Redefining Papal Tombs: An Introduction
Among Bernini’s many commissions at the Vatican are two monumental papal tombs, honoring Pope Urban VIII Barberini and Pope Alexander VII Chigi, popes who proved to be committed patrons of the arts and particularly of art to outfit new St. Peter’s. They are a culmination of centuries of monumental tombs for both the papacy and royalty, and became models for the category of art well into the Neoclassical Period of the eighteenth century. This becomes increasingly evident through the study of the tombs in relation to their predecessors at and beyond St. Peter’s, to other Bernini commissions at the Vatican, to the wants of the patrons, and to later tombs throughout Europe. Both of the tombs display Bernini’s style, but the later tomb of Alexander VII shows a break from earlier Renaissance and Mannerist influences, which are seen in the tomb of Urban VIII, to display the mature Bernini style of the High Baroque. To properly understand the circumstances under which these tombs were completed, it is necessary to examine the major tombs that preceded Bernini’s works, other funerary art designed by Bernini, and the role of the patrons in the formation of the tombs.