Europe s Mazes: On Labyrinthine Thought in Architectural Design. Rubén Wengiel

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1 Europe s Mazes: On Labyrinthine Thought in Architectural Design by Rubén Wengiel I wish to thank the European Forum at the Hebrew University and the Corinaldi Fund for their generous support. I am also indebted to five women: Prof. Bianca Kühnel for her kind professional assistance; Prof. Luba Freedman for her invaluable contribution to the genesis of this paper and precious advice; Dr. Lola Kantor-Kazovsky for renewing my love for architecture; Dr. Lily Arad for her essential support both at the personal and intellectual levels; and, not least, to my wife Martina Weisz for being the Ariadna of my life.

2 Contents Introduction 3 1. Precedents of the Idea of Labyrinth in the Italian Imagery of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries 5 2. The Mazes of the Sixteenth Century: The Questioning of the Center and the Election of a Path 2.1 Labyrinth and Maze The Two San Pietros The Villa Giulia Borromini and Bernini: Two Different Labyrinths for the Seventeenth Century 3.1 Teoria versus Praxis Michelangelo: The Same Model under Two Different Gazes. The Path or the Center? The Proportions: Module and Geometry, Classic versus Gothic, the Hero and the Monster Borromini s Labyrinth 4.1 San Carlino San Ivo alla Sapienza Bernini s Labyrinth The Scala Regia The Piazza San Pietro San Pietro s Façade as Bernini s Monster 33 Epilogue: Rome as a Maze 38 Bibliography 40 Illustration Credits 47 Illustrations 48 2

3 Introduction This paper had its genesis in Prof. Luba Freedman s course on Bernini and Europe at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during Although the idea of labyrinth had been haunting me for a while (perhaps because of my condition as new immigrant a sui generis kind of pilgrim in Jerusalem), during this course I had the opportunity to make a systematic analysis of the subject. During my research, I reached the conclusion that the idea of labyrinth traverses most of European history, and that it constitutes an extremely valuable lens for the study of social and cultural developments in the continent. The purpose of this work is therefore to unveil the central role played by the idea of labyrinth in the shaping of Italian and consequently also European identity. To that end, I assume that the labyrinth transcends the visual representation with which the concept is generally associated. Instead, I approached it in its character of representing human life and experience. More specifically, I identified the core elements of the idea of labyrinth in the works, writings, and acts of the artists under study so as to delve into some important issues concerning not only themselves but also the society in which they flourished. This paper is a first attempt at applying the idea of labyrinth to the study of the history of art and architecture through the case-study methodology. I focused on Rome of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period in which the city underwent certain important political and cultural processes that produced competing worldviews Weltanschauung and ideas concerning the place of human beings in the universe. Despite the existence of a wide variety of labyrinths along the timeline, some elements can clearly be identified as fundamental in their constitution. 1 The core element 1 For an in-depth analysis of the various forms and types of labyrinth and its definitions, see Santarcangeli 1997, pp

4 is the Center, which is the necessary point of reference for human beings to make the rest of the world comprehensible, and at the same time find some orientation in that world. 2 Another basic element is the difficult Path long or paved with many obstacles, whose raison d être lies in the existence of a Center. This arduous path, full of challenges and unexpected hardships, can be considered as a passage initiatique allowing human beings to achieve a better understanding of their own selves. Actually, there is a dialectic process through which the Center gives the Path its significance, and, in a second, complementary movement, the Path forces the human being walking through it to undergo the essential transformation enabling him to reach the Center. Once the journey is over, the traveler or searcher is ready for self-awareness, a state usually depicted through the metaphor of a Mirror, or another element with similar characteristics. The looking glass or its substitute can therefore be considered as the third important element of every labyrinth. 3 There is a fourth important component awaiting the searcher when he (or she) gains access to the Center: the Monster. Although not always visible, the Monster counterbalances the Mirror. Whereas the looking glass shows the traveler the image of what he wishes to be (and to some extent is), the Monster represents all that he fears and aims at defeating in his own self. Through the analogy or metaphor of labyrinth, it is therefore possible to gain some important clues concerning which were the central issues at stake in a specific European society, which paths were socially or individually constructed toward them, and which mirror-images in Monsters and Heroes shape the people had to face so as to reach their commonly or individually defined aim. 2 See the concept of Center in Revilla 1999, p See Santarcangeli 1997, p

