The bronze used for the baldachin was probably removed from the Pantheon’s pronaos, a story which gave rise to a saying, “quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini” (“what the barbarians didn’t do, was done by the Barberini”). The baldachin has four colossal, twisted columns, splendidly fluted and decorated with olive and laurel branches, ending in a composite capital. The covering has extremely elegant volutes and statues on each corner, and is crowned by a gilded bronze sphere. Note the tassels with bees (an emblem of the Barberini family, symbolizing their industriousness), which almost seem to rustle in an imaginary wind. A gold dove inside represents the Holy Spirit. Underneath this structure is the “Tomb of Saint Peter”, where, according to tradition, the remains of the Apostle are kept, making it one of the places most venerated by Christians. Recent archaeological evidence seems to confirm this tradition. Above the baldachin is the majestic dome, with paintings on the inside, modelled between 1603 and 1613 after cartoons by Giuseppe Cesari. Along the base is a gold inscription in Latin, which reads, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and I will give you the keys to heaven.”
The monument to Clement XIII (1758-1769), in the right-hand transept, also deserves attention. It was built in 1784 by the greatest Italian neo-classical sculptor, Antonio Canova. It was commissioned in 1784 and was built using Bernini’s tombs as a model, with a portrait of the Pope above the sarcophagus, flanked by two allegorical figures: Religion with a cross in its hand and the Spirit of death extinguishing the fire of life. Two lions watch over the tomb in turn. St Peter’s Chair is one of Bernini’s sculptural masterpieces. Inside the great oval window, shielded by a thin sheet of alabaster, is the Holy Spirit, portrayed as a dove. Around the window, an extraordinary cloud of angels and puttos surmount St Peter’s bronze chair.
Inside the Chair is a wooden throne, which, according to tradition, was used by the first Apostle. It was, however, actually a gift from Charles the Bald to the Pope in 875. It is flanked by St Ambrose and St Augustine, Fathers of the Latin Church, and by St Athanasius and St John Chrysostom, Fathers of the Greek Church. The work was finished in 1666 under Pope Alexander VII.
On either side of the Chair are the monuments to Paul III by Guglielmo della Porta (left), and to Urban VIII by Bernini (right). Another artistically relevant sculpture is Bernini’s last work, the monument to Alexander VII in the left transept, commissioned by the Pope himself when the artist was eighty years old. The skeleton below the red drapery and the hourglass symbolize the passing of time and the inevitability of death. Along the left aisle is Antonio Canova’s monument to the Stuarts (1819), dedicated to the last descendents of the courageous English family, portrayed in profile below the bracket. The monument to Blessed Pope John XXIII (1958-63) is by the sculptor Emilio Greco (1964-1967).