Borromini, the mysterious architect of the Roman Baroque

The Baroque style was born as an artistic style functional to affirm the magisterium of the Roman Church shaken, in its foundations, by the Lutheran Reformation. The heart of the artistic movement was Rome and its protagonists were Bernini and Borromini. A Spasso con Sara for a little in-depth analysis.


Blurred by his contemporary Bernini, Francesco Borromini is the misunderstood genius of the Roman Baroque. His architecture, apparently mute, monochrome and poor, imposes itself, instead, in the Roman architectural scenario with a cryptic message, all to be discovered, full of symbols and hidden meanings, esoteric, wisely enclosed in circles, squares, triangles, crosses and angelic heads that decorate the churches and facades of Borromini.


Bernini and Borromini were said to be rivals. Legend has it that one of the rivers (here in the photo) of Bernini’s famous Fountain of the Four Rivers, in the centre of Piazza Navona, covered its face so as not to look at the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in front of it, built by Borromini (Credits:


Unlike Bernini, he managed to create the typical wonder of the Baroque with minimal expense. His churches did not have precious marbles. Instead, they were as poor and simple as the manger in which Jesus came into the world.

Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, behind the famous Piazza Navona, is his masterpiece. Lines, overlapping planes and perspectives merge and merge in an amazing game.

The facade of the church is concave and overlooks a courtyard. It is surmounted by an unmistakable dome (one of the most famous in Rome, I dare say) with a lobed lantern with an octagonal contour that wraps itself in a spiral ending in a crown surrounded by tongues of fire. From it depart a pedestal of iron arches that supports a globe, the dove Pamphilia with olive branch in the mouth and the cross.


The Church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza behind Piazza Navona.


The plan of the sacred building recalls a bee, the symbol of the Barberini family (to which Pope Urban VIII belonged, who first commissioned Borromini to build the church and the adjoining palace), originating from two equilateral triangles which, superimposed, generate a six-pointed star. It evidently recalls the seal of Solomon, a synthesis of hermetic and Masonic thought.



Map of the complex of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (Credits:


These subtle references permeate the structure in its totality. One need only think that 111 stars are represented in the internal dome, a number that can also be considered as 1 + 1 + 1 which, when added together, gives 3 as a total. And 3 are the phases of the mystical evolution and the 3 is also the symbol of the sky. The stars are then divided into 12 elevations, a number easily ascribable to the Apostles and to the Heavenly Jerusalem.


Interior of the dome of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (Credits:


Not even the floor escapes this game of references. It is made up of half white and half black hexagons that allude to the two sides of life: light and darkness, body and spirit, truth and error, in memory of the legendary temple of Solomon.


In the image is partly visible the floor of the church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (Credits:


Sant’Ivo is just one of the many mysterious masterpieces by Francesco Borromini. If you want to know more…you’ll have to come A Spasso with Sara! 😉


Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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