Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Broken Pediment

For years we've been wandering around Rome, noticing a distinctive decorative form: a triangular pediment, usually over a door or a window, but incomplete. We wondered what it was.

Pediments (we were tempted to add "of course," but we just learned this) were a feature of Greek buildings as well as many structures built in the Renaissance. The Parthenon is the best example. In ancient Rome and in the Renaissance, pediments were also used as non-structural, decorative elements--what we observe here. In the photo above, of a doorway in Rome, the pediment is both "broken" (that's the technical term) at the top--that is, not completed--and "open" (another technical term) along the base of the triangle.

It wasn't long ago (and it may still be true) that the "broken" pediment was considered "decadent," an example of "excess"--that is, just plain bad taste. One of those criticized for using the form was Giacomo Barocchio (1507-75), who succeeded Michelangelo as architect of St. Peter's. A tough act to follow.

In New York City, the most famous, or notorious example of the broken pediment is Philip Johnson's AT & T building (now occupied by SONY), with its "Chippendale" top. This is one of the first "post-modern" structures--essentially a modern building, but with an 18th-century twist.

The facade of Santa Maria del Popolo plays with the concept of the broken pediment, the cornice doubling to suggest a broken pediment, its two parts potentially meeting (some say rather awkwardly) at the center window. Bill

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