5 1. Precedents of the Idea of Labyrinth in the Italian Imagery of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries Although we do find some labyrinths in Italy before the fourteenth century, I decided to focus on the two centuries immediately preceding the specific period under study in this paper so as to understand the most relevant antecedents of the developments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The adoption of the idea of labyrinth by the Christians constitutes an important landmark in the history of this concept. Indeed, the Church Fathers used this idea as a metaphor of the path toward redemption by replacing Theseus with Jesus, the Church, or Jerusalem. In other cases, the Christ fulfilled Ariadna s role as a guiding light in the midst of darkness. 4 The labyrinthine thought can also be detected in the worldview of one of the most important pillars of Italian classic literature: Dante Alighieri (figs. 1-4). 5 The idea of labyrinth appears clearly from the very beginning of La Divina Commedia: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, Chè la diritta via era smarrita. Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura Questa selva selvaggia ed aspera e forte, Che nel pensier rinnova la paura! Tanto è amara, che poco è più morte: Ma per trattar del ben ch i vi trovai, Dirò dell altre cose, ch io v ho scorte. I non so ben ridir com io v entrai; Tant era pien di sonno in su quel punto, Che la verace via abbandonai. (Inferno I, 1-12) 6 4 See Wright 2001, pp For further information on the relevance of the idea of labyrinth in the work of another pillar of Italian literature, Petrarca, see Cipolla 1977, pp Dante Alighieri, Commedia, con il commento di Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi (Milano: Arnoldo Mondatori Editrice, 1994). English translation by Singleton 1970, Vol. 1, p. 3: Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell what that wood was, wild, rugged, harsh; the very thought of it renews the fear! It is so bitter that death is hardly more so. But, to treat of the good that I found in it, I will tell of the other things I saw there./ I cannot 5

6 Further in the text, he also wrote: Indi m han tratto sù li suoi conforti, salendo e rigirando la montagna che drizza voi che l mondofece torti. (Purgatorio XXIII, ) 7 Nevertheless, to find the idea of labyrinth in a field closer to architecture we need to reach the second half of the fifteenth century. During that period, this concept only existed at a theoretical level and was not yet materialized in a concrete architectural space. The design of Antonio Averlino (Filarete) for the castle of Sforzinda the ideal city designed and described by him in the Codice Magliabechiano between 1460 and 1464 in Milan is a well-known example of labyrinth. The ground floor of the building is surrounded by a typical Roman labyrinth: squared and unicursal, it has to be walked through integrally so as to reach the Center (figs. 5-7). 8 Moreover, the also well-known book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 9 printed for the first time in Venice in 1499, refers in its text to a labyrinth, which thereafter appeared as an illustration in the Kerver edition of 1546 (fig. 8). 10 The text reads: rightly say how I entered it, I was so full of sleep at the moment I left the true way; For some enlightening comments on the relationship between La Divina Commedia and labyrinths, see Wright 2001, pp , 135 and Doob 1992, pp Dante Alighieri 1994, also cited in Doob 1992, p English translation by Singleton 1982, Vol. 2, p. 255: From there his counsels have drawn me up, ascending and circling this mountain, which makes you straight whom the world made crooked. 8 It is interesting to note that Dante is quoted, though in a not very rigorous way, in Filarete s treatise (Book XIX, folio 152v): Dante explains that this is so where he says And he [the Arno river] replied, a stream spreads itself through Tuscany that rises in Falterona. Its course is one hundred miles long and it runs on bathing Tuscany, [passes] through the middle of Florence and Pisa and then five miles farther mixes itself with the salty waters of the Mediterranean. For further information on Filarete s labyrinth, see Kern 2000, pp The book has been generally attributed to Francesco Colonna, though there have been some recent controversies in that regard. See also Lefaivre According to Pozzi and Ciapponi, this labyrinth derives from Filarete s treatise. See the authors commentaries in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili 1980, Vol. 2, pp See also Kern 2000, p. 188: In the first book, a construction is described that is referred to as a labyrinth. It is actually a spiral with seven circuits and seven towers, whose path is represented by the canals between the walls and is intended to 6

