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Thursday, August 31, 2017

King Arthur Art

The Death of Arthur, 1823, James Archer
As an artist, imagine being paid to illustrate a story that is about eight-hundred years old, has had numerous authors down through the ages; is of doubtful historic validity; and is mostly made up of medieval folklore. Add to that the fact that the saga has added more new characters over the past five-hundred years than Days of Our Lives. Not only that, but the storyline has more twists and turns and plot potholes than Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Great Pumpkin, and the Easter Bunny combined. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm describing the ancient legend of what might be described as England's George Washington. King Arthur is a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romantics, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD. The details of Arthur's story are mainly folklore and literary invention, while his actual existence has long been debated and disputed by modern historians.

The Death of Arthur, 1862, John Garrick. The tale was so
familiar there was no need to mention he was a king.
Perhaps the worst aspect of any such a hypothetical illustrating assignment would be that there have been dozens of artists down through the 19th and 20th-centuries who have actually faced such a chore. As might be expected, their work has been uneven. Some, such as Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth built their reputation on the success of their encounter with this legendary monarch. Others, have failed miserably. The Pre-Raphaelites, made a fetish of this Medieval King from whom the Tudor branch of the royal family (and perhaps the Windsors still today) claim to be descended.
The art of Arthur is almost as old as the story of Arthur, the earliest work dating back to about 1300.
King Arthur, 1874,
Julia Margaret Cameron,
used photos to illustrate
Tennyson's poems.
Since there is no conclusive evidence for or against Arthur's historicity, the debate will continue. But what can not be denied is the influence of the figure of Arthur on literature, art, music, and society from the Middle Ages to the present. Though there have been numerous historical novels that try to put Arthur into a sixth-century setting, it is the legendary figure of the late Middle Ages who has most captured the imagination. It is such a figure, the designer of an order of the best knights in the world, that figures in the major versions of the legend from Malory to Tennyson to T. H. White. Cen-tral to the myth is the downfall of Arthur's kingdom. It is undermined in the chron-icle tradition by the treachery of Mordred (said to be Arther's illegitimate son by his step-sister). In the romance tradition that treachery is made possible because of the love of Lancelot and Guinevere.

Gustave Doré's Camelot
for Alfred Tennyson's
Idylls of the King, 1868
Arthur Pendragon was the greatly proph-esized and long awaited man who would be a great king. Everything about Arthur is loaded with elements of mystical intervention and divine predestination, especially his con-ception. In most chronicles, books, and mov-ies, the parents of Arthur are Uther (Uter, Vter, Vther) Pendragon and Igraine (Igerne, Igrayne, Igerna, Ygraine, Ygerna, Ygerne, Eigyr) of Cornwall. (Consistent spelling was not a strong suit in the English language at the time.) However, the main characters of Arthurian legend have remain fairly consis-tent over time--Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot, Galahad, Mordred, and a few more. To this mix have been added several others including Vivien, Tristan, Iseuit, and Yvain.

Mordred, Arthur's
final foe, H. J. Ford

Interestingly, Sir Yvain is the only figure in the legendary story of Arthur who actually lived. It is difficult to narrow down all legendary figures. However, Yvain is unique among the Knights of the Round Table in that he is based on a historical figure. He is recorded as some variation of Owain mab Urien, of the kingdom of Rheged. There is little doubt as to the historicity of this man. As for the other Knights of the Round Table, literary scholars can't even agree as to their exact number much less their names. Listing range from twelve to as high as 150. The most commonly mentioned are: King Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain, Geraint, Percival, Bors the Younger, Lamorak, Kay, Gareth, Bedivere, Gaheris, Tristan, and Galahad. If some are unfamiliar, that's because some were more colorful than others.

