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Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza: a masterpiece of full and empty spaces


Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza: a masterpiece of full and empty spaces


Close to Piazza Navona and hidden inside a courtyard, we find one of the gems of Roman baroque architecture, realized by a leading figure whom we already had a chance to meet in our articles: Francesco Borromini. We are talking about what is considered to be his masterpiece, the church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza.

The history of the church is linked to the history of the university and to an already developed project.

Borromini is entrusted with the task in 1632, when he is appointed architect of the University of Rome La Sapienza. He has to deal with the church that has to be included in the complex, and the situation he faces is not simple. The design is patronized by Pope Urban VIII, born Barberini.

The complex of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza has in fact not only already been planned, but also partially realized by Giacomo della Porta.

This fact poses a challenge to Borromini, who faces it with his usual ingeniousness. The space he has to deal with is quite limited to accommodate a church, but, as you can imagine, the constraint becomes an opportunity for such a talented designer.

The study of the plan originates from intentionally symbolic shapes: Borromini organizes the space of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza starting from two overlapping and reversed equilateral triangles (strong reference to the Holy Trinity). A series of circumferences intersects these simple geometrical shapes, conferring movement to the wall mass.

Schermata 2016-05-16 alle 20.19.37

The result of this structure is a wall-sculpted wing that drives toward the inside of the hall or wraps up in niches, creating an alternation of full and empty spaces.

These are repeated in the springer of the dome, which culminates in a perfect circle and in a breathtaking corkscrew lantern.

In the floor scheme of the Church, we can also identify a stylization of the bee, symbol of the family of Urban VIII Barberini.

The effect created by concave and convex lines recurs again on the façade, that gives onto the courtyard.

This is why visitors should not neglect this little church! It is moreover not far from Piazza Navona, where another symbol of the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini is located, as we already pointed out.

Let these spaces ravish you, in one of Roman baroque highlights.



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