Professional Design Practice in Baroque Rome: Francesco Borromini.
Design is a synthetic act, and studying or rehearsing how a design comes together in a specific historical setting gives the design student or the historian of art deeper insight into how such synthesis is achieved. This inter-disciplinary seminar on how architects think, what frameworks they have for design thinking, and what material conditions of professional practice structure their thinking takes the City of Rome during the Baroque period (c. 1600-1700) and an outstanding architect as its case studies. It focuses this year on the life and works of one architect as a means to explore the act of design synthesis and concepts of originality and tradition in the context of the urban, landscape, and architectural dimensions of a great city. Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), one of seventeenth-century papal Rome's greatest architects and draughtsmen, most mathematical and yet lyrical of architects, and follower of Michelangelo's architectural lessons, is the departure point for exploring professional practices and disciplines at a paradigmatic moment in the history of design, when landscape architecture, urbanism, and architecture were the practices of a single designer, but the turn to specializations was already appearing.
Set against the scenery of Rome, one of Europe's monumental Baroque cities, epitomized by the seventeenth-century Piazza Navona with its fountains and sculptures, the "spine" of the seminar follows the chronological study of Borromini's major works (1630s to 1660s)--among them, San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane and the Oratory of San Filippo Neri for religious communities, and Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza for the Roman University; chapels such as the Cappella dei Re' Magi; designs for the Barberini, Carpegna, and Pamphilj palaces. Borromini's highly original works, admired yet considered also bizzarerie – unusual, even against the norm -- in his own day, were the source of inspiration for a great many European and Latin American architects through the eighteenth century.
These works are also considered synchronically within the broader contexts of Roman Baroque society and its papal monarchy in a period of triumphant Catholic Counter-Reformation, as well as diachronically with a view to ancient, medieval, and Renaissance precedents, from Hadrian's Villa to Gothic architecture to Palladio. Borromini's complex works are at the same time profoundly emotional and rigorously intellectual and serious, and the specificity of their conceptualization is considered in illuminating contrast to the jubilant, dynamic, and dramatic creations of his so-called professional rival in Rome, the sculptor-architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Their forms of melding of architecture, sculpture, painting and decorative arts, traditionally seen as forms of Baroque 'theatricality' and spectacle in the service of the Counter-Reformational Church in Rome, are studied with the very recent lenses drawn from the new histories of emotions, the senses, culture and society.
Students are immersed in the richness of design culture and societal structures in Baroque Rome, a period of exceptional artistic innovation, connected on the one hand to modernity, to new scientific studies of perception, optics and light, machinery, and botany, and on the other hand to antiquity, to remarkable archaeological and antiquarian studies. Recent, exceptional historical research on Roman society in this period provides understanding of the social categories fundamental to Baroque Rome's urban, architectural, and landscape development--rural and urban, public and private, religious and secular spaces; men and women; vernacular and elite lives; patronage and social networks of the designers.
Seminar meetings and our discussions, including sessions with rare books, prints, and maps in the Harry Ransom Center and one session in the Prints & Drawings Room of the Blanton Art Museum, focus on topics that contextualize Borromini, such as:
--education, training and social status of the designer in the context of Roman society and the monarchical rules of the popes;
--the architectural treatise, seen in the works in particular of Sebastiano Serlio (1550s) and Vincenzo Scamozzi (1615).
--disciplinary boundaries between sculptors, architects, painters and theatrical set-designers in the wake of Michelangelo's achievements--how did Borromini and Bernini each use architecture and sculpture in ornament and expression?;
--drawing techniques, types and new media, in relation to Borromini's innovative use of the graphite pencil;
--construction and ornamental materials, from marbles to stuccoes, travertines to bricks.
--hydrology, water-works, and design of urban fountains and garden fountains;
--the spectator's perception and reception of the design and its materiality, color, light and shadow, through the five senses, with an emphasis on sight and touch; the Baroque contexts of hybridity, illusionism, and theatricality.
--the study of the Antique and antiquarianism from Pirro Ligorio to Borromini to Giovanni Battista Piranesi;
--urban design and development, the grand piazzas, and the "Masters of the Street," representatives of the Roman municipal government who negotiated Rome's urban development with the ever-encroaching interests of the papal monarchs (and their families) who ruled Rome;
--the new sciences in Galileo Galilei's Rome--uses of the microscope and the telescope; building technologies in relation to vision and surveying instruments; collecting of floral, vegetal, and rare specimens, in relation to architectural and natural ornament, with particular emphasis on the Academy of the Lynxes of which Galileo was a member and on Cassiano Dal Pozzo's Paper Museum (Musaeum Chartaceum), a huge, avidly-studied collection of volumes of drawings of naturalia such as fossils, marbles, flora, fauna, birds, and of ancient and modern architecture.
--building types--churches, palaces, villa buildings and villa gardens;
--cultural life and the libraries of architects, artists, and members of Roman society and of the papal bureaucracy;
--the publication of designers' works--like Borromini's buildings—and the publication of the new architecture sponsored by the popes, in particular Innocent X (1644-55) and Alexander VII (1655-67), including churches, religious institutions, palaces, gardens, streets and piazzas in books and prints.
Goals of the Seminar
The purpose is to give students an understanding of the synthetic act of design and a strong inter-disciplinary grounding in one of the key historical periods of design and in advanced research methods. As well, the student is to gain strong intellectual, conceptual, and historical frameworks with which to approach design creatively today, by rehearsing the translation of the synthetic act of design from the past to the present and by understanding how the design profession carves its territory of concerns and interests, from concrete and technological to spiritual and philosophical. This is accomplished by having students become deeply familiar with the life's work of one outstanding architect in history, Francesco Borromini in seventeenth-century Rome, and thereby to encourage reflection on professional design practice and the status of the architect/landscape architect/urban designer today.