7 Et rimanendo giù Thelemia, per cochleata scansione, nella superna parte coaequata, alacramente salissemo, ove mi monstroe cum diva facundia un horto di latissima circuitione, in forma deducto de discolo labyrintho intrincato, et gli circulari meati non calca[h2v]bili, ma navigabili, imperoché in loco delle gressibile strate, correvano rivuli d aque. 11 Other important allusions to the idea of labyrinth can be found in Leonardo da Vinci s works, though in a quite particular manner: by referring to knots. 12 The relationship between the knots he designed and the idea of labyrinth can easily be observed in his incisioni. Leonardo s incisioni are graphic representations generally considered as derivations of some of the complex knots he designed (figs. 9-10). 13 The similarities between some of these designs which thereafter were imitated by Albrecht Dürer and the idea of labyrinth are evident. 14 For instance, some of them show one continuous line drawing a long and complex itinerary leading to a Center where lies the inscription Academia Leonardi Vinci. This inscription might have had, like the similar ones from the labyrinths of some medieval churches, the function of collective signature or segnatura collettiva. In his Vita di Lionardo Da Vinci, Vasari states that the main reason for the design of these incisioni was simply enjoyment, an important ingredient of the idea of labyrinth. 15 symbolize human life: those who enter with their shallops cannot go back and, after initial joy, will be devoured by a dragon at the center. 11 Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1980 edition, p English translation by Jocelyn Godwin 2005, p. 124: Leaving Thelemia behind, we leapt nimbly up the spiral staircase to the flat top, where she showed me, and explained with divine eloquence, a wide circular garden made in the form of complex and intricate labyrinth. Its circular paths were not walkable but navigable, for in place of streets there ran rivulets of water. 12 According to Santarcangeli 1997, p. 254, the first author to be aware of this fact was M. Brion in his book Léonard de Vinci (Paris, 1952). For other examples of Leonardo s labyrinths, see Kern 2000, pp. 35, Concerning these incisioni, Carlo Pedretti wrote: Disegno d ornato per eccellenza, questo dei nodi vinciani, che suggerisce la gracile consistenza di un ricamo e al tempo stesso richiama i danteschi sì dolci vinci d amore, oppure i tenaci vinchi, o vincoli, per far canestri che si coltivano nel territorio di Vinci e dai quali, forse, il paese natale di Leonardo prende il nome. In Pedretti 1996, pp See also Kern 2000, p. 34; Génon 1969, pp. 348, 349; Santarcangeli, p Vasari 1993, p. 558: Oltre che perse tempo fino a disegnare gruppi di corde fatti con ordine, e che da un capo seguissi tutto il resto fino a l altro, tanto che s empiessi un tondo, che se ne vede in istampa uno 7

8 Significantly, this confluence of the knot and the labyrinth has some precedents in Dante s Divina Commedia: 16 La forma universal di questo nodo Credo ch io vidi, perchè più di largo, Dicendo questo, mi sento ch io godo. (Paradiso XXXIII, 91-93) 17 In some previous verses, Dante also wrote: Se li tuoi dite non sono a tal nodo Sufficienti, non è maraviglia, Tanto, per non tentare, è fatto sodo. (Paradiso XXVIII, 58-60) 18 Interestingly enough, these verses seem to associate the process of unknotting with the walking of the labyrinth s Path toward its Center. difficilissimo e molto bello, e nel mezzo vi sono queste parole: Leonardus Vinci Accademia;... English translation by Bull 1965, p. 257: He also spent a great deal of time in making a pattern of a series of knots, so arranged that the connecting thread can be traced from one end to the other and the complete design fills a round space. There exists a splendid engraving of one of these fine and intricate designs, with these words in the centre: Leonardus Vinci Academia. 16 See Coomaraswamy 1944, pp Dante Alighieri English translation by Singleton 1982, Vol. 3, p. 377: The universal form of this knot I believe that I saw, because, in telling this, I feel my joy increase. 18 Dante Alighieri English translation by Singleton 1982, Vol. 3, p. 317: If your fingers are insufficient for such a knot, it is no wonder, so hard has it become by not being tried. 8

