N. S. do Rosário dos Pretos and Peterskirche

When I went to do research in Brazil a few years ago, this was my favorite church that I visited. Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (shown right, dates from the latter 18th century) was built in colonial Brazil as a place for the African slaves to worship. One of the reasons I like this church so much is that it is based on an oval floorplan. It seems to me that somehow this church was indirectly influenced by the oval floorplan that was popularized by Borromini in Italy (click here to see the floorplan of Borromini’s church San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. This is one of my absolute favorite buildings. I love the undulating facade, the oval floorplan, and the oval dome. It’s so awesome and unique.)

John Bury has also written a little about how this Brazilian church is “Borrominesque,” but he can’t seem to pinpoint any concrete influence.1 So far, I haven’t been able to find a concrete influence for N. S. do Rosário dos Pretos either. One interesting thing I have found, though, is that this church might have been indirectly influenced by the Peterskirke in Vienna.2 Some Portuguese rulers and leaders (i.e. Pedro II, João V, and the Marquis do Pombal) were married to Austrian ladies. Perhaps the Austrian design trickled through Portugal and then down to Brazil.

The Peterskirche in Vienna (shown left, 1733) is a beautiful church that is also based on an oval floorplan. It seems to me that this church is also Borrominesque in design, although I read here that the design was actually based off of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I’m a little skeptical of that information (not only because it’s from Wikipedia, but because it just doesn’t make sense – the floorplan of St. Peter’s Basilica isn’t even oval (and none of the earlier floorplans were oval either)).3 Borromini’s style was copied and emulated internationally, and it seems more likely that he affected the floorplan and design of Peterskirche. (Don’t you think that the lil’ curves in the facade could have been influenced by Borromini?)

Anyhow, I hope that I can do more research and find out the connections between Borromini, the Peterskirche, and N.S. do Rosário dos Pretos. If anyone has leads, suggestion, or information, I’d be happy to hear them.

1 John Bury, “The ‘Borrominesque’ Churches in Colonial Brazil,” (The Art Bulletin 31, no. 1):43- 44.

2 Murillo Marx, “Brazilian Architecture in the XVIII and Early XIX Centuries,” in History of South American Colonial Art and Architecture by Murillo Marx and Damián Bayón, eds., (New York: Rizzoli, 1989), 361. Marx also cites Pal Kelemen, Baroque and Rococo in Latin America (New York: Macmillan, 1951).

3 I do recognize, though, that the Wikipedia article could be referring to some aspect design other than the floorplan. In general, though, I have not observed any other striking similarities between the designs of Peterskirche and St. Peter’s Basilica. If anyone knows specific architectural connections between the two buildings, I would be interested to know them.

  • heidenkind says:

    Was Borromini the first to come up with an oval floorplan?

  • M says:

    I know that there were some oval buildings from the Late Bronze Age in Greece (and surrounding areas). There also was a Neronian Circus that was shaped in an oval (although the oval was an unusual shape for a circus.) I read a little bit more of the history of the oval in: Hanno-Walter Kruft, "The Origin of the Oval in Bernini's Piazza S. Pietro," The Burlington Magazine 121, No. 921 (Dec., 19790: 796-801.

    But as far as I am aware, in more modern times Borromini was first to implement the oval floorplan in a religious structure. Even if that isn't the case, I think that Borromini's designs made the use of the oval popular. The floorplan for S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane dates from 1638-1641. It seems probable that in later years Bernini (Borromini's rival in Rome) was influenced by this oval idea, since his floorplans for Sant'Andrea al Quirinale (1658-70) and the Piazza for St. Peter's Basilica (1656-1667) are both based on ovals.

    In regards to Austria, I also have learned that Borromini's S. Agnese influenced the facade of the Trinity Church in Salzburg. Furthermore, the Clemenskirche in Munster was also influenced by Borromini's plan for S. Ivo. These connections solidify my idea that Borromini could have influenced other German Baroque structures (like the Peterskirche) with his use of the oval.

    Anyhow, thanks for the question, heidenkind. The history of the oval in architecture is really interesting to me, and I hope to do more research on the subject. As far as I can tell, there hasn't been a lot of work done on the history of ovals in architecture.

  • M says:

    So, I've been really getting into this oval plan idea and have done more research this morning.

    I just discovered that there are some oval precedents to Borromini's work. The 16th century architect Vignola used oval plans in some of his designs. Vignola's church Sant'Andrea in Via Flaminia (1552-1553) is recognized as the first church to be based on an oval plan. You can see a plan of the church here.

    Vignola also created another oval church, Sant'Anna dei Palafrenieri (1570). You can see a plan of the church here.

    If anyone is interested in reading more, I would recommend Milton J. Lewine, "Vignola's Church of Sant'Anna de' Palafrenieri in Rome," The Art Bulletin 47, No. 2 (Jun., 1965):199-229.

    Anyhow, I still think that these early oval plan churches do not detract from my theory that Borromini helped to spread the Baroque style (and oval floorplan) in Europe. Vignola was obviously influential in establishing the oval floor plan, but 17th century architects like Borromini really helped this innovative style to spread.

    This is a fun topic to research!

  • heidenkind says:

    Thanks for the response! That is an interesting topic. I never thought about Borromini's floorplan for S. Carlo being influential outside of Italy–he's usually just talked about in relation to Bernini.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.