Dictionary of Art and Artists



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ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE - Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13,14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26



Carlo Maderno and Gianlorenzo Bernini

In architecture, the beginnings of the Baroque style cannot be defined as precisely as in painting. In the vast ecclesiastical building program that got under way in Rome toward the end of the sixteenth century, the most talented young architect to emerge was Carlo Maderno (1556-1629). In
1603 he was given the task of completing, at long last, the church of St. Peter's. The pope had decided to add a nave to Michelangelo's building (fig. 661), converting it into a basilica. The change of plan, which may have been prompted by the example of Il Gesu (see figs. 706 and 708), made it possible to link St. Peter's with the Vatican Palace to the right of the church (fig. 754). Maderno's design for the facade follows the pattern established by Michelangelo for the exterior of the church. It consists of a colossal order supporting an attic, but with a dramatic emphasis on the portals. The effect can only be described as a crescendo that builds from the corners toward the center. The spacing of the supports becomes closer, pilasters turn into columns, and the facade wall projects step by step.

This quickened rhythm had been hinted at a generation earlier in Giacomo della Porta's facade of Il Gesu (see fig. 708). Maderno made it the dominant principle of his facade designs, not only for St. Peter's but for smaller churches as well. In the process, he replaced the traditional concept of the church facade as one continuous wall surface, which was not yet challenged by the facade of Il Gesu. with the "facade-in-depth," dynamically related to the open space before it. The possibilities implicit in this new concept were not to be exhausted until 150 years later.

Maderno's work at St. Peter's was completed by Gianlorenzo Bernini
(1598-1680), the greatest sculptor-architect of the century. He molded the open space in front of the facade into a magnificent oval piazza. This "forecourt' acts as an immense atrium framed by colonnades which Bernini himself likened to the motherly, all-embracing arms of the Church. For sheer impressiveness, this integration of the building with such a grandiose setting of molded open space can be compared only with the ancient Roman sanctuary at Palestrina (see fig. 244).

The piazza can be thought of as a continuation on the exterior of the decoration program at St. Peter's that occupied Bernini at intervals during most of his long and prolific career. The enormous size of St. Peter's made the decoration of its interior a uniquely difficult task: how to relate its chill vastness to the human scale and imbue it with a measure of emotional warmth, lie began by designing the huge bronze canopy for the main altar under the dome (see fig. 755). The tabernacle is a splendid fusion of architecture and sculpture. Four ornate, spiral-shaped columns support an upper platform. At its corners are statues of angels and vigorously curved scrolls which raise high the symbol of the victory of Christianity over the pagan world, a cross above a golden orb. The entire structure is so alive with expressive energy that it strikes us as the very epitome of Baroque style. Yet its most striking feature, the corkscrew columns, had been invented in late antiquity, and even employed, on a much smaller scale, in the old basilica of St. Peter's. Thus Bernini could claim the best possible precedent for his own use of the motif. This is not the only instance of an affinity between Baroque and ancient art. Several monuments of Roman architecture of the second and third centuries A.D. seem to anticipate the style of the seventeenth (see figs. 261-64).

754. Aerial view of St. Peter's. Rome. Nave and facade by Carlo Maderno, 1607-15;
colonnade by Gianlorenzo Bernini, designed

755. Carlo Maderno. Nave, with Gianlorenzo Bernini's Tabernacle (1624-33) at crossing, St. Peter's, Rome


Carlo Maderno

Carlo Maderno, (born 1556, Bissone, Milan—died Jan. 30, 1629, Rome), leading Roman architect of the early 17th century, who determined the style of early Baroque architecture.

Maderno began his architectural career in Rome assisting his uncle Domenico Fontana. His first major Roman commission, the facade of Santa Susanna (1597–1603), led to his appointment in 1603 as the chief architect for Saint Peter’s. In 1607 he designed the nave and a new facade for Saint Peter’s and was made architect to Pope Paul V. Maderno’s additions to Saint Peter’s were consonant with the spirit of the Counter-Reformation; by adding the nave he transformed Michelangelo’s Greek-cross plan into a longitudinal one, thus reverting to the scheme of early Christian and Medieval cathedrals. His facade has been both criticized for impairing the effect of Michelangelo’s dome and admired for its forceful grouping of huge engaged columns. The only building completely designed by Maderno is Santa Maria della Vittoria (1608–20); all his other projects, such as San Andrea della Valle and the Palazzo Barberini (1625), were either works he only began or other architects’ works he finished. The Palazzo Barberini, which Maderno designed for the family of Pope Urban VIII, was completed by Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose works were influenced by Maderno.

