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By Edward Bleiberg

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A more mature and larger work resulted from Borromini’s designs for the Church of Sant’Ivo, a domed structure unlike any built up to this time in Europe. Borromini built the church at the end of a long courtyard for a school that later became the University of Rome; from the outside, the structure’s dome and cupola appear as if they were a ziggurat, an ancient stepped pyramid dating from Mesopotamian times. These designs had become known in Europe during the sixteenth century, but only Borromini ventured to make such bold use of this shape.

Baroque architects also massed their decorative elements to create dramatic focal points and an impression of climax in their buildings. This attempt to harness a worshipper’s gaze often began at a church’s door and continued along the path that led to the church’s altar. From the very start, the Baroque presented Europeans with a variety of faces. Imaginative designers like Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarini relied on complex geometrical patterns in their structures, patterns that were more imaginative and complex than the static and serene symmetries of High Renaissance design.

As the seventeenth century approached, however, a revival of spirit became evident in the Roman Catholic Church. This Catholic Reformation saw the foundation of many new religious orders like the Jesuits, Theatines, and Capuchins, who worked for religious renewal. During the half-century following 1570, these groups led a dramatic resurgence in Catholic piety. The new orders demanded religious architecture that focused worshippers’ attentions on the sacraments and key elements of Catholic worship, that appealed to the senses, and that was an enhancement to parishioners’ religious lives.

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