Quite likely, no one was more responsible for the resurgence of the popularity of King Arthur than England's Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the late 1800s.
Not only did the British rediscover King Arthur, and his Knights of the Round Table, during the 19th-century, they found the story lent itself to publication, especially in books that were profusely illustrated. Although they were far from the "illustrated novels" we find today, publishers called upon the services of some of the best Illustrators the U.S. and the U.K. had to offer. With the publication of King Arthur of Britain in 1903, came illustrations by the American artist, Howard Pyle (below) with his black and white renderings resembling etchings and woodcuts (by that time both quite out of style).

Pyle's work had a deliberately medieval look in keeping
with the time frame of the story.
By the time another version of King Arthur came along around 1922, color had become an exciting addition to the illustrators tools and skills (below) as seen in the work of another American illustrator, the legendary N.C. Wyeth, father of Andrew Wyeth, and grandfather of Jamie Wyeth of my generation. The book was aimed squarely at teen and preteen boys, the author, Sidney Lanier, even went so far as to title his 1880s tome Boy's Book of King Arthur. Reaching wide audiences the flood of King Arthur books providing inspiration for Mark Twain's satiric A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court  published in 1889.

Although to our eyes, Wyeth's illustration appear dated and heavy-handed, to boys growing up in the early 20th-century, their vivid color and dramatic action pictures were often seen as more important than the plot.
With the new century and the surprising popularity of a very old, tortured story, King Arthur found a place not just in boy's literature, but also in poetry, plays, television, and motion pictures. The storyline matured and coalesced with the Alan Lerner's and Frederick Loewe's 1960 musical, Camelot, a cautionary tale about fulfilled wishes. King Arthur (Richard Burton) wants to establish a radical system of government based on equality and the rule of law, so temperate that the weather itself would willingly abide by certain restrictions ("Camelot"). Guinevere (Julie Andrews), irked by her arranged marriage, wants her beauty flattered and a great romantic love ("The Simple Joys of Maidenhood"). Lancelot (Robert Goulet) seeks a level of purity so conspicuous that "he could easily work a miracle or two" ("C'est Moi"). Lancelot does, in fact, work a miracle. He raises a jousting opponent from the dead with a prayer, thus catching the eye of Queen Guinevere.

A 20th-century Arthur and Guinevere.
Though fond of her husband, Guinevere is drawn to the kingdom's most eligible bachelor. They inevitably become entangled in a legendary illicit romance. Because Camelot was founded on the principle that crimes, like adultery with the queen, must invariably be punished, Arthur is obliged to order his wife's execution. Her rescue, led by Lancelot and abetted by the early hour at which Arthur scheduled the event, tears Camelot apart. The consequences of irresistible desire extend to every character. Arthur's fling with his half-sister produced Mordred (Roddy McDowell), who would later scheme to depose his father and end the halcyon days of Camelot. Merlin, Arthur's moral and spiritual guide, is seduced away from the Crystal Cave by the spirit, Nimue. The knights who brought order to the kingdom get bored and return to rampant sin and bloodshed. And everyone lives unhappily ever after.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Reader's Digest Art

Southern Springtime,  May, 1956, C.C. Beall

DeWitt and Lila Wallace.
They never made the cover
of the magazine they founded,
but Time saw fit to honor 
their two competitors.
When I was growing up in the mid-1950s, I had very little access to art or artists. We got The Saturday Evening Post and Reader's Digest. Art wasn't taught in our county's high schools until 1967, several years after I graduated. Thus any exposure I had to fine art came from those two publications. I adored Norman Rockwell and largely ignored the stable of artists employed by the Reader's Digest. Rockwell and his colleagues were humorous, ironic, thought provoking. The art of the Rea-der's Digest was pretty, but also pretty bland, conservative, and, to say the least, forgettable (above). It's only now, more than fifty years later, that I can look at the efforts of the magazine's founders, DeWitt and Lila Bell Wallace, and feel a debt of gratitude for their efforts to bring the best contemporary art of their era into the homes of their readers. The fact that their art slipped by me in no way lessens their im-portance in shaping the art tastes of at least two whole generations of art lovers around the world.

