Gian Lorenzo Bernini

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, self-portrait, c1623.jpg
Self-Portrait of Bernini, c. 1623
Born Gian Lorenzo Bernini
(1598-12-07)7 December 1598
Naples, Kingdom of Naples, in present-day Italy
Died 28 November 1680(1680-11-28) (aged 81)
Rome, Papal States, in present-day Italy
Nationality Italian
Known for Sculpture, painting, architecture
Notable work David, Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina, Ecstasy of Saint Theresa
Movement Baroque style

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (also spelled Gianlorenzo or Giovanni Lorenzo) (Naples, 7 December 1598 – Rome, 28 November 1680) was an Italian artist and a prominent architect[1] who worked principally in Rome. He was the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture.[2] In addition, he painted, wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets.

Bernini possessed the ability to depict dramatic narratives with characters showing intense psychological states, but also to organize large-scale sculptural works which convey a magnificent grandeur.[3] His skill in manipulating marble ensured that he'd be considered a worthy successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation, including his rival, Alessandro Algardi. His talent extended beyond the confines of sculpture, to the consideration of the setting in which it would be situated; his ability to synthesize sculpture, painting and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole, has been termed by the art historian Irving Levin the "unity of the visual arts".[4] A deeply religious man,[5] working in Counter Reformation Rome, Bernini used light as an important metaphorical device in the perception of his religious settings, often using hidden light sources that could intensify the focus of religious worship,[6] or enhance the dramatic moment of a sculptural narrative.

Bernini was also a leading figure in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture along with his contemporaries, the architect, Francesco Borromini and the painter and architect, Pietro da Cortona. Early in their careers they had all worked at the same time at the Palazzo Barberini, initially under Carlo Maderno and on his death, under Bernini. Later on, however, they were in competition for commissions and fierce rivalries developed, particularly between Bernini and Borromini.[7][8] Despite the arguably greater architectural inventiveness of Borromini and Cortona, Bernini's artistic pre-eminence, particularly during the reigns of popes Urban VIII (1623–44) and Alexander VII (1655–65), meant he was able to secure the most important commission in the Rome of his day, St. Peter's Basilica. His design of the Piazza San Pietro in front of the Basilica, is one of his most innovative and successful architectural designs.

During his long career, Bernini received numerous important commissions, many of which were associated with the papacy. At an early age, he came to the attention of the papal nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and in 1621, at the age of only 23, he was knighted by Pope Gregory XV. Following his accession to the papacy, Urban VIII is reported to have said, "It is a great fortune for you, O Cavaliere, to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini made pope, but our fortune is even greater to have Cavalier Bernini alive in our pontificate."[9] Although he did not fare so well during the reign of Innocent X, under Alexander VII, he once again regained pre-eminent artistic domination and continued to be held in high regard by Clement IX.

Bernini and other artists fell from favor in later neoclassical criticism of the Baroque. It is only from the late 19th century that art historical scholarship, in seeking an understanding of artistic output in the cultural context in which it was produced, has come to recognise Bernini's achievements and restore his artistic reputation. The art historian Howard Hibbard concludes that during the seventeenth century "there were no sculptors or architects comparable to Bernini."[10]

Personal life[edit]

Bernini was born in Naples in 1598 to a Mannerist sculptor, Pietro Bernini, originally from Florence, and Angelica Galante, a Neapolitan, the sixth of their thirteen children.[11][12] Bernini himself would not marry until May 1639, at age forty-one, when he wed a twenty-two-year-old Roman woman, Caterina Tezio, in an arranged marriage. She bore him eleven children including youngest son Domenico Bernini who became his first biographer.[13] In 1606, at the age of eight he accompanied his father to Rome, where Pietro was involved in several high profile projects.[14] There, as a boy, Gianlorenzo's skill was soon noticed by the painter Annibale Carracci and by Pope Paul V, and he soon gained the important patronage of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the papal nephew. His first works were inspired by antique classical sculpture.

In the late 1630s he engaged in an affair with a married woman named Costanza (wife of his workshop assistant, Matteo Bonucelli, also called Bonarelli) and sculpted a bust of her (now in the Bargello, Florence) during the height of their romance. She later had an affair with his younger brother who was Bernini's right-hand man in his studio. When Gian Lorenzo found out about Costanza and his brother, in a fit of mad fury, he chased his brother Luigi through the streets of Rome, intent on murdering him. To punish his unfaithful mistress, Bernini had a servant go to the house of Costanza and had her face slashed several times with a razor The servant was later jailed and Costanza was jailed for adultery.[15]

He died in Rome in 1680, and was buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

Early Works for Cardinal Borghese[edit]

Apollo and Daphne (1622–25)

Under the patronage of the Cardinal Borghese, the young Bernini rapidly rose to prominence as a sculptor. Among the early works for the cardinal were decorative pieces for the garden of the Villa Borghese, such as The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun, and several allegorical busts, including the Damned Soul and Blessed Soul. By the time he was 22, he was considered talented enough to have been given a commission for a papal portrait, the Bust of Pope Paul V.

