Geometry and Drama in Borromini's Architectural Details: The Moldings in Palazzo Falconieri

Geometry and Drama in Borromini's Architectural Details: The Moldings in Palazzo Falconieri

Giovanna Spadafora (Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0029-2.ch027
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This paper is based on some considerations on the inter-scalar figurative relations which bind all of its constituents and elements of detail, within a work of architecture. This relation can be an environment in which to study the portal created by Francesco Borromini and the door cornices, inside Palazzo Falconieri, so far ignored by historiography. The text contextualizes these analysis and observations within Borromini's relationship with antiquity focusing on the role of design and of geometry in the definition of his language. The original drawings of the project and the construction of the entry portal to the apartment of Orazio Falconieri were used to evaluate the relationship between the drawings and what was built, based on the data of the direct survey considered, in this case, as the most effective instrument of knowledge. The results, though partial, permit the clarification of some of the construction events related to the Palazzo.
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In the work of Francesco Borromini, the linguistic unity between the parts and the whole, between the large and the small, takes concrete shape in the use of unusual and strongly jagged profiles with the same restlessness that animates the wall masses and individual moldings.

Even if one fully accepts Werner Oechslin's thesis (2000) when regarding Borrominis creativity, he warns against the risk of equating the work and the artist, that is the risk of interpreting the works of the artist in light of the psychological sphere and conversely, there is no denying that the drama, understood as relentless pursuit of correspondence between form, material, and structure emerges from the material folds of his moldings. Gilles Deleuze (2004, p.5) in 1988 wrote that “Le Baroque ne renvoie pas à une essence, mais plutôt à une fonction opératoire un trait. Il ne cesse de faire des plis. Il n’invente pas la chose: il y a tous les plis venus d’Orient, les plis grecs, romains, gothiques, classiques... Mais il courbe et recourbe les plis, les pousse à l’infini, pli sur pli, pli selon pli”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Elevated Perspective: A drawing made for the most part in orthogonal projections, in which only some, usually the lower or lateral, elements are depicted with a slight prospective hint to give a three dimensional effect.

Molding: Also called “coving” set of profiles of an architectural element, usually to cover transitions between surfaces.

Marbleized Stucco: Also called “stucco marble,” it is a decorative technique in which marble dust and pigments are added to the plaster and kneaded to simulate marble. In some cases, the simulation of veins and clasts are completed by brush.

Pseudo Axonometry: Drawings in which the projection of the elements is realized by parallel lines without, however, any real scientific basis. The method of isometric projections was codified beginning with the nineteenth century.

Piano Nobile: The main storey, usually, but not necessarily, the first floor, containing the principal rooms: literally “noble floor”.

Ovolo: Also called “ovulo”, convex molding whose section is a quarter of a circumference. It may be smooth or decorated with elements called ovoli and lancette.

Tympanum: Semi-circular wall surface bounded by a lintel and arch, over a door, often containing relief or imagery.

Lunette: Is a half-moon shaped space, void or filled with recessed masonry.

Breccia Medicea: A variety of Breccia di Serravezza antica, a marble breccia with light to dark gray, yellow and green, angular, gravel-size marble clasts in a purplish matrix.

Portico: A porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade.

Straight Fillet: (Sometimes simply “fillet”) plane section molding.

Trabeation: Is the use of lintels or beams rather than arches or vaulting in architectural construction.

Astragal (Tondino): Also called “fusarolo”, is a convex semi-circular molding whose section corresponds to half the circumference.

Architrave: The lowest part of the entablature (consisting of architrave, frieze and cornice) immediately on the capital of the column.

Semipilaster: Or pilaster strip, Italian “Parasta”, is similar to a Lesene but with a structural function.

Fine Contour Gauge: Instrument for the reconstruction via sliding needles, which positioned perpendicularly to a molded profile replicate its design.

Lesenes: Pilaster strip a narrow, low-relief, vertical pillar, but only decorative and not functional.

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