Friday, November 30, 2012

Florence has All Sorts of Architecture

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Florence.

With the Pantheon sorted out to American Universalist Satisfaction we took the morning Eurostar train to Florence.
(Buckety buckety pale white horse.  Sway in the saddle, sway on the rail, doze at the stations, but stay the course.)
Slipping between wheat-fields and sere golden hills, we snaked through stands of tall grey Cyprus, rounded grey and red-roofed hill-towns and forded stony olive-bottomed river valleys, and two hours later, we were in Florence –swept off the train and tossed out into the gaping stone halls of the Most Over-praised Train Station in Europe.

When I came to Florence nine years ago and looked at the Art Deco Stazione Santa Maria Novella for the first time, I thought that it was a building so uncomfortable and uncomfortable and that it had almost certainly been awarded a major architectural prize.
I was right.
A year of catching local coffee-pot trains out of it twice a week up to Pisa and Prato didn’t change my opinions. Santa Maria Novella was uncomfortable and uncongenial and definitively, wordlessly ‘-un’  in every possible respect.
Eight years further on and with a masters-load of architectural theory under my belt, I can read the fascist declaration of strength and command (we rise up in a statement of industrial and social might as done up in lines of brand-spanking modern architecture and with self-referential historical overtones to remind people of our long and glorious heritage of architectural successes see if we don’t!) that the designers were attempting to make with the building.  I can appreciate, in a disinterested way, the clean modern bones of the thing.  I can even comprehend – and sympathize a little – with how ivory-tower types could spend the next eighty years going gaga over it.

Nontheless and taking all that into consideration, while the architects of the Tuscan Group who built the Stazione Santa Maria Novella were cheerfully checking off every stylistic ‘x’ in their post-war designer brief,  they were completely and totally failing to build a building that is actually pleasant to inhabit.  From their lofty post-war-modern heights, they made the dark error of thinking about People instead of actual persons while they were designing.  In the station’s dark, drafty, shadowy and echoey, glary and icy, over-heated open-air bowels, there isn’t one iota of indication that this station was ever meant to be anything more than a cardboard model centerpiece in a biennale exhibition somewhere.

And THAT is a rant nine years in the making.  Forgive me.

Stazione Santa Maria Novella stands on one edge of the Florence’s old city.  We are staying on the other edge of it - down by the river in a third-floor hostel on the Via Borgo Dei Greci.

If you hang out the window and look right you can see the pink-and-green-and-white marble chocolate box fa├žade of the church of Santa Croce.  After dark, all flood-lit, it loses its chocolate box aspect and becomes something ALMOST (as much as anything built in the deep Victorian neo-gothic period can be) awesome and broodingly nocturnal, and a fitting burial place for the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli, Lorenzo Ghilberti, Leon Battista Alberti, and Michelangelo Buonnaroti - far more than it could ever be in the shadow-free mid-day light!

And I can speak Italian again.  I couldn’t in Rome.  But the Florentine accent and dialect are completely comprehensible, and roll pleasantly and lilting upon my ear.  I haven’t spoken Italian since I left, and what I do speak now is a patchy Spanish-Italian pidgin, but the words are there when I need ‘em and come without the conscious intervention of my fore-brain: half the time I don’t remember the word I need until I’m saying it, and then it rolls out of my mouth and drops into a sentence before I know I’ve said it.  At the local grocery i can ask for fruit, and make polite commentary on the weather, and agree that yes, it is quite unseasonably hot and that there ARE far too many tourists in town this season - and so my vocabulary  advances!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tourist Meets the Pantheon

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Rome.

On our last morning in Rome, we stopped into the Pantheon –that building with the enormous free-standing concrete dome, and a hole (or oculus, if you like) at the top to let the rain in.  It was a compromise between history and engineering.  We both had plenty of material to goggle at.
            The Pantheon was built somewhere in the third decade CE as a general purposes temple – with room for all of the gods in the roman pantheon (hence the name!)  Since the seventh century it is been a catholic church, and it is a very catholic church, with statues of catholic saints standing in niches all around the perimeter and an altar opposite the doorway, with six enormous gold candlesticks and a bronze remonstrance, and a pulpit with a microphone for Sunday services –  

            And a round American woman who advanced into the middle of the floor and threw her arms up into this most catholic of catholic spaces and cried out:
            “And do you know what is the most wonderful thing about the Pantheon?  The way the Rome City Council has so very kindly turned this into a completely non-denominational spiritual space!”
And then she eyed the wide sun-filled oculus above her head, and the two very small bronze drain-holes beneath her feet, and she screwed up her nose dubiously.
            “The Romans mustn’t have expected it to rain very much.  How do they drain this place? In a good storm, you’d be up to your ankles while you worshiped!”
            There, at least, she had a point.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Music in Saint Peter's

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Rome.

