The Vatican has arguably had an enormous influence on the development of Rome. R. A. Scotti’s new book, Basilica : The Splendor and the Scandal, Building St. Peter’s, outlines how the St. Peter’s basilica as we know it today came into being. In her work, she paints a picture of drama and intrigue as she outlines the 200 years from the razing of the old St. Peter’s to the construction and completion to the buildings we know today.
From Michelangelo to Raphael to Bramante to Bernini, Scotti brings to the reader the complex story of the creation of St. Peter’s in a way that is approachable and understandable. I read the entire book in a day, and I couldn’t put it down. While I think that she takes some liberty in the way she describes the events, she never strays far from the facts at hand. Her delivery and presentation are captivating and compels the reader to keep reading. She takes a sometimes dry subject and injects into it a sense of passion and intrigue that many historical and art historical texts avoid.
Anyone traveling to Rome in the future would do well to read this book. Even if you are not Catholic, it’s hard to avoid the architectural splendors of the Vatican. Reading Scotti’s work will help you help you to appreciate these architectural wonders that have had a profound influence on the artistic and architectural heritage of Rome. But she doesn’t obsess over the architectural and art historical significance of the work. I don’t think that anyone would dispute that. She sheds light on other important aspects, such as the politics involved in building such a structure, the players involved and the economics (where did all that money come from?). She does a wonderful job of juxtaposing the characters, especially with the various popes by demonstrating to the reader with the kind of people they were in comparison to each other and how their whims and fancies influenced this great project.
Scotti finishes the book with some walking tours of Papal Rome as well as an extensive bibliography of further reading – although many of the sources listed are out of print (but most likely available on the second hand market or in your library).