Borromini: The insufferable genius

Vatican, Rome, Italy | historical, architecture, walking


Borromini’s life was defined by his rivalry with Bernini. According to the latter “in architecture one should be guided by the human body, but Borromini must have been inspired by chimaeras.” Borromini’s work was admired by few and his personality by none. Even he seemed utterly unsatisfied with himself.

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15 sights

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100 stories

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Expensive mistakes

In 1649 Borromini was the chief architect at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. One evening he noticed a worker, Marco Antonio Bussone, smashing a boulder on the basilica’s new sculptures. Borromini got furious at this perceived betrayal and ordered his assistants to thrash the worker. Bussone received many heavy blows and succumbed to his wounds. Only the pope’s intervention saved Borromini from punishment.


To each his own

Each river carries a number of allegories with it. The Ganges, being eminently navigable, carries a long oar. The Nile's head is draped with a loose piece of cloth because, at the time, nobody knew where his source was. The Rio de la Plata is sitting on a pile of coins as a reminder of the riches of the Americas. The threatening snake on the side is an allegory for the fear of rich men that they will lose their money. The Danube touches the pope's coat of arms, since it is the large river closest to Rome.


Following the real antiquity

The columns to the right and to the left of the first floor window are in the Doric order. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was uncommon to use them without a base but Borromini, who was well acquainted with classical architecture, did not use a base. Once more, his attention to detail becomes fodder for criticism by his ignorant doubters who accuse him of veering away from classical principles.

The location

Borromini: The insufferable genius by Clio Muse PC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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