Carlo Maderno

John Florens | Jan 20, 2024

Table of Content


Carlo Maderno or Maderna (Capolago, Switzerland in 1556 - Rome, Italy on January 30, 1629), was an Italian architect remembered as one of the fathers of Baroque architecture, as his facades of Santa Susanna, St. Peter's Basilica and St. Andrew della Valle, were of key importance in the evolution of Italian Baroque.

Belonging to a family of stonemasons, he trained with his uncle Domenico Fontana in Rome as a stonemason and stucco worker. His first important work was the façade of Santa Susana, built between 1595 and 1603, in which he used the model of the façade of the church of Gesù by Giacomo della Porta, although he introduced a greater volumetry that accentuated the chiaroscuro.

Under the pontificate of Paul V, he won the competition for the completion of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, where he proposed, in order to provide more room for the faithful, to transform Michelangelo's project from a centralized Greek cross plan into a longitudinal Latin cross plan. Maderno's solution had to be a compromise that did not alter the fundamental concept proposed by Michelangelo, the dome, as the dominant element and organizer of space; in raising the monumental façade he conceived it longitudinally and not in height, despite its great monumentality. Michelangelo's dome, in any case, was displaced towards the back, due to the new body introduced. He is credited with having worked with great respect for the work of Michelangelo, and having articulated the building, with all the constraints that arose, taking into account the space that preceded it and preparing the great urban solution given by Bernini for St. Peter's Square.

Roman beginnings

Carlo Maderno was born around 1556 son of Paolo and Caterina Fontana, sister of Domenico Fontana; he was the eldest of the four brothers Pompeo, Alessandro, Girolamo, Santino and his sister Marta. There are no documents on the year of birth (critics, however, agree to place it approximately in 1556, date also indicated by Pascoli and Baglione) or the place, which is supposed to have been Capolago (near Bissone, in the canton Ticino) since it was the place that Maderno himself, in the various notarial deeds, claimed to be his hometown.

Maderno began working in the marble quarries of the far north, but the limited career opportunities offered by Capolago led him to move to Rome with four of his brothers to assist his maternal uncle Domenico Fontana, considered at the time the most prestigious architect in the Western world. It is not known exactly when he moved to Rome, where Fontana lived: some documents attest his presence since the years of the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585), as an assistant to the construction works of San Luigi dei Francesi, directed precisely by uncle Domenico. Always alongside Fontana on various construction sites, he initially worked as a marble cutter, and his experience in sculptural craftsmanship would help him to quickly learn the rudiments of architecture: he, in fact, had substantially followed the very itinerary of the Ticinese masters - the Fontana, the Garvo, the Novi, the Castello, the Longhi, the Mola - who, having arrived in the Urbe, invested their own capital to organize their own work by establishing companies or societies, thus favoring the rise from the humble "garzoni" to the prestigious role of the "capomaestri" ("master builders"). ...

Maderno also followed this economic-productive mechanism, partnering with Filippo Breccioli in a company dedicated to the transport and trade of building materials; he also worked alongside Giovanni Fontana, his brother Pompeo, Marsilio Fontana, his uncle Domenico and Girolamo Garvo, imposing himself strongly on the Roman entrepreneurial scene.

After the ascension to the papal throne of Sixtus V, Maderno had already achieved such a solid reputation as to obtain Roman citizenship, along with his brothers who had in the meantime already settled in Rome. As part of the works managed by Fontana's workshop, Maderno was also entrusted with commissions of a purely technical nature, such as the relocation of the statues of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) in the Quirinal Square or the elevation of the Sistine obelisks in Santa Maria Maggiore (1588), in the Lateran (1587-1588), in Piazza del Popolo (1587-1589) and in the Vatican. He was involved in those years in hydraulic engineering works, both as an executive (together with Giovanni Fontana on the Loreto aqueduct) and as a consultant, providing advice and counsel to the regulation of the Velino river and the prevention of flooding of the Tiber.

After Fontana's final move to Naples, since he had fallen from grace after the death of Sixtus V, Maderno took over the family business, further consolidating his fame. In 1603, his first work of architecture, the facade of the Church of Santa Susanna, considered by many to be the first complete example of Baroque architecture. This façade, whose central axis was accentuated by the gradual use of pilasters, semi-columns and columns towards the middle part of the elevation, attracted the attention of Asdrubale Mattei, Marquis of Giove and Marquis of Rocca Sinibalda, who commissioned him to build his own palazzo (the only work entirely realized by Maderno) on a plot of land located at the corner of the present-day Via Funari and Via Caetani. In 1602 he took over the commissions of Giacomo Della Porta, who died the same year, and entered the service of Pope Clement VIII; for the Aldobrandini family, to which the pontiff belonged, he completed the Belvedere villa in Frascati, enlarged the palazzo then Doria-Pamphili on Via del Corso and planned the family chapel in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.

