Bernini’s Colonnade: Anxiety and Control in Piazza San Pietro

We live in a security-conscious time, just as it often was with popes and the papal curia even up into the Early Modern period. This paper considers Bernini’s Colonnade as the solution to centuries of anxiety about the potential for civil unrest in Rome and its impact on the Vatican precinct. Scholars have long studied the papal election process and, more recently, have given much attention to the communal violence associated in particular with the periods of the vacant see, the hiatus between the death of a pope and the election of a successor. The disorder that frequently transpired directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Palace during papal conclaves has, however, been little studied. To be considered here is how the historical phenomenon of interregnal chaos helped shape Alexander VII’s monumental initiative to bring order and control to the urban space located at the intersection of the city and the Vatican.