Thursday, June 29, 2017
200 Views of Rome: Sant'Andrea Delle Fratte
So here we are, 25 or so reviews in to my 200 reviews of Rome, and only now we come to the architecture of Borromini. In all my sprawling preparations for our month in Rome two things drew me slightly above any others: Gelato and Borromini. Neither went very well, and yet I have no complaints. For the gelato the problem had mostly to do with the minute distance between the very good and the excellent, and my discipline and interest was not entirely up to the task of parsing 20 different gelaterias that, given a score out of a hundred, all ranged somewhere between 89 and 93.
As to Borromini, well, mostly it was down to some bad luck. Inconveniently the great Roman clock seemed to have hit the "time to fix up the Borrominis".
Oh, has it been 80 years already? Well, hoist the scaffolding, it's where your great grandfather left it.
And though this repair work only affected two sights; Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, the most beautiful tower in the world, and a little chapel I've never seen in the Colegio Propaganda Fide, there aren't really all that many Borrominis to go around.
"Why" You shrewdly ask "Are there so few Borrominis when he was pretty much the greatest architect ever?"
Keeping in mind that I only pretend to be a scholar, the sketchy answer that I have been able to work out comes down to these following points:
1. He was cranky and no one much liked him.
2. He had to compete with an ambitious, flamboyantly likeable Bernini who didn't like Borromini (see point one), and, confused by being the best sculptor in the world, thought he was the best architect as well, which he wasn't even though he was pretty good.
3. He kind of sweated the details, which tended to give the few patrons who liked him time to die, and allowed the new people to fire him (see point one).
So what does all this have to do with Sant'Andrea Delle Fratte?
Like so many Borromini works he just got to do a little weird piece here on this church. They let him graft on some white bell tower to this patchwork building. It is not a harmonious inclusion. The viewing angles can be a little tight. It's all white instead of red brick and yellow stone, or whatever the rest of the church is made of. So though it's not easy to overlook if you're walking by, it is kind of easy to think it's not that great.
But it is that great! You just have to look closely at it. Get out your binoculars, climb up the side of the church, use a spell to turn yourself into a pigeon. This is a lovely tower. Heads on hawk bodies. Spikey crowns. Undulating moldings. Lions. Deer. Grace. Sanctuary. Sanctuuuuaaaryyyyy!
"Okay, okay, fine." You say appeasingly. "I will turn into a pigeon when I walk by. But do I need to go in the church?"
You don't want to go in the church?
I know, it's a lot of churches. You're tired of all the churches?
I do understand. And you could miss this one even though it's terribly pretty, and harmonious, but, remember Bernini who thought he was the best architect (wrongly) because he was the best sculptor? You know, like Michael Jordan playing baseball? It is my sworn duty to inform you that Bernini has two sculptures in here. They were made for a bridge but considered too pretty to be left out in the rain. So here they are. So I'm sorry, but yes, you'll have to go look at them.