Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Our friend Francesco Borromini worked on a couple of special features at Palazzo Spada for the wealthy Cardinal who expanded the structure and purchased the core of the art collection I saw there. Most of the building projects, including the courtyard above, heavy with sculptures, were executed by other architects. Borromini's ornamental niche with its trompe l'oeil stonework, seen below through the archway, was recently restored with a heavy hand and looked to my eyes considerably too slick to be convincing.
The more renowned Borromini innovation, totally satisfying, was his Prospettiva, a tunnel Cardinal Spada asked him to create. Neoclassical in shape, it appeared to be about four times longer than it really was because the size of the columns and the space between them radically diminished as they receded. The mosaic pavement, though it appeared level, actually rose toward the vault. It could only be viewed from a walled garden, which one could only enter after asking an attendant to unlock the door.
The painting collection was shabbier than other palace collections I saw, running higher to copies and portraits of prelates, but at the same time it had great advantages, as it was still hung in the 17th century manner. Works ascended to the ceilings on all four walls of every room and were arranged according to size and shape and color rather than any art historical principles. There were several Baroque lovelies scattered among them, and the parquet floors creaked suggestively under every step.