BORROMINI, Francesco
(b. 1599, Bissone, d. 1667, Roma)

Interior view

Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome

The university church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza is hardly the product of a single architect. Work on this structure took almost two decades and involved the decisions and revisions of three successive popes. By 1632 Bernini had proposed Borromini, his assistant at the time, as the architect for the university. In 1642 Borromini received the commission for the related church.

The church was to be erected at the east end of Giacomo della Porta's long, arcaded cortile. For its plan Borromini returned to the basic geometry of the equilateral triangle. But this time the triangles interpenetrate in such a way that they form a regular star-hexagon. Before Borromini's Sant'Ivo, the star-hexagon was almost entirely excluded from Renaissance and post-Renaissance planning. Even the simple hexagon was hardly used. However, the complexities inherent in hexagonal planning were skillfully avoided by Borromini. Instead of creating, in accordance with tradition, a hexagonal main space with lower satellite spaces placed in the angles of the triangles, he encompassed the perimeter with an uninterrupted sequence of giant pilasters impelling the spectator to register the unity and homogeneity of the entire area of the church. This sensation is powerfully supported by the sharply defined crowning entablature which reveals the star form of the ground-plan in all its clarity.

View the ground plan of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome.

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