Architecture (4): Bernini v Borromini


If I had to choose my favourite period in architecture it would be  the Counter Reformation in Rome, and in particular, the churches and palaces of the Roman Baroque. You can demonstrate why in three minutes,


with a 170m walk along the Via del Quirinale, which is no distance from the usual tourist spots of  that great city. That’s the line between Bernini‘s unique Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, and Borromini‘s near perfect San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, which sits at an unprepossessing crossroads, just up the hill from the buzz of the Piazza Barberini.


You can Google the images, although I include a couple  in this post. Bernini’s relatively small building is a masterpiece of unlikely geometry and proportion, both inside and out. You enter through a beautiful portal halfway along the long axis of an ellipse, nothing like his other famous churches. Inside, within a symmetrical design is a riot of colour and baroque decor, topped by a proportionate dome and superbly lit through the lantern. Masterly, and devotional.

Borromini’s tiny church, with its adjacent and wonderfully peaceful cloister, is just astonishing. Everything that made him unique is here, this building is so perfect that it becomes hard to actually pick out the detail. The facade is highly unusual and undulating, but it needs a clean – or did when I was last there. The interior is a study in contours and vertical lines, topped by the quite extraordinary inside of the dome. The adjacent cloister is a simple design which radiates tranquility, usually enhanced by a window of clear blue sky above it.

Bernini died aged 82, feted, prolific and rich. Rome is saturated with his influence and equally magnificent sculptures. Borromini, with a handful of true masterpieces, killed himself at the age of 68, apparently still nursing grievances and brooding over a rivalry which Bernini, who admired Borromini’s talent, didn’t seem to be as bothered by. It’s all in this excellent book.

In the last three hundred years, many thousands of people must have made the short walk between these two amazing buildings, a pilgrimage on every level.

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