The Ponte Sant’Angelo: Bernini’s Project

Nicole Dacales


The Ponte Sant’Angelo
Fig. 3

Alexander VII thought highly of Bernini and late in his life he had spoken with Bernini about the idea of redesigning the Ponte Sant’Angelo.  Alexander VII might have wanted to give new life to the entrance of the Holy City of Rome after the devastation pertaining to the re occurrence of the plague in 1656-1657, Alexander VII took control of the disease and worked vigilantly to contain the deadly illness.[1]  Pope Alexander VII was unable to go forth with the redesign project because he passed away in 1667.  Bernini had already begun to produce sketches containing ideas revolving around the redesign of this vital bridge.  Alexander VII successor Clement IX came into power in 1667 and commissioned Bernini to begin the process for the project.  Bernini was to redesign and decorate the historic Ponte Sant’Angelo that was once called the Pons Aelius.  The redesign of the bridge is well documented in past text so we can understand the exact timeline of the project.  The first payments for the project were made on September 22, 1667.[1]  This payment put the entire project in motion for Bernini.  On April 16, 1668 payments were made for ten blocks of marble to be used for the angels.[2]  Bernini was striving to execute an idea to create a cohesive experience spanning from the entrance of the Holy City to the Basilica of St. Peter.  We can see Bernini applying his theory of bel composto to the unification of the bridge as an entrance way connected to the Castle Sant’Angelo that is further connected to the Vatican and the Basilica of St. Peter, considering the elements within the Holy City as a whole.  Bernini had been considering the impactful experience of the Ponte S. Angelo for in a document form April 1659 a workman was paid to repair the sculpture of the Archangel Michael and have it raised higher.[1]  The sculpture was raised higher because Bernini wanted to increase the visibility of the archangel from below to overshadow visitors as the approached the Ponte S. Angelo and proceeded to cross.  The Archangel Michael plays a role with the ten angels that Bernini designed to flank the sides of the bridge.  The river bank that ran along the Piazza di S. Celso was cleared of a number of buildings, and the roadway that ran in front of the Castle Sant’Angelo was widened enabling a visitor standing near the castle to have an unobstructed view of the entry- way to the Vatican Palace.[3]  The bridge was also to be made larger to accommodate large crowds that would be traveling to the Holy City.  While Bernini stayed in Pairs in the summer of 1665 he visited the Pont-Rouge (known as the Pont Saint-Landry) an also he visited the Pont-Neuf.[1]  Bernini visted these two bridges to observe the nature of the bridge and gather engineering ideas for his project back in Rome.  Bernini had a great love for water and had been avidly thinking about how to incorporate the experience of the water while still keeping the visitors safe.  Bernini created a design that had open balustrades that allowed individuals to view the flowing water below the bridge.  The Ponte Sant’Angelo was to be embellished with Angels Carrying Instruments of the Passion and raised on a platform and then sculpted standing on clouds to allude to the thought that the angel has descended from heaven so share the message of Gods sufferings.


[1] William Tronzo ed., St Peter’s in the Vatican(Cambridge University Press 2005)

[2]Mark S. Weil The History and Decoration of the Pont S. Angelo (The University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 1974)

[3] Mark S. Weil “The Angels of the Ponte Sant’Angelo: A Comparasion of Bernini’s Sculpture to the Work      of Two Collaborators.” Art Journal, Vol. 30 No. 3 (Spring 1971)