St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  The world’s largest wedding cake.

I sniff.

From the outside, St Peter’s appears a modest-seeming three stories tall, but as you see the clouds move behind the building, and as the multitude of ants crawling before it resolve into people, you realize just how large the building is, and the tricks of scale resolve into an order several hundred times larger than life.
            Inside, the church is a warehouse of wonderful sculpture, all of it drowning in the immensity of the space, and where there isn’t something splendid and sculptural, there’s something cheap tacked onto to fill the gap - swags of second-rate saints and sibyls and cherubs, chiseled by assembly line and cheerily defying gravity, swinging from the clerestory arches.  There’s no grace. Or if there was, it was lost among the shadows and swept out years ago.
            The cherubs are worse than second-rate: giant stone babies with cellulite and the eyes of eighty-year old congenital sinners, dipsomaniac and debauched. When a ten-foot infant leers out of the shadow of an altar and eyes you up like he means to try something on right there in church, you know things have gone somewhere that they shouldn’t have.
            I sang there once. I was fifteen, and the concert was the grand prize at the end of three weeks through every hill town church and square in Tuscany: the Cardinal’s Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with five choirs singing in unison, and the Pope there to listen while we sang. 
            My parents and my sister were meeting me in Rome at the end of the tour, and they thought it would be nice to come along to the Vatican to watch us sing.  My father made it inside the basilica. My mother, good ex-catholic that she was, spent the mass outside the door, standing nose-to-nose in a shouting match with an overly-striped member of the Swiss Guard.
            Inside, before the altar, we sang.  Right there in front of the great bronze Bernini Baldacchino. It had been a long and dusty three weeks and we were somewhat under-rehearsed: we were all unfamiliar with the music, and the tour hadn't made space for even one proper practice with all five choirs singing together, and in that great big barn of a space, the acoustics were just too good.  The basilica was so enormous that our conductor was three bars behind us right from the start – we were booming, we were grandiose, we were all of us over the musical map, and she simply couldn’t hear.
            I know for a fact that my own choir began the piece three full bars behind at least two of the others, and one poor group, all the way from Australia, trailed off to an uneven finish half a verse after the rest of us had finished for good.  Our choir directors melted away like snow in a Roman summer, vanishing behind pillars and stepping quietly into side chapels.  Dad told me afterward that it had been the most excruciatingly embarrassing musical moment of his life –
            “I went and hid behind that baldacchino!  Pretended I was there for the paintings.  You were like cats, Tabubilgirl!  Cats who harmonized, but cats!”
            There was only one small scrap of silver lining.  As the whole thing trickled its way to an inglorious finish, Mum swept into view, flushed and square-shouldered with triumph.
            “It wasn’t what he said,she said. “It was how he said it. There needs to be a complaint.  Where’s the Pope?”
            “Ah.”  Dad brightened and beamed at her.  “That’s the good part.  He has a cold.  He didn’t come.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tourist-Wranglers on the Palatine Hill (with bonus Harrumph)

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Rome.