Encyclopædia Britannica


Facade of St. Peter's Basilica

The facade of Santa Susanna, Rome.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, design for the new facade of the Louvre, first proposal, 1664-65.
Musee du Louvre, Paris.

Francesco Borromini.

As a personality, Bernini represents a type we first met among the artists of the Early Renaissance, a self-assured, expansive person of the world. His great rival in architecture, Francesco Borromini
(1599-1667), was the very opposite: a secretive and emotionally unstable genius who died by suicide. The Baroque heightened the tension between the two types. The temperamental contrast between the two masters would be evident from their works alone, even without the testimony of contemporary witnesses. Both exemplify the climax of Baroque architecture in Rome, yet Bernini's design for the colonnade of St. Peter's is dramatically simple and unified, while Borromini's structures are extravagantly complex. Bernini himself agreed with those who denounced Borromini for flagrantly disregarding the classical tradition, enshrined in Renaissance theory and practice, that architecture must reflect the proportions of the human body.

In Borromini's first major project, the church of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (figs. 756—58), it is the syntax, not the vocabulary, that is new and disquieting. The ceaseless play of concave and convex surfaces makes the entire structure seem elastic, "pulled out of shape" by pressures that no previous building could have withstood. The plan is a pinched oval suggesting a distended and half-melted Greek cross, as if it had been drawn on rubber. The inside of the dome, too, looks "stretched : if the tension were relaxed, it would snap back to normal. The facade was designed almost 30 years later, and the pressures and counterpressures here reach their maximum intensity. Borromini merges architecture and sculpture in a way that must have shocked Bernini. No such fusion had been ventured since Gothic art. S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane established Borromini's local and international fame. "Nothing similar," wrote the head of the religious order for which the church was built, "can be found anywhere in the world. This is attested by the foreigners who . . . try to procure copies of the plan. We have been asked for them by Germans, Flemings, Frenchmen, Italians, Spaniards, and even Indians."

756. Francesco Borromini. Facade, S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome. 1665-67
757. Plan of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Begun 1638
758. Dome. S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

Francesco Borromini. Facade of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.

The design of Borromini's next church, S. Ivo (figs. 759 and 760), is more compact and equally daring. Its plan, a star-hexagon, belongs unequivocally to the central type. Here Borromini may have been thinking of octagonal structures, such as S. Vitale in Ravenna (compare figs. 319-22). But he did not subdivide the space into a tall, domed "nave" ringed by an ambulatory or chapels. Instead he covered all of it with one great dome, continuing the star-hexagon pattern up to the circular base of the lantern. Here again the concave-convex rhythm dominates the entire design. The structure might almost be described as a larger version of the Temple of Venus at Baalbek, turned inside out (see figs. 262 and 263).

A third project by Borromini is of special interest as a High Baroque critique of St. Peter's. Maderno had found one problem insoluble: although his new facade forms an impressive unit with Michelangelo's dome when seen from a distance, the dome is gradually hidden by the facade as we approach the church. Borromini designed the facade of S. Agnese in Piazza Navona (fig. 761) with this conflict in mind. Its lower part is adapted from the facade of St. Peter's, but it curves inward, so that the dome (a tall, slender version of Michelangelo's dome) functions as the upper part of the facade. The dramatic juxtaposition of concave and convex, always characteristic of Borromini, is further emphasized by the two towers, which form a monumental triad with the dome. (Such towers were also once planned for St. Peter's.) Once again Borromini joins Gothic and Renaissance featuresthe two-tower facade and the domeinto a remarkably "elastic" compound.

Francesco Borromini. Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, courtyard and facade.


