Gian Lorenzo Bernini

From New World Encyclopedia

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian lorenzo bernini selfportrait.jpg
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.

Early Life

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.[1] 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.

Rise to Master Sculptor

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:

  • Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius (1619) depicts three ages of man from various viewpoints, borrowing from a figure in a Raphael fresco, and perhaps an allegory reflecting the moment when a son attains the skill of his father.
  • The Rape of Proserpina, (1621-1622) recalls Giambologna's Mannerist Rape of the Sabine Women, and displays a masterful attention to detail, including the abductor "dimpling" the woman's marble skin.
  • Apollo and Daphne (1622-1625) has been widely admired since Bernini's time; along with the subsequent sculpture of David, it represents the introduction of a new sculptural aesthetic. It depicts the most dramatic and dynamic moment in one of the stories of Ovid's Metamorphoses. In the story, Apollo, the god of light, scolded Eros, the god of love, for playing with adult weapons. In retribution, Eros wounded Apollo with a golden arrow that induced him to fall madly in love at the sight of Daphne, a water nymph sworn to perpetual virginity, who, in addition, had been struck by Eros with a lead arrow which immunized her from Apollo's advances. The sculpture depicts the moment when Apollo finally captures Daphne, yet she has implored her father, the river god, to destroy her beauty and repel Apollo's advances by mutating her into a laurel tree. This statue succeeds at various levels: it depicts the event, and also represents an elaborate conceit of sculpture. This sculpture tracks in stone the metamorphosis of a living person into lifeless vegetation; while a sculptor's art is to change inanimate stone into animated narrative, this sculpture narrates the opposite, the moment a woman becomes a tree.
  • David (1623-1624) like the Apollo and Daphne, was a revolutionary sculpture for its time. Both depict movement in a way not previously attempted in stone. The Biblical youth is taut and poised to hurl his projectile. Famous Davids sculpted by Bernini's Florentine predecessors had portrayed the static moment after the event; for example, the triumphant repose of Michelangelo's David, or the haughty effeteness of Donatello's and Verrocchio's David. The twisted torso, furrowed forehead, and granite grimace of Bernini's David epitomize Baroque fixation with dynamic movement and emotion over High Renaissance stasis and classical severity. Michelangelo expressed David's heroic nature; Bernini captures the moment when he becomes a hero.

Mature Sculptural Output

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.

Fountains in Rome

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.

Marble Portraiture

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.

Other works

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).

Selected works


Blessed Ludovica Albertoni.
  • Bust of Giovanni Battista Santoni (c. 1612) - Marble, life-size, Santa Prassede, Rome
  • Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (1614-1615) - Marble, 66 x 108 cm, Contini Bonacossi Collection, Florence
  • The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun (1615) - Marble, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • St. Sebastian (c. 1617) - Marble, Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
  • A Faun Teased by Children (1616-1617) - Marble, height 132,1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius (1618-1619) - Marble, height 220 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Damned Soul (1619) - Palazzo di Spagna, Rome
  • Blessed Soul (1619) - Palazzo di Spagna, Rome
  • Apollo and Daphne (1622-1625) - Marble, height 243 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • St. Peter's Baldachin (1624) - Bronze, partly gilt, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Charity with Four Children (1627-1628) - Terracotta, height 39 cm, Museo Sacro, Musei Vaticani, Vatican
  • David (1623-1624) - Marble, height 170 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Fontana della Barcaccia (1627-1628) - Marble, Piazza di Spagna, Rome
  • Bust of Monsignor Pedro de Foix Montoya (c. 1621) - Marble, life-size, Santa Maria di Monserrato, Rome
  • Neptune and Triton (1620) - Marble, height 182,2 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • The Rape of Proserpina (1621-1622) - Marble, height 295 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Fontana del Tritone (1624-1643) - Travertine, over life-size, Piazza Barberini, Rome
  • Tomb of Pope Urban VIII (1627-1647) - Golden bronze and marble, figures larger than life-size, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Bust of Thomas Baker (1638) - Marble, height 81,6 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Bust of Costanza Bonarelli (c. 1635) - Marble, height 70 cm, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence
  • Charity with Two Children (1634) - Terracotta, height 41.6 cm, Museo Sacro, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City
  • Saint Longinus (1631-1638) - Marble, height 450 cm, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Bust of Scipione Borghese (1632) - Marble, height 78 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1632) - Marble, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Bust of Pope Urban VIII (1632-1633) - Bronze, height 100 cm, Museo Sacro, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City
  • Bust of Cardinal Armand de Richelieu (1640-1641) - Marble, Musée du Louvre, Paris
  • Memorial to Maria Raggi (1643) - Gilt bronze and colored marble, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
  • Truth (1645-1652) - Marble, height 280 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Ecstasy of St Theresa (1647-1652) - Marble, Cappella Cornaro, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
  • Loggia of the Founders (1647-1652) - Marble, Cappella Cornaro, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
  • Bust of Urban VIII - Marble, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (1648-1651) - Travertine and marble, Piazza Navona, Rome
  • Corpus (sculpture) (1650) - Bronze, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.
  • Daniel and the Lion (1650) - Marble, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
  • Francesco I d'Este (1650-1651) - Marble, height 107 cm, Galleria Estense, Modena
  • Fountain of the Moor (1653-1654) - Marble, Piazza Navona, Rome
  • Constantine (1654-1670) - Marble, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican City
  • Daniel and the Lion (1655) - Terracotta, height 41.6 cm, Museo Sacro, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City
  • Habakkuk and the Angel (1655) - Terracotta, height 52 cm, Museo Sacro, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City
  • Altar Cross (1657-1661) - Gilt bronze corpus on bronze cross, height: corpus 43 cm, cross 185 cm, Treasury of San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Throne of Saint Peter (1657-1666) - Marble, bronze, white and golden stucco, Basilica di San Pietro, Rome
  • Statue of Saint Augustine (1657-1666) - Bronze, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Constantine (1663-1670) - Marble with painted stucco drapery, Scala Regia, Vatican Palace, Rome
  • Standing Angel with Scroll (1667-1668) - Clay, terracotta, height: 29,2 cm, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge
  • Angel with the Crown of Thorns (1667-1669) - Marble, over life-size, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, Rome
  • Angel with the Superscription (1667-1669) - Marble, over life-size, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, Rome
  • Elephant of Minerva (1667-1669) - Marble, Piazza di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
  • Bust of Gabriele Fonseca (1668-1675) - Marble, over life-size, San Lorenzo in Lucina, Rome
  • Equestrian Statue of King Louis XIV (1669-1670) - Terracotta, height 76 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Bust of Louis XIV (1665) - Marble, height 80 cm, Musée National de Versailles, Versailles
  • Herm of St. Stephen, King of Hungary - Bronze, Cathedral Treasury, Zagreb
  • Saint Jerome (1661-1663) - Marble, height 180 cm, Cappella Chigi, Duomo, Siena
  • Tomb of Pope Alexander VII (1671-1678) - Marble and gilded bronze, over life-size, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City
  • Blessed Ludovica Albertoni (1671-1674) - Marble, Cappella Altieri-Albertoni, San Francesco a Ripa, Rome


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.

  • Saint Andrew and Saint Thomas (c. 1627) - Oil on canvas, 59 x 76 cm, National Gallery, London
  • Portrait of a Boy (c. 1638) - Oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Self-Portrait as a Young Man (c. 1623) - Oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Self-Portrait as a Mature Man (1630-1635) - Oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome

See also

  • List of painters
  • List of Italian painters
  • List of famous Italians
  • Saint Peter's Square


  1. Bernini, Retrieved December 18, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1966.
  • Morrissey, J. P. The genius in the design Bernini, Borromini, and the rivalry that transformed Rome. New York: W. Morrow, 2005. ISBN 0060525339
  • Scribner, Charles. Gianlorenzo Bernini. Masters of art series. New York: H.N. Abrams, Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0810931117
  • Wallace, Robert. The world of Bernini, 1598-1680. New York: Time-Life Books, 1970.
  • Wittkower, Rudolf. Bernini the sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London: Phaidon Press, 1997. ISBN 0714837156

External links

All links retrieved June 21, 2017.


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