Friday, January 25, 2008

The Lateran Baldachino that Never Was, Part I

The great Italian engraver and designer of the late Baroque, Giambattista Piranesi, only completed one architectural commission in his lifetime, the splendid church of the Knights of Malta on the Aventine Hill, which fuses an archaeological fascination with ancient Rome with the Christian Baroque spirit. His grandest project, though, remained uncompleted, a proposal to replace the Lateran's chancel and Gothic baldachin with a design more in harmony with Borromini's incasing of the Constantinian nave. While nothing came of these designs, it appears a number of alterations were eventually undertaken in the 19th century to the chancel. I hope to showcase some of his extraordinary proposed designs--never before seen online and almost impossible to see in print--over the next few days, but I plan to start with some preliminary proposals, undertaken in the previous century by Borromini, [updated: a learned reader identified them as Francesco Borromini's work] continuing our theme of baldachins. This particuar set of designs repeats the arrangement Lateran's distinctive two-layer arrangement in a high Baroque key.

I will post some of Piranesi's proposals, a real architectural tour-de-force, this coming week.

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