Dove of the Holy Spirit

Location:  St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Year Built:  1660

Artist(s):  Gian Lorenzo Bernini

holy spirit

The Cathedra Petri, or “Throne of St. Peter”, is the central work of art in the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and finished in 1666, this chair is made of bronze and encases the original Chair of St. Peter, which is made of wood and ivory. The throne takes up the whole space in the front of the basilica and is centered around an amber stained glass window. At the center of this window is a white dove which symbolizes the Holy Spirit, hence the title “Dove of the Holy Spirit”. The time period in which it was constructed, its oval shape, and the manipulation of light identify the window as Baroque.


The dove, from wing tip to wing tip, is six feet wide, which puts into perspective the colossal size of the whole sculpture. The light rays shift from brighter to darker as they move away from the dove, thus illustrating God the Holy Spirit as the source of light. The brightness alternates between light and dark with each division between the amber light rays around the dove, thereby accentuating each individual beam of light without bringing too much attention to any single one. The light rays are further accentuated by their continuation within the bronze sculpture; around the window is a plethora of angels on clouds, but beyond the angles, the light rays of the window continue in bronze form. From this we can tell that Bernini designed the sculpture and the window as a single, unified work. Interestingly, this stained glass window is not actually made of glass, but rather alabaster, a naturally translucent stone. The exact time the window was completed is uncertain, though most sources place it around 1660.


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