The first issue of Reader's Digest
The first Reader's Digest hit the newsstands in February, 1922 (above). The initial cost was 25-cents with the first press run of 1,500 copies, each with 64 pages. The only artwork was a decorative logo. Within a year the Wallaces had 7,000 subscribers. Four years later the circulation reached 20,000 and by 1929, it had skyrocketed to 216,000. Wallace knew what his readers wanted. By 1936, circulation had reach a nice, round number of one-million, and this in the midst of a world-wide depression. Although there were sometimes line illustrations inside as needed, there was no art and no advertising.

Patriotic art was still a sure winner in 1969 as it had been in 1943.
The art began in 1943, during the midst of WW II with various patriotic themes (U.S. Flags, above). Judging from the 1943 issues the magazine sort of "tiptoed" into the addition of art with a bit of decorative doodling in January to flags in July to the binder-wrapping art by December.

Reader's Digest binder wrapped art format continued until about 1975 when the magazine switched to photography related to articles within.
Artists came and went. The artwork on the magazine's cover always reflected the tastes of the Wallaces, particularly that of Mrs. Wallace. Even during the height of the Abstract Expressionist era, there was never a trace of the avant-garde on the cover of the Readers' Digest. About the closest thing I found to modern art was French painter Raoul Dufy's Lestelle on the May, 1951 cover (below).

Lestelle, 1951, Raoul Dufy. This must have come as quite a shock to
Digest readers of that day.
Although the binder-wrapping art format faded in the mid-1970s, the magazine continued to use individual paintings on its back cover (below)until January of 2008 when economic pressures demanded they begin using this most valuable space as a source of income. An estimated 50-million readers of the American edition of the magazine flipped over any of the 15-million copies of the February issue, to see an advertisement in the form of a perforated gatefold flap for Hallmark Cards Inc. The cost of a back-cover ad was then between $350,000 and $500,000, compared with $192,000 for a one-time four-color ad inside the magazine.

A sampling of back-cover art from the mid-90s.
Morning Walk, C. F. Payne
One of my favorite Reader's Digest cover illustrators from the first decade of this century was C. F. Payne, who one might call Reader's Digest's re-incarnation of Norman Rockwell. Al-though their style was quite different (Payne was more of caricaturist) they were both cut from the same Amer-ican made cloth. The Digest hired Payne late in 2003, just in time for their Christmas cover (below). For the next four years, until he was replaced by Hallmark, Payne did monthly back-cover art with a sense of humor and an understanding of what made the country "tick" that he remains today, ten years after he completed his final Santa Claus cover in December, 2007, the magazine's all-time most popular artist.

2007: And to All a Good Night.
2006: Flight Plan
2005: untitled
2004: On Donner, On Blitzen, Onstar
2003: untitled
Chris Fox Payne, most commonly known as C.F. Payne, is an American caricaturist and illustrator. He graduated with BFA from Miami University in Ohio in 1976 then began a freelance career in 1980. His illustrations may be found on covers of Time, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Mad, Esquire, National Geo-graphic, and Spy. His series Our America ap-peared exclusively on the back covers of Read-er's Digest.

Street Fare, C.F. Payne

March, 1967--a personal favorite.
DeWitt and Lila Wallace retired from the active management of the magazine they founded in 1973 after over a half-century of grinding out what DeWitt liked to read and therefore what his subscribers likely wanted as well. He died in 1981 at the age of 91. Lila Wallace died in 1994. The Wallaces never had children; and therefore most of their stock in the company was willed to charities, including Macalester College. The magazine is managed today by the Reader's Digest Association.

Trick or Treat, October 2005, C.F. Payne


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Zachary Taylor Davis

Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California where, in 1921, William Wrigley Jr. hired Davis to design his "summer home." Nice view.
It's axiomatic in the field of architecture that architects need to know, and curry the favor of, lots of millionaires. Virtually all their clients have attained that status. In today's world that's largely the result of inflation, yet even a hundred years ago any major urban structure usually came with a budget of more than a million dollars. In the past only governments, royalty, or the church (with perhaps a few wealthy bankers and merchants thrown in to season the mix) could afford the services of the developing profession of architecture. Zachary Taylor Davis was fortunate in that he had a long list of millionaire friends ready, willing, and able to employ his expertise as an architect.

