Friday, June 24, 2011

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, or When the inspired outshines the inspiration

No answers? No guesses? No comments whatsoever??

This either means my question was too hard, or no one reads this blog. (I suspect it's a combination of both.)

Ok, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. I'm sure some of you couldn't sleep last night, going through a mental catalogue of every work of art, church, building and monument in the city, desperately trying to discover the work that was inspired by the brilliant mosaic ceiling of Constantia's gorgeous mausoleum. I'm heartless, I know. So here it is.

The dome of Borromini's masterpiece, San Carlo alle Quattro Fonatane. Let's take a look at both side by side.

The same interlocking crosses, hexagons and octogons grace this oblong dome designed by the greatest Baroque architect who ever lived, and the similarity cannot be a coincidence. I like to imagine the tortured and solitary Borromini visiting the Mausoleum of Constantia and being inspired by such a small and for most probably unnoticeable detail to create the dome of arguably one of the most beautiful churches in Rome (and at over 800 that's saying quite a lot).

But Borromini took this motif and made it his own, coffered instead of mosaic, stark white instead of multi-colored, and a shallow dome instead of barrel-vaulting. A rare example of Baroque art being inspired by early Medieval art. Not surprisingly, the design of Borromini's dome is famous, and the inspiration sadly obscure.

Borromini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane ("at the four fountains", named for the fountains adorning each corner of the intersection right outside) has been nicknamed San Carlino for its tiny size. With convex and concave surfaces at every turn, columns placed at oblique angles to the altars and not a straight line in sight, the entire church seems to undulate. This sense of movement is one of the characteristics that came to define Baroque architecture, at which Borromini was head and shoulders above his contemporaries including his rival and nemesis, the ever-popular Gianlorenzo Bernini, who should have stuck to sculpting. For proof of this, visit Bernini's painfully inferior Sant'Andrea al Quirinale just down the street. (In my humble opionion, of course.)

Now, not to go on and on about my wedding (I'll do that later...), the thought of this church crossed my mind as well during the early days of planning. Tiny and intimate, just what I wanted. Achingly beautiful, a true jewel of a church, dare I say it, perfection? Only two tiny problems: my dress was a rich ivory and the chruch is blindingly white. The bride mustn't clash with the church, no? (Okay, I'm joking. I didn't actually think about this at the time.) But more importantly, the church, as glorious and serene as it is on the inside, opens up right onto a busy intersection which would hamper rice throwing quite drastically.

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