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  • Writer's pictureRoma Experience

Bernini Vs Borromini: A Baroque Rivalry

Updated: Mar 6

Walk down a street in the centro storico of Rome and you’ll see a fragment of an Ancient Roman statue. This is what remains of a medieval building, a Renaissance palazzo, and, without a doubt, a Baroque church. The centre of Rome is a fascinating blend of different eras and architectural styles, but in many parts of the city it’s the Baroque aesthetic that dominates – ornate marble facades, theatrical fountains, and spectacular statues.

view of a fountain in the piazza navona rome, italy
Piazza Navona | Rome, Italy

The artists also fought over the Palace of the Propagation of the Faith. Bernini had originally won the commission to enlarge the building, but after the death of Pope Urban VIII, the task was assigned to Borromini instead. As Bernini lived right next to the palace, Borromini couldn’t resist the temptation of mocking his rival, and had a pair of donkey’s ears carved on the side of the building. Bernini responded with equal wit and maturity by sculpting a phallus on the side of his house, pointing towards Borromini and his team. Although these sculptures are no longer visible – they were obviously considered indecent, and removed – this story appears to be based in fact.

Chiesa di Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza Rome, Italy
Chiesa di Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza | Rome, Italy

This infamous Baroque rivalry ended with the death of Borromini in 1667. Tragically, the artist committed suicide by falling on his own sword. Bernini survived him by another decade, and continued working until two weeks before his death, at the age of 81. To learn more about the extraordinary lives and works of these two architects with the "See Rome in a Day Tour" where you’ll visit Piazza Navona and see some of the most famous Baroque art and architecture.

To learn more about the work of Bernini in Rome please read our guide to the Borghese Gallery.



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