As a masterpiece of urban renovation by a major Renaissance architect, the Facciata dei Banchi enjoys wide critical acclaim. The scholarly literature on it, however, is bedeviled by historical uncertainties as well as by cursory accounts of the physical and formal evidence. The object of this essay is threefold: to present some new and firm documentation about the patronage, dating, and authorship of the work; to assess Vignola's achievement in its design; and to offer a critical reading of the project within the ideology of style. Accordingly, the façade is shown to have been erected between 1565 and 1568 under the initial supervision of Carlo da Limito, who followed a master plan produced by Vignola in 1564 for papal governor Pier Donato Cesi. The design incorporates features of preexisting and neighboring buildings, applies triumphal and theatrical imagery to the Piazza Maggiore, and is faithful to Vignola's precepts about the orders. As an example of urban renovation promoted by papal authorities, the Facciata dei Banchi reflects the Vatican's commitment to using Roman classicism to promote political ends in the ecclesiastical state.

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