11 January 2017
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples on December 7, 1598 to Pietro Bernini of Florence and Angelica Galante of Naples. He was one of thirteen children and grew up in a middle-class family. He was born to a poor family because there were so many children and his father was the only breadwinner who sometimes ran out of money in between commissions. When Gian was born, his father was a very important sculptor who was commissioned by Spanish government representatives who were ruled
Naples at the time. Pietro was also Gian’s mentor. At a young
age, Gian was brought to Rome by his father to work for the pope. When he was about ten, Pope Paul V was impressed by his drawings and superb talent and projected him to be the future Michelangelo. Despite Pietro Bernini’s lack of experience in creating portrait busts, Pietro’s son excelled at creating busts.
As a young boy, Gian was homeschooled. He was taught by Pietro for many years in his workshop and he learned by observing his father create sculptures
there. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the paradigm of Italian Baroque art. Italian Baroque is defined as, “a period style defined by virtuosic naturalism, kinetic emotionalism and high flying formal glamour” (Cotter
Gian was highly influential in the artistic and theatrical realms. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, draftsman, and stage designer. He was a child prodigy, one of the last ones during the Renaissance and Baroque time period. Gian was married and had eleven children, two who passed away when they were young.
In his youth, Bernini was inspired by his father, Pietro. Although Pietro’s sculptures were from the Mannerist period, they embodied similar qualities that Gian imbued in his work. Pietro’s sculptures had much movement and space, which Bernini took to the next level as the father of the Baroque style. It is hard to be a father of a famous son. However, Pietro did not show any jealousy or discontentment and stayed out of Gian’s way when working on his art. Perhaps, this is because Pietro was so excited to have a boy after five girls. Pietro did not resent his son’s success, even when Gian became the new center of attention on account of his father and other sculptors. It is apparent
that, “Pietro, the humble and loving father, seems to have simply delighted in his son’s genius and success” (Mormando 10).
Gian was a devout Catholic and lived at a time when the Church was highly influential. Since the popes commissioned him, Bernini had a vast influence in Rome. He
decorated the city with his creations of grandiose religious spaces, and sculptures of monarchs as well as saints. Bernini “shaped the very fabric of Rome, he devised imposing religious and civic spaces and icons of saints and monarchs; yet in the still centre of his swirling aesthetic is something intimate, subjective, that speaks on a very direct and unpretentious level” (Jones). At this time Pope Urban VIII reigned, Bernini maintained a connection with him which strengthened his artistic success and influence in Rome. He was a promoter for the Counter- Reformation. The people he was in contact with were wealthy patrons and members of the church.
Unlike other artists, Bernini was very fortunate in that he always had work to do and therefore was very comfortable. He was talented from youth, and commissioned by patrons, thereby affording him a nice lifestyle. Highly regarding with much respect, he was looked upon as more of a minister than an artist and as a contemporary of popes and kings. Bernini was in such great demand that when Louis XIV requested that Gian go to France to help him, much scrutiny and negotiations were involved. This was the only time Bernini left Rome for a few months. Bernini had an obsession with money and success because he grew up poor. Also, since he was the only successful one in his family, he was providing financial support for his extended family which attributed to his money consciousness.
At the time, the aristocrats or “middle class” were made up of approximately twenty percent of the population and from the rest, only a small amount had good jobs make ends meet. When the Bernini family settled in Rome, there were approximately 100,000 inhabitants at the time. Most of the people lived near the Tiber River. While the Tiber River was used for trade, amongst other resources, it was also a source of destruction when it overflowed on many occasions, causing devastation, plague and sickness.
The economic status of Rome was focused on meeting the needs of the church. Since it evolved around the church and royalty, many of the jobs centered around providing candles, luxurious food, clothing, home goods and items for them. There was economic depression because they lost a lot of their manufacturing capabilities to neighboring northern countries. In addition to the Tiber flooding, they experienced famine. The papal distribution of bread is what saved the poor from death. Conditions
were so grave that, “as numerous contemporary descriptions of the city by foreign visitors and local administrators report, appalling numbers of Romans—at least half the population—lived in chronic poverty or excruciatingly close to it” (Mormando 18).
At around the 1600’s, the currency in Rome was a silver coin called a scudo. A couple with three children could live simply on 90 scudi a year. In comparison, Bernini earned ten times for his “Apollo and Daphne”
exhibiting his prosperity. In the early part of the seventeenth century, to rent an apartment for the working-class cost between twelve to forty scudi a month, and the poor were lucky if they could find an apartment for one scudo a month. However, the papal court earned a considerable higher salary. Only the very wealthy people could afford Bernini’s artwork.
Politically, there was much to do in Rome in the seventeenth century. The pope’s influence was monumental when they were
restoring Rome. This restoration extended far beyond Ancient Rome, through the use of various artistic mediums, such as paintings, sculptures, and architecture. The church wanted to spread the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church far beyond the ancient state to modern Rome as well.
