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During the construction of the Filippini Oratory, Borromini knew Father Virgilio Spada, Philippine himself, but especially almoner and artistic advisor of the Pope. Spada, open-minded person, a great scholar, will remain for life next to Borromini, of whom appreciated the devotion, honesty, unselfishness and according to contemporary “he was delighted for the accuracy and diligence of Borromini”.

Going back to the time of the impossible cohabitation between Borromini and Bernini, this one, to free from a dangerous opponent, obtained in 1632 that Francesco was appointed architect of the Sapienza (=wisdom) palace, the oldest university founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1305.

Appointment devoid of substance because, lacking funds, Francesco could only take care of maintenance, while the works for the construction of Saint Ivo alla Sapienza began in 1642.

Palazzo Spada - click to enlarge

Meanwhile, in 1635, he was entrusted with the restoration of the Palazzo Spada at Capo di Ferro square, where late, around 1550, Borromini created the famous perspective gallery, the so-called “Borromini Deception”.
Deception because the gallery is played on an illusory perspective, which dilates the proportions.

In 1636-37 he reconstructed the interior of Saint Lucia in Selci. The church, which was part of an ancient fortified monastery, was rebuilt in the early seventeenth century by Carlo Maderno.

The intervention of Francesco seems to have concentrated mainly in the vault and in the choir of the counter-façade.

click to enlarge

Finally, in 1642 he could begin the work for the construction of Saint Ivo alla Sapienza.
But as it had happened for the design of San Carlino, the space for the church was very little. In fact, about 50 years before, Giacomo della Porta had built the Sapienza Palace with its courtyard, where on the short side opposite the entrance, in a narrow rectangular area, was to be built the church.

Francesco gave to the façade of Saint Ivo a concave shape to embrace the courtyard.

But what strikes so memorable is the lantern which is thrown into the sky.
The spiral lantern recalls both the Gothic style and that mythic representations of the Tower of Babel, as the flames on the top symbolize the light of God.

The meaning of the spiral was and is the subject of heated discussions. We inscribe to the party of those who in the depiction of the steps and the spiral that runs in the sky, up to dematerialize, see the call of man to God, where is known to the starting point, unknown the arrival.

Such reckless boldness could only horrify the traditionalists, but considered that the Pope loved the work (we have now arrived in 1660 with Alexander VII Chigi), they changed the target, declaring that the lantern would have collapsed, dragging in its ruin the dome and everything else.
The only result they obtained was that Francis signed the guarantee “oblige me, heirs et goods, for all the damages that might happen in that space of fifteen years”.

The church has the shape of a six-pointed star, result of the superposition of two opposing equilateral triangles (Solomon's seal), connected by arcs alternately concave and convex. The walls rise vertically along the perimeter of the plant, to end in trabeation on which rests the six lobes dome.
In the dome there are six windows that illuminate the interior.

The walls - click to enlarge The dome - click to enlarge The windows - click to enlarge

The lantern, perfectly circular, symbolizes God who enlightens Christians.

Note the differences between the shapes of the dome and lantern inside and outside.
Inside the dome has six ogive arch lobes, while outside is hidden from the drum and the roof with steps. The lantern outside is formed by six concave walls with windows, while inside, as we have seen, has a circular section from which descends the light coming from the six exterior windows.
Extraordinary is the lighting effect of the white walls, illuminated by the windows of the lantern.

In the dome above three windows is designed the coat of armt of the Chigi family, consisting of six mounds topped by a star, with reference to Pope Alexander VII Chigi, who, in 1670, consecrated the church.
The only spot of color of the interior is the altarpiece by Pietro da Cortona, completed by his aids, which depicts Saint Ivo patron of lawyers.

Borromini also designed the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, (by Alexander VII) that overlooks the left of the courtyard of the Sapienza Palace, and the facades of the building on the St. Eustace square and Teatro Valle street.

While Francesco was working in St. Ives, in 1644 died the pro French Urban VIII Barberini. Pope became Innocent X Pamphili pro Spanish and fiercely hostile to the Barberini family. It seemed then that the fortunes of Borromini and Bernini were to change dramatically.

At first it was so.

But it did not last long, the easy Bernini managed to enter into the good graces of Olimpia Maidalchini the powerful sister in law of the Pope, that the mob incited by the Barberini party called Pimpaccia.
It is said that Bernini to earn his support gave her a golden model of the Fountain of the Four Rivers, whose construction shortly thereafter he was commissioned by the Pope. The chatter was put around to defame Pimpaccia but still now there are people who believe.

