Francesco Borromini: Pioneer of Baroque Architecture

Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) was an Italian architect who was one of the three pioneers of Baroque architecture (the others being Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Pietro da Cortona). He started his career as a stonemason in a Swiss canton called Ticino where he was born. Later, he moved to Rome and started working for Carlo Maderno in 1619, and for Lorenzo Bernini in 1629. His career was strained by his depressed and hot- tempered personality. He even had to withdrow from certain projects. Eventually, his melancholy and conflicted character led to his committing suicide in 1667.

Here are some of Borromini’s major works.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (San Carlino)

In 1634, Francesco Borromini took his first independent and major work that is San Carlino. Although it is considered as a model for the Baroque architecture, it is a rather small building. In fact, the whole structure can fit into one of the domes of Saint Peter’s. While devising the church’s plan, Borromini made use of interlocking geometrical forms (a characteristic of Borromini). As a result, the interior walls look as if weaving in and out and transitioning from a cross to a hexagonal form, and finally to an oval in the dome. 

San Carlino façade by Francesco Borromini 
San Carlino  by Francesco Borromini 
San Carlino dome  by Francesco Borromini 
San Carlino interior
San Carlino dome
Francisco Borromini

Oratory of Saint Philip Neri (Oratorio dei Filippini)

Borromini was the second architect appointed for the construction of this oratory. The clock tower, the relocated library, and the brick curved façade are his works. However, he had disagreement with the Oratorians over the design and materials. So, he had to withdraw from the work.

Oratorio dei Filippini façade by Francesco Borromini 
Oratorio dei Filippini clock tower by Francesco Borromini 
Oratorio dei Filippini clock tower

The Vallicelliana Library in the Oratorio dei Filippini

Oratorio dei Filippini library by Francesco Borromini 
The Vallicelliana Library
The Vallicelliana Library ceiling by Francesco Borromini 
The Vallicelliana Library

Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

The dome and steeple of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza reflect the distinctive architectural motifs of Borromini. The nave has a centralized plan circled by cornices, leading to a dome decorated with linear arrays of stars. As a result, the geometry of the structure creates a symmetric six-pointed star.

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza dome by Francesco Borromini 
Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza dome

Sant’Agnese in Agone

Borromini was one of the several architects worked on Sant’Agnese church, and he designed the façade and the dome in a more innovative way. He also added the columns against the piers of the lower order. However, later architects such as Bernini and Carlo Rainaldi made changes on his design of the façade and the dome. Accordingly, the addition of coloured marble and frescoes on the dome were against Borromini’s typical usage of white stucco.

Sant'Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini 
Sant'Agnese dome
Sant'Agnese dome
Sant'Agnese interior

The Re Magi Chapel of the Propaganda Fide

Many art historians consider The Re Magi Chapel of the Propaganda Fide as one of the most spatially unified interior design of Borromini.

The Re Magi Chapel of the Propaganda Fide by Francesco Borromini 
The Re Magi Chapel of the Propaganda Fide ceiling by Francesco Borromini 
Bruno Brunelli