Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini


Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini
(San Francesco; beg. 1450)
   Meant as a pagan shrine, this temple was one of the pieces of evidence used by Pope Pius II in 1462 against Sigismondo Malatesta to prove his impiety. A church dedicated to St. Francis already existed on the site where the Tempio Malatestiano now stands, then used by the Malatesta as their mausoleum. Sigismondo charged the Veronese architect Matteo de' Pasti to renovate the existing structure by adding two chapels to function as his own memorial and that of his mistress Isotta degli Atti. In the process, Pasti destroyed frescoes painted in the 14th century by Giotto. In 1450, a jubilee year, Sigismondo went to Rome to participate in the celebrations and there he met Leon Battista Alberti who criticized Pasti's work, so Sigismondo invited him to submit his own plans. The new designs were accepted and Pasti carried out the rest of the commission under Alberti's direction through correspondence from Rome. Sigismondo wanted his body and that of Isotta to have their final resting place in sarcophagi inserted into niches in the building's façade alongside that of famous men, including the Greek humanist Gemistus Pletho whose body Sigismondo recovered when he led the Venetian army against the Turks in Morea (1465). For this, Alberti used a series of arched niches that provide a rhythmic repetition, calling to mind the aqueducts of the ancient Romans. The greatest challenge Alberti faced in this project was how to apply a classicized façade onto a medieval structure where the height of the nave is greater than the aisles. He found the solution in the triumphal arches of the ancients. He looked to the arches of Constantine in Rome and Augustus in Rimini for inspiration. The ancient motif is suitable to a funerary structure as it can be related to the concept of triumph over death—in this case not in the religious sense, however, but as a result of the deceased's deeds. The arches of Alberti's façade are surmounted by a large pediment broken by another partially built arch that is flanked by pilasters at either side — an Albertian invention.
   The project was halted in 1461 when Sigismondo had his fallout with the pope that resulted in his public excommunication and casting to hell in front of St. Peter's in the following year. We know from Alberti's written instructions to Pasti and a medal struck when the cornerstone was laid that Alberti intended to include a large dome over the choir. Alberti, a great admirer of Filippo Brunelleschi, utilized the same principles of design his predecessor had introduced to the field of architecture. His classically inspired structure, emphasis on the rhythmic repetition of forms, and sober approach are all Brunelleschian elements.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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