The church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Saint Mary near Saint Satyrus), in Milan, was half finished when Donato Bramante (1444-1514), the great Marche-born architect who had designed it and was directing its construction (1478-1483), received a letter by the city administration, forbidding him from taking over the road behind the building. Suddenly, he could not build the apse.
Bramante had designed a Latin cross structure with the apse in the upper arm. Now the letter was forcing him to give up ten meters of room. Far from being discouraged, Bramante designed what is now considered a masterpiece of “architectura ficta”, in which – for the first time in history, as expert Filippo Camerota has explained in one of his books – “perspective stopped being a painting problem applied to architecture, and fully became architecture itself: ‘prospectiva aedificandi’.”
The tromp l’oeil apse, Camerota continues, became the center of its surrounding “spaces, both real and represented. […]. The illusion of its extending as much as one of the arms in the transept restores the ‘static’ and composition balance of the dome, which would otherwise seem skewed, and thus recovers its role as a focal point” (translated from F. Camerota, “Nel segno di Masaccio: l’invenzione della prospettiva”, Giunti, Florence 2001).
Here is a series of photographs of the Bramante church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro. Some – by architect Giorgio Ripa – were taken last December during the setup of the new lighting system created in collaboration with Artemide and Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lombardia.