The Wooden Models of the Vatican Basilica by Antonio da Sangallo and Michelangelo: Survey, Modelling and Interpretation

  • Carlo BianchiniEmail author
  • Alfonso Ippolito
  • Luca J. Senatore
Part of the Lecture Notes in Civil Engineering book series (LNCE, volume 24)


The role that models have played in the development of Renaissance architectural thought is well known but the massive usage of digital modelling and visualization tools often prevents us from fully appreciating their original role in the conception and communication of architecture. Nowadays infact, bits and pixels have almost completely replaced wood, chalk or plaster. However, either tangible (material) and intangible (digital) models still unquestionably represent an extremely effective design tool. More than drawings, in fact, they show a strong ability to crystalize in an immediate and evident form the architect’s idea. Under this perspective, material and digital models are not as distant form each other as it seems and actually live a sort of parallel life. They share in fact the modelling, namely that process of abstraction establishing a biunivocal correspondence between the object and its representation. This is why representations have been so important for the making of architecture: exploiting their being models, architects do use them to journey across space (and time occasionally) in order to understand the essence of architectural concepts, designs and even buildings. In this framework, this paper summarizes some results of the research developed by our group about Sangallo’s and Michelangelo’s maquettes for the New St. Peter’s Basilica that have been surveyed in 2005/2006 and investigated since then. Our objective is to provide an insight about the work and a discussion of some major issues encountered while experimenting the virtual modelling of those historic models.


Material model Antonio da Sangallo Michelangelo St. Peter Basilica 3D modelling 



We would like to thank the Veneranda Fabbrica di San Pietro: first its responsible, Card. Angelo Comastri, for his high support and then Luca Virgilio and Pietro Zander for their constant help and advice.

Furthermore, we must underline that the Sangallo’s research has been part of a wider activity commissioned by the Veneranda Fabbrica in 2005 for the making of a multimedia product to be shown during the Petros Eni Exhibition. The Principal Investigator of this research was Prof. Luca Ribichini.

The activities focusing on Michelangelo’s model, instead, were part of an investigation project coordinated by prof. Paolo Rocchi that aimed at studying the Great Vatican Basilica from different, complementary points of view.

Finally, all the equipment used has been provided by the Department of History, Representation and Restoration of Architecture, Sapienza—Università di Roma.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlo Bianchini
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alfonso Ippolito
    • 1
  • Luca J. Senatore
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of History, Representation and Restoration of ArchitectureSapienza University of RomeRomeItaly

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