Francesco Borromini

The Italian architect Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) was together with his contemporaries Gian Bernini and Pietro da Cortona one of the leading figures in the Baroque architecture in Rome.

Borromini is best known for his first solo commission, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, a small church complex in Rome.

Domo of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

The introduction to Opus architectonicum, written by his patron Virgilio Spada explains “…and I certainly would not have joined this profession with the intention of being a mere copyist, even though I know that the invention of new things does not reap the fruits of the labour, if not late, given that the same Michelangelo did not receive it when in reforming the architecture of the great Basilica of St Peter he was attacked for new forms and ornamentations…”.

Borromini didn’t just wanted to copy ancient orders and spatial concepts. He saw himself as an architect who ignored all the classical rules, as a creative person who ignored them in favour of inventing a new architectural language. The rulebook of the time, Vituvius ten books De architectura was still seen as a rulebook, a guide to creating great architectures.

For Borromini knowing Virtusius wasn’t limiting corset, it was rather an handbook to chose motives and patterns but then using them in a novel way to respond to a different set of restrictions. In the case of San Carlo the site was a difficult corner condition into which Borromini had ot invent a different spatial arrangement to create a sense of space. The walls, an undulating flowing set of concave and convex curves are structures using classical columns. Follwoing a plan that is played out in a series of circles the space is topped with a oval dome.

Each of the elements of the design is proportinally linked to the whole strucutre.

Plan study of San Carlo by Borromini

The research of Giuseppe Perugini led to a series of publications looking at the architecture and especially the geometry in Borromini’s work. He published a book on the history and the geometrical principles of his church Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori.

Elevation of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori.

Francesco Borromini

Church Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

Vitruvius Ten Books on Architecture

July 12, 2020