Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sant' Ivo

Ever week I have a new favorite Baroque Roman church, absorbing them one by one in readiness for the trip coming up in March. This week's winner is Sant' Ivo della Sapienza, built between 1640 and 1650 by Francesco Borromini. His work was often overshadowed by that of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, designer of the gigantic elliptical arcade outside St. Peter's. But curvaceous marble buildings were going up all over Rome in the middle of the 17th century under a succession of display-conscious popes, and Borromini ultimately determined the shape of several gorgeous ones.

Inside, Borromini's nave is shaped like a six-pointed star with a six-sided dome above, trimmed with stars and and cupids and lots of papal tiaras. Round and oval churches had come into fashion toward the beginning of the century following a liturgical change – suddenly the Sacrament was exposed on the altar (instead of being stored in a cupboard) and the faithful were encouraged to draw near and adore it. The long rectangular spaces of former days did not so easily accommodate this newly desirable spirit of intimate contemplation.

The cupola that finishes the dome on the outside has a pleasantly weird roof-design in the shape of a corkscrew.

In earlier days Borromini had assisted Bernini in designing the baldacchino over the high altar inside St. Peter's (below) with its famous corkscrew (or Solomonic) columns. The two architects had become bitter enemies by the time Sant'Ivo was built, but apparently the corkscrew motif was just too good – too perfectly baroque – to pass up.