9 2. The Mazes of the Sixteenth Century: The Questioning of the Center and the Election of a Path 2.1 Labyrinth and Maze The materialization of different concepts of labyrinth in architectural spaces began during the sixteenth century. This period was characterized by the coexistence of two different archetypes of labyrinth: the labyrinth sensu stricto and the maze. The difference between the two lies in the possibility of choosing between different Paths so as to reach the Center. In the labyrinth sensu stricto, the difficulties of the Path involve losing one s sense of orientation and time, and the hardships of the way. On the other hand, the concept of maze implies, in addition to those challenges, the necessity to choose between two or more different possible Paths to the Center. The inclusion of the element of choice in the traditional labyrinth reflects the existence of a deep cultural and political change, which gave rise to the idea that freedom, and the possibility of making mistakes, are intimately connected to the very essence of the human condition. 19 Significantly enough, the proliferation of representations of Mazes was contemporary with the advent of the Christian Reformation, which challenged the political and theological monopoly of the Roman Church over the Christian path to salvation. 20 Most ideas of order and the laws conserving it have both a Center and a Path toward it. As in the labyrinths, the Center grants to these orders both a reference point and an ultimate meaning. In that sense, every change in either the Path or the Center reflects important modifications at the structural level of these conceptual systems. Since all cultural expressions are to some extent a reflection of the society in which they developed, it is not surprising that the conflicting ideas about the universe and its laws, 19 See Santarcangeli 1997, pp For a more detailed analysis of the differences between labyrinth and maze, see Doob 1992, pp The earliest representations of mazes were made in 1420 CE by Giovanni Fontana (Venezia, ). See Kern 2000, pp. 23,

10 and its implicit divergences concerning both the Center and the Path, were expressed in some emblematic works of architecture designed during that period. A good example of such manifestations is the birth during the sixteenth century of the concept of license in architecture, indicating the possibility of breaking some of the rules of the classical system (the field s status quo) without trespassing the limits defined by certain preestablished laws. 2.2 The Two San Pietros The Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio (1502) is an illustration of the architectural designs questioning the monopoly of classic architectural orders. Although we have no recorded evidence concerning the main intention behind Bramante s Tempietto (fig. 11), an entire tradition of the history of architecture has considered it as a task of rescuing and applying what are seen as the architectural rules of antiquity. This tradition, initiated by Serlio and Palladio, could nevertheless be contested by an alternative reading of the Tempietto s features. 21 In open contradiction to Serlio s plan of the Tempietto (fig. 12) Palladio is more strict (fig. 13) Bramante did not always apply the radiocentric rule of architectural organization to the design of this work. In fact, his Tempietto can be considered as the materialization of the difficulties and contradictions faced by the architect when forced to follow the seemingly meaningless rules of the only legitimate architectural system of his time i.e., classic architecture. From the very beginning, Bramante took a defiant step by choosing to construct a building combining the elements of two different typologies of classic architecture, that is, by inserting pilasters in the cella walls of a small round edifice. When trying to apply the classical rules to the Tempietto, the architect found 21 See Bruschi 1977, pp

