Saturday, April 9, 2011

Oratorio dei Filippini

This was a Borromini building I could not get much sense of, for obvious reasons. Though who could be other than delighted that his work is being preserved? I had to discover for myself the standard cliche about Rome, that it more than any other city is always simultaneously falling apart and building back up.

Above, a stock photo of the building before the scaffolding. The followers of St. Philip Neri (our old friend who raised the pious Massimo boy from the dead) asked Borromini to build an oratory for musical performances next to their home church. The shallow concave front of the building was (and still is) admired for its restraint and energy, but the engraving below (from Anthony Blunt's Borromini book) shows how far it was from Borromini's ideal plan and how much the Oratorian Fathers reined him in.

A woman in a hardhat allowed me to peep into the first small interior courtyard, where I couldn't see much. But all the same it was weirdly exciting to notice the same pattern of courtyard paving (grass-grown cobbles bounded by marble strips) as at the church of Sant' Ivo.

The Corinthian pilasters lining the courtyard walls also brought me a miniature moment of Borromini rapport.

This was a feature I had not read about anywhere, the way the capital on the left-hand side (above) had room to spread out sideways and assume its traditional shape. But then the same capital was repeated in corner positions (on the right-hand side and below) and in those corners was rendered as if it had been squeezed shut from the sides. My own theory was that a non-Baroque architect wouldn't have used a capital in the corner position at all, where a plain band would have been sufficient. But for a Baroque architect the chance to imply force and movement by squeezing the form and distorting its classical shape was too welcome to resist.

When I go back to Rome the next time, perhaps the work will be done (if I wait enough years) and I can see the oratory itself and the rooms Borromini built behind for the habitation and recreation of the good Fathers. The clock tower (below) rising over the rear corner of the building was the last visible bit that I knew for sure Borromini himself designed.

Again, however, he designed it with a great many more stars and bells and arrows and flaming hearts than the Oratorians chose to permit.

Prominently installed in front of the Oratory is the Fontana della Zuppiera, so called because it resembles a giant soup tureen. Giacomo della Porta designed it in the 1590s for the Campo dei Fiori where it served the practical needs of the open-air market before being moved to this present location (where it seems neither very useful nor decorative, but certainly maintains a distinctive presence).