The Foscari chapel in the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo dates back to this same period, following the purchase by Monsignor Tiberio Cerasi of the future Capella Cerasi.

Artistic maturity

Maderno and Giovanni Fontana took over Giacomo della Porta's commissions and also assumed the superintendence of the Fabbrica di San Pietro in July 1603. The Petrine basilica, in fact, was in a very heterogeneous state: if much of Michelangelo's projects, with the construction of the dome and of a central plan body, a considerable part of the original nave continued to stand, although in precarious conditions of conservation. For this reason, the old factory was dismantled and it was decided to change the prestigious Michelangelo complex. A competition was then launched to which renowned architects were invited: Flaminio Ponzio, Giovanni Fontana, Maderno, Girolamo Rainaldi, Niccolò Branconio, Ottavio Turriani, Domenico Fontana, Giovanni Antonio Dosio and Lodovico Maderno. The winner was Maderno himself, who found himself responsible for "one of the most important but also most thankless tasks in 17th century Roman construction... everyone felt entitled to compare his work with Michelangelo's project; and if the benevolent critics recognized the merit of being able, in the given circumstances, to save as much as possible of the project from the "divine", those ill-disposed reproached him for having engaged in such an unequal competition".

Maderno, in his project for St. Peter's, was forced to respond primarily to functional, pastoral and theological needs. The architect, in fact, had to build a portico, a sacristy and a loggia for blessings (not foreseen in Michelangelo's initial project), and to avoid leaving the previously covered space of the ancient early Christian temple unused, without forgetting also to provide sufficient space for liturgical activities. Maderno also decided to complete the Vatican basilica by extending the eastern arm of the Michelangelo's building, with a longitudinal body in a "processional tunnel", and to create, from 1608, the imposing façade. This intervention is one of the most discussed and criticized works in the history of architecture: in fact, the extension of the basilica, which can be traced back to a Latin cross, prevents a close view of the great dome, while the façade, without the bell towers foreseen in Maderno's project and not realized for structural problems, is striking for its excessive width.

After the interventions in San Pietro, to which Maderno's name is inextricably linked, the architect completed the choir and the dome of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini (finishing a work already begun by Della Porta) and began the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. He was particularly active in the works of San Andrea della Valle, where he worked for the next twenty years, until his death; here he completed the nave and built the transept and the choir, aided by the active collaboration of his nephew Francesco Borromini, who worked as a stone carver.

Maderno also engaged with the young Borromini in other constructions, including the restoration of Santa Maria della Rotonda, in the unchosen design of the church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio and in the building of Palazzo Barberini, in which Gian Lorenzo Bernini was also involved. The management of the latter factory was entrusted to Maderno precisely because of his experience: here the now old architect executed the east façade, the first two levels of the loggia, the layout and decorations of the north wing and, in general, the general lines of the project.


  1. Carlo Maderno
  2. Carlo Maderno
  3. a b c d e f g h Maria Cristina Loi (2006). «MADERNO, Carlo». En Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana, ed. Dizionario biografico degli italiani (en italiano) 67. Roma. Consultado el 25 de marzo de 2015.
  4. N. Marconi, Carlo Maderno in S. Pietro, cit., pp. 81-82.
  5. «uno dei compiti più importanti, ma anche più ingrati, dell'edilizia romana del Seicento» porque «tutti si sentivano autorizzati a mettere a confronto il suo lavoro col progetto di Michelangelo; e se i critici benevoli gli riconoscevano il merito di essere riuscito, nelle circostanze date, a salvare quanto più possibile del progetto del "divino", quelli mal disposti gli rimproveravano il fatto stesso di essersi impegnato in una gara così impari».
  6. C. Norberg - Schulz, Architettura Barocca, cit., p. 66.
  7. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica: Carlo Maderno was an Italian architect, su
  8. ^ N. Marconi, Carlo Maderno in S. Pietro, cit., pp. 81-82.
  9. ^ C. Norberg-Schulz, Architettura Barocca, cit., p. 66.
  10. Celestino Trezzini: Maderna, Maderni, Maderno. In: Historisch-Biographisches Lexikon der Schweiz. Band 3, Paul Attinger, Neuenburg 1926, Liebegg – Mailand. S. 783, 784. (PDF Digitalisat)
  11. ^ a b c Leader, Anne and Bollini, Martina. "This Day in History: January 31", Italian Art Society

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