The Design of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

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San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

  1. Introduction

1.1 Francesco Borromini

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and also called San Carlino was a church that designed by architect Francesco Borromini. [1] It was the first independent commission of Francesco Borromini in 1634. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane is the first masterpiece of Francesco Borromini.[2] Francesco Borromini(1599-1667) he arrived in Rome and worked as a stonemason at the St Peter site when his twenties.[3] He started involve himself in the important architectural project in Rome after he working on some of the sculptural project in Saint Peter’s Basilica.[4] He keen in learn the ruins of Antiquity and the architecture of Michelangelo.[1] His own unique style was influenced the architecture of the Europe and make him become a spotlight of the architect in Baroque architecture. He finish a lot of architecture in his life, like San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, Sant’ Ivo alla Sapienza, Sant’ Agnese in Agone and The Re Magi Chapel of the Propaganda Fide.[4] In 2 August 1667, he end his life by his self .The Francesco Borromini’s style can be show on one of his famous architecture that is the church San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.

1.2 San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane is located at Rome, Italy on the geographic coordinates is 41°54′6.6″N 12°29′26.7″E.[1] It was classified as Roman Catholic architecture and it is Baroque style church that consecrated on 1646.[1] The commission of it was given on 1634. It have not finished until 1682.[2] It located between the intersection of the street Via Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale and make the church is become a “L” shape.[2] [6] It have a very limited space for Borromini to design. There got four of the fountain at the intersection of the street Via Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale. One of the fountain is located at the side of the façade. It make the church become more outstanding and more powerful on the street.[6]



1. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 29 April 2015, 2.40am.

2. Francis D.K. Ching, Mark M. Jarzombek, Vikramaditya Prakash, 2007, A Global History of Architecture, Canada, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, pg 505.

3. Rolf Toman, 2008, History of Architecture From Classic To Contemporary, United Kingdom, Parragon Book Ldt, pg 190.

4. Francesco Borromini and His Architecture, available on, accessed on 30 April 2015, 2.08am.

5. Francesco Borromini, available on, accessed on 30 April 2015, 2.21am.

6. John Pile, 2009, The History of Interior Design, United Kingdom, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, pg 151

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane contain the church, monks’ living quarters, refectory and cloister and a courtyard.[7] Because of the church is small in the size, the church are also know as Little St Charles’ at the Four Fountain. San Carlo alle become one of the masterpiece of the Baroque design because of the bold design of Borromini in the 17th century.

  1. Construction History

The Spanish Discalced Trinitarians is the owner of the church.[8] The purpose of the Trinitarians is to ransom the Christian that take the prisoner by the Muslim pirates and slaveraider during the war time. At the start of 17th century, they start to set about founding of house at Rome. They find a place on the corner of the Quirinal tro build a temporary chapel for St Charles Borromeo. There got an altar in the temporary chapel and the chapel is open in 1612. In the construction of the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, the most serious problem that face by the friars is the money. They tried hard to continue the project of the church until they found a patron in Cardinal Francesco Barbarini. Cardinal Francesco Barbarini. He was promised to pay to the friars to continue the project. In 1634, 22 year after beginning, the friars appoint a not famous architect that is Francesco Borromini because he was not claim for any repayment. In 1593, Pope of Sixtus V was commission the Quattro Fontane at the Via Pia. So the fountain is already there when the church construction start.[8] Because of the cross section of the roads make the convent become oblique. The limited space of the convent become the first challenge for the young architect, Francesco Borromini. The success the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane show how brilliant of Francesco Borromini in the baroque architecture. The beginning of the construction of the convent and the church was faster, but it does not finish until the architect, Francesco Borromini died. Borromini was start the convent block immediately and start use by the friars in 1635. In 1636, the cloister was completed. The construction of the church was began on 1638 and stalled on 1641.[8] A temporary campanile is build up on 1643 by Borromini.Before the façade start, the campanile was forced to be stopped because of they are lack of the money. The unfinished church is begin use on 1646. After another 22 years, the friars are able to continue the project. 1665, Borromini was started to doing the façade, but he pass away in 1667 by committed suicide.[8]



7. Michael Fazio, 2008, A World History of Architecture, United Kingdom, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, Pg. 347.

8. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 7 May 2015, 3.44a.m.

