One of the greatest italian architects of the 17th century, Francesco Borromini was the embodiment of the extravagant and dramatic style of Baroque architecture.
About his life
Francesco Castelli, called Borromini, was born on Sept. 25, 1599, in Bissone on Lake Lugano. He was distantly related to the great architect Carlo Maderno. As a boy, Borromini was sent to Milan to learn the mason’s craft, and it was as a mason that he went to Rome, where his presence is recorded from 1621. He probably began as an ordinary mason at St. Peter’s, but soon Maderno, the chief architect of St. Peter’s, seems to have found him employment at S. Andrea della Valle (1621-1623). In any event, it is certain that Borromini’s years in Rome were spent as a humble craftsman, at the very time when Bernini was making his reputation as a virtuoso sculptor. This was probably the cause of the lifelong rivalry between the two men, which was exacerbated by difficulties at St. Peter’s and the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, where Borromini worked under Bernini from 1629 to 1632. The rivalry was such that it may have been the cause of the profound melancholia which eventually led to Borromini’s tragic death.
What were his major works?
Among his works stands out San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1638-1646), also called San Carlino, a small church in Rome built to fit in a cramped and difficult site. This church has an unusual and somewhat irregular floor plan in the shape of a Greek cross defined by convex curves.
There are also the Oratorio dei Filippini or Oratory of Saint Phillip Neri (1637-1650), which was adjacent to the Chiesa Nuova and was characterized by a striking facade and a complex rhythm of pilasters, the peculiar design of the church Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (1642-1660), which reflects the idiosyncratic architectural motifs that distinguish Borromini from other contemporaries, and Sant’Agnese in Agone (1652-1657), in which Borromini reverted the original plans of Girolamo Rainaldi and expanded the facade to include parts of the bordering Palazzo Pamphilj.
image source: http://www.romasegreta.it/images/s.ivo-alla-sapienza.jpg
How can we identify Borromini’s style?
Borromini worked within the Baroque style of the 17th century, which was largely a reaction against the styles of the Renaissance in the 16th century. He studied the works of Michelangelo in his youth and developed a strong appreciation for the use of shapes in his structures. While all Baroque architecture plays with shape, Borromini was one of the masters of this, working overlapping ovals, triangles, and squares into the plans of his structures. He was also known for taking the Classical elements of architecture (those of ancient Greece and Rome) that were so popular in the Renaissance, and molding them into new forms. Overall, Borromini’s style felt innovative and organic, dominated by curved lines and combined geometric shapes.