759. Francesco Borromini. Section, S. Ivo, Rome. Begun 1642

760. Dome. S. Ivo

761. Francesco Borromini. S. Agnese in Piazza Navona, Rome. 1653 — 63

761. Francesco Borromini. S. Agnese in Piazza Navona, Rome. 1653 — 63


Francesco Borromini

Francesco Borromini, original name Francesco Castelli (born Sept. 25, 1599, Bissone, Duchy of Lombardy—died Aug. 2, 1667, Rome), Italian architect who was a chief formulator of Baroque architectural style. Borromini (who changed his name in about 1627) secured a reputation throughout Europe with his striking design for a small church, S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome. He differed from Gian Lorenzo Bernini and other contemporaries in basing his designs on geometric figures (modules) rather than on the proportions of the human body.

Youth and education.
Born to Giovanni Domenico Castelli and Anastasia Garogo, Borromini was introduced to the craft specialities of architecture when his father sent him to Milan (1608 or 1614) to learn stonecutting. After several years training in the skills and technology of both architecture and sculpture, he collected a debt owed to his father and, without informing his parents, fled to Rome in 1620. There he became a draftsman and stonemason in the office of his kinsman, Carlo Maderno, who had established himself as the major practicing architect in Italy.

Celibate and irascible, Borromini dedicated himself to the discipline of architecture. Maderno quickly recognized Borromini’s potential. The aging master and his young pupil worked together closely on various problems at St. Peter’s, whose fundamental plan was revised by Maderno. For the Palazzo Barberini, Maderno determined a basic concept, then entrusted Borromini with the realization of specifics. A convergence of both talents produced the facade design of S. Andrea della Valle, and Borromini was permitted to undertake the lantern of the church’s dome himself. Borromini’s personality is apparent in these projects, though Maderno’s style dominates them. A facade to be attached to the late 16th-century oval church of S. Anna dei Palafrenieri was Borromini’s personal project. His attempt to integrate a five-bay front and two towers with the existing oval dome prefigured his S. Agnese in Agone (in Piazza Navona) in its placement of plastic volumes in space. Equally significant was his transformation of Maderno’s plan for S. Ignazio. Through his use of pairs of free-standing columns, he suggested an articulation of space, a major characteristic of his style. Space in his structures is not merely a void but rather something corporeal, an element in itself, molded by the surrounding shell of the building. Later he would develop this concept by replacing the enclosing wall with an extensively penetrated framework, as in the Re Magi chapel.

Maderno died in January 1629, three months after construction had begun at the Palazzo Barberini. The famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini was put in charge of this project, though his architectural abilities were underdeveloped. Borromini continued in a key position, working out the specifics of Maderno’s plan and collaborating successfully with Bernini. The patron, however, began to draw heavily on the advice of a third designer, Pietro da Cortona, and eventually abandoned Maderno’s project for the east facade of the palace. Unable to work with Cortona and despairing of these changes, Borromini left the project in 1631. Together with Bernini he dedicated himself entirely to the task of designing the baldachin in St. Peter’s, which was conceived as a monumental canopy raised over the tomb of St. Peter, recalling the canopy that is traditionally supported over the pope when he is carried in state through the church. The enormous bronze baldachin was realized through the closest cooperation between Borromini and Bernini; the huge, S-shaped volutes that crown four corkscrew columns are their most important common creation. Bernini was in command of all enterprises at St. Peter’s, but he paid Borromini a substantial sum from 1631 to 1633 for this work, indicating the great importance of his contribution.

An independent architect.
The baldachin was completed in 1633. The year before, on the commendation of Bernini and Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Borromini was awarded the office of university architect. With his new position as support, he began to seek patronage as an independent architect. His first independent commission represented an extraordinary challenge to tradition; it was the Roman church and monastery of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, begun in 1638. No larger inside than the dimensions of a single pier at St. Peter’s, the small church electrified Rome, and its reputation spread like wildfire through Europe. Borromini began by stacking together three distinct units that normally would have been employed only in separate buildings: a curious, undulating lower zone; a middle one suggesting the standard Greek-cross plan; and an oval dome, a relatively new and still little-used form. This audacious combination of precedent and novelty is integrated by complex, interweaving rhythms. Bold, illusionistic effects, achieved by calculated lighting, intensify the space. The dome appears to be floating above the interior of the church like a hallucinatory vision because its springing point and light sources are concealed by the zone below.

