Showing posts with label Cosimo III de' Medici. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cosimo III de' Medici. Show all posts

25 August 2021

Alessandro Galilei - architect

After frustrations in England Florentine made mark in Rome

Giuseppe Berti's portrait of Alessandro Galilei
Giuseppe Berti's portrait of
Alessandro Galilei
The architect Alessandro Galilei, best known for the colossal Classical façade of the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, was born on this day in 1691 in Florence.

From the same patrician family as Renaissance polymath Galileo Galilei but not a direct descendant, Galilei’s father was a notary, Giuseppe Maria Galilei. Though his father considered the family to be noble still, their standing had fallen somewhat under Medici rule.

Alessandro studied mathematics and engineering at the prestigious Accademia dei Nobili in Florence, where he was instructed in building techniques and perspective among other things. 

As he sought to develop a career, Galilei met John Molesworth, son of Viscount Robert Molesworth, who spent three years in Florence as an envoy to the Medici court. Molesworth used his time there to indulge his interests in architecture, art, music, literature and poetry and developed a close friendship with Galilei, whose designs he admired.  He sponsored Galilei to spend time studying in Rome and when his posting in Italy was at an end, invited him to return to England with him.

Galilei’s designs had a Classical bent that put him at odds with the fashion for Baroque that was still dominant in Italy but appealed to Molesworth and to his father, who was keen to launch a new architectural movement, to which the subscribers included Sir Thomas Hewitt and Edward Lovett Pearce, who Galilei had met in Florence while Pearce was in Italy to study the architecture of Andrea Palladio.

The facade of Castletown House, home of Irish politician William Conolly, was designed by Galilei
The facade of Castletown House, home of Irish
politician William Conolly, was designed by Galilei
Although Galilei’s time in London yielded few commissions as Molesworth’s movement failed to take off, he had more success in Ireland, where Robert Molesworth introduced him to William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the wealthy owner of Castletown House, a palatial house near Dublin. He invited Galilei to design a new façade, and though the Italian did not remain in England to execute his plans, they were carried through by Pearce.

Before he returned to Florence, Galilei also designed the Doric portico on the east front of Kimbolton Castle in Huntingdonshire for Charles, Duke of Manchester.

In 1719, Galilei was appointed engineer of court buildings and fortresses to the courts of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, Cosimo III and Gian Gastone de' Medici. Again, however, his severe, heavily Classical designs failed to win him the grand projects he hoped to secure.

His fortunes changed in 1730 when a Florentine Cardinal, Lorenzo Cortini, was elected as pope, taking the name of Pope Clement XII. He called Galilei to Rome in 1731 to build his family's chapel, the Cappella Corsini, in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Pope Clement XII gave Galilei his most prestigious project
Pope Clement XII gave Galilei
his most prestigious project
At around the same time, Clement XII announced ambitious plans to renovate the basilica, which was the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal basilicas in the city but had suffered neglect after twice being damaged by fire in the 14th century, before being rebuilt in the 16th century.

He announced a competition for a new façade. Designs were submitted by 26 architects and the award of the commission to Galilei attracted raised eyebrows, especially since the consensus was that Luigi Vanvitelli’s entry was far superior.

Galilei completed the project in 1735, after which the sheer scale of his design, topped with enormous statues of saints, attracted more controversy, with critics complaining that it was far more suited to a palace than a church. It was not until Neoclassicism became popular in subsequent years that his work earned the appreciation that was missing in his lifetime.

Also responsible for the Baroque façade of the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome, Galilei died in Rome in 1737, at the age of just 46. A portrait of him by his contemporary, Giuseppe Berti, today hangs in the entrance hall of Castletown House.

Galilei's façade of the Basilica di San
Giovanni in Laterano was controversial
Travel tip:

Although the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is in the Appio/San Giovanni neighbourhood of Rome, southeast of the city centre, some 4km (2.5 miles) southwest of the Vatican, because it is a property of the Holy See, the basilica and its adjoining buildings enjoy an extraterritorial status from Italy, in accordance with the terms of the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The oldest and most important of Rome’s four major basilicas, it is officially Rome’s cathedral.  The church’s history can be traced to the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who converted the Lateran Palace to a church in 324 after he had converted to Christianity.  

The church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini overlooks the Tiber
The church of San Giovanni dei
Fiorentini overlooks the Tiber
Travel tip:

The church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini can be found in the Ponte district of central Rome, overlooking the Tiber, just across the river from Castel Sant’ Angelo and about 10 minutes’ walk from Piazza Navona. It was conceived after Pope Leo X organised a competition in 1518 for a new church on the site of the old church of San Pantaleo. The architects who submitted designs included Baldassare Peruzzi, Jacopo Sansovino, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Raphael. Although Sansovino won the competition, the building was constructed by Sangallo and Giacomo della Porta, with Carlo Maderno taking over in 1602. Galilei’s façade was not added until 1734.

Also on this day:

79: The eruption of Vesuvius destroys Pompeii

655: The death of Saint Patricia of Naples

1509: The birth of Ippolito II d’Este

1609: Galileo Galilei demonstrates his telescope