Mrs. W.D. Curtin's 1899 new home designed by Davis.
Look what $15,000 would buy back then. The house is still a private residence.
Davis was on good terms with Chicago's Armour (meatpacking) family, with chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley and his son, William Jr., Mrs. W. D. Curtin, Charles Comiskey, and various church and government officials in the Chicago area where he worked and made his home with his wife, Alma, and their five children (one of whom died as a child). Zachary T. Davis was born in 1869. Davis grew up in Aurora, Illinois. He graduated from the Chicago School of Architecture, a part of the Armour Institute (later the Illinois Institute of Technology). After graduating he served a six-year apprenticeship, part of which was spent as a draftsman for Louis Sullivan. There he worked along side another aspiring architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. After his work with Adler and Sullivan, Davis began his career as supervising architect for Armour & Company, before starting his own firm with his brother, Charles, in 1900.
Through good times and bad, Davis' talents were in constant demand.
In addition to Mrs. Curtin's stone castle with its nickel-plated "open" plumbing (why it should be "open" I'm not sure), Davis and his brother found work designing St. Am-brose Church (below) in 1904 and the Kan-kakee County Courthouse (left), complete with enough Baroque, Beaux-Arts decora-tion to do justice to a Victorian wedding cake.
The Kankakee County
Courthouse, 1909-12

St Ambrose Church, 1904, Zachary T. Davis,
at the intersection of S. Ellis and 47th street, Chicago..
Davis' big break came a year later when he was hired by Charles Comiskey to design White Sox Park, later known as Comiskey Park (below). To prepare for the project, Davis toured ballparks around the country with White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh. In 1914, Davis designed Weeghman Park for the Chicago Whales, a park which would later become Wrigley Field. Davis was also involved with the design of the original Yankee Stadium.

Notice Davis's rather laughable addition (upper photo) of classical columns and motifs to Comiskey's baseball grandstands.
One of the problems that Davis and other Chicago architects faced during the early years of the 20th-century was the fact that businesses and individuals came seeking their services to design buildings for which there were no historic precedents. As Chicago "skyscrapers" grew taller and taller it made no sense to add a decorative "crown" to the top which could scarcely be seen from the ground. Architects began asking themselves, what was a train station "suppose" to look like? Old styles either hampered the functionality of the building or simply looked silly having been "adapted." Until Davis began to employ steel and concrete, for instance, baseball seating had always been made of wood.

Comiskey Park amounted to a practice run for Davis in designing what later came to be called Wrigley Field. Davis jettisoned the past to invent "ballpark" architecture.
 Wrigley Field is located on the North Side of Chicago. It first opened in 1914 as Weeghman Park for Charles Weeghman's Chicago Whales of the Federal League, which folded after the 1915 baseball season. The stadium soon became the home of the Chicago Cubs, one of the city's two Major League Baseball franchises. The Chicago Cubs played their first home game at the park on April 20, 1916, defeating the Cincinnati Reds with a score of 7–6 in 11 innings. In 1921, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. of the Wrigley Company acquired complete control of the Cubs. Davis's groundbreaking baseball park was named Cubs Park from 1920 to 1926, before being renamed Wrigley Field in 1929. Even though baseball venues have come a long way from Davis's ballparks, Chicagoans would sooner see Lake Michigan drained dry than tear it down for something more modern.

They keep updating Wrigley Field, but they will never replace this venerable Chicago landmark.
Zachary T. Davis and his brother were also called upon to design accommodations for other sports for which there were little or no precedents in their architectural model books. In Hot Springs, Arkansas, they created Oaklawn, which featured the first glass-enclosed and heated grandstand (below). Horseracing enthusiasts loved it.