Borromini established contacts with the eminent Spada family and was also sponsored by Pope Innocent X for a decade, but his relations with patrons were frequently stormy and at times reached an impasse because of his intransigent, defiant attitude. Though bitterly resentful of what he felt to be a lack of just recognition, he was indifferent toward wealth and rejected the fashions of normal dress. Intractable and melancholic, he was infamous for his fits of rage. On one of his building sites he was infuriated to discover a man damaging some materials and had him so violently beaten that he died.

Given Borromini’s gloomy disposition, it is not surprising that a conflict developed with the famous and popular Bernini. While they were working together, the relationship between the two artistic giants had been mutually profitable: Borromini’s style was injected with a new vitality under Bernini’s influence, and Bernini was strongly impressed by Borromini’s novel formulations of architectural detail. Later, however, a bitter conflict arose between them. Perhaps Borromini’s subordinate position at St. Peter’s sufficiently rankled him to provoke his departure. He definitely felt this way later in life, claiming that Bernini had begged him not to abandon him on the work at St. Peter’s and had promised to recognize his many labours with a worthy reward. Borromini said that after he had carried out the work, Bernini withheld the remunerations and rewards and never gave him anything except good words and grand promises.

Divergent characters, disparate backgrounds, and different attitudes toward life presumably provoked the antagonism. Bernini worked easily with the aristocratic and powerful; immensely successful as a sculptor and painter as well as an architect, he was outgoing, charming, and witty. Borromini, on the other hand, was a lonely, withdrawn man; he prided himself on his highly specialized training, and he resented his modest degree of recognition. Conflict between the two became public in 1645 over the decision to eliminate the towers Maderno had designed for the facade of St. Peter’s. Maderno left them as substructures, and in 1636 Bernini submitted a proposal for completing them. After one was erected, however, technical deficiencies halted further construction in 1641, and four years later a commission decided on its removal. Borromini emerged as Bernini’s most effective and destructive critic, accusing him of incompetence. Bernini seldom indulged in professional envy, however, but, during his Paris visit of 1665, he accused Borromini of abandoning the anthropometric basis of architecture. Because the body of Adam was modelled not only by God but also in his image and likeness, it was argued, the proportions of buildings should be derived from those of the body of man and woman. Borromini, however, based his buildings on geometric configurations in an essentially medieval manner that he probably learned in Lombardy, where medieval building procedures had been handed down from generation to generation. Borromini’s approach consisted of establishing a geometric figure for a building or room, then articulating this figure by means of geometric subunits. He thus stood accused of denying the basis of good architecture. He never divorced himself completely from the anthropometric basis of design, however; he insisted, at least once, that his architecture contained human references. The concave facade of St. Philip Neri represented to him the welcoming gesture of outstretched arms: the central unit stood for the chest, the two-part wings for arm and forearm.

The bizarre quality of Borromini’s designs was as unsettling as his departure from anthropomorphism. Even his supporters felt uneasy with his novel creations. Presumably his license departed too far from orthodox interpretations of antiquity, which were accepted at this time as the fundamental standards of form for architecture. This seems paradoxical because he was an avid student of the ancient world: his drawings of antique fragments demonstrate a critical contact with Roman architecture, and his evocations of classical thought on the project for the Villa Pamphili at San Pancrazio are recorded with philological exactness. Nevertheless, the notion was in the air that it was possible to use and then progress beyond the achievements of antiquity, and Borromini strongly identified with this attitude. He said that he certainly would never have given himself to architecture with the idea of being merely a “copyist,” and he invoked the example of Michelangelo, who said that he who follows others never goes ahead. Borromini declared antiquity and nature to be his points of departure (although he included the work of Michelangelo as well), but he actually spurned the regular and orthodox compositional motifs of the ancient world. Instead he turned to novel, curious, and marvelous interpretations, such as could be found in Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, and to Roman structural achievements, such as their brickwork and their use of bevelled corners for vault supports.

