The Via del Quirinale is an unlikely place to stumble across an artistic metaphor for Bernini and Borromini – which is, perhaps, why it became one. It is a typical Roman street, undistinguished and easy to dismiss. On its north side runs the monotonous and rather cheerless garden wing of the Quirinale Palace – the manica lunga, or the long sleeve – while on its south side stand two small churches, which face the Quirinale’s uniformity like well-behaved schoolchildren waiting for a tiresome class to begin.
Yet for hundreds of years this prosaic street – once called the Via Pia after Pius IV, who reorganized this area in the middle of the sixteenth century – and the two churches along its south side, Bernini’s Sant’Andrea al Quirinale and Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, have been sought out by artists and historians, tourists and dilettantes, the faithful and the curious. They have walked the three hundred paces between the Via della Quattro Fontane and the Via Milano to visit these two churches, whose storied beauties and serendipitous proximity recall the stunning talent of their creators and the enduring connection between them. Each day that the churches are open, visitors can compare the brilliance of both as an appraiser might a pair of mismatched diamonds mounted in the same setting.
But it’s impossible not to prefer one church over the other. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist or a scholar, one will touch your soul the way the architect meant it to when he designed it 350 years ago, and the other will leave you with respectful admiration.
– Jake Morrissey, The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini and The Rivalry That Transformed Rome.