Oaklawn Park, 1905, Hot Springs, Arkansas, Zachary T. Davis.
Perhaps even more challenging for the Davis brothers was a commission that came in the middle of the Wrigley Field construction. It requested they design a motor speedway with a two mile track, spectator facilities, a polo field, even a golf course in the middle of the race course. With all that, they couldn't exactly go back through their architecture history books to copy the Roman Coliseum or the Circus Maximus. It would appear that they may have visited Churchill Downs, but in large part they were forced to embrace "form follows function.

Speedway Park, 1913-18, Maywood, Illinois
Billed at the time as the “fastest, safest and most spectacular automobile race course in America.” Speedway Park was a mammoth two-mile wooden board track located on 320 acres of farmland just south of 12th Street between First and Ninth Avenues. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the racecourse was that construction was completed in the course of about 60 days, using 14 million feet of lumber supplied by timber baron Edward Hines. For a time, the speedway put Chicago on the map as a major center of auto racing, However, within three years, the operation was bankrupt, the park sold to become the Edward Hines Jr. Memorial Veterans Hospital.

Notice that, even when designing a factory, Davis allowed certain classical decorative elements to creep into the plans.
Zachary Taylor Davis and his firm went on to design numerous churches, a high school, and a number of meatpacking facilities for Armour as well as in the Midwest much like the one (above) in Kansas City. As for the churches such as Ambrose and St. James Chapel (below) at the Quigley Seminary, there was no shortage of models to emulate in design them.

St. James Chapel, Quigley Seminary, Chicago.
Sadly, the Zachary T. Davis home in Chicago's
Kenwood neighborhood did not fare as well as
some of Davis' other Chicago residences. During
the 1950s, the neighborhood deteriorated as
residents moved to the suburbs. Within twenty
years after Davis' death in 1946, the house was
demolished to make room for the Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. Preparatory High School.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Steve McGhee

Could anyone create art from natural disasters?
Should anyone even try? And if so, why?
As I watch the incredible pain, suffering, loss of life, and tremendous destruction of both private property and public infrastructure resulting from Hurricane Harvey, one question keeps running through my mind. How many severe natural catastrophes such as this will it take before climate change deniers, especially in the south, come to realize that what they are enduring is NOT simply a spell of bad weather. The religious among us might say that what we're seeing is God trying to convince them otherwise and suggesting they might want to instead bear the tremendous cost and inconvenience of doing something about it sooner rather than later. As the old saying goes, "You can pay me now, or pay me [much more] later." Later being the cleanup and rebuilding after various climate change disasters like Harvey (or worse) occur.
Steve McGhee creates his scenes of natural disasters from photos such as these. Looks like he'll have no shortage of
source material for a while to come.
What does all this have to do with art? It has quite a lot to do with the art of Ontario digital artist Steve McGhee. We might say, without fear of offending him, that his art is a disaster. If you believe there's no beauty in destruction, but there is a special kind of hope in disaster, Steve McGhee‘s art will speak to you. The Canadian illustrator’s imagination gives birth to tragedy, calamity, and adversity. These misadventures would be shockingly tragic if they ever actually occurred, but fortunately for us all, they only take place in McGhee’s mind and on his computer screen.
Is it real or is it Photoshop?
I Came Apart,
Steve McGhee, self-portrait
Steve McGhee was born and raised in London, Ontario. He knew from an early age that he was gifted with a natural artistic talent. After a rather disturbing phase of designing horrifying “torture houses” as a kid, the artist turned to sketching superheroes and action figures. In college, McGhee tried animation, but decided it wasn’t his kind of art. He moved his focus to studying design and advertising instead. In so doing, McGhee developed extraordinarily superb Photoshop skills. Actually, rather than follow the school’s schedule for learning the program, Steve simply sneaked into higher-level classes to learn faster rate.

 After college, McGhee found work in design and advertising, but he never lost his childhood taste for the darker side of life. Although his professional work is of extremely high-quality, but he really shines in the art he creates just for fun. The personal work he posts on his website reflects both his natural talent as well as the skills he’s acquired over his many years of working. These personal pieces frequently fo-cus on what can go wrong at any given mo-ment. They are visions of the post-apocalyptic world, predictions for what might happen in our future--now or later. They’re worst-case scen-arios, things we hope will never actually hap-pen.

