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The Genius in the Design: Bernini,Borromini,and the Rivalry That Transformed Rome [Hardcover]

Jake Morrissey
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 Jun 2005
The Genius in the Design is the true story of the great rivalry between two extraordinary men, the seventeenth-century architects Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini, and how their antagonism changed the city of Rome and created the Baroque. Talented, driven, and ambitious, each man spent his career trying to outdo the other to become the greatest architect of his time. Each, in his turn, succeeded, only to be brought down by the machinations of the other. In the end, one became the most lionized artist of his time and died a rich, happy family man. The other, consumed by internal demons, committed suicide. This book is the story of their hostility. Part history, part biography, part adventure story, The Genius in the Design is narrative non-fiction that reads like a novel and brings to vivid life the struggle between two giants of architecture, so different in outlook, so similar in purpose.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd; First Edition edition (30 Jun 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071563383X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0715633830
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14.8 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,407,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Morrissey is no disinterested aesthete...He also knows that architecture can speak to us about more than itself' -- Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Jake Morrissey has studied and written about architecture for 20 years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and dozens of other publications and books.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition 17 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book itself was okay, a tale of Bernini and Borromini that did rather make them appear to be the only architects in Rome. Morrissey makes the odd slip-up, but is generally reliable and sourced. A tale that was interesting, but which could have been better with more illustration. Unfortunately, the Kindle edition doesn't even have the scant illustration that the paper edition has - there are no illustrations at all. And for anyone writing an essay, I must warn you that there are no page numbers in this Kindle book. I was rather disappointed to have to to the library for a paper copy having bought the Kindle edition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Clash of Two Titans of the Baroque 13 Feb 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Art History has a habit of throwing up, once every century or so, a clash between two titans. Think of Raphael and Michelangelo in the 16th century, Ingres and Delacroix in the 18th century, or Picasso and Matisse in the 20th century. In the 17th century the duel was between Bernini and Borromini, the battle was fought out in a single arena, Rome, and the weapon of choice was architecture, more specifically, the architecture of the Baroque. Bernini had other weapons in his arsenal, sculpture and painting to name but two. Borromini had only one, but in that he was a genius. Their clash lasted over four decades, only coming to an end when Borromini took his own life, in 1667.

And Jake Morrissey's book, enlivened with dramatic incidents and sparkling anecdotes, is an entertaining journey through one of the city's most creative periods. In addition to writing with panache about some of the most important buildings in the history of architecture, the author is also keen to give his reader a very real sense of daily life in Papal Rome, the centre of patronage and artistic power in the 17th century. While I cannot agree with Morrissey's claim that the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini transformed Rome, it did spawn a number of architectural masterpieces, all of which are still to be seen, providing yet another reason to visit this remarkable city.

The only reason the book fails to merit five stars is the lamentable paucity of illustrations.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Baroque Rome - its creators 18 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When this volume arrived, I was pleased; it was the hardcover I had ordered and the pages were cut badly, giving it an unusual, unique and real book feel, as though the publishers had been trying a prototype to see if it worked, rather like the people it was about. When I turned to the title page to discover it was a first edition, I was even more pleased. (I am not sure if there was a second edition!)
The book is sparsely illustrated, which is unusual for a book fundamentally about architecture, the architecture of two men - the gracious, diplomatic Gian Lorenzo Bernini,(1598 - 1680), who enjoyed the favour of popes and princes and lived easily in their company and Francesco Borromini,(1599 - 1667), equally inspired as an architect but one for whom his patrons and the other movers and shakers in Rome presented a social challenge, one he frequently failed to meet.

Taking sixteenth century Rome as the backdrop, the book charts (mainly in text) how these two and their intense rivalry changed the architecture of Rome to the city we know today, like another well-known rivalry a century before.

He captures the attention quickly (especially for a book on architecture: "Suicide is never an easy death. Its details can be simply, its execution effortless, even graceful." So he begins the sad details of the death of Borromini. This technique using the opening sentence to set the scene works well (Dan Brown-ish). Section Eight begins: "For the fortunes of the two men were both about to change - in ways neither of them could have expected or anticipated.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Writing about great architecture in an BLAND way 11 April 2005
By David L. Rhodes - Published on
Having read alot of books on art and architecture history..specifically holding a degree in art history and being an architect myself...I can say with some certainty that this book doesn't quite cut it for me.

