Girolamo and his son Carlo Rainaldi created a new design, a Greek cross with a straight façade. The old church was torn down in 1652 and construction of the new church began. However, the pope decided during the construction that he did not like the design, and fired the Rainaldi is to appoint his favourite architect Francesco Borromini in their stead. Borromini immediately had the straight façade demolished and designed a new one. He couldn’t drastically change the church’s floor plan because that would have been too costly. He did, however, add columns to the pilasters on the corners of the domed room. The design for the façade has survived. Borromini had created big, oval flights of stairs that would have projected into the square, and a recessed central bay with no less than eight big columns. By 1655, the façade had been completed up to the level of the cornice.
That’s when everything went wrong. Innocent X dies that same year and Alexander VII (Chigi) is elected pope. He took little interest in the Sant’Agnese in Agone. A commission was appointed to decide what had to be done about the project. Their decision was devastating for Borromini: he is fired and the project is reassigned to Carlo Rainaldi. He makes changes to Borromini’s design, but eventually Bernini is commissioned to complete the church. He also made a large number of changes. Bernini’s studio was of course commissioned to adorn the church with frescos and Bernini used quite a lot of coloured marble and stucco. Borromini must have been horrified. He never used coloured marble, usually a serene light grey or white.
We head south and pass another famous building by Francesco Borromini that faces the Piazza di Pasquino (Wikipedia). This little square is home to a weather-beaten Hellenistic statue from the 3rd century AD.
The statue probably represents Menelaos protecting Patroclus’ dead body. When the neighbouring Via dei Leutari was repaved in 1501, workers discovered this damaged statue. Cardinal Carafa had it placed on the corner near the square.
The story goes that a tailor – or as some say a cobbler – named Pasquino ran a flourishing business in the neighbourhood. Pasquino often had occasion to visit the Papal court and knew what was going on behind the scenes. He was fiercely critical of the political situation in Rome, and more specifically of the goings-on at the papal court. After his death, the statue was placed next to his shop. Romans would attach notes to the statue with witty comments on local politics, for instance the lampoon (satirical poem attached to statue near Pasquino’s shop) by Urban VIII’s physician Giulio Mancini that I talked about earlier: ‘Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini’ (what the barbarians did not do, the Barberinis did, i.e. taking the bronze from the Pantheon’s portico) You will encounter many of these speaking statues in Rome.