The Roman Baroque period revolves around three great artists who lived between the end of the 16th and 17th centuries: Caravaggio, Bernini, and Borromini...

The Roman Baroque period revolves around three great artists who lived between the end of the 16th and 17th centuries: Caravaggio, Bernini, and Borromini.

We've already covered Caravaggio; now let's find out more about Bernini and Borromini, two artists who, though contemporaries, are often contrasted. Their rivalry has gone down in history with countless anecdotes in all the tour guides about the many clashes between the two architects.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Bernini (1598-1680) designed St. Peter's Square, with its colonnade that seems to welcome the faithful in an embrace, and the baldachin inside in the church, pilfering bronze from the Pantheon to build it.

Bernini also designed magnificent fountains:

  • the "Barcaccia" by the Spanish steps,
  • the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, in front of the Church of Sant'Agnese, built by his rival; it is oft-said that this is why the statue representing the River Nile is covering his eyes in disgust, but... that's just a legend: the church was finished after the fountain!
  • Triton's Fountain and the Fountain of the Bees in Piazza Barberini.

Bernini also worked on the design of Palazzo Montecitorio, right next to our hotel, the current seat of the House of Deputies.

His sculpture masterpieces include the Apollo and Daphne, the angels on Sant'Angelo Bridge, and the elephant in Piazza Minerva.

Francesco Borromini

Borromini (1599-1667) designed the church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza — which you can admire right from our hotel's windows — a demonstration of incredible architectural technique. Because he had limited space to work with here, he devised original solutions to get around the problem.

The spiral on the lantern of the dome is so unique it can always be easily picked it out on the Roman skyline.

The gallery of the Palazzo Spada courtyard is also by him; this colonnade is less than 10 meters long but appears three times that. At the end of the colonnade is a statue of a man that seems life-size but is actually tiny (about 60 cm) and a hedge that looks real... but is actually stone! (Borromini didn't trust gardeners to prune it to the right height).

The perspective effect works through decreasing column height, a dropping ceiling, and a rising floor.

One of his lesser-known buildings is the Propaganda Fide College, whose beautiful facade he designed shortly before his death. Some see a symptom of the inner turmoil that led him to commit suicide a few years later in the ever-moving lines of his design and the constant contrasting of concave and convex surfaces.


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