* 1599 Bissone/Luganer See
† 1667 Rom
Francesco Borromini, the wild genius of Roman baroque, was born as Francesco Castelli in Bissone, today in the Swiss canton Ticino, in 1599. As architect Francesco Castelli was self-taught and revolutionary – he learned the trade of a mason at the Milan cathedral works at a young age.
After he had completed his apprenticeship, Francesco Castelli went to Rome, where his uncle and patron Carlo Maderno was head of the "fabbrica di S. Pietro", the St. Peters cathedral works. He gave employment to Francesco Castelli as of 1619. Together with Maderno, Francesco Castelli worked on the Palazzo Barberini. It was during those years that Francesco Castelli examined ancient art and Michelangelo´s buildings, for he was his model – even though Francesco Castelli had the ambitious aim to create something entirely new in the field of architecture.
When his uncle died in 1629, Francesco Castelli had already changed his name to Borromini. The Palazzo Barberini had not been completed, and it was not Francesco Borromini but his greatest rival Gianlorenzo Bernini, who took over supervision as well as direction of St. Peter´s cathedral works. For Francesco Borromini it was by no means possible to subordinate to his new boss, which is why he resigned in 1632.
The rivalry between the two great Roman baroque architects had never been settled and is almost legendary, later art history envisioned their disputes in glorious ways: The bon vivant Bernini, who seemed to attract good luck and the sinister but ingenious plodder Borromini.
Luck indeed was less on Francesco Borromini´s and more on Bernini´s side: It was not before the pontificate of Pope Innocent X Pamphili (1644-1655) that Francesco Borromini stepped out of his arch rival´s shadow. He built the Palazzo Pamphili and directed the preservation and maintenance works at the Lateran basilica. However, his luck was just of short duration, because the following pope, Alexander VII (1655-1667), was on Bernini´s side again. There were no new commissions and Francesco Borromini had to finish works he had begun earlier: church interiors of S. Ivo and S. Giovanni in Laterano as well as the famous facade of S. Carlino alle Quattro Fontane, his first building (1638-1641).
In terms of architecture, Borromini has become famous for unusual ground plots and dynamically curved walls, a moved play of lines instead of the right angle. With great poise Francesco Borromini wanted to put down his revolutionary "Opus Architectonicum" in writing, which Virgilio Spada wrote in 1647 under his name.
Francesco Borromini was also a highly-talented drawer. His graphite sheets are characterized by a unique personal style, remarkable creativity and quality. Francesco Borromini burnt part of these outstanding hand drawings shortly before he committed suicide in 1667 as a consequence of his depression.