Saturday, July 8, 2017
200 Views of Rome: Sant'Andrea al Quirinale
In a magical world, slightly better and wiser than this one, where everything is pretty much exactly the same as it is now, except I am quoted far more often, and maybe have a tad less back and sciatica pain, you would be acutely aware that my opinion of Bernini as an architect is a measured one. And there would be no doubt some pithy quote you could trot out to assert that in the irresistible battle between Borromini and Bernini I am ever favoring Borromini.
So what's all this five star hoo-ha around a quintessentially Bernini designed church?
I don't know. Everything is complicated. In the real world I am rarely quoted, my sciatica hurts, and Bernini is given a church to build and it's...
And why not? Bernini was a genius, a sculptor on a level with Michelangelo even. So if he wants to set down his hammer and chisel for a bit in order to design buildings, or produce a few albums where he sings standards from the Great American Songbook, or interrupts his obscure blog of blazing visions in order to write 200 reviews of Rome, well, more power to him. Who knows what sort of magic might take place. A jewel box might explode, light could pour down from a half real sun, everything might radiate at a perfect equidistance, and you could see all the stars of the sky, in the middle of the day, unfettered by night.
I love this church. I love its roundness and its elegant stage set fronting onto the street. I love its feeling of completeness inside. Such a spinning kaleidoscope of wholeness, all colors and rich and dazzle and calm. Unlike some churches I might be giving five stars to, this isn't for some featured painting or for some famous statues by, perhaps, Bernini himself inside, it's just for the space, the perfect little building, the sense that every piece of it is taken care of and it all goes together.
The best teacher I ever had, Marc LeSeuer, who lit the first fires in me for the Roman Baroque, all like it was a cool thing no one had heard of for the last hundred years, and maybe they really hadn't heard then, showed us slides of Bernini's work in St. Peters to illustrate. But I think what Bernini was trying to do there is lost a little in so giant a space. Here at modest Sant'Andrea everything is under his command, no longer a stage set, but an environment, something less looked upon and instead more inhabited and felt. There are not so many places in the world like this, not so many people who can do this. Borromini does it twice, at least, and better; Bernini, here, this once.
But does everything have to be measured? Is beauty to be ranked and catalogued? Will every last mote in the Universe be ultimately reviewed on the Internet? Must it all be a contest?
Alas. Yes. And lovely Sant'Andrea al Quirinale comes in third. I'm fine with that. So, I'm sure, is Marc LeSeuer. Borromini would be okay with it too, though a bit touchy at the very mention of Bernini. Bernini himself, long entombed, would, at the hint of the word of third place, be promptly tearing out his hair over it. To which I can only say, with no likelihood of being quoted "Well Bernini, if you wanted it that much, you should have finished it off with some statues!"