Borromini’s death

Anthony Blunt, ‘Borromini’, Belknap Press of Havard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts London 1979 pp. 208-209

Portrait of Borromini

“The account of his death given by his biographer Lione Pascoli, though highly coloured, is so revealing that it is worth quoting at length:

“He had another attack, even more violent, of his hypochondria, which in a few days reduced him to such a state that no one recognized him as Borromini, so distorted was his body and so terrifying his face. He twisted his mouth in a thousand horrible grimaces, and from time to time rolled his eyes in a terrifying manner and sometimes shook and roared like a lion. His nephew consulted doctors, took the advice of friends and called in priests, and all agreed that he must never left alone so that he should not be allowed any opportunity of hanging himself, and that he must at all costs be made to sleep and so to calm his mind. These were the precise instructions which his nephew gave to the servants and these they carried out. But these measures which were intended to cure his illness aggravated it, because seeing that he was not being obeyed, because he was refused everything that he asked for, and feeling that he was being ill-treated, even if for his own good, his mania became even more intense and his hypochondria changed to an oppression in the chest with symptoms of asthma, and in the end to a sort of continuous frenzy.”

Finally, in the early morning of 2 August, in an acute fit of despair he tried to kill himself, but -like Van Gogh- he botched it and lived for some hours, long enough to send for his confessor and to dictate the following account of his suicide:

“In have been wounded like this since about half past eight this morning and I will tell you how it happened. I had been feeling ill since the feast of the Magdalene [22 July] and had not been out on account of my illness except on Saturday and Sunday when I went to S. Giovanni [dei Fiorentini] for the Jubilee. Last night the idea came to me of making my will and writing it out with my own hand, and I began to write is about an hour after supper and I went on writing with a pencil till about three in the morning. Messer Francesco Massari my young servant … who sleeps in the room next door to look after me and had already gone to bed, seeing that I was still writing and had not put out the light, called to me, ‘Signor Cavaliere, you ought to put out the light and go to sleep  because it is late and the doctor wants you to sleep.’ I replied that I should have to light the lamp again when I woke up and he answered: ‘Put it out because I’ll light it again when you wake up’ ; and so I stopped writing, put away the paper on which I had written a little and the pencil with which I was writing, put out the light and went to sleep.
About five or six I woke up and called to Francesco and told him to light the lamp, and he answered: ‘Signor, no’. And hearing this reply I suddenly became impatient and began to wonder how I could do myself some bodily harm, as Francesco had refused to give me a light; and I remained in that state till about half past eight, when I remembered that I had a sword in the room at the head of the bed, hanging among the consecrated candles, and, my impatience at not having a light growing greater, in despair I took the sword and pulling it out of the scabbard leant the hilt on the bed and put the point to my side and then fell on it with such force that it ran into my body, from one side to the other, and in falling on the sword I fell on the floor with the sword run through my body and because of my wound I began to scream, and so Francesco ran in and opened the window, through which light was coming, and found me lying on the floor, and he with others whom he had called pulled the sword out of my side and put me on my bed; and this is how I came to be wounded.”

He asked to be buried in the church of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini beside his master Maderno, and among various bequests he gave five hundred crowns to the servant who had unwittingly caused his death by obeying his orders too strictly.”

Anthony Blunt, ‘Borromini’, Belknap Press of Havard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts London 1979 pp. 208-209

S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini      In situ


Quoted from: Anthony Blunt, ‘Borromini’, Belknap Press of Havard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts London 1979 pp. 208-209