Francesco Borromini (1599-1667)

Francesco Borromini was a great 17th Century Italian architect and one of the leading figures in  Roman Baroque. His style is described as extravagant and dramatic, which is the epitome of Baroque.

Francesco Borromini, old picture

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About his life

Francesco Castelli, called Borromini, was born on September 25, 1599, in Bissone on Lake Lugano. He was a distant relative of the great architect Carlo Maderno. At a young age, Borromini studied bricklayer crafting in Milan, and after that, he left for Rome. Probably, the chief architect of St. Peter’s Basilica offered him a job in the church of San Andrea della Valle, and  Borromini worked there in 1621-1623. It is known that during his work in Rome, Francesco Borromini was considered an average master, while  Gian Lorenzo Bernini was earning his reputation as a virtuous sculptor. This was probably a reason for the lifelong rivalry between the two masters. This situation escalated in 1629-1632 when Borromini worked under Bernini’s direction in St. Peter’s Basilica and Palazzo Barberini in Rome. The rivalry caused the deep melancholy that ultimately led to the tragic death of Borromini.

Portrait of Francesco Borromini, San Carlino, old picture

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What were his major works?

  • San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1638-1646), also called San Carlino, is 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.
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Francesco Borromini, 1638-1646, Roma

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  • 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;
  • Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (1642-1660). The peculiar design of this church  reflects unique architectural motifs that distinguish Borromini from his contemporaries, especially the helicoidal form of the lantern on top of the dome;
  • Sant’Agnese in Agone (1652-1657), in which Borromini reverted the original plan of Girolamo Rainaldi and expanded the facade to include parts of the bordering Palazzo Pamphilj.
S. Ivo alla Sapienza, Francesco Borromini, 1642-1660, Rome

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How can we identify his stile?

Borromini worked in the 17th century and was immersed in Baroque. He studied Michelangelo‘s masterpieces and greatly appreciated the use of dynamic forms in his works. As all Baroque architecture plays with form, Borromini created overlapping ovals, triangles, and squares in his building plans. He also used classic (Ancient Greece and Rome) architectural elements, which were popular already during the Renaissance, but gave them new interpretations. Borromini’s architecture can be described as innovative, characterized by curved lines and combined geometric shapes.

Plan of San Carlino, Francesco Borromini

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