Living in Rome
Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were opposite in everything: character, personality, artistic style, and tastes yet they both created the Roman Baroque style. Their respective works are present all over Rome, in churches, palaces, squares and fountains. Bernini was the favorite of a number of 17th century popes, and quickly rose to fame in Rome as sculptor and chief architect. He was flamboyant, extrovert and extremely sociable. Borromini was his antithesis. He was a shy personality with a rather fierce temper, who preferred to spend his time in solitude. He worked more for religious confraternities. They were born a year apart, Bernini in 1598 and Borromini in 1599.
There is one street in Rome where the two rivals are competing in full light: it is on via del Quirinale, previously named via Pia. They each designed a church only a few meters away on the same street. Borromini was commissioned to build San Carlino alle quattro fontane, while Bernini designed San Andrea al Quirinale.
San Carlino was commissioned in 1634 by the Trinitarian brothers, and was Borromini’s first independent work, where his unique stamp can be seen. It is all curves and symmetrical lines, sober in decoration, yet giving a sense of inner spirituality. It is narrow and high, drawing the eyes upwards, towards the ceiling, towards the skies. The visitor is discreetly taken in. Borromini offered not to charge for his design in return for the full freedom of planning and working as he intended. According to records of the times, Borromini was present daily on the building site, to solve the many construction problems generated by his innovative design. The undulating facade was only built about 20 years later because of a lack of funds, but work was abruptly interrupted by Borromini’s sudden death in 1667 (by suicide). It was completed only ten years after, again due to the complexity of technically implementing his drawings.
Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale is the opposite in spirit: an imposing entrance portico with Corinthian columns leads onto an eliptical church inside, where no space has been left uncovered. It is very ornate, yet extremely harmonious in its decoration. Bernini’s mastery lies with the sense of space he was able to create. The actual dimension of the church is not as large as it first appears. The golden oval dome with stuccoed sculptures is stunning on entering and cannot fail to impress visitors. The church was built for the Jesuit novitiate on the site of Sant’Andrea a Montecavallo, just opposite the Pope’s residence at the Quirinale Palace. It was commissioned by Camillo Francesco Maria Pamphilj, nephew of Pope Innocent X, in 1658, more than 20 years after Borromini started work on San Carlino, and bears the Pamphilj coat of arms. It is said to be Bernini’s best and preferred achievement, according to records from his own son Domenico.
Bernini’s family was originally from Naples although he moved to Rome as a small child. Borromini came from the Italian part of Switzerland and started his career in Milan. He moved to Rome in the early 1620s to work with his distant relative, Carlo Maderno, who was the Pope’s official architect at the time (see previous blog).