San Felipe Neri Oratory

San Felipe Neri Oratory
San Felipe Neri Oratory

History often seems to appear before us in a capricious way and a good example of this is found in the 17th century when the baroque aesthetic was imposed on ecclesiastical architectural constructions. It might have seemed that after the events of the Sack of Rome by the troops of Emperor Charles V and the subsequent Lutheran reform, the power of the papacy in Rome had been diminishing, but in reality, the opposite happened, the Roman papacy rose if fits, with more force and made as his own an artistic style that allowed him to show off his power and ostentation, the baroque style.


Despite everything in the Roman capital, two opposing tendencies arose that were personalized in two specific architects: Bernini and Borromini. The first of them almost always worked at the service of the papacy and roy alty, carrying out more lavish works in which the huge budget of the promoters allowed him creative and compositional freedom. Borromini, on the other hand, acquired slightly more modest commissions, linked to monastic orders whose budget was not so loose but where he enjoyed greater compositional freedom.

It was precisely Borromini's more sober style, focused on architectural concepts rather than decorative ones, which led the Congregation of San Felipe Neri to commission a new oratory from him. This had to rise next to the mother church of the orderknown as Chiesa Nuova or New Church but whose real name was Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella.

In just thirty years –from 1637 to 1647- Borromini erected a building with two transversal axes, of which he himself pointed out that he was trying to find a plant that with his arms open to embrace all the faithful who gathered there. On one of the axes, on the longitudinal one, he placed the main altar as a reference point, while on the transverse axis he placed the entrance to the building. In addition, the architect recreated an authentic continuity of spaces that made him go from the oratory to a sacristy and also a library; all this communicated through a landscaped space that was raised as a link between the parts.

The building's façade is far removed from traditional baroque parameters; It has been built in simple materials (plaster, brick and stucco) at the express request of the congregation but also as a sign of the aesthetic sobriety of the artist. With the same brick, the artist poses different textures as well as chromatic games that give the façade great beauty without detracting from its simplicity. The main body is divided by five retropilasters and in it we find chamfered corners that, together with the upper tympanum, help to recreate a set of very agile and light curves and counter-curves.

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