11 himself immersed in a series of conflictive situations that forced him to break those classical rules, and also to choose between different, but equally subversive, options or paths. In the end, Bramante decided to draw attention to the inconsistencies of his path, and to the consequences of his choice (fig. 14). The architect encountered the first important contradiction when determining the size of the pilasters. Had he made the pilasters thinner than their correspondent columns, since their height would have remained equal, the proportions of the former would have been left beyond the limits fixed by the rules. He therefore decided to give them the same width as the columns, yet by doing so he broke the rules establishing the legitimate proportions between the space separating the columns and the section of wall between the pilasters. Bramante not only decided not to hide this contradiction, but even went one step further and chose to give prominence to it. Indeed, the architect designed a Doric door of 97-cm width, that is, 20 cm wider than the available space between pilasters (77 cm). This disproportionate door invaded a considerable part of the pilasters superficies with its frame, breaking their vertical continuity with its impressive cornice (fig. 15). 22 Another, similar signal of Bramante s intentions can also be observed in the coffered ceiling of the Tempietto s colonnade. Its radial composition makes obvious the fact that the pilasters do not follow the radial rule in relation to the columns, by showing how the edges of the coffered ceiling, which start from the tangents of the columns, end inside the pilasters instead of at their borders (fig. 16). Yet Bramante s attitude toward the dichotomy labyrinth/maze was not univocal. For instance, the floor called scroll plan from his project for the Basilica di San Pietro (1505) symbolically reproduced ad infinitum the Greek cross of the central space, by 22 Ibid. 11

12 repeating it in increasingly smaller spaces directed toward the building s corners. This same system can be appreciated in the medal of San Pietro designed by Caradosso in 1506 on the base of Bramante s project. The medal shows the façade project for the Basilica di San Pietro, whose access appears to be a smaller reproduction of the building s principal body. Metaphorically speaking, the infinite reproduction of a same architectural motif refers to the immutability and universality of the classical laws, and therefore to the importance of avoiding any digression or deviation from what is considered as the only legitimate and veritable Path. The classical laws of architecture are the metaphor through which the two buildings related to different ideas and values. In the Basilica San Pietro, the values of the Roman Catholic Church that are kept in its Center where according to the Church s tradition St. Peter was buried are confirmed and propagated ad infinitum in a centrifugal way. In the Tempietto, a less rigid classical language makes possible the election between at least two different paths in the search of the veritable place of St. Peter s crucifixion The Villa Giulia The fact that the concept of maze was incorporated into the architectural culture of the sixteenth century was reflected in the adoption of this idea by a multiplicity of architects of that time, and in its inclusion into a wide variety of architectural types. Indeed, the possibility of choice between at least two different paths can also be detected in an Italian villa, an architectural structure completely different from the Tempietto. 23 The Tempietto was built upon the place where, according to an old tradition, St. Peter was crucified. For more information on the subject of the place of St. Peter s crucifixion in sixteenth-century art, see Fehl

13 In his Villa Giulia (1551), the architect Vignola forces its visitor to choose between two differentiated paths. 24 The Villa s Center is without any doubt the ninfeo, from which the Acqua Vergine (proceeding from the old aqueduct restored and extended by Giulio III to make it reach his villa) is poured (fig. 17). 25 At first sight, the floor shows a bold longitudinal axis and the building seems to be much simpler than it really is. Yet the visitor walking through the villa is bound to face different kinds of situations or perceptions. In fact, he is invited by the building s design to choose his own experience, by being forced to decide to take one of the various paths offered by the villa. Another important characteristic of this construction is the element of wonder included in its design: the spatial structure of the villa is full of little surprises, which will gradually be uncovered to the guest s eyes. 26 Once the visitor has entered the building, and leaves it toward the semicircular loggia, he encounters a tension between the path of this loggia and the straight line from the strongly marked longitudinal axis. At this point the host is not only ignorant of where the Center is, but is also forced to opt for one out of two possibilities in order to reach it. Most probably the guest will choose the path of the loggia because of the strong architectural elements delimiting it. If he does so, his impression of the patio will vary until its lateral limits gradually disappear, as he leaves this space toward one of the gardens (right or left). The garden seems to be the outside of the building, since it is a space that cannot be clearly seen from the loggia, having in addition an organization and a spatial luminosity radically different from that of the patio. The visitor feels at this point the sensation of having already left the villa without having had the conscious intention of doing so. 24 Ammannati, Vasari, and probably other architects also contributed to the construction of the villa. 25 See Heydenreich-Lotz 1974, pp Leplat s (1980) book on the Villa Giulia has many interesting comments and analysis on the spatial structure of the villa. Many of them are being followed in this essay. 13

