The St. Peter’s Baldachin is an immense gilded-bronze structure designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and built between 1624 and 1633. A seventeenth-century masterpiece, the work has important Christian symbolic meaning. It is located in St. Peter’s Basilica, the church of the popes, directly over the tomb of St. Peter. In the New Testament, Jesus charged Peter to found the Christian church. Bernini was 25 when he received the baldachin commission. He had already demonstrated his talent with religious and mythological sculptures, winning over influential cardinals and members of Rome's nobility as patrons.
In 1623, Maffeo Barberini asceded to the papacy, taking the name Urban VIII. The pontiff immediately turned his attention to completing works inside St. Peter’s, the most important structure in Christendom. The pope commissioned Bernini to build a vast sculpture to be located at the center of the church at the site of the main alter (which rises above St. Peter’s tomb), directly beneath the majestic cupola designed by Michelangelo. Bernini developed an innovative and spectacular idea: a monumental baldachin rising 28.5 m. in the air. His idea was inspired by the papal baldachin, the processional canopy in which the pope was transported when he traveled. The baldachin was square. Four corner marble bases yielded to four twisting bronze columns that seemed to corkscrew around themselves all the way up to an elaborately decorated canopy made from gilded wood. Atop the baldachin were four angel figures. In the middle, two putti held St. Peter’s keys and the papal crown. Bernini’s baldachin synthesized architecture and sculpture. The structure is architecturally imposing. Its height, for example, was greater than that of many buildings. But the execution relied primarily on sculptural gifts. Bernini was able to make hard material seem soft and malleable, giving static form a dynamic aspect. It took nearly a decade to complete. Pope Urban VIII inaugurated the baldachin in 1633. Bernini was later commissioned to undertake other works for St. Peter’s Basilica, including the colonnade enclosing the piazza.