                            Last Flight Home,
                                 Steve McGhee
Too Close, Steve McGhee

In asking "why" earlier, why focus on the seemingly negative; why spend so much energy creating art that only brings to mind the most unpleasant things we would rather not think about? McGhee responds simply: It all has to do with the innocence that such tragedy can inspire. He brings up the days following the September 11 attacks when reporters ran out of words, becoming unable to say anything more than the pictures were already saying about the in-speakable tragedy unfolding at the time. In the days following the attacks, we all came together in awed silence. Our words were replaced with a strange fellowship most of us had never felt before. We returned to a sort of primal state where all we wanted was comfort and reassurance.

Water vs. the City,
Steve McGhee

As an artist, McGhee hopes to inspire the same kind of silent innocence. His images of destruction aren’t particularly macabre or shocking; they simply depict moments of extremes that most of us will, thankfully, never have to live through. The digital paintings weren’t meant to inspire terror or even sadness. They are neutral speculative histories of imaginary disasters, meant to bring the viewer back to a primal state of mind where all we can do is observe. His inspiration usually comes from simply imagining something awful. He composes a disaster in his mind and imagines how it would look on television news and in the newspapers. He strives to recapture that momentary sense of collective awe that, for better or worse, always seems to punctuate moments of tragedy.

When Everything Died,
Steve McGhee


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Old St. Peter's Basilica

During the church's early years it was considerably
more sparse in appearance that seen here.
If you've ever visited St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican while passing through Rome, you've no doubt been impressed. The closer you got to it, the more you were impressed. And once you got inside it, you were no doubt impressed by its scale, Baroque decoration, and massive dome. That is, if you've not already been impressed to the limits of impressibility by a visit to the Sistine Chapel. Don't even think about joining the mob scene in front of Michelangelo's Pieta, you have to get really close to it in order to be impressed. The fact is, that all I've mentioned was designed and built about four-hundred years ago for the single purposes of impressing visitors with the majesty, beauty, and power of the Roman Catholic Church.
The church's design and floor plan were based on that of the ancient
Roman basilica dating back some three-hundred years earlier.
While there, you should consider the fact that, as impressive as today's St. Peter's may be, Pope Julius II, the kingpin behind the building of the incredible piece of ecclesiastic architecture we see today, had his architects and a wrecking crew tear down the original (or what's referred to now as "old") St. Peter's, which was almost as large, almost as magnificent as today's basilica. Moreover, it had an even longer, more colorful, more impressive history than that of today. Old St. Peters' was begun in 326 AD and finished in 360. It stood for more than eleven hundred years, marking the traditional location of the grave of St. Peter, dating from around 65-68 AD.
The Crucifixion of St. Peter, 1661, Caravaggio. Church tradition has it that Peter was crucified upside down at his own request so that his death would not be seen as emulating that of Jesus.
Before there was either the new or the old St Peter's Basilica there was the Circus of Caligula and Nero. Both used the valley next to Vatican Hill as a chariot race course, first for mere practice for the games in the much larger Circus Maximus, then later, as grandstands appeared on both sides, as a second venue for chariot races. It was the northern length of this stone seating which later became part of the foundation for the south wall of Old St. Peter's. It was within the precincts of Nero's Circus that the apostle, Peter, was put to death around 65-68 AD. Tradition has it he was buried in a nearby necropolis (cemetery) conveniently located just across the street from the circus.