After the death of the Borromini, Bernardo Castelli Borromini, nephew of Borromini are take over his job. Bernardo Castelli Borromini was follow his uncle’s plans to finish the job that leave over by him that is the permanent campanile and the façade.[9] The permanent campanile was built in 1670 and start to built the façade in 1674.[9] The structure of the building was finished in 1677. After that they build the sculptural decoration in the building and it were not actually finish until now.[9]

  1. The Layout of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane is a building that combine a lot of the part. Inside the building got a lot of part like the church, the cloister, the refectory and a crypt.[10] In the layout plan of the building, the church was located at the North of the building, refectory that including dormitory to the monk and a library at above was located at the East of the building and a rectangular shape cloister at the Southwest of the building.[10] On the layout plan, the church was a rhombus shape with rounded corners.[9] The plan was design based on two same equilibrium triangle that combine together with a circle inside the triangle each to form the oval shape that dominate the plan.[10] The oval shape dome was become the emphasis of the church and it was underline by the rim of the dome and floor pattern of the church.[10] The brilliant of the dual ordering of the church and the cloister were show the organizational skill of Borromini. To support the building Borromini was using eight set of paired columns in undulating wall of the church and six set of paired of column in the cloister.[12] There have no any corner columns that using to holding the heavy colonnade.[13]

Stand on the entrance of the church, straight ahead is the apse of the main altar of the church. The subsidiary altar at the right side is dedicated to St Michael de Sanctis and the left is St John Baptist.[9]



9. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 7 May 2015, 3.44a.m.

10. John Pile, 2009, A History of Interior Design Third Edition, United Kingdom, Lawrence King Publishing Ltd, pg. 150- 151

11. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane- Rome, available on PDFs/Borromini_SanCarlo.pdf, accessed on 5 May 2015, 12.32 a.m.

12. Michael Fazio, 2008, A World History of Architecture, United Kingdom, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, pg. 347.

13. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 9 may 2015, 4.44 a.m.

  1. The Interior Design of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

4.1 The Design of the Church

The dominating colour of the Church is white and it was full with the natural sunlight.[14] Eight set of pair of the composited order column was used to support the high entablature.[15] The church is contain a main altar and two of the subsidiary altar.[15] The subsidiary altar at right side is dedicated to St Michael de Sanctis and the left is St John Baptist.[15] The plan was ellipse to create four irregular spaces and two of the spaces are small chapels.[14] Pierre Mingnard is the painter that executed the high altar painting St. Carlo Borromeo contemplates the Holy Trinity.[14] In the church, many of the symbol of the Trinitarian order can found. The composition of the symbol of the Trinitarian order is a red vertical and a blue horizontal bar. The tabernacle, front of the altar and on the Trinitarian habit have the symbol of the Trinitarian order.[14] At the door that located on the side of the main altar, its sculpture in the niches are the Sts. Jean de Matha and Félix de Valois. Because of the 17th century painter Giuseppe Milanese, three of the devotional paintings (1653) is set at the tiny chapel at the right side of the entrance.[14] The Trinitarian St. Miguel de los Santos (1591-1625) is dedicate at the right subsidiary altar.[14]

4.2 The dome

For the exterior design of the dome, it is an oval drum shape. On the dome, it has four octagon window to allow the natural light to go into the church.[17] On the tope of the dome, it has a lantern that seem like the mausoleum on three concentric step.[17] It has four pairs of the Doric column to support the dome.[17] The Doric column has a small narrow-headed window on the flank. The dome is the emphasis of the interior of the church. The dome is support by the three semi-domes.[17] The semi-dome is support by three altar apses and the altar apses is decorate by the rose pattern.[17]



14. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 9 May 2015, 4.44 a.m.

15. Michael Fazio, 2008, A World History of Architecture, United Kingdom, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, pg. 347.

16. Trinitarian Order, available on, accessed on 9 May 2015, 11.54 a.m.

17. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 7 May 2015, 3.44a.m.

At the entrance Borromini was placed a wide arch. The intrados is coffering with a single line. With this way the sunlight can direct go in by the large window in the façade. That is also the only direct sunlight of the church. The truncated pendentives is placed by Borromini in between the arches.[18] The tondi with stucco reliefs by Giuseppe and Giulio Bernasconi can found in the pendentive of the arches. It show the illustrating scenes from the Trinitarian order.[18]

In this church, there is no drum to the dome. It directly on the cornice. The four octagonal window on the dome is just above the cornice to get the sunlight into the church.[18] There are acanthus leaf finals on the projecting leaf in different size, large and small. There got the Trinitarian cross on the large acanthus leaf. The pattern of the dome of the church is complicated. It from by using the crossing of the octagons and squashed hexagons. It complicated of the dome was make the church become famous until now.

The letter that design on the dome is similar with the façade: Sanctiss [imae] Trinitati Beatoq [ue] Carolo Borromeo D [ivo] An [no] Salvatoris] MDCXI. A Trinitarian symbol can find on the oculus. The oculus is gold in olour and have a Dove of the Holy Spirit in a triangle and a hexagonal glory. Borromini was borrow the pattern of the coffering of the dome from an ancient mosaic at Santa Costanza.

4.3 The Crypt

The crypt or subterranean church was built with the same layout plan with the main church.[19] It was a rhombus shape with curve corner but the crypt was design in a more simple way. Inside the crypt, there got a fresco portrait of Jesus on the cross and the Virgin Mary and St. John at the side at the altar niche to show Crucifixion of the life of the people in 18th century.[18] The fresco was in a bad condition now day because of the damp penetration of the crypt.[18] The crypt wall was painted in white colour and red brick was used for the floor.[18] There was nothing inside the crypt like decoration and sculpture because they are run out of budget.[18] So the crypt is not done until now.



18. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 7 May 2015, 3.44a.m.

19. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 9 May 2015, 4.44 a.m.

4.4 The Cloister

The cloister is located at the right side of the church. It is a harmony and charming place that have two storey.[20] It is rectangle shape in the plan with arcades on all four side. An octagonal is well in the garth.[20] There is no plant in the cloister and surrounded by brick floor. At the first storey, the chamber design is in bowed and convex.[19] It flanked by a pair of Doric columns. There has an archway support by one member of these pair of column of the short end of the cloister. There have a doorway that connect to the street at the north of the cloister and the other doorway at the south of the cloister is connected to the sacristy. The trabeation is support by another pair of columns on each side. Twelve columns can be found at the ground floor arcades. They is no doorway at the west side of the cloister.

At the second storey, it have same number of the column with the same position of the ground floor. The columns at the second storey is using to support a continuous trabeated entablature open to the sky. The balustrades on the walkways are alternately correct in a design feature that same with the façade of the church.

  1. The Exterior Design of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

5.1 Façade

The façade was complete in 1667 by Borromini’s nephew, Bernardo because Borromini was pass away. There has two storey at the façade and three curved vertical zone. At the first storey, there have a concave-convex-concave zone.[19] So the façade is serpentine in plan. the zones of the second storey is all concave, waved shape. The Trinity is show on the triple vertical zonation of the façade. The second storey is represent to the heaven. At the first storey of the façade there have four large Ionic column to support a serpentine entablature.[19] The serpentine entablature is decorate with a simple dedicatory inscription on the frieze: In honorem [Sancti]ss[imae] Trinitatis et D[ivi] Caroli MDCLXVII.[19] The cornice or the entablature is full with decoration. There have a high plinth on the columns.



19. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 7 May 2015, 3.44a.m.

20. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane- Rome, available on PDFs/Borromini_SanCarlo.pdf, accessed on 5 May 2015, 12.32 a.m.

The storey is divide into six equal areas with three curved entablature fragment. The entablature fragment was support by six smaller derivative Composite semi-columns.[21] The central of the first storey is the only entrance doorway to the church. The side of the door have a large vertical oval window that same with the dome design and the window was enclosed.[21] The goat's head device with the Trinitarian cross is located at below.

At the upper part of the doorway have a statue of St Charles Borromeo and it was flanked by two angel caryatids. The angel was form a false pediment to the façade. At the side of the entrance, there got a St Felix statue at the left and St John on the right.[21]

The second storey of the façade is also separate into three part with four columns. Although the number of the column are same but the capitals are different.[21] The concave entablature with rosettes on the projecting cornice is support by a pair of the column. At the middle of the second storey have a large oval tondo that supported by two angel. Originally, A fresco of The Holy Trinity Crowning Our Lady by Pietro Giarguzzi of 1677 was want to place in the tondo but the plan was cancel because of the disrepair of the church. Same with the first storey, three pair of small columns was used to support the cornice fragments. The cornice fragment was separate the second storey to two part, lower part and upper part.There got a rectangle window at between the pair of the small column at the lower area of the second storey. The middle of the upper part got a pair of angel that used to support the tondo. The upper right n left side got a circular tondo that have the Trinitarian cross with a moulded dentillate surrounded with palm-leaf.[21] The concave design of the façade is more same with the cloister.

5.2 The Campanile

The campanile stands on the Quattro Fontance on the outside. The campanile was connected with the church and the crypt with the spiral staircase. Borromini was not very satisfactory with the design of the façade and the chamfered corner because of the juxtaposition.[21] The campanile is not easily to show to the street because it located at the high level of the building.



21. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 7 May 2015, 3.44a.m.

Above the campinile have a rectangle window with a little triangular pendent raises over a wear motif.[22] A heart shape tablet that contain the Trinitarian cross was cover by the angel’s wing.[22] The structure of the campanile is square in the shape and have four of the Doric column.[22] A pair of the column is support the decorated entablature that are the trapezoidal plinth.[22] There has a gold colour sphere on the campanile.

6.0 The Treatment of Light

Borromini was using his knowledge about the light in to the church. Borromini’s light treatment is use to produce a theatrical effect.[23] The natural light that came from the octagonal window at the dome show the complicated design of the dome and the structure of the church. Borromini was apply some principle to manipulate the light in the church. First, the light chamber. Borromini was apply a space to control the light intensity.[23] The “grazing” illumination is using the reflection of natural light emphasise the detail and the texture of the surface.[23] He also using some other skill like sfumato effect and optical sighting.[23]

  1. Conclusion



22. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, available on, accessed on 7 May 2015, 3.44a.m.

23. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane- Rome, available on PDFs/Borromini_SanCarlo.pdf, accessed on 5 May 2015, 12.32 a.m.