ant'Agnese in Agone
(also called Sant'Agnese in Piazza Navona
) is a 17th-century Baroque
church in Rome
, Italy. It faces onto the Piazza Navona
, one of the main urban spaces in the historic centre of the city and the site where the Early Christian Saint Agnes
was martyred in the ancient Stadium of Domitian
. Construction began in 1652 under the architects Girolamo Rainaldi
and his son Carlo Rainaldi
. After numerous quarrels, the other main architect involved was Francesco Borromini
The building of the church was begun in 1652 at the instigation of Pope Innocent X
whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili
, is adjacent to this church. The church was to be effectively a family chapel annexed to their residence (for example, an opening was formed in the drum of the dome so the family could participate in the religious services from their palace).
The first designs for a centralised Greek Cross church were prepared by the Pamphili family architect, Girolamo Rainaldi, and his son Carlo Rainaldi in 1652. They reorientated the main entrance to the church from the Via Santa Maria dell’Anima
, a street set one urban block away from the piazza, to the Piazza Navona, a large urban space that Innocent was transforming into a showcase associated with his family. It had been the intention to build the new church over the old church which would become the crypt; this meant the new church was to be raised well above piazza level, but this idea was abandoned once construction started. The original drawings are lost but it is thought that the Piazza Navona facade design included a narthex
between two towers and broad stairs descending to the piazza.
Harsh criticism was made of the design, including the steps down to the piazza which were thought to project excessively, so Carlo Rainaldi eliminated the narthex idea and substituted a concave facade so that the steps would not be so intrusive.
The idea of the twin towers framing a central dome may be indebted to Bernini's bell towers on the facade of Saint Peter's basilica
. Nonetheless, Rainaldi's design of a concave facade and a central dome framed by twin towers was influential on subsequent church design in Northern Europe.
In 1653, the Rainaldis were replaced by Borromini.
Borromini had to work with the Rainaldi ground plan but made adjustments; on the interior for instance, he positioned columns towards the edges of the dome piers which had the effect of creating a broad base to the dome pendentives instead of the pointed base which was the usual Roman solution.
His drawings show that on the façade to Piazza Navona, he designed curved steps descending to the piazza, the convex curvature of which play against the concave curvature of the façade to form an oval landing in front of the main entrance. His façade was to have eight columns and a broken pediment over the entrance. He designed the flanking towers
as single storey, above which there was to be a complex arrangement of columns and convex bays with balustrades.
By the time of Innocent's death in 1655, the façade had reached the top of the lower order. Innocent's nephew, Camillo Pamphili, failed to take interest in the church and Borromini became disheartened, eventually leading to his resignation in 1657.
Carlo Rainaldi was reappointed and made a number of modifications to Borromini's design including an additional storey to the flanking towers and simplifying their uppermost parts. On the death of Camillo, his wife Olympia (Aldobrandini), commissioned Bernini to take over. He was responsible for the straightforward pediment above the main entrance and for the emphatic entablature in the interior.
In 1668, Olympia's son, Camillo, took over responsibility for the church. He reinstated Carlo Rainaldi as architect and engaged Ciro Ferri
to create frescoes
for the interior of the dome. Further decorations were added; there were large scale sculptures and polychrome marble effects. None of these are likely to have been intended by Borromini.