14 Yet if the guest chooses to take the straight path along the longitudinal axis, the garden or outside will be discovered only at the end after having gone through the different loggias. He will therefore have a completely different experience from the villa. This design signals the relevance of the idea of election. By following the first path, one reaches the end after having known all the limits of the edifice, and by going through the second path the structure of the villa can only be understood in its whole once the Center is reached (figs. 18, 19). Sixteenth-century Rome saw the birth of the possibility of choice between two different paths in the architectural space. Whereas the labyrinth reinforces the system of values and ideas embodied by its Center, the birth of the maze is closely related, at an abstract level, to the questioning of a hitherto predominant worldview. With the advent of the seventeenth century, Rome witnessed the disappearance of the idea of maze as an alternative model to the labyrinth, and, together with it, the vanishing of the possibility of challenging the Center. Instead, the core debate took place between two different types of labyrinths sensu stricto, which nevertheless have very different characteristics. 14

15 3. Borromini and Bernini: Two Different Labyrinths for the Seventeenth Century 3.1 Teoria versus Praxis This part of the paper analyzes the most important differences and discussions between the famous architects Bernini ( ) and Borromini ( ) through the language of labyrinth. Since Leon Battista Alberti ( ), the relationship between theory and practice was one of the central aspects of architectural aesthetics. 27 This relationship, which became during most of the sixteenth century an important battlefield between different architects and artists, marked a significant divide between Bernini and Borromini during the seventeenth century. Borromini was the most prominent supporter of the praxis during that century, confronting the idea of teoria from the late mannerism of Roman architecture. The idea of praxis should not be confused with the opposition to teoria in the name of a shallow empiricism. According to G. C. Argan, the supporters of praxis believed that each human deed had an ideal and spiritual value per se, directly related to that of the more abstract theory. In their view, while the practical execution of the teoria was damned to remain a mere degradation of it, the result of the praxis would always have a concrete spiritual value of its own. 28 On the other hand, Bernini could be considered as a representative of the teoria in the sense that his architecture is founded on a predetermined system of values. In this 27 See Argan 1961, pp In Argan s words (1966, pp ), those who spoke of praxis were: artistas que afirmaban que aquel valor ideal o espiritual que se relacionaba con la teoría es un valor espiritual abstracto que no se puede realizar sino degradándose en una ejecución práctica inferior a la idea. Ellos, en cambio, quieren conferir a la praxis, como hacer humano, el mismo valor ideal o espiritual. Por eso, mientras el producto de la teoría, el producto práctico de la teoría, estará siempre por debajo de la ideación, el resultado de la praxis será un valor espiritual concreto. 15

16 sense, it is important to note that, contrary to what might be commonly thought, not all the supporters of teoria were necessarily authors of theoretical treatises. 29 The ideas of teoria and praxis found in art and architecture had, according to Argan, a clear parallel in the religious sphere. This historical period was characterized by a fervent discussion concerning the path toward salvation. The Curia Romana supported the notion that it could only be achieved through a strong belief in the Church s dogma, and the respect for the Church as the ultimate earthly and spiritual authority. Contradicting these beliefs, some religious orders greatly influenced by the German Reformation, and especially those from northern Italy, argued that faith was not enough, that the believer also had to do righteous things, that is, to have a religious praxis in order to merit salvation. 30 Indeed, the German Reformation had a considerable impact on some religious orders from northern Italy, which debated the possibility of undertaking a Catholic reform that would nevertheless not put in question the veracity of the dogma. This Catholic reformation was envisaged as leading the believers toward a charitable and religious praxis that would allegedly orient the world toward salvation through an ascetic process involving the direct, practical experience of reality. In sum, these orders emphasized the need for realizing good deeds. 31 In labyrinthine terms, the praxis reflects the preponderance of the Path in relation to a Center that is considered as unreachable or as located in a spatial and spiritual dimension beyond earthly experience. In contrast, the labyrinth of the teoria is composed by an ideal Center that has necessarily to be reached. 29 See ibid., p See ibid., p Ibid. 16

