San Ivo della Sapienza, Rome

(1642-1650)
   San Ivo is the church of the University of Rome, called the Sapienza. Francesco Borromini received the commission to create this structure in 1641 from Pope Urban VIII who requested that it be incorporated into the university courtyard. As a result, the building's façade is concave, its two stories composed of repetitive arched windows that harmonize with the courtyard arcades at either side. On the attic, a Latin inscription reads "House of Wisdom," suitable for a church in a university setting. A dome with a large drum sits atop, both composed of concave and convex forms that add movement to the façade. The spiral lantern capping the dome recalls the pope's tiara to assert that this was a papal commission, and also the flaming crown of Wisdom, reiterating visually the attic inscription. The interior is whitewashed and includes 18 colossal pilasters that support a continuous entablature and applied decorations added during the reign of Alexander VII when the church was completed. These include the heraldic mounds and stars of the Chigi, Alexander's family.
   The structure's plan, echoed in the interior by the dome, is read by some as a stylized bee, the symbol of the Barberini, Urban VIII's family. Others see two superimposed triangles that form the six-pointed star of King Solomon, albeit with points replaced by the same play of concave and convex forms of the building's exterior. While the Barberini emblem would identify the patron of the structure, the Solomonic reference would reiterate symbolically the words inscribed on the façade as Solomon was known for his wisdom. Solomon was also the great builder of the Temple of Jerusalem, so the Solomonic references at San Ivo may have been included as well to hail Urban as the modern counterpart to this biblical figure who builds his own house of worship.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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