Just as Borromini’s attitude toward antiquity was uncommon, so too were his historical roots in medieval architecture in an era that had rejected medieval culture as corrupt. Yet his tendency toward the annulment of the wall, his use of structural ribwork to strengthen vaults, his designs derived from geometric configurations, his use of decorative motifs, and perhaps even his awareness that light can be given major compositional importance, all represent ideas that originated in the medieval experience. Closer to his own time, Borromini investigated certain formal qualities found in both Florentine architecture of the 15th century and Mannerist architecture of the 16th century, especially in that of Michelangelo, whose architecture was of decisive importance and suggested Borromini’s still more radical experiments. The manner in which space seemed to expand and contract in a number of Michelangelo’s designs indicated to Borromini the dynamic potential of this medium. Responding to the past with greater freedom than his contemporaries, Borromini employed those elements that suited his purposes.

This broad selection of styles was complemented by his understanding of structures and materials. The artisan tradition of Lombardy stressed technical excellence, which provided Borromini with the knowledge to approach a full range of structural problems. It gave him a firm base for his technical virtuosity, which is demonstrated by a long list of achievements. Among these achievements are: the careful balancing of his towers for the facade of St. Peter’s; the supporting metal cage for a barrel vault in the Palazzo Pamphili in Piazza Navona; the precise brickwork of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri; and his inventive domes and vaults, such as those of S. Ivo della Sapienza or the Re Magi chapel. He used the building yard as an extension of his drafting table and as a place where he could experiment and improvise to generate a fruitful exchange between design and execution. At S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, for example, the three-dimensional curve of the arches opening to the chapel vaults, as well as other features, could not have been realized without Borromini’s personal guidance of the stonecutters on the site.

Borromini’s urban sensibilities were also highly developed, as one of his unexecuted schemes demonstrates. He wished to create a dynamic setting for the facade of S. Giovanni in Laterano by means of a piazza. The street passing through this space was to be surrounded by 24 uniform building fronts, establishing a large-scale, tightly organized arrangement of spaces. Always alert in his commissions to contextual interpretations, he displayed a deep sensitivity to the relationship of his buildings to the surrounding urban fabric. The bell-tower facade of St. Philip Neri, for example, is composed to conclude and monumentalize the street running up to it.

Later years and influence.
Even late in his life, Borromini’s innovations continued to be as energetic and radical as ever. For the Re Magi chapel in the Collegio di Propaganda Fide, on which he worked until his death, he designed six pairs of colossal pilasters to define a generally rectangular space with bevelled corners.

In the 1660s, Borromini’s fortunes tragically declined. He was increasingly frustrated by the fame and success of his rival, Bernini. His only disciple, Francesco Righi, and his most sympathetic patron, Padre Virgilio Spada, both died early in the decade. His major commission of S. Agnese in Agone, in Piazza Navona, was taken from him; work on another of his projects, S. Andrea delle Fratte, came to a halt; and his facade of St. Philip Neri was disfigured by lateral extensions. Suffering severe melancholia, he travelled to Lombardy, but when he returned to Rome his melancholy returned to him, and he spent whole weeks without ever leaving his house. Borromini burned all of his drawings in his possession. Taken ill, his condition was made worse by hypochondriac hallucinations and, when he suffered fits, it was decided that he should be denied all activity so that he might sleep. On a hot summer’s night, unable to rest and forbidden to work, he arose in a fury, found a sword, and fell upon it. Borromini recovered a lucid mind after mortally wounding himself, repented, received the last sacraments of the church, and wrote his will before he died. At his own request, he was buried anonymously in the grave of his teacher and friend, Maderno. It has been suggested that Borromini’s suicide was the result of an increasing schizophrenia and that this pathological process is reflected in his architecture, but this contention is impossible to demonstrate. His career appears to have been successful until the disillusionments of the last years.

In denying the restrictive, enclosing qualities of wall in order to treat space and light as architectonic components, Borromini confronted his architectural inheritance with its most complete and compelling challenge. Scores of designers would capitalize upon this revolutionary legacy. Borromini’s works from the first had created an uproar in Rome, and his influence proved highly suggestive for design in northern Italy and in central Europe over the course of the next century. Later, as Neoclassical attitudes gained force, he was increasingly despised. Largely forgotten during most of the 19th century, Borromini’s architecture has again been recognized in the 20th century as the creation of genius.

Christian F. Otto

Encyclopædia Britannica


Francesco Borromini. Oratory of Saint Phillip Neri


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