Rococoand Academic Classicism in Eighteenth-Century Rome
Roman architecture in the early eighteenth century was of two temperaments: one stern, formal, and rather officious -- the legacy of Bernini and Fontana -- and the other sprightly, flexible, and, though ornate, more modest in its intentions -- the outcome of a renewed interest in Borromini. This second style is usually known as the Rococo, but the split between it and contemporary classicizing trends was less identifiable with individual architects than the progressive/conservative schism had been in the seventeenth century. 1 Now there were few dominant figures, and the most challenging commissions were more evenly dispersed among a greater number of architects.
The Rococo's gradual emergence was the more interesting of the two developments. It was in 1710 with Giacomo Onorato Recalcati's church of S. Agata in Trastevere that it made one of its first appearances. Within the framework of a conventional Gesù-type facade (95), Recalcati introduced details that would certainly have offended a conservative critic like Carlo Fontana. Among the unconventional details are upper story pilasters with unfinished capitals, and an oval window framed with angel wings. Both features, of course, had appeared decades earlier in Borromini's facades of the Oratory of St. Phillip Neri and the church of S. Carlo, works which until now had produced no offspring. In combining these features with fanciful pediments and other discreetly unorthodox details, Recalcati clearly expressed his impatience with the conformity of his classicizing contemporaries.