The Circus of Nero. Peter's tomb is said to be just beyond the stadium seating and the drum-like temple in the center of the race course. All that survives today is the obelisk next to the temple. The 84-foot monolith was moved to form a centerpiece for the new St. Peter's Square sometime after 1660.
For about three-hundred years after St. Peter's martyrdom, the Vatican fields, as they were called, fell into disuse. Gladiators and lions devouring Christians became the main sport of the day, for which the new Coliseum next to the forum was much better suited. Then came the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who not only made Christianity legal again, but joined their ranks. Until then there had been only meager efforts to mark the tomb of St. Peter. Constantine saw to it a proper church was built on the site, the transept crossing the nave directly over the high altar which was one level up and directly over the tomb. Today's high altar is yet one more level higher than that of Old St. Peter's. They leveled parts of Vatican Hill for fill dirt. The old necropolis (carefully preserved) is some five meters below the floor of the present day basilica.

The Circus of Nero area during the second and third centuries. The tomb, temple, and obelisk are marked in red. The south wall of Old St. Peter's would align with the row of buildings running up the center of the model.
The round building located next to the obelisk (above) may actually be the oldest structure on the site, predating the circus. It was occupied by a cult whose worship involved bathing in the blood of bulls (the original bloodbath?). Later it became a tomb for a wealthy empress and later still, it became the Chapel of St. Andrew. Another round structure came later, the mausoleum of the Emperor Honorius, which was turned into the chapel of St. Petronilla during the medieval period. Both were connected to Old St. Peter's. Both were torn down with the building of the new St. Peter's (below).

                            How did they move the
                            obelisk? Very carefully.
                            The etching gives us a
Notice the difference in the axis between the two diagrams. Experts disagree as to whether Old St. Peter's aligned with the axis of the Circus of Nero (bottom), or was skewed slightly (upper illustration) to align with Hadrian's Mausoleum (today's Castel San Angelo).
Building Old St. Peter's was no sim-ple task for Constantine's architects and engineers. The land sloped down from Vatican Hill both north and south as well as east and west (see diagrams below). One might wonder if there was much left of Vat-ican Hill once they got done filling in the valley. The backfilling and level-ing resumed again when construc-tion of today's St. Peter, raising the elevation another ten feet. It's re-ported that some of the ancient re-taining walls constructed during both eras are now badly in need of rein-forcement or rebuilding. The dia-gram at left details the relationship of the various underground tomb relat-ed construction over the centuries.

The floor level of Constantine's Basilica became the crypt beneath today's St. Peter's.
From 65 A.D. to 313 A.D, Christians in the Roman Empire were forced to practice the beliefs in hiding. For 248 years Christians risked their lives to follow Jesus Christ. Emperor Constantine, in 313 A.D., stopped the persecution of Christians in the Edict of Milan, which removed penalties for professing Christianity and returned confiscated property. Throughout his rule, Constantine supported the Church financially, built basilicas, granted clergy exemption from certain taxes and promoted Christians to government offices. Construction of the First Saint Peter's Basilica was begun on the orders of the Roman emperor Constantine around 326 A.D and took 30 years to complete.
Steps just in front of today's high altar (carried over from Old St. Peter's) lead down to the crypt and eventually to the tomb of St. Peter on below.

In 846, Saracens sacked and damaged the basilica. The raiders seem to have known about Rome's extraordinary treasures both holy and impressive. Basilicas, such as St. Peter's were outside the Aurelian walls, and thus easy targets. They were filled to overflowing with rich liturgical vessels and with jeweled reliquaries housing all of the relics recently amassed. As a result, the raiders pillaged the holy shrine. In response Pope Leo IV built the Leonine wall and rebuilt the parts of St. Peter's that had been damaged.

A map and cross section of the crypt and the Roman necropolis beneath the present-day basilica.
However, by the 15th century the church was falling into ruin. Discussions on repairing parts of the structure commenced upon Pope's Julius II's return from Avignon. Two people involved in this reconstruction were Leon Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino. Alberti pronounced the basilica a structural abomination. At first Julius II had every intention of preserving the old building, but his attention soon turned toward tearing it down and building a new structure. Many at the time were shocked by the proposal, since the building represented papal continuity going back to Peter. As a compromise, the original altar was preserved in the new structure that housed it.

Old St. Peter's Basilica, Romanesque in style, a far cry from the highly ornamental Baroque classicism which replaced it.