We rather liked the Palatine Hill.  It was quiet there.  At the end of the afternoon we found ourselves on the South-east end of the hill, on a promontory at the top of the ramparts of the built-up terraces of the baths of Septimus Severus palace, with a view over trees to the brown domes of the baths of Caracalla.
It was a big open space, there were nine or ten of us floating about it, but the space and the views were expansive enough that we all contrived to feel alone.  Mr Tabubil and I found a sunny corner and settled into it.
            “This is more like it!” Mr Tabubil sighed.  “No crowds, just history, a cool breeze, a warm sun, and it’s only five o’clock.  The park doesn’t close till six.  We can stay up here for ages.”
And right on cue, someone blew an ear-shattering blast on a whistle, about three feet behind his right ear.
The effect on Mr Tabubil was electric – his limbs flung out spasmodically at right angles and he rose up from the ground – vertically – pop-eyed with outrage.
Behind him was a woman – short and cross and scowling, with an official ID necklace around her neck, and a bright red whistle in her hand.
            “You need to leave now.”  She said, looking back and forth across all ten of us on the promontory as if we constituted her personal work day hell.   “All of you.  Park closed now.  Go away.  Get out!  Right now! go!”
            If she has tossed a ‘please’ in there instead of blowing that infernal whistle, if she had made the smallest concession to social convention and politesse, no matter how false the ‘please’ had rung in our ears, we’d have all gotten up and moved.
            But she didn’t. She blew her whistle again.  Three times.
            And nine – or ten- people found themselves wedging a little deeper into their seats, focusing extra- hard through their camera viewfinders, burying themselves in their guidebooks and turning away, ever so slightly, from her and toward the view –
            Mr Tabubil pulled a paperback out of his backpacked and ostentatiously opened it to the very first page, but he was feeling sore.
The lady huffed and stamped her foot.
            “Now!  You go now!  All of you!”  She blew the whistle again.  “You and you and you!  Good-bye!”
With much ill-grace, and a great many last photographs taken and last guide-book pages read, she had us on our feet, and shouting and blowing her whistle, she herded us off of the promontory - the worlds least-competent sheep dog and a flock of the worlds worst-tempered sheep.
            “It only takes ten minutes to walk down to the gate.”  Mr Tabubil whispered to me.  “Do you think we can double back when she’s gone?”
            But ahead of us, a metal gate had materialized out of the shrubbery, and a man – with a grace-saving smile on his face – stood ready to close it behind us as she chivvied us through.
            On the other side of the gate, the sheep revolted.
            “Doesn’t this spot have an amazing view of the coliseum?”  Someone said, in Spanish.
And nine – or ten – people dropped their bags and hat on the ground, lifted up their cameras, and would Not Be Moved.
            Behind us, with the ghost of a grin, the young man melted away.  The cross woman huffed and fumed and stamped her feet and blew her whistle at us, but we had an entire hour to be out of the park, and we weren’t going anywhere as long as it was her telling us to, and eventually, with one last long ear-shattering blast of that whistle, she went away.
            Once she was gone, so did we – and got ourselves creatively lost twice, and we were still down the hill and out the gate ages and ages before the warning gong.
            “There’s still so much to see.”  I said.  “Next time we visit we’ll have to go and see the catacombs-”
            “Catacombs?” Mr Tabubil stopped dead.  “Rome has catacombs?  You’re telling me that we’ve been dragging through every church in the city of Rome when we could have been looking at catacombs?”
            And he sulked all the way around a whole circumference of the coliseum.
            I’m sure I’m terribly sorry, but when a man tells his wife to go ahead and plan the itinerary without mentioning once his passion for catacombs, she doesn’t necessarily know that subterranean engineering trumps history and aesthetics.  Humph.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Palatine Hill

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Rome.

Unless you’re an archeologist and trained up to it, the sheer scale of Roman engineering can come as a bit of a shock.  There seems to be such a thing as a universal human failure of imagination – just look at the explosion of printed and and television material telling us how the works of older peoples are in actual fact actual proof of time travel, of extra-terrestrials, of lost technologies – levitation, anti-gravity and mysterious parapsychological powers of the mind. 
            Inside our own heads, we are all the most modern absolute-up-to-date endpoints of civilization, and just like that darling woman in the coliseum we seem unable to get our heads around old-timey people and accept that they were, in fact, Just Like Us – just as intelligent, just as creative, and just as capable of big dreams and clever solutions as we are ourselves today.
            Roman Rome is a good antidote to that sort of thinking. The forum, the palatine hill – they are a litter ground – a spill of jumbled dynasties and religions, thirty centuries of of brilliant old-timey engineering rising up through layers of archeology to the glittering pile of the Vittorio Emmanuel monument, her goddesses rearing triumphant on the brow of a brick mountain. 

Rome has been continuously lived in and built upon for more than two thousand years. 
Walking along a city street, we came to a stop where it was dug up for the re-laying of water pipes.  Less than half a meter below the scraped up surface of today’s street, a roadway almost five-hundred years old, we saw a grid of old brick walls - house-walls, stepping up out of the earth like an archaeological dig.   Here and there, tucked into the walls were slabs of roman marble – lintel stones and pediments, carved with shells and scallops and floral friezes, that had been broken up to us as bricks in somebody’s basement.  Hidden behind the plaster.
            The Roman Rome that we see is an accordion-pleat jumble of only the top-most layers of the city-state.  Climbing up from the Forum to the Palatine hill, we stepped around, and occasionally over, open archeological excavations.  Discreet printed signs give you an idea of how far down the city does go – this layer here is pre-roman; over there, under a hill of earth and tree-roots is a paved stone floor – the paving stones still regular and all in place – and that is pre-christian; and this mass of pressed rubble, four meters deep, is a relic of the fire of AD 64 that burned for six days and destroyed three fourths of the city.  Human history here goes a long long way down.

Most of what we associate with Roman Rome dates to after the fire and was built on top of the charred mess it left behind.  There are fragments of the fourth century Basilica of Constantine, arched halls more than twenty meters tall, standing columns, pleasure courts larger than football stadiums, ringed with arches and domed colonnades that we’d find impressive and moving if built today, and then, as you wrap your head around it all you look down – and down – and see that the Palatine hill – huge sections of it – aren’t a natural hill at all, but massive retaining walls, and layer on layer of built spaces.  At the South-east end of the hill, on the edge of a broken palace the size of a small town, you lean on a balustrade, look over the lip of it and  see that your rampart is the top of an engineered arch  – an artificial mountain - 

And right here then you can turn off your sensible adult brain and go back to childhood, if you like. In my particular socio-cultural context, I went right back to Narnia.
            Parts of the Palatine Hill reminded me of exactly where it was that the Pevensie children came back to Narnia, and found Cair Paraval collapsed and ruined and buried by an apple orchard.  A wilderness with buried treasure underneath; dark and mysterious and somehow very safe, as if the mysteries were all exciting instead of frightening and all ultimately triumphant.
            Even as a ruin it is beautiful, as if every slab had fallen and every brick had crumbled and every dome had collapsed in the way most calculated to leave behind aesthetic enchantment, as if it had happened by intelligent design.

There is so much left of the palaces; perhaps the place really is only asleep, and
waiting for a word of power, and if we close our eyes and wait for it, one day it will all come back.  Shadowy walls will form like smoke around the broken foundations, growing and solidifying until between one blink and another (the way dusk and dawn happen when you turn your gaze away) the palaces and arcades will stand again.
            So there.  I blow a raspberry at you.

            Our ultra-modern up-to-date new-time cities will not age so gracefully, I think.  Concrete and steel tangle and snarl and leave behind jagged cutting edges, that trees and roots and vines cannot soften, only hide.  And I could not help thinking that if the Kubla Kahns of Rome could see what had become of their pleasure palaces, they might not mind so much that their city has passed on into rubble and shadow.  They might look at it and say "if we must go, this is how we will choose to pass."  Perhaps they have done, and an act of ancient will has helped these palaces to tumble so.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tourists at the Colliseum

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Rome.

Most tourists are reasonably sensible people, but the loopy ones are beautiful to behold and a joy forever.  I present for your delectation two parties overheard outside the coliseum:

Party A stepped out of the Metro, into the glare of the sunlight reflected off the bulk of the marble, and spake thusly, in west coast American accents:
“Whoooah, that is HEAVY.  Dude, it’s like…. all made of STONE, man.  Did they, like, lock people up in there or something?  Man, what kind of religion WERE those people? WHOOOOOAHH.”

Party B was a woman and her increasingly exasperated husband, picking their way across the rutted travertine cobbles around the base of the Arch of Constantine:
“I assure you, darling, that ‘back then’ these cobblestones WERE quite smooth!”
“Are you SURE?”  The wife asked suspiciously. “They were REALLY old-time people back then.  How do you KNOW that they knew how to build a proper road?”
“….But…. They built the Coliseum!  The forum!  The Palatine Hill!”  The husband was almost crying with frustration.  “They’re right there! You can see THEM!   I THINK they knew how to build a little road!”
From his wife’s expression, she was not convinced.

Passing ahead of the dear darlings, we walked into the bowl of the coliseum and hitched rides with English and Spanish language-tours and learned a lot that we didn't need to know about the inventive cruelty of Roman Theatrical Impresarios.
If any of it is actually true.  One hears rumors.  And quite a few militantly revisionist historians.

Sure, the old lady isn’t looking her best, but she’s been through an awful lot – almost two thousand years of spectacle, earthquake and fire, her outer layers being quarried away to build baroque rome – the splendid miracle of her is that after all that time and tribulation she still packs on hell of a punch. 

Mr Tabubil couldn’t have given a toss about the torrid historical horrors – he was just plain THRILLED by the building.
“We’ve seen enough churches – it’s time for some history! History that just happens to be built really big and buttressed.  I like engineering, okay?"

At the end of the afternoon we walked from the Coliseum into town, past the monument to Vittorio Emanuele, the first king of the United Italy.
The Vittorio Emanuele monument is an enormous construction, and to many reputable and critical eyes, a double sin against both history and good taste.  But I liked it. 
Erected (and that’s the only word – take it as you will) in 1911, the great big THING is a semi-circular Corinthian colonnade, with an enormous winged goddess driving chariots along the roof at each end.  The colonnade sits on four or five tiered pediments of white marble - carrara marble, not the humble workaday travertine with which the ancient Italians built Rome! 
There are even a couple of eternal flames burning in braziers out before the front gate.

It is very Victorian –if a couple of decades too late for the appellation: grandiose, cheerfully pretentious, and historically revisionist.  It is vast and majestic and it glitters in the sun.  It is what Ancient Rome SHOULD have looked like.  It is Gladiator, and Ben Hur and Spartacus and the Arch of Constantine and the Baths of Caracalla and the Coliseum when it was new.
It is utterly... utterly... satisfactory, as a symbol of an Italy reunited, after a thousand and a half years of tumultuous division.

Friday, November 16, 2012

San Carlino

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now we're in Rome.

Not all Baroque churches go for glitter.  On the corner of Strada Pia and Strada Felice there is a small, exquisite named San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane -    
            A more different building to the overwrought Santa Maria Vittoria  or grandiose Saint Peters you could not imagine. 
San Carlino is a small church – its entire footprint would fit into just one of the pillars that support the dome of St Peters Basilica on the other side of the city in the Vatican.  Designed and built for a monastic order known as the Discalced (Shoeless) Trinitarians by an architect named Borromini, unimposing little San Carlino is dreamy. 
            Small, spare, streamlined and strong-boned, this small church would go on have more of an influence on European Architecture than all of the painted and gilded churches ever had.

A short history lesson:

The first big builders in this part of Italy, the Old Romans, appreciated proportion and measure – in society as well as stone, and built domes and arches and long square halls according to precise geometries: mathematical ratios that they considered to embody the order that they found so pleasing, pleasing both to the eye and to mathematical philosophy. When the Roman Empire split, and fell, balances and checks became wilder and less sure, and the architecture that grew up out of it – what we call today the Gothic style – was tall and soaring and aimed for the sky in a way that had absolutely no truck with reason or ratio.  It was an architecture of mysticism to suit a feudal world – a world of personal politics and charismatic religion, rather than any wider, standardized sort of order.
            Through the medieval period, continental economies grew and continental politics stabilized, and by the fourteenth century the Italian intelligentsia were giving up mysticism of the gothic and beginning to explore – a thousand years after the fact – the architecture and philosophy of ancient Rome. 
            These new philosophers lived in the ruins of the Roman Empire, and the formal study of their works was – well, the effect was much as if, today, we discovered the writings of ancient Atlantis – and the writings weren’t obscure, abstruse, wisdoms of ancient mystics and ambiguous provenance – they were real, and we could check what the ancients had written by walking down the street to a broken ruin and pulling out a measuring stick.
            The enormity of the impact cannot be overestimated.  We call the aftershock the Renaissance.

Ahem –

Renaissance Architecture is premised on the emulation of the architectural styles of Ancient Rome– and the presumption that the Romans did all of them perfectly.  Rome’s fourteenth century disciples took the basilica, the dome, the column and the arch and built them to a standard of mathematical rigor that went beyond style into a way of measuring life itself.  After the soaring drip-castle muddle of the Gothic, the modern world was a rational world – no chaos, no confusion, and mastery of the mysteries of the universe started at home, in the mastery of one’s house.  Each space in a building must be separate and complete – outside and in.  Volumes might be piled upon each other, or balanced against each other in geometrically pleasing harmony, but they must be discrete, unconnected, and pure in of themselves. 
            The results were beautiful, majestic, exquisitely balanced and pleasing to the eye and it was all exciting and terrific and for more than a hundred years, men congratulated each other on their mastery of the chaos of the cosmos, but times change, old men die, and young men grow up and grow bored and notice things that had formerly gone unremarked–
            When each space and shape must be formally and separately contained, something is lost, or is never there.  A space might be serene, but when serenity must never move or shift or change, the result is static –
            A man named Michelangelo Buonarroti started the revolt; or he was, at least, the most visible face of the vanguard. Michelangelo was wildly talented and terrifically intelligent, and he wanted to do something that would make the whole world stand up and take notice.  As an architect, he thought a great deal about theory, and no matter how hard he thought, he couldn’t see the logic of forcing related bits of building to be built separately – fourteenth Century lives didn’t necessarily fit into forms designed by a civilization a thousand years gone, and the effort of politely reconciling the two often had Michelangelo spitting nails – and when Michelangelo spit nails, the world knew it – the Pope tended to get huffy and the results tended to get built, and stand five or six stories tall and look damned authoritative.
            But even a Michelangelo was constrained by popular expectation, and with one or two exceptions, he took things cautiously and worked more or less within the bounds of his patron’s cultural limitations.  He did what he could, and then another generation grew up, and took stock of what Michelangelo had done, and the world changed.
            We called that change the Baroque.  In its own time it was understood simply as the overturning of the static and the foursquare. In Rome, the counter-reformation was in full swing – art and architecture were growing bold and brassy, full of splendid, optimistic vigor, and young men and women were eating sacred cows for breakfast every morning – and nobody – or nobody who mattered- was complaining.  It was a fun time to be an artist.  Amid all the pyrotechnics, two men were crystalizing two main approaches to the overturning of the sacred Roman cows.  These men were Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini.
            Bernini was everyone’s darling –charming, sophisticated, a natural diplomat (or unbridled sycophant, depending who you asked) and courtier who could talk himself up without putting people off, a talented artist and set designer, and possessed an undeniable genius for sculpture.  Borromini was likewise a genius – his sophisticated understanding of form and space matched Bernini’s understanding of stone, but unlike Bernini,  Borromini was a depressive, petulant curmudgeon who didn’t get on with anybody and couldn’t not pick fights if he tried (and he never seemed to try). 
Borromini worked under Bernini for a period of time early in his career.  Together they did exciting things (including the baldacchino in St Peters Basilica in the Vatican), Borromini lending the architectural punch necessary to back up Bernini’s theatrical flair, and Bernini walked away with all the credit for all of it.  (In fairness to the people of Rome, if given a choice between two men like that, which would you lionize?)  Borromini growled, sank deeper into depression, and went away to work on his own.
            Bernini lent vibrancy and motion to static form with heavy lashings of theatrical drama.  He designed simple, highly traditional spaces, and within them would set a stage - an altar, or a work of sculpture, and use every trick of set design at his disposal – color, rich and luxurious material, exciting theatrical lighting effects, altered scale and forced perspective – to bring the viewer up to and  into the action, and to spread the action across the whole of the space of the church.  Go to Santa Maria Vittoria and examine his setting  of Saint Teresa in her Ecstasy
            Borromini, on the other hand, worked on a small, intimate scale, building with simple materials - brick and stone and travertine – a humble, workaday marble.   For Borromini, the building itself was the sculpture –a sculpture in the round.  He never used color; the interiors of all his churches are painted white, so that his manipulation of their forms may be more visible and striking.  

In building San Carlino, Borromini merged two footprints much favored by ecclesiastical architecture, the circle and the Greek cross, and in merging the two, he turned them into something different to their canonical selves – something special.  The lozenge-shaped church is neither cruciform nor circular, but flows around its inhabitants as a series of gently interlocking oval forms; there are no angles within the church, only a soft, endless undulation that works its way around and around the perimeter of the space. 
            Painted, very simply, in white, the undulations create a self-sufficiency of spirit - though not serenity, not by any means.  It is a small space, and it holds coils of contained energy - the walls of the church rising up to the lantern as a series of suspended circles and spheres, each the beginning and the continuation of another.  

Borromini’s effects were entirely architectural – spaces flow into each other and around, walls warp and are cut apart, and the small scale of his works put the viewer into a position intimacy with a space that appears to move and flow all around him or her.
            The effect is quieter than the Bernini’s bombastic trumpeting, but it an effect intrinsic and inherent to the space, not one that has been applied or shoehorned into it.

“One looks at Bernini’s buildings with the eyes; one feels Borromini’s with the whole body.”
                     - Anthony Blunt, Art historian, 1979

It was Borromini’s architectural approach to that endured.  It was a type of design that did not depend on the presence of singular genius, but was a fundamental, systematic, and critically, imitable approach to the manipulation of mass and form. The gift that Borromini gave to western architecture was a clear and unequivocal demonstration of how forms could convey energy as well as strength.  Taking up the embryonic union of form championed by Michelangelo, Borromini forced the static strength and serenity of the Renaissance into torsion and nervous equilibrium, and balanced ‘em perilously together on a high tension electrical wire.