17 This opposition can clearly be seen in the works of Bernini and Borromini. Analysis of Borromini s works reveals that he would make many drawings with different variations on the same subject. 32 For this architect, the act of designing did not imply the reaching of a conclusion, the definitive production of those ideas and forms that in another step would be translated into the matter, but rather a seemingly unlimited process of continual transformations. 33 Unlike Borromini, Bernini brings his designs to an end, to an ultimate conclusion. According to Franco Borsi, Bernini tends to dominate each of the elements of the Physis such as the spatial dimension and the matter. 34 Besides, this architect made a clear differentiation between the project and its materialization. In fact, he always worked with an assistant architect whose task was to translate his sketches and ideas into plans or drawings of real dimensions. 35 At least in Bernini s case, the supporters of the praxis were right in asserting that those who believed in the teoria would always be disappointed by inevitably imperfect materialization of the theory. According to his son Domenico, the sculptor and architect was never satisfied with his works, since he considered that their beauty was much inferior to what he had imagined and known in his mind: 36 Quivi avvenne un giorno, che quel suo figlio, che presentemente scrive questo Libro, essendo per sua devozione entrato in quella Chiesa [S.Andrea], e ritrovato havendo in un angolo di essa ritirato il Cavaliere suo Padre, che in atto di compiacenza vagheggiava con gli occhj tutte le parti di quel piccolo Tempio, ossequiosamante gli domandasse, Che facesse così solo, e cheto? e che gli fispondesse il Cavaliere, Figlio, di questa sola Opera di Architettura io sento qualche particolar compiacenza nel fondo del mio cuore, e spesso per sollievo delle mie fatiche io quì mi porto a consolarmi col mio 32 In some cases Borromini superposed different design variations on the same plan, to the point that it is extremely hard to recognize the lowest layers of the palimpsest. See Blunt 1979, p See Bruschi 1999, p. 17: non sembra più possibile a Borromini distinguere fra teoria e pratica; fra idea, definizione degli elementi, scelta dei mezzi concreti ed esecuzione. To explore some of these ideas, see Argan 1966, p. 105; Argan 1961, p See Borsi 1998, p See ibid., pp The only exception to this rule mentioned by Domenico Bernino (1999) was his father s Sant Andrea al Quirinale, on pp

18 lavoro. Sentimento nuovo nel Cavaliere, che non mai faceva, stimandole tutte molto inferiori a que bello, che conosceva, e concepiva nella mente. 37 Both Bernini and Borromini had Michelangelo Buonaroti as their model and inspiration. Yet while Borromini tried to imitate his creative approach as a suffering human being, Bernini kept an idealized image of him, being focused on emulating the beauty of his creations. 3.2 Michelangelo: The Same Model under Two Different Gazes. The Path or the Center? Michelangelo Buonaroti was both Borromini s and Bernini s model. But as noted, each of them had a different approach to the great artist and architect. Borromini experienced toward Michelangelo a deep admiration. He felt that he shared with him some important traits of character, or, in labyrinthine terms, the same Path. In his Opus Architectonicum, Borromini compares his path and the difficulties encountered in it with those of Michelangelo: e pregoli ricordarsi, quando tal volta gli paia, che io m allontani da i communi disegni, di quello, che diceva Michel Angelo Prencipe degl Architetti, che chi segue altri non gli va mai innanzi, ed io al certo nono mi sarei posto a questa professione, col fine d esser solo Copista, benche sappia, che nell inventare cose nuove, nono si può ricevere il frutto della fatica se nono tardi, siccome non lo ricevette l istesso Michel Angelo, quando nel riformare l Architettura della gran Basilica de S. Pietro veniva lacerato per le nuove forme, ed ornati, che da suoi emoli venivano censurate, a segno che procurarono più volte di farlo privare della carica d Architetto di S.Pietro, ma in darno, e il tempo poi ha chiarito, che tutte le cose sue sono state reputate degne d imitazione, ed ammirazione, e Dio vi salvi. 38 Borromini identified himself with the Prince of Architects in what he interpreted as an attitude of disdain for the mere copying of beautiful forms, and believed that, like him, he would only be granted a very late acknowledgment for his work. His belief in the very late recognition he might receive for his creative capacities could be 37 Ibid., pp Also mentioned in Hibbard 1965, p. 148: Domenico found this a novel attitude since his father had never had signs that he was pleased with any of his works, all of which he considered far inferior to the Beauty that he knew, and conceived in his mind. 38 See Borromini s Opus Achitectonicum, p. 5. See also Portoghesi 1967, p