Anyway just as became Pope, Innocent X, commissioned Francesco the construction of the Palace of Propaganda Fide (= Promote the Faith), removing the assignment to Bernini, who had made the not memorable façade of the building giving on the Spagna square (Spanish Steps).

Francesco went to work, creating one of the most beautiful palaces in Rome. Unfortunately because Propaganda street, overlooked by the Borromini façade,  is so narrow most of the tourists pass without looking at the Palace.
And it is a real shame.

click to enlarge
The façade The windows The central window Cherub The entrance The shell

Instead, we look sideways the façade, then observe the windows on the first floor. The first 3, framed by beautiful columns, are concave, while the central window protrudes convex beneath the concave cornice.
Above the windows you see crowns of palms and oaks, over the crown of the central window overlooks a smiling cherub, while over the entrance you see a shell, which encloses the pearl of the Faith.

The building is so rich in detail that you could spend a day to study it. Someone, I forget who, said that it looks like a sculpture by Michelangelo that is free from the inert mass.

But the paradox is that close to the palace of Propaganda lived Bernini, who did not appreciate the proximity. The historic Guattani in late eighteenth century says that "the bizarre and whimsical Bernini gave phallus shape to a shelf that held the balcony adjacent to the palace of Propaganda”. Borromini replayed putting two asinine ears towards Bernini’s palace.

Unfortunately the authorities did remove the ornaments. To conclude with the Palace of Propaganda, Borromini worked there until 1664, when inside he demolished a chapel built by Bernini, substituted by his chapel of the Magi.

Let's go back to Pope Innocenzo X who was waiting with concern the expected Jubilee of 1650, a concern well motivated since the Arcibasilica (=main basilica) of St. John Lateran, including looting, fires and earthquakes, despite various restoration was in critical condition.
What to do? Pope Innocent appointed superintendent of works, for the renovation of the Arcibasilica, Virgilio Spada, who of course entrusted his friend Borromini.
Very short time, Francesco began work in 1646, with delivery obligation for 1649. The choir of the enemies of Francesco went to work, “that madman will bring down everything”, “never be able to complete the work”, “less than ever for the Jubilee”.

And so on.

Instead Francesco overcame every problem. First he faced the problem of statics. He thought that if he removed the Ionic columns of the nave the risk of collapse would have been too great.

Then since the columns to stand were supported by a horrid cladding brick wall, Francesco built giant pillars, bordered by tall pilasters, and these giant pillars, encompassed the crumbling columns.

Among the pillars he opened five large arches, through which you could pass in the aisles.
Between the pilasters drew the twelve niches, with gable convex, where about in 1718, by the best sculptors of the late baroque, were carved the statues of the twelve apostles.

Note that the antique green columns of the niches stood in the aisles. For once Francis, probably to please the Pope, in addition to the green columns, employed in the niches polychrome marbles, that would form the background for the white statues.

Above the niches, as designed by Borromini, the great Alessandro Algardi drew six episodes of the Old and six of the New Testament and yet over these reliefs we see the eighteenth century ovals where are painted the Prophets.

In truth Borromini wanted the festoons of the ovals would frame bare bricks and we know the virtuosity of Francesco in working them, moreover he also wanted to remove the ceiling to replace it with a white vault, but Innocent X was adamant, the ceiling was not to be touched. It must be said that Innocent X was known to be quick-tempered.
Francesco then passed to the aisles, which have decreasing heights, going from the highest nave, the median aisles and the lower side aisles.

In this way Francesco managed to open windows and windows to give light inside.

The aisles were all redone, white in the purest Borromini style.
And to finish the impossible became possible, in 1649 the Arcibasilica was ready for the Jubilee.

The enemies of Francis chewed bitter.
Father Virgilio Spada pulled off an heavy weight from his shoulders.
But the story had a dramatic aspect because in a room of the Lateran Palace, at the end of the work, it was found the body of a certain Marco Antonio Bussoni, who was surprised to damage the marble ornaments of the basilica. Borromini ordered the workers to tie him and close in a room of the palace. The enraged workers beat Bussoni to the point of killing him and Borromini came under process.
By order of the Pope was acquitted, but exiled for three years in Orvieto. Virgilio Spada strove and the exile was much shorter, so that July 26, 1652 Innocent X gave him the gold cross of knight and according to the testimony of one of those present “accommodating the action with words all filled approval and praise of his virtues”.




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