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Borromini: a shy personality for an often unappreciated genius


Borromini: a shy personality for an often unappreciated genius


We already mentioned the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini, but now the time has come to deal a little more in detail with both these extraordinary architects’ personalities.

We are going to start with Borromini, to give this privilege to the one between them whose critical recognition has maybe come too late.

Borromini is the byname of Francesco Castelli Brumini, architect among the leading figures of the Baroque scene, who worked in Rome during the 17th Century.

Borromini had Italian and Swiss origins and came from a family that found its roots among the Comacine masters, great Swiss builders and carpenters that were since the 7th-8th Centuries active in Europe and involved in the main construction sites.

He therefore grew up in this background and began his career as a stonemason. During his training he attended an uncle, and finally found himself serving an apprenticeship inside the building site of the Milan Cathedral, at that time in a flurry of activity under the direction of Richini.

As we can often notice, the formative background is never a neutral trait: the years spent in the shade of the spires became significant for his expressive features; Gothic architecture remarkably influenced his taste and his personal style.

Borromini arrived in Rome as an assistant for Carlo Maderno, Swiss as well and perhaps related to him, and began helping him during the works for the St. Peter’s Basilica and Palazzo Barberini.

When Maderno died in 1629, Borromini thought he would have been his successor, but it was instead Gian Lorenzo Bernini who obtain the role, a much closer to the Pope and more successful architect.

Borromini had an introvert and shy personality, and, despite his talent, he found it quite difficult to establish himself in the Roman scene, dominated by Bernini, who was unlike him very inclined to social life.

So, Borromini started working as Bernini’s assistant, and surely this forced collaboration didn’t help him with his personality; on the contrary, the feeling of always being a second choice resulted in a worsening of his attitude.

His proneness to depression and several nervous disorders compounded his situation and his reputation even more.

There are strong doubts on his death too: he was seriously injured with a sword in the occasion of a fight with a servant, but no one ever knew if the accident was incidental or if Borromini voluntarily wounded himself further to the worsening of his depression and to Bernini’s constant succeeds.

Today, the memory of Borromini remains thanks to his works, that marked a real revolution, but had in spite of this to wait a long time to have the critical recognition they deserved, as unfortunately often happens in the artistic world.


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