Essentially this book is a simple biography of both Borromini and Bernini. The Borromini vs. Bernini saga is a great one, and although the author does an adequate job of covering all the basics, I felt the story telling was lacking, dull, and frankly boring. I got the impression the author spent alot more effort creating the Bernini passages than the Borromini ones.

Futhermore the book doesn't even touch on Baroque architecture, what is it? What defines the style? Why did Bernini and Borromini design buildings to look like they did? Perhaps the author assumes all readers are born with an inate knowledge of the evolution of architecture from the high renaissance into the Baroque. Without a basic understanding of Baroque architecture its tough for a novice to appreciate why Bernini/Borromini buildings were/are so special.

Yet I managed to read the text in a few days. With all that said, it just doesn't compare to the better writing of an author like Ross King. (who writes books of a comparable nature).

I'm always torn with these sorts of books because they speak, in great detail, about works of art and architecture yet lack pictures. This book does include some photographs, but these types of books need more than a photograph or two.

The real problem here though is the author's choice of words doesn't do justice to the subject matter.

Its an average book, at a average price, bottom line, a great story told in an average way.

2 1/2 stars really but I'll give it 3 for trying.

If you want to read a good biography of Borromini read Anthony Blunt's version. And by all means check out the architecture when in Roma.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Treat Yourself 12 Mar 2005
By Gloria Sosnoski - Published on
If you love art and architecture, and even if you don't, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. Jake Morrissey introduces Bernini and Boromini as if they all shared a past life together. The story he tells is so rich in detail and so fascinating in bringing the genius of these two artists to life, that I felt as though I knew them just as well. This book pulled me into the world of 16th century Italy on page one and left me wanting to book a flight to Rome to see where this riveting story unfolded. I am rarely enchanted by books of art history, but this book bears that genius. Buy this book and treat yourself to wonderful experience. Then buy Mr. Morrissey's mystery novel "A Weekend in Blenheim" and treat yourself again.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Genius vs Genius 9 Mar 2007
By Lorenzo Moog - Published on
Here's a look at a splendid historic period in a splendid city revealed to us through the lives of two artistic geniuses, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. Jake Morrissey gives us a smooth ride through the rough roads of 18th Century Rome, a world dominated and manipulated by various popes and cardinals but given lasting meaning, in the end, by the artists of the period, primarily Bernini and Borromini. Morrissey knows how to spin the story without getting bogged down in architectural minutiae while giving plenty details to set the mood and the understanding of the story. I have never been able to decide which of the two I most prefer, one visit to Rome it's Bernini and on another it's Borromini and Morrissey's book didn't help me change that but certainly helped me to admire them both more than I already did. It is a book that would immeasurably enhance anyone's visit to Rome bringing another dimension to the appreciation of the extraordinary buildings left as a legacy by these two men.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When in Rome 28 Oct 2007
By Richard J. Sarni - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is excellent. It will make you see the beauty of Rome from a more personal direction. The competition between these two figures was of great benefit to Rome.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So-so: dry, missed opportunities, harmless 10 Feb 2008
By Douglas Hileman - Published on
This book sounded fascinating: Rome, architechture, golden age, personalities, drama; what else could a reader want? As it turns out, plenty.
I don't know architecture, so found some of the book a slow go. The author painstakingly describes churches, fountains, etc., in detail - but a few photos would have saved (or enlightened) a few thousand words.
This was a rather dry bio of these two folks, with disappointingly little about how they and their crafts fared in the context of life in the day. For example, I found the fluidity between their "careers" in sculpture, painting, and architecture to be remarkable. Almost as though architecture had not yet evolved into a credible career. I was surprised at the extent to which the Popes were intimiately involved in architecture - not just of St. Peters, but throughout the city.

There is but passing reference to how Rome had to eye the impressive power of France and Spain warily; this must have colored some aspects of life in the day - including how these two gentlement found there way. Even so, Bernini's trip to France late in life is a dry narrative.

Dava Sobel's LONGITUDE is a much better example of treatment of historical concepts that includes description of everyday events and brings the era to life. This wasn't such a long book, so no harm no foul. But now I have to Google all these places to see what Mr. Morrisseey was talking about.
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