19 interpreted as expressing his conviction that the Center can never be reached while still alive. Like the others supporters of the praxis, he located the Center in a dimension only accessible after our death. On the other hand, Bernini perceives Michelangelo in a way that resembles his approach to the religious dogma. Indeed, the dogma is in his eyes not only the key to the solutions of all possible problems but also the supreme example and source of inspiration. In fact, Bernini considered that the form of Michelangelo s works contained a potential Truth that was longing to be fully developed. 39 In a text of Paul Freart de Chantelou where Bernini refers to Michelangelo, we learn that Bernini only had this specific approach to Michelangelo s architectural design, but not to his paintings or sculptures: Il a dit qu il était grand sculpteur et peintre, mais un divin architecte. 40 The fact that Michelangelo fills different places in Borromini s and Bernini s labyrinths also manifests a disagreement in the two architects perception of the models of the past. Yet it is in the subject of proportions where they had their most important disagreement concerning the architectural traditions, at least in what refers to the relationship man-architecture. 3.3 The Proportions: Module and Geometry, Classic versus Gothic, the Hero and the Monster It is well known that Bernini accused Borromini of being closer to the maniera Gotica than to Roman antiquity. Indeed, Bernini s son Domenico wrote that his father referred to Borromini in those terms: 39 See Argan 1966, pp Chantelou 1972, p

20 Tuttavia, diceva, che la vera base dell Archittettura era lo studio dell Antica; E perciò ad un Personaggio illustre, che non potea soffrire, che il Borromino havesse tanto traviato dai documenti appresi nella sua Scuola, e da buon Disegnatore, ch egli era, più tosto havesse affettata la maniera Gotica, che l antica Romana, & il bel modo moderno, rispose sorridendo: Io stimo meno male essere un cattivo Cattolico, che un buon Heretico 41 According to Joseph Connors, Bernini felt under the effects of the French classicist theory during the reign of Pope Alessandro VII, and reformulated his hostility to Borromini with a Poussinian terminology. This is how Borromini became, in Bernini s eyes, an originale, and therefore despicable, architect. In the language of the French classicist theory, the term originale was closely associated with the term gothic. 42 Despite Bernini s accusations, it can hardly be argued that Borromini was a gothic architect. Nevertheless, it is possible to detect the influence of the medieval architectural tradition in his works, most probably as a consequence of the period of time he spent in Milan. For the design of his works, Borromini made use of rather complex geometrical operations. In his letter to Cardinal Camillo Pamphili, Borromini himself explains that the villa he was designing at that moment could be considered as an exercise of applied mathematics. 43 In Wittkower s opinion, Borromini based his project for San Carlo, and also some later works, on geometrical unities. By renouncing the classical principle consisting in making the architectural designs in terms of modules (multiplication and division of an arithmetic basic unity), he declined a central position among the followers of anthropomorphic architecture. It is therefore not surprising that Bernini saw in Borromini 41 Bernino 1999, p Joseph Connors, Poussin detrattore di Borromini, in Frommel e Sladek 2000, p See Blunt 1979, p. 50: and Borromini ends the passage: In fact the whole building would be a study in applied mathematics. 20

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