Walking around Rome, it's impossible to miss the architectural impact that Gian Lorenzo Bernini made in designing the way Rome looks today, even 400 years after his death in 1680. However, there was another man who made major contributions during his lifetime to the design of Rome. He was a contemporary of Bernini, but also his chief rival and adversary. His brilliance, overshadowed by Bernini's successes at that time, was truly underappreciated, but take the time to marvel at a two of his masterpieces during your visit to Rome. By the way, the man was Francesco Borromini.

Leaving Hotel Aberdeen (my preferred hotel in Rome) walk up Via Firenze to Via 20 Settembre. Just down the street to the right is Bernini's sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria. But this time, turn left and walk down Via 20 Settembre to Via delle Quattro Fontane (in a niche on each street corner is a carved fountain, hence the name Quattro Fontane--four fountains). Here you will find Borromini's first independent commission and a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.

Step inside. Look around. See how small the church is--just ten to fifteen rows of pews on either side of the center aisle, the altar just steps from the entry door. The church is so small it would probably fit inside one of the chapels of St. Peter's Basilica. The color white dominates. The walls are stark white with 16 tall columns and niches built into the walls between the columns, some filled with statuary, others empty. The coffering in the niches mimics the eye-trickery on the dome: the squares and sculpted flowers in them are smaller at the bottom to give the illusion of a deeper niche. There are no primary colors except in the altar paintings and floor design. Notice the shape of the church. Because he was constrained by the building space, Borromini designed the church in a unique elliptical or oval shape.
Photo © Mary Ann Sullivan 
Look up. Gaze at the dome ceiling. Study the detailing. The coffered ceiling's design of hexagons, octagons and crosses is meticulously formed to resemble a jigsaw puzzle. Higher up the shapes get smaller, giving the dome the illusion of even greater height. There are very few windows in this church's design. The majority of the light into the church comes from either the dome lantern or the strategically-hidden windows at the base of the dome.

Borromini's second masterpiece is located halfway between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Through a courtyard off of Corsa dei Rinascimento, is Sant'Ivo, the church of the University of Rome, La Sapienza.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza,Rome  Photos: © Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan   

As with San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Borromini used geometrical thinking to form the design of Sant'Ivo. For San Carlo, he set two equilateral triangles back-to-back to form the initial diamond, then elliptical shape. For Sant' Ivo, Borromini set one triangle on top of the other to form a six-pointed Star of David. As with San Carlo, Borromini also designed the walls of the church with the same convex-concave features--parts jutting out, parts pushing in. And another similarity is the domination of white, here even more than at San Carlo (well, this church is in the shape of a snowflake...).  And one last identical feature to San Carlo: a dome designed to make your jaw drop.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome                
Photo: ©: Wikimedia Commons                                                                                       

The shape of the dome mimics the shape of the church with six points--three pointed, three rounded--each with a small window built in to emit light. Intricately-designed stucco pediments top each of the paned windows. Each of the six ribs is decorated with vertical lines of eight-pointed stars on each side and lead the eye up to the carved angels and the eight-pointed stars which encircled the lantern. This dome is simply breathtaking in its beauty and design.  So, quando sei in Roma (when you are in Rome), admire the magnificence of Bernini, but don't forget what Borromini also did for Rome. Between these two churches I'm not sure which is more beautiful. Judge for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment