|Gian Lorenzo Bernini|
A self portrait: Bernini is said to have used his own features in his David
|December 7, 1598
|November 28, 1680
Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini; December 7, 1598 – November 28, 1680) was a pre-eminent Baroque sculptor and architect of seventeenth-century Rome. The son of a Mannerist sculptor, he developed his talent while still a boy, and found a patron in Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the pope's nephew. In 1665, at the height of his fame and powers, he traveled to Paris, remaining there until November. Bernini's international popularity was such that on his walks in Paris the streets were lined with admiring crowds. While there he sculpted a bust of Louis XIV, which set the standard for royal portraiture for a century. His sculptures captured their subjects in moments of dynamic movement, giving them a lifelike quality. He was also known for a sense of humor and irony, which often expressed itself in political allegory.
Bernini's architectural conceits include the piazza and colonnades of Saint Peter's. He preferred to embellish existing structures rather than build from the ground up. The Scala Regia entrance to the Vatican and the Chair of Saint Peter (Cathedra Petri), in the apse of St. Peter's, are some of his masterpieces, along with Fountain of the Triton, Fountain of the Bees and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Navona Rome.
Bernini was born December 7, 1598, in Naples to a capable Mannerist sculptor, Pietro Bernini, originally from Florence. At the age of seven, he accompanied his father to Rome, where his father was involved in several important projects. There, his skill was soon noticed by the painter Annibale Carracci and by Pope Paul V, and Bernini gained the exclusive patronage of Cardinal Borghese, the pope's nephew. His first works were inspired by antique Hellenistic sculpture.
Under the patronage of the Cardinal Borghese, young Bernini rapidly rose to prominence as a sculptor. Among his early works for the cardinal were decorative pieces for the garden such as The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Zeus and a Faun, and several allegorical busts such as the Damned Soul and Blessed Soul. By the age of twenty-two, he had completed the Bust of Pope Paul V. Scipione's collection in situ at the Borghese gallery chronicles his secular sculptures, with a series of masterpieces:
Bernini's sculptural output was immense and varied. Among his other well-known sculptures: the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, in the Cornaro Chapel (see Bernini's Cornaro chapel: the complete work of art found in the Baroque section), Santa Maria della Vittoria, and the now-hidden Constantine, at the base of the Scala Regia (which he designed). He helped design the Ponte Sant'Angelo, sculpting two of the angels, soon replaced by copies by his own hand, while the others were made by his pupils, based on his designs.
At the end of April 1665, at the height of his fame and powers, he traveled to Paris, remaining there until November. Bernini's international popularity was such that on his walks in Paris the streets were lined with admiring crowds.
This trip, encouraged by Father Oliva, general of the Jesuits, was a reply to the repeated requests for his works by King Louis XIV. Here Bernini presented some designs for the east front of the Louvre; his adventurous concave-convex facades were discarded in favor of the more stern and classic proposals of native Claude Perrault. Bernini soon lost favor at the French court, because he praised the art and architecture of Italy at the expense of that of France; he said that a painting by Guido Reni was worth more than all of Paris. The sole work remaining from his time in Paris is a bust of Louis XIV, which set the standard for royal portraiture for a century.
Bernini's architectural conceits include the piazza and colonnades of Saint Peter's. He planned several Roman palaces: Palazzo Barberini (from 1630 on which he worked with Borromini); Palazzo Ludovisi (now Palazzo Montecitorio); and Palazzo Chigi.
Bernini's first architectural project was the magnificent bronze Saint Peter's baldachin (1624-1633), the canopy over the high altar of Saint Peter's Basilica, and the façade for the church of Santa Bibiana (1624). In 1629, before the Baldacchino was complete, Urban VIII put him in charge of all the ongoing architectural works at St Peter's. He was also given the commission for the Basilica's tomb of the Barberini Pope. However, for political reasons and due to miscalculations in the design of bell-towers for Saint Peter's, Bernini fell generally out of favor during the Pamphilj papacy of Innocent X. Never wholly without patronage, Bernini again regained a major role in the decoration of Saint Peter's with the Chigi Pope Alexander VII, leading to his design of the colonnade and piazza in front of Saint Peter's. The Scala Regia entrance to the Vatican and the Chair of Saint Peter (Cathedra Petri), in the apse of Saint Peter's, are also some of his masterpieces.
Bernini did not build many churches from scratch, preferring instead to concentrate on the embellishment of pre-existing structures. He fulfilled three commissions in the field; his stature allowed him the freedom to design the structure and decorate the interiors in coherent designs. Best known is the small oval baroque church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale which includes the statue of Saint Andrew the Apostle soaring high above the aedicule, framing the high altar. Bernini also designed churches in Castelgandolfo (San Tommaso da Villanova) and Ariccia (Santa Maria Assunta).
Bernini was also hired by Louis XIV to build the colonnade of the Louvre in Paris, but was ultimately turned down in favor of French architect Claude Perrault, signaling the waning influence of Italian art in France. Perrault's final design did, however, include Bernini's feature of a flat roof behind a Palladian balustrade.
True to the decorative dynamism of Baroque, Roman fountains, part public works and part Papal monuments, were among his most gifted creations. Bernini's fountains are the Fountain of the Triton and Fountain of the Bees. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Navona is a masterpiece of spectacle and political allegory. An oft-repeated, but false, anecdote tells that one of the Bernini's river gods defers his gaze in disapproval of the facade of Sant'Agnese in Agone (designed by the talented, but less politically successful, rival Francesco Borromini). However, the fountain was built several years before the façade of the church was completed.
Bernini also revolutionized marble busts, lending glamorous dynamism to the once stony stillness of portraiture. He started with the immediate pose, leaning out of the frame, of a bust of Monsignor Pedro de Foix Montoya at Santa Maria di Monserrato, Rome. The once-gregarious Scipione Cardinal Borghese, in his bust is frozen in conversation. The portrait of his alleged mistress, Costanza Buonarelli, does not portray divinity or royalty; but a woman in a moment of disheveled privacy, captured in conversation or surprise.
In his sculpted portraiture for more regal patrons, Bernini fashioned windswept marble vestments and cascades of hair for Louis XIV's portrait that would suffice to elevate any face to royalty. Similar exuberance glorifies the bust of Francesco I d'Este.
Another of Bernini's sculptures is known affectionately as Bernini's Chick by the Roman people. It is located in the Piazza della Minerva, in front of the church Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Pope Alexander VII decided that he wanted an ancient Egyptian obelisk to be erected in the piazza and commissioned Bernini to create a sculpture to support the obelisk. The sculpture of an elephant was finally created in 1667 by one of Bernini's students, Ercole Ferrata. One of the most interesting features of this elephant is its smile. To find out why it is smiling, the viewer must head around to the rear end of the animal and to see that its muscles are tensed and its tail is shifted to the left. Bernini sculpted the animal as if it were defecating. The animal's rear is pointed directly at the office of Father Domenico Paglia, a Dominican friar, who was one of the main antagonists of Bernini and his artisan friends, as a final salute and last word.
The death of his constant patron Urban VIII in 1644 released a horde of Bernini's rivals and marked a change in his career, but Innocent X set him back to work on the extended nave of St Peter's and commissioned the Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona. At the time of Innocent's death in 1655 Bernini was the arbiter of public taste in Rome. He died in Rome in 1680, and was buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Among the many who worked under his supervision were Luigi Bernini, Stefano Speranza, Giuliano Finelli, Andrea Bolgi, Filippo Parodi, Giacomo Antonio Fancelli, Lazzarro Morelli, Francesco Baratta, and Francois Duquesnoy. Among his rivals in architecture was Francesco Borromini; in sculpture, Alessandro Algardi.
Two years after his death, Queen Christina of Sweden, then living in Rome, commissioned Filippo Baldinucci to write his biography, (translated in 1996 as The life of Bernini).
Bernini's activity as a painter was done mainly during his youth. Despite this, his work reveals a sure and brilliant hand, free from any trace of pedantry. He studied in Rome under his father, Pietro, and soon proved a precocious infant prodigy. His work was immediately sought after by major collectors.
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