Magazine article The Spectator

Fearful Symmetry

Magazine article The Spectator

Fearful Symmetry

Article excerpt

Most-of Rome's tourists, when enjoying their 'Baroque city breaks', find themselves lured by the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Famed throughout l7th-century Europe for his flamboyant style and fluidity in sculpture and architecture, his fountains, porticos, statues, and churches abound in this holy city. Yet much of the Bernini beat also includes the innovative architecture of Francesco Borromini, Bernini's contemporary and rival, and currently the subject of a fascinating but frustrating exhibition at the Palazzo dell' Exposizioni.

Apart from an exhibition in Lugano last summer, this is the first major Borromini exhibition in a while. He was largely forgotten in the 19th century and consigned to the world of scholarship in the 20th, so the 400th anniversary of his birth provides a wonderful opportunity to give him some well-deserved Publici .

Born in Bissone, by Lake Lugano, in what is now Switzerland, on 26 September 1599, Francesco Castelli (he took on his other family name in 1627) came from a long line of stonemasons and builders from Northern Europe. He arrived in Rome in 1614, after training to be a stonecutter in Milan, and became an apprentice to Carlo Maderno, the illustrious Vatican architect. By 1629 he was chief assistant to Bernini, overseeing such works as the Palazzo Barberini and the famous Baldacchino at St Peter's. He gained his first independent commission to build the church and monastery of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in 1634.

What is instantly striking about the drawings on show is the extent to which Borromini based his designs on geometry rather than, as was the Renaissance and early Baroque way, the proportions of the human body. Referring to his designs as 'his children' (over 700 are on show along with reduced scale models and computer-generated views of his work) Borromini strove for simplicity, symmetry and economy, in sharp contrast to contemporaries who relied on lavish and rhetorical designs. The plan of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, for example, built in economical travertine, is composed of a series of intersecting ovals covered by an oval dome, whereby not one dimension is larger than a single pier of St Peter's. His design of the Church of San No alla Sapienza is based on a six-point star where the height of the dome is equal to the star's diameter. He also delighted in playing with perspective; the famous colonnade at Palazzo Spada being made to look much longer than it actually is. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.