’s Basilica was originally built by Roman Emperor Constantine during the pontificate of Pope Sylvester I (314–345) and was completed in 337. It was eventually demolished and rebuilt in the 16th century. The basilica has been the primary church of the Vatican and the site of papal celebrations for centuries. Its architecture has been a blueprint for numerous churches and secular buildings, and it is the first Christian church to be built on the burial site of a martyr — its namesake, St. Peter.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
“It's an interesting way that the Bible becomes kind of concrete in that sense,” Kloha told CNA, while also noting that “in many ways it becomes a model, a pattern for what follows,” both in Catholicism and other traditions.
“Basilica Sancti Petri: The Transformation of Saint Peter’s Basilica” will be included as a part of general admission tickets to the Museum of the Bible through Sept. 25. To learn more about this exhibit and others, visit the museum’s website.