Following the intellectuality of the Renaissance it was known that, “baroque tapped into the heart rather than the head – and the Church used it to encourage emotional responses to the faith” (Steves). Bernini was an incredible sculptor, so
much so, that he often did not work from a real model. He had one purpose while sculpting which was “to give an abstract, dimming memory the immediacy of life” (H. Cotter E.25). Royal people from other countries would send him paintings and commission him to make a sculpture from their painting. This contributed to his fame, making him more well-known all over the world. However, he preferred working with the subject in person to capture the essence of the individual. His first contribution was at the age of ten when he carved out of marble the image of Hercules killing a dragon.
He was famous for many of his sculptures, specifically for “Apollo and Daphne,” and “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”. “The Ecstasy
of Saint Teresa” is found in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It is one of his most famous statues. One description of the sculpture is that, “Bernini invigorates reality with emotion, depicting Teresa just after being stabbed with God’s arrow of fire. Now, the angel pulls it out and watches her reaction. Teresa swoons, her eyes roll up, her hand goes limp, she parts her lips … and moans. The smiling, cherubic angel understands just how she feels” (Steves). This is a very emotional and moving piece portraying Bernini with the feeling he is trying to evoke.
Another significant sculpture was “Apollo and Daphne,” found in Villa Borghese. It was depicted as “a tour-de-force depiction of a life-size nymph escaping rape by a lustful god through her miraculous metamorphosis into a laurel tree” (Knight). Here Bernini
encapsulates the embodiment of nature, mythology and human emotion telling a
story in beautiful sculptural form.
Not only was Bernini a master as a sculptor, he was given a great challenge and honor to work on St. Peter’s Basilica, the heart of Christianity. In the gateway of St. Peter’s Square, he designed the columns in the shape of arms extending and welcoming worshippers. His use of scale and proportion contributed to a more humanistic feeling in light of the grandeur of the Basilica. On top of the columns, one can find “Bernini’s 140 favorite saints, each 10 feet tall” (Steves). This showed his commitment to and love for his religion, and his desire to share it with everyone around him.
There are many paradoxical elements of Bernini. He was a devout religious man, but he did worship pagan objects. The Borghese Gallery in Rome has some examples of these. Bernini was commissioned by a patron of the arts, Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In those days it was surprising that religious people would allow for this type of sensual art. But the Borghese family felt that this type of art was natural and that anything in this realm was a tribute to God.
Another paradoxical element was how others saw him. Even though he had widespread recognition, he was seen as a “messy, mixed-up artist in the 18th and 19th centuries” (Jones). However, in the 20th century his artistic qualities were reclaimed as the “essence of the High Baroque” (Jones).
Bernini’s legacy is his creations
that are visible throughout Rome. Rome is filled with his beautiful art where he was “able to merge his own fantasies with public space” (Jones). Bernini was revolutionary in that he incorporated the various arts including architecture,
sculpture, painting, and draftsmanship, as working together to create a natural, sensual, and spiritual feeling. To contrast this, in the Renaissance, the arts were seen as rivals. Bernini “died at 82, rich and honoured” (Jones).
I personally was at the Borghese Gallery and was in utter amazement at the sight of “Apollo and Daphne.” The piece carved
from solid marble had a lasting impression on me. It told a story with much movement and brought the sculpture to life, making it very realistic. The sculpture was
positioned in the center of the room, forcing me to walk around it. I felt as if I was there at that time
experiencing the emotions. Bernini was an incredible artist and influenced me. He taught me
that being born poor does not define one’s success. Also, when one has a
passion for something, it can bring along with it fulfillment and satisfaction.
Bernini’s artwork enhanced my trip to Italy tremendously and I am looking forward to
seeing more of his work in the future.
Averett, Matthew Knox. “Bernini: His Life and His Rome/The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini by Domenico Bernini: A Translation and Critical Edition, with Introduction and Commentary.” Renaissance Quarterly 65.2 (2012):
532-4. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Cotter, Holland. “Bernini, the Man of Many Heads.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 2. Aug 08 2008. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Jones, Jonathan. “Saturday Review: Arts: The Genius of Rome: Sculptor, Painter, Architect – Gianlorenzo Bernini was the Vatican’s Secret Weapon.” The Guardian: 5. Mar 02 2002. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Kessler, Hans-Ulrich. “Training a Genius – Portrait Sculpture by Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.” The Sculpture Journal 20.2 (2011):
135,145,287. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Knight, Christopher. “ART REVIEW; Precious Stone; Getty Exhibit Reveals Bernini’s Genius for Breathing Dynamic Life into Solid Rock.” Los Angeles Times Aug 05 2008. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Malcolm Moore, in R. “Bernini the Sculptor is Revealed as a Playwright After 30-Year Study.” The Daily Telegraph: 022. Apr 05 2007. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Mangