Francesco Borromini's masterpiece, the university chapel of S. Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome, was built over three pontificates, with many radical changes after each conclave. This is a study of the first building period under Urban VIII Barberini, and in particular of the earliest known plan for the church, datable to 1642, now kept in the Archivio di Stato in Rome. The drawing shows the basic plan of the church-a triangle-plus-apses-minus-angles-being moved, manipulated, and stretched as Borromini fine-tuned his design. The plan contains echoes of centralized buildings by Baldassarre Peruzzi and Giuliano da Sangallo, and also reveals Borromini's study of ancient apsidal structures, in particular, the "funerary hexaconch" standing along-side the Via Appia, best known from Peruzzi's drawings. Neither the Barberini bee nor the star of Solomon played a role in the genesis of the plan. But the idea of a highly geometrical architecture may owe something to the mathematical culture of the Barberini court, especially to Galileo's disciple Fra Benedetto Castelli.
- Copyright 1995 The Society of Architectural Historians