BORROMINI, Francesco


BORROMINI, Francesco
(1599-1667)
   Francesco Borromini has traditionally been considered the great rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Baroque Rome, but more recent research has shown that they collaborated on a number of commissions through their coinciding careers. Borromini initially came to Rome from northern Italy when he was 20 years old to work as an apprentice in the architectural workshop of his uncle, Carlo Maderno. During the 1620s, Maderno was working on the façade of Saint Peter's Church, and there Borromini probably first met Bernini, who was at the time working inside the church on a series of sculptures. Borromini's architectural style can be characterized as more dynamic and perhaps more eclectic than Bernini's, whose Baroque style is tempered with a classicizing organization.
   Borromini's best-known building is his small church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, located just down the street from Bernini's church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale. San Carlo, begun in the 1630s, is located at the corner of an intersection between two major Counter-Reformatory streets where a wall fountain had been installed in each of the four corners; thus the church received its name both from this location and from its dedication to San Carlo Borrommeo, one of the leaders of the Counter-Reformation. The church was commissioned by the newly established Catholic Order of the Trinitarians as their mother church in Rome, and its interior was beautifully decorated to reflect this significance. The façade of the church, completed in 1665, has a dramatically undulating curvature that creates a break from the straight line of the street. The center of the façade bulges outward together with the central stairs that spill out into the street, while the flanking bays of the tripartite front curve inward. A carved figure of San Carlo appears over the central doorway, while the entablature above separates the first story from the second with a strong, undulating movement. The highly sculptural second story features in the center of the façade a giant cartouche held by angels. The interior congregational space, built in the 1630s, reveals an oval shape that seems to be pinched inward slightly to form four curved "corners" of large columns. This effect provides an axial direction to the curved ground plan, allowing the visitor to focus on the high altar. The dome is also shaped into an oval, with pendentives that connect the dome to the "corner" columns of the room. It is this type of highly sculptural church interior that gives the appearance of being modeled out of clay.
   Borromini's Church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, built in Rome in the 1640s, is even more audacious in the way the architect mixes the three basic shapes of circle, square, and triangle in very plastic ways to create star patterns, ovals, and other forms. It is this architectural complexity that earned Borromini the reputation as an architect truly unique in his profession, eclectic and unusual, but who in this regard also demonstrated the Baroque architect's freedom from the rigid rules of Vitruvius and Renaissance architecture.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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