Perugini and the Baroque

Giuseppe Perugini was Professor for Architectural Composition at Roma Sapienza University. His research focussed on the Baroque architecture of Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). He explored Borromini’s architecture mainly by studying the compositional arrangement of two projects through analytical geometrical drawings, these were: San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, and Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori.

Drawing by Perugini of the central space in Borromini’s Chiese di S. Maria dei Sette Dolori (1959)

In his own publication, La Forma in Architetture (1953) Perugini explores the idea of introducing a geometric tool to analyse the architectural form. He concludes that this process, although removed from the actual experience of the space, is clearly ‘a result of a wise will, of a practical convention of the mathematizing mind.’ (p21) In his book Architettura di Borromini nella Chiesa di S. Maria dei Sette Dolori (1963) he sets out a baseline grid formed of numerically related circular geometries to interpret the space. He concludes that “the geometric repertoire of Borromini does not originate from emptiness; it has its roots precisely in that primordial geometry of the plan.” (p23)

Perugini was not explicit in documenting his translation of the Baroque projects taken as studies to his contemporary design outputs. This is partially due also of the organic nature of the design process, in which very few drawings were used or survived. Whereas in his early designs, notably the reconstruction of San Germano in 1955, he mainly relies on a composition based on the application of the Golden Section. It is evident that in the Casa Sperimentale Perugini experimented with both an arithmetic number sequence, and an order based on the Fibonacci Sequence of numbers. There is evidence that these were derived from his detailed geometric studies of the Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori Church in plan and section.

The numerical relationships in the relation of the individual building elements and their compositional arrangements are based on an arithmetic number sequence.

Cross section through Sette Dolori drawn after Perugini.

Noting that Baroque space has many layered and possible interpretations, even beyond architecture, we can see Perugini’s arc of interest focussing on the plan and the elevation, then identifying trigonometric patterns of proportions—operating at different levels—used to order recognisable undulations of wall and structure in plan, and architectural elements such as windows and arches in elevation. It is understood that these studies were not conducted specifically with the Casa Sperimentale at a singular objective and so, tracing possible reinterpretations and applications of these qualities, from his studies to his designs, provides an interesting exercise.

Drawing by Perugini depicting the niches in Borromni’s church. The similarity between the section of the niche and the cross section through the bathroom elements in the Casa Sperimentale are evident. (1959)

Perugini has been researching Borromini durning most of his career at University and Perugini’s work on analysing the spaces and the composition has left some echoes in the design and the spatial arrangement of the Casa Sperimentale.

The plan of Borromini’s church San Carlo in Rome is developed as an undulating wall of niches and columns. When looking at the main internal elevations of the chuch these are usually masked by the rich decoration and the diverse materials. Yet the crypt underneath the main space shows the spatial arrangement in a much more plain way. Each wall is structured as a repeating pattern of niches and solid sections with the occasional opening revealing views up and out of the space.

View of the walls in the crypt of San Carlo showing the rhythm of walls, niches and openings breaking up the elevation.

View from the crypt of San Carlo towards the spiral staircase going up to the main church space.

Especially the spiral stair going up to the main entrance and the way this sits as part of an almost external bolted on element has some striking resemblances of the Casa Sperimentale.

View in the Casa Sperimentale looking towards the spiral staircase leading up to the roof.

Francesco Borromini

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

Church Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori

Hersey G., Architecture and Geometry in the Age of the Baroque, 2000

Leach, A., Macarthur, J., The Baroque in Architectural Culture, 2015

Saunders, A., Baroque Parameters, 2009, Wiley&Sons, London

June 19, 2020