Bernini's reputation was clearly established by four masterpieces, executed between 1619 and 1625, all now displayed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. To the art historian Rudolf Wittkower these four works—Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius (1619), The Rape of Proserpina (1621–22), Apollo and Daphne (1622–25), and David (1623–24)—"inaugurated a new era in the history of European sculpture".[16] It is a view repeated by other scholars.[17] Adapting the classical grandeur of Renaissance sculpture and the dynamic energy of the Mannerist period, Bernini forged a new conception for religious and historical sculpture.

Unlike those done by his predecessors, these sculptures focused on specific points of narrative tension in the stories they are trying to tell—Aeneas and family fleeing Troy; the instant that Pluto grasps Persephone; the moment Apollo sees his beloved Daphne begin her transformation into a tree. They are transitory moments in each story. Bernini's David is the most obvious example of this. Unlike Michelangelo's David—which shows the subject holding a rock in one hand and a sling in the other, contemplating the battle or versions by other Renaissance artists, notably Donatello's—which show the subject in his triumph after the battle with Goliath, Bernini illustrates David during his combat with the giant, as he twists his body to catapult towards Goliath. To emphasise these moments, and to ensure these specific moments were appreciated by the viewer, Bernini designed the sculptures with a specific viewpoint in mind. Their original placements within the Villa Borghese were against walls, so that the viewers' first view was the dramatic moment of the narrative.[18][19]

The result of such an approach is to invest the sculptures with greater psychological energy. The viewer finds it easier to gauge the state of mind of the characters and therefore understands the larger story at work—Daphne's wide open mouth in fear astonishement; David biting his lip in determined concentration, or Prosperina desperately struggling to free herself. As well as psychological realism, they show a greater concern for representing physical details. The tousled hair of Pluto, the pliant flesh of Prosperina, or the forest of leaves beginning to envelop Daphne all demonstrate Bernini's exactitude and delight for representing complex real world textures in marble form.[20][21]

The Papal Artist: Bernini in the age of Urban VIII[edit]

Baldacchino in St. Peter's Basilica

On the assumption of Maffeo Barberini to the role of Pope Urban VIII, and Bernini's subsequent patronage from the Barberini pope, the artist's horizons broadened. He was not just producing sculpture for private residences, but playing the most significant artistic (and engineering) role on the city stage.[22] His appointments testify to this – "curator of the papal art collection, director of the papal foundry at Castel Sant'Angelo, commissioner of the fountains of Piazza Navona"[23] Such positions gave Bernini the opportunity to demonstrate his skills throughout the city. Perhaps most significantly, he was appointed Chief Architect of St Peter's, in 1629. From here on, Bernini's work and artistic vision would be placed at the symbolic heart of Rome.

The St Peter's Baldacchino was the centrepiece of this. Designed as a massive spiralling bronze canopy over the tomb of St Peter, Bernini's four-pillared creation reached nearly 30 metres from the ground and cost around 200,000 Roman scudi (about $8m in currency of early 21st-century).[24] "Quite simply," writes one art historian, "nothing like has ever been seen before."[25] As well as the St Peter's Baldacchino, Bernini's rearrangement of the crossing of the basilica left space for massive statues, including the St Longinus executed by Bernini. Bernini also began work on the tomb for Urban VIII, a full 16 years before Urban's death.

Bust of Cardinal Armand de Richelieu (1640–41)

Despite this engagement with public architecture, Bernini was still able to produce artworks that showed the gradual refinement of his portrait technique. A number of Bernini's sculptures show the continual evolution of his ability to capture the personal characteristics that he saw in his sitters. This included a number of busts of Urban VIII himself, the family bust of Francesco Barberini or most notably, the Two Busts of Scipione Borghese – the second of which had been rapidly created by Bernini once a flaw had been found in the marble of the first.[26] The transitory nature of the expression on Scipione's face is often noted by art historians, iconic of the Baroque concern for representing movement in static artworks. To Rudolf Wittkower, the "beholder feels that in the twinkle of an eye not only might the expression and attitude change but also the folds of the casually arranged mantle."[26]

One noted portrait is that of Costanza Bonarelli (executed around 1637), unusual in its more personal nature. Bernini had an affair with Costanza, who was the wife of one of his assistants. When Bernini then suspected Costanza to be involved with his brother, he badly beat him and ordered a servant to slash her face with a razor. Pope Urban VIII intervened on his behalf and he was fined.[27]

Bernini also gained royal commissions from outside Rome, for subjects such as Cardinal Richelieu of France, Francesco I d'Este of Modena, Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria. The sculpture of Charles I was produced in Italy from a portrait made by Van Dyck, though Bernini preferred to produce portraits from life – the bust of Charles was lost in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698 and that of Henrietta Maria was not undertaken due to the outbreak of the English Civil War.[28][29]

Bernini under Innocent X: The Towers of St Peter's and Temporary Disgrace[edit]

Under Urban VIII, Bernini had been appointed chief architect for the basilica of St Peter's. Work by Bernini included the aforementioned Baldacchino and also sculptures such as St Longinus. In 1637, Bernini attempted to embellish the facade of the basilica, originally designed by Carlo Maderno earlier in the century. Bernini's plan was to add two massive bell towers on each flank of the facade, making use of the foundations Maderno had supplied. But once the first tower was erected in 1641, cracks began to appear in the facade. Work was immediately stopped and the towers were pulled down a few years later.[30]

Bernini's opponents within the Roman artistic world pinned the blame on Urban's artist, and Bernini suffered, both financially and in terms of reputation.[31] Bernini's unfinished work of 1647, Truth Unveiled by Time, is commonly taken to be his commentary on the events, where Time would show the actual Truth behind the story; Bernini believed Maderno's insecure foundations were the real source of the bell tower problem.

Nevertheless, this affair did not mean that Bernini lost patronage. The new pope, Innocent X, who took the Holy Seat in 1644, maintained Bernini in the roles given to him by Urban. Work continued on beautifying the massive nave of St Peters, with tiled flooring, polychromatic marble and pilasters being added to the previously unadorned surfaces of the basilica.[31] He continued to work on Urban VIII's tomb.[32] A few months after completing Urban's tomb, Bernini won, in controversial circumstances, the commission for the Four Rivers Fountain on Piazza Navona.

If there had been doubts over Bernini's position as Rome's preeminent artist, the success of the Four Rivers Fountain removed them. Bernini continued to receive commissions from Pope Innocent X and other senior members of Rome's clergy and aristocracy, as well as foreign patrons such Francesco d'Este. In such an environment, Bernini's artistic style flourished. New types of funerary monument were designed, such as the floating medallion for the deceased nun Maria Raggi, while chapels he designed, such as the Raimondi Chapel in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, illustrated how Bernini could use hidden lighting to help suggest divine intervention within the narratives he was depicting.

But it was the commission for the Cornaro Chapel that fully demonstrated Bernini's innovative skill. The chapel showcased his ability to integrate sculpture and architecture and thus create what scholar Irving Lavin has called the 'unified work of art'. The central focus of the Cornaro Chapel is the ecstasy of the Spanish nun and saint, Teresa of Avilia.[33] Bernini situated emotionally vivid portraits of the swooning Teresa and the quietly smiling angel, who delicately grips the arrow piercing the saint, and also, to the side, onlooking portraits of the astonished Cornaro family—the Venetian family that had commissioned the piece—within an architectural environment that provided the spiritual context (a heavenly setting with a hidden source of light) that suggests to viewers the ultimate motive of this miraculous event.[34]

It was an artistic tour de force that showed the forms Bernini employed hidden lighting, differently painted sculptures, thin golden beams, recessive space, secret lens, and over 20 diverse types of marble to create the final artwork—"a perfected, highly dramatic and deeply satisfying seamless ensemble"[35]

Beautifying the city: Bernini and Alexander VII[edit]

On his accession to the Chair of St Peter Pope Alexander VII (1655–67) immediately commissioned large-scale architectural changes in Rome, connecting new and existing buildings by opening up streets and piazzas. It is no coincidence that Bernini’s career showed a greater focus on designing buildings during this pontificate, as there were far greater opportunities.

View of Rome from the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica, June 2007

Bernini’s most notable creation during this period was the piazza leading to St Peter's. Previously a broad, unstructured space, Bernini created two massive semi-circular colonnades, each row of which was formed of four white columns. This resulted in an oval shape that formed a spectacular, inclusive arena within which any gathering citizens, pilgrims and visitors could witness the appearance of the pope – either as he appeared on the loggia on the facade of St Peter's or on balconies on the neighbouring Vatican palaces. Often likened to two arms reaching out from the church to embrace the waiting crowd, Bernini's creation extended the symbolic greatness of the Vatican area, creating an "exhiliarating expanse" that was, architecturally, an "unequivocal success".[36][37] Note that the long avenue to the river Tiber was a later addition, when Benito Mussolini ordered the clearing of housing that led up to Bernini's piazza.

Elsewhere within the Vatican area, Bernini made systematic rearrangements of space that exist to the present day. The Cathedra Petri, the symbolic throne of St Peter in the apse of the basilica, was rearranged as a monumental golden extravagance that matched the Baldacchino created earlier in the century. Bernini's restoration of the Scala Regia, the papal stairway between St Peters's and the Vatican Palace, was less ostentatious in appearance but still taxed Bernini's creative powers to create a seemingly uniform stairway to connect two irregular buildings.[38]

Not all works during this era were on such a large scale. Indeed, the commission Bernini received to build the church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale for the Jesuits was relatively modest in size and payment for Bernini. But Sant'Andrea shared with the St Peter's piazza – unlike the complex geometries of his rival Francesco Borromini – a focus on basic geometric shapes, circles and ovals to create spiritually intense buildings.[39] Equally, Bernini moderated the presence of colour and decoration within these buildings, focussing visitors' attention on these simple forms that underpinned the building. Sculptural decoration was never eliminated, but its use was more minimal. The church of Santa Maria dell'Assunzione in the town of Arricia with its circular outline, rounded dome and three-arched portico is particularly noteworthy in this respect.[40]

Visit to France[edit]

Bust of Louis XIV, 1665

At the end of April 1665, and still considered the most important artist in Rome, Bernini was forced by political pressure (from both the French court and Pope Alexander VII) to travel to Paris to work for King Louis XIV who required an architect to complete work on the royal palace of the Louvre. Bernini would remain in Paris until mid-October. Louis XIV assigned a member of his court to serve as Bernini's translator, tourist guide, and overall companion, Paul Fréart de Chantelou who kept a Journal of Bernini's visit that records much of Bernini's behaviour and utterances in Paris.[41]

The trip began well; Bernini's popularity was such that on his walks in Paris the streets were lined with admiring crowds. But things soon turned sour.[42] Bernini presented some designs for the east front (i.e., the all-important principal facade of the entire palace) of the Louvre, which were, after a short while, rejected. It is often stated in the scholarship on Bernini that his Louvre designs were turned down because Louis and his financial advisor Jean-Baptise Colbert considered them too Italianate or too Baroque in style.[43] In fact, as Franco Mormando points out, "aesthetics are never mentioned in any of [the] . . . surviving memos" by Colbert or any of the artistic advisors at the French court. The explicit reasons for the rejections were utilitarian, namely, on the level of physical security and comfort (e.g., location of the latrines).[44]

Other projects suffered a similar fate.[45] With the exception of Chantelou, Bernini failed to forge significant friendships at the French court. His frequent negative comments on various aspects of French culture, especially its art and architecture did not go down well, particularly in juxtaposition to his praise for the art and architecture of Italy (especially Rome); he said that a painting by Guido Reni was worth more than all of Paris.[46] The sole work remaining from his time in Paris is the Bust of Louis XIV, known as one of the grandest portraits busts of the baroque age. Back in Rome, Bernini later created a monumental equestrian statue of Louis XIV; when it finally reached Paris (in 1685, five years after the artist's death), the French king found it extremely repugnant and wanted it destroyed; it was instead re-carved into a representation of the ancient Roman hero, Marcus Curtius.[47]


Bernini's architectural works include sacred and secular buildings and sometimes their urban settings and interiors.[48] He made adjustments to existing buildings and designed new constructions. Amongst his most well known works are the Piazza San Pietro (1656–67), the piazza and colonnades in front of St. Peter's Basilica and the interior decoration of the Basilica. Amongst his secular works are a number of Roman palaces: following the death of Carlo Maderno, he took over the supervision of the building works at the Palazzo Barberini from 1630 on which he worked with Borromini; the Palazzo Ludovisi (now Palazzo Montecitorio)(started 1650); and the Palazzo Chigi (now Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi) (started 1664).

St. Peter's baldachin, 1624–33

His first architectural projects were the façade and refurbishment of the church of Santa Bibiana (1624–26) and the St. Peter's baldachin (1624–33), the bronze columned canopy over the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica. In 1629, and before St. Peter's baldachin was complete, Urban VIII put him in charge of all the ongoing architectural works at St Peter's. However, due to political reasons and miscalculations in his design of the bell-towers for St. Peter's, of which only one was completed and then subsequently torn down, Bernini fell out of favor during the Pamphili papacy of Innocent X.[49] Never wholly without patronage, Bernini then regained a major role in the decoration of St. Peter's with the Pope Alexander VII Chigi, leading to his design of the piazza and colonnade in front of St. Peter's. Further significant works by Bernini at the Vatican include the Scala Regia, (1663–66) the monumental grand stairway entrance to the Vatican Palace and the Cathedra Petri, the Chair of Saint Peter, in the apse of St. Peter's.

Colonnade of Piazza San Pietro

Bernini did not build many churches from scratch, rather his efforts were concentrated on pre-existing structures, and in particular St. Peter's. He fulfilled three commissions for new churches; his stature allowed him the freedom to design the structure and decorate the interiors in a consistent manner. Best known is the small oval baroque church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, a work which Bernini's son, Domenico, reports his father was very pleased with.[50] Bernini also designed churches in Castelgandolfo (San Tommaso da Villanova, 1658–61) and Ariccia (Santa Maria Assunta, 1662–64).

When Bernini was invited to Paris in 1665 to prepare works for Louis XIV, he presented designs for the east facade of the Louvre Palace but his projects were ultimately turned down in favour of the more stern and classic proposals of the French doctor and amateur architect Claude Perrault,[51] signalling the waning influence of Italian artistic hegemony in France. Bernini's projects were essentially rooted in the Italian Baroque urbanist tradition of relating public buildings to their settings, often leading to innovative architectural expression in urban spaces like piazze or squares. However, by this time, the French absolutist monarchy now preferred the classicising monumental severity of Perrault's facade, no doubt with the added political bonus that it been designed by a Frenchman. The final version did, however, include Bernini's feature of a flat roof behind a Palladian balustrade.

In 1639, Bernini bought property on the corner of the via Mercede and the via del Collegio di Propaganda Fide in Rome. On this site he built himself a palace, the Palazzo Bernini, at what are now Nos 11 and 12 via della Mercede. He lived at No. 11 but this was extensively changed in the 19th century. It has been noted how very galling it must have been for Bernini to witness through the windows of his dwelling, the construction of the tower and dome of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte by his rival, Borromini, and also the demolition of the chapel that he, Bernini, had designed at the Collegio di Propaganda Fide to see it replaced by Borromini's chapel.[52]

Fountains in Rome[edit]

True to the decorative dynamism of Baroque, among Bernini's most gifted creations were his Roman fountains that were both public works and papal monuments. His fountains include the Fountain of the Triton or Fontana del Tritone and the Barberini Fountain of the Bees, the Fontana delle Api.[53] The Fountain of the Four Rivers or 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 was also the artist of the statue of the Moor in La Fontana del Moro in Piazza Navona (1653).

Other works[edit]

Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1665, painted by Giovanni Battista Gaulli

The Elephant and Obelisk is located in the Piazza della Minerva and in front of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Pope Alexander VII decided that he wanted a small ancient Egyptian obelisk (that was discovered beneath the piazza) to be erected on the same site and in 1665 he commissioned Bernini to create a sculpture to support the obelisk. The sculpture of an elephant bearing the obelisk on its back was executed by one of Bernini's students, Ercole Ferrata upon a design by Bernini and finished in 1667. An inscription on the base aligns the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Roman goddess Minerva with the Virgin Mary to whom the church is dedicated.[54] A popular anecdote concerns the elephant's 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 as if it were defecating. The animal's rear is pointed directly at the office of Father Giuseppe Paglia, a Dominican friar, who was one of the main antagonists of Bernini and his artist friends, as a final salute and last word.[55]

The grave of Bernini in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Bernini worked along with Ercole Ferrata to create a fountain for the Lisbon palace of the Portuguese nobleman, the Count of Ericeira. For the same patron he also created a series of paintings with the battles of Louis XIV as subject. These works were lost as the palace, its great library and the rich art collection of the Counts of Ericeira, were destroyed along with most of central Lisbon as a result of the great earthquake of 1755.

Around 300 drawings by Bernini still exist; this is considered to be a tiny percentage of the drawings he would have created in his lifetime.[56]

Among the many who worked under his supervision were Luigi Bernini, Stefano Speranza, Giuliano Finelli, Andrea Bolgi, Filippo Parodi, Giacomo Antonio Fancelli, Lazzaro Morelli, Francesco Baratta, Nicodemus Tessin, Jr., and Francois Duquesnoy. Among his rivals in architecture were Francesco Borromini and Pietro da Cortona; in sculpture, Alessandro Algardi.

First biographies of Bernini[edit]

The most important primary source for the life of Bernini is the biography written by his youngest son, Domenico, entitled Vita del Cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernino, published in 1713, though first compiled in the last years of his father's life (c. 1675–80).[57] Filippo Baldinucci's Life of Bernini, was published in 1682 and a meticulous private journal, the Diary of the Cavaliere Bernini's Visit to France, was kept by the Frenchman Paul Fréart de Chantelou during the artist's four-month stay from June – October 1665 at the court of King Louis XIV. Also there is a short biographical narrative, The Vita Brevis of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, written by his eldest son, Monsignor Pietro Filippo Bernini, in the mid-1670s.[58]

Until the late 20th century, it was generally believed that two years after Bernini's death, Queen Christina of Sweden, then living in Rome, commissioned Filippo Baldinucci to write his biography which was published in Florence in 1682.[59] However, recent research now strongly suggests that it was in fact Bernini's sons (and specifically the eldest son, Mons. Pietro Filippo) who commissioned the biography from Baldinucci sometime in the late 1670s, with the intent of publishing it while their father was still alive. This would mean that first, the commission did not at all originate in Queen Christina who would have merely lent her name as patron (in order to hide the fact that the biography was coming directly from the family) and secondly, that Baldinucci's narrative was largely derived from some pre-publication version of Domenico Bernini's much longer biography of his father, as evidenced by the extremely large amount of text repeated verbatim (there is no other explanation, otherwise, for the massive amount of verbatim repetition and it is known that Baldinucci routinely copied verbatim material for his artists' biographies supplied by family and friends of his subjects .).[60] As the most detailed account and the only one coming directly from a member of the artist's immediate family, Domenico's biography, though published later than Baldinucci's, therefore represents the earliest and more important full-length biographical source of Bernini's life, even though it idealizes its subject and whitewashes a number of less-than-flattering facts about his life and personality.

He was commemorated on the front of the Banca d'Italia 50,000 lire banknote in the 1980s and 90s (before Italy switched to the Euro) with the back showing an equestrian statue.

Selected works[edit]


Architecture and fountains[edit]


Bernini's activity as a painter was a sideline which he did mainly in 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.



  1. ^ "Gian Lorenzo Bernini". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  2. ^ Boucher, Bruce (1998). Italian Baroque Sculpture. Thames & Hudson (World of Art). pp. 134–42. ISBN 0500203075. 
  3. ^ Wittkower, p. 13
  4. ^ Levin, Irving (1980). Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  5. ^ For a more nuanced, cautious discussion of the traditional hagiographic view of Bernini as "fervent Catholic" and of his art as simply a direct manifestation of his personal faith, see Mormando, "Bernini's Religion: Myth and Reality," pp. 60–66 of the Introduction to his critical, annotated edition, Domenico Bernini, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, University Park, Penn State U Press, 2011.See also the same author's article, 'Breaking Through the Bernini Myth' in the online journal, Berfrois, October 11, 2012: [1]
  6. ^ Hibbard, Howard (1965). Bernini. New York: Penguin. p. 136.  Hibbard's classic book on Bernini, though still a valuable resource, has never been updated since its original publication in 1965 and the author's premature death; a vast amount of new information about Bernini has surfaced since then. It also accepts too readily the whitewashed, hagiographic depictions of Bernini, his patrons, and of Baroque Rome as supplied by the first, official biographies by Baldinucci and Domenico Bernini.
  7. ^ Mileti, Nick J. (2005). Beyond Michelangelo: The deadly rivalry between Bernini and Borromini. Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation. 
  8. ^ Morrissey, Jake (2005). Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini and the rivalry that transformed Rome. New York: Harper Perennial. 
  9. ^ Domenico Bernini, Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 2011 ed., p. 111
  10. ^ Hibbard, p. 21
  11. ^
  12. ^ Gale, Thomson. Gian Lorenzo Bernini Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004. For list of Bernini's siblings, see Franco Mormando, Bernini: His Life and His Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 2–3.
  13. ^ For Bernini's marriage to Caterina, and a list of Bernini's children, see Franco Mormando, Bernini: His Life and His Rome University of Chicago Press, 2011, pp. 109–16.
  14. ^ Gian lorenzo Bernini
  15. ^ For this episode in Bernini's life, see Franco Mormando, Bernini: His Life and HIs Rome, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011, pp. 99-106.
  16. ^ Wittkower, p. 14.
  17. ^ Hibbard, p. 14. Although Hibbard, as well as other scholars, are more reticinent about the overall quality of the earliest of these sculptures, of Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius.
  18. ^ Wittkower, p. 15.
  19. ^ Hibbard, pp. 53-54.
  20. ^ Wittkower, pp. 14–15.
  21. ^ Hibbard, pp. 48–61.
  22. ^ Hibbard, p. 68
  23. ^ Mormando, p. 72
  24. ^ For the conversion of 17th-century Roman scudi to modern American dollars, see Mormando, Bernini: His Life and His Rome", 2011, pp. xvii-xix, Money, Wages, and Cost of Living in Baroque Rome.
  25. ^ Mormando, p84
  26. ^ a b Wittkower, p. 88
  27. ^ "Biographies – Gian Lorenzo Bernini", National Gallery of Canada, retrieved 29 October 2009 
  28. ^ Triple Portrait of Charles I
  29. ^ Lionel Cust (31 March 2007). Van Dyck. Wellhausen Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-4067-7452-8. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  30. ^ Hibbard, pp. 116–8
  31. ^ a b Mormando, p156
  32. ^ Mormando, p150
  33. ^ Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts, passim
  34. ^ Lavin, ibid.
  35. ^ Mormando, p. 159
  36. ^ Hibbard, p. 156
  37. ^ Mormando, p. 204
  38. ^ Hibbard, pp. 163–7
  39. ^ Hibbard, pp. 144–8
  40. ^ Hibbard, pp. 149–50
  41. ^ See Gould, Cecil. Bernini in France, an episode in Seventeenth Century History, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1981
  42. ^ Gould, C., 1982. Bernini in France: an episode in 17th-century history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Pr. For more recent treatments of the same episode in Bernini's life, incorporating the most recent documentary research since Gould's book of 1982, see Mormando, Bernini: His Life and His Rome, 2011, chap. 5, A Roman Artist in King Louis's Court; see also Mormando's many documentary footnotes to Domenico Bernini's account of his father's dealings with the French: Domenico Bernini, Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini," notes to chapters 16–20.
  43. ^ Hibbard, Howard (1990). Bernini. Penguin. p. 181. 
  44. ^ Mormando, Bernini: His LIfe and His Rome, pp. 255-56, emphasis added.
  45. ^ Fagiolo, M., 2008. Bernini a Parigi: le Colonne d'Ercole, l'Anfiteatro per il Louvre e i progetti per la Cappella Bourbon.
  46. ^ Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. p. 171. 
  47. ^ Wittkower, p. 89
  48. ^ See Marder, Tod A. Bernini and the Art of Architecture Abbeville Press, New York and London, 1998
  49. ^ See McPhee, Sarah. Bernini and the bell towers: architecture and politics at the Vatican, Yale University Press, 2002
  50. ^ Magnuson Torgil, Rome in the Age of Bernini, Volume II, Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm, 1986: 202
  51. ^ Probably made in collaboration with Lebrun and Le Vau, Blunt, Anthony. Architecture in France 1500–1700, Pelican History of Art, 1953, p. 232
  52. ^ Blunt, Anthony. Guide to Baroque Rome, Granada, 1982, p. 166
  53. ^ This was dismantled in the nineteenth century and reassembled (incorrectly) in the twentieth in the Via Veneto. A second Fontana delle Api in the Vatican has sometimes been attributed to Bernini of which Blunt has written, "Borromini is documented as having carved the fountain in 1626, but it is not certain whether he made the design for it, and it has also been attributed—not very plausibly—to Bernini." Blunt, Anthony. Borromini, Belknap Harvard, 1979, 17
  54. ^ Heckscher, W., "Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk," Art Bulletin, XXIX, 1947, p. 155.
  55. ^ This anecdote regarding the Elephant and Obelisk monument (more formally, it is a monument to Divine Wisdom and a tribute to Pope Alexander VII) is one of the many undocumented popular legends circulating about Bernini. To begin with, the elephant is not smiling. Second, even though Bernini may have had professional reasons to resent Paglia, he personally had no grudges against the Dominican Order or the Inquisition. Moreover, Fr. Giuseppe Paglia was director of the overall project to reconstruct the piazza in front of Santa Maria Minerva, appointed by Pope Alexander VII himself and, as such, had supervisory authority over Bernini and the design of his Elephant and Obelisk monument. The final design of that monument in fact owes much to Paglia's direct intervention. Hence, it is unlikely that Paglia (or Pope Alexander) would have allowed this supposed insult to him or his Dominican order. Finally, if Bernini did intend to deliver this visual insult, he failed totally, for there is no contemporary documentation indicating that visitors to the piazza during the artist's lifetime ever noticed the supposed insult: see Franco Mormando, ed. and trans., Domenico Bernini's Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2011), p. 369, n. 33. Instead, the origins of this anecdote can be traced to the very end of the 17th century, when the satirist, Cardinal Lodovico Sergardi, circulated a two-line epigram in which the elephant tells the Dominicans that the position of his rear end is meant to announce 'where I hold you in my esteem' (see Ingrid Rowland, 'The Friendship of Alexander VII and Athanasius Kircher, 1637-1667' in Early Modern Rome: Proceedings of a Conference Held on May 13–15, 2010 in Rome, ed. Portia Prebys [Ferrara: Edisai, 2011], pp. 669-78, here p. 670; see also p. 671 where Rowland absolves Bernini of any satiric intent: 'The Dominicans, who followed the evolution of Bernini's design for this monument with meticulous care from beginning to end, must have realized that the only reasonable placement for this remarkable create was the placement that we see today.')
  56. ^ Ann Sutherland Harris, "Master Drawings," Vol. 41, No. 2, Drawings by Sculptors (Summer, 2003), pp. 119–127
  57. ^ For a list and discussion of important sources for Bernini's life, see Franco Mormando, Bernini: His Life and His Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 7–11.
  58. ^ For an unabridged translation and analysis of The Vita Brevis, see Domenico Bernini's Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Mormando, ed., 201 Appendix 1, pp. 237–41.
  59. ^ Baldinucci, Filippo, Life of Bernini. Translated from the Italian by Enggass, C. University Park, Penn State University Press, 2006. Unfortunately, the Enggass edition of Baldinucci contains many translation errors; readers should always consult the text of the original 1682 edition.
  60. ^ See Mormando, Domenico Bernini's Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 2011, pp. 14–34. It is significant that Christina's extant financial records nowhere report the queen's having monetarily subsidized the publication Baldinucci's biography, which would have been her responsibility as patron. As Mormando further explains, we also know that in compiling his famous collection of artists' lives, Baldinucci routinely copied material, word for word, from texts supplied to him by family members and close friends and associates of his subjects. Also significant is the fact that in Domenico's biography of his father, the author is completely silent about the queen's supposed patronage of the Baldinucci biography, a strange omission since he devotes much space to the friendship between Gian Lorenzo and Queen Christina, recording the queen's many signs of favoritism, protection, and adulation towards the artist.

Further reading[edit]

  • Avery, Charles (1997). Bernini: Genius of the Baroque. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0500092710. 
  • Bacchi, Andrea, ed. (2009). I marmi vivi: Bernini e la nascita del ritratto barocco. Firenze: Firenze musei. ISBN 978-8809742369. 
  • Bacchi, Andrea, and Catherine Hess, Jennifer Montagu, ed. (2008). Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. ISBN 978-0892369324. 
  • Baldinucci, Filippo (2006). The Life of Bernini. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0271730769. 
  • Baldinucci, Filippo (1682). Vita del cavaliere Gio. Lorenzo Bernino. Firenze: Stamperia di V. Vangelisti.  Copy at Google Books.
  • Bernini, Domenico (1713). Vita del Cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernino. Rome: Rocco Bernabò.  Copy at Google Books.
  • Bernini, Domenico (2011, orig. publ. 1713). Franco Mormando, ed. The Life of Giano Lorenzo Bernini. University Park: Penn State University Press. ISBN 9780271037486.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Borsi, Franco (2005). Bernini. Milano: Rizzoli. ISBN 978-0847805099. 
  • Chantelou, Paul Fréart de (1985). Anthony Blunt, ed. Journal du voyage en France du cavalier Bernin. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0833705310. 
  • Delbeke, Maarten, and Evonne Levy, Steven F. Ostrow, ed. (2006). Bernini's biographies: critical essays. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 
  • Fagiolo Dell'Arco, Maurizio (1967). Bernini: una introduzione al gran teatro del barocco. Roma: M. Bulzoni. 
  • Ferrari, Oreste (1991). Bernini. Firenze: Giunti Gruppo. ISBN 978-8809761537. 
  • Fraschetti, Stanislao (1900). Il Bernini: La sua vita, la sua opera, il suo tempo. Milano: U.Hoepli. ISBN 978-1248328897. 
  • Gould, Cecil (1981). Bernini in France: An Episode in Seventeenth Century History. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 978-0297779445. 
  • Hibbard, Howard (1965). Bernini. London: Penguin. ISBN 9780140135985. 
  • Lavin, Irving (1980). Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195201840. 
  • Lavin, Irving, ed. (1985). Gianlorenzo Bernini: New Aspects of his Art and Thought. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0271003870. 
  • Lavin, Irving (2007). Visible Spirit: The Art of Gianlorenzo Bernini. London: Pindar Press. ISBN 978-1899828395. 
  • Martinelli, Valentino, ed. (1996). L'ultimo Bernini (1665–1680): nuovi argomenti, documenti e immagini. Roma: Quasar. ISBN 978-8871400952. 
  • Mormando, Franco (2011). Bernini: His Life and His Rome. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226538525. 
  • Petersson, Robert T. (1970). The Art of Ecstasy: Teresa, Bernini, and Crashaw. London: Routledge & K. Paul. ISBN 978-0689705151. 
  • Petersson, Robert T. (2002). Bernini and the Excesses of Art. Florence: Maschietto editore. ISBN 978-8887700831. 
  • Pinton, Daniel (2009). Bernini. I Percorsi Nell'arte. Ediz. Inglese. ATS Italia Editrice. ISBN 978-8875717773. 
  • Wittkower, Rudolf (1955). Gian Lorenzo Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0801414305. 

External links[edit]