The architectural battle of Borromini and Bernini
Rome is no doubt worldly recognised for its architectural heritage, a heritage which dates back to the battle between Italy’s greatest architectural geniuses, Bernini and Borromini. Both of whom have had a long-lasting effect on the city’s great Baroque heritage.
Bernini, throughout the 1600’s had a renowned popularity, which not only saw him favoured by locals, but also earnt him innumerable commissions from many respected patrons in Rome. His better-known masterpieces, such as Apollo and Daphne and the Ecstasy of St. Teresa, as well as his redesign of St. Peter’s square, can be considered as true testaments of the Baroque style, respecting the ideals of “mans proportions” in the creation of his work.
Borromini, on the other hand, while steadily increasing in popularity, often fell short of Bernini’s prestige. A true innovator amongst his generation, Borromini sought to use geometry and repetitive sequences through his designs as a means of breaking boundaries of classical baroque architecture, a perfect example of his work is Borromini’s perspective, located in Galleria Spada.
Naturally, competition grew amongst the two designers, and they soon began using Rome’s landscape as a playground of mockery, a perfect example of which can be found in Rome’s popular Piazza, Piazza Navona. While it’s commonly known that four statues at the base of the fountain represent the 4 greatest rivers, the positioning of the sculptures have a deeper meaning. Bernini, in an attempt to ridicule Borromini’s architecture (the St. Agnese Church which sits directly opposite the fountain), crafted one particular figure holding his arm up in fear, insulting the stability of Borromini’s designs. Another figure surrounding the fountain base has its head and eyes covered with a cloth, as the legend goes, Bernini had decided upon this to further mock Borromini, a very literal expression of Bernini’s dislike for Borromini’s aesthetics.
Borromini by no means took this ridicule lightly, in fact shortly after the completion of what is perhaps one of Bernini’s most iconic fountains, Borromini sent men to tie a thin wire around the base of the Obelisk, mocking the weakness of Bernini’s designs. Sadly, their architectural rivalry came to an abrupt end in 1667, with the passing of Borromini. Bernini continued to shape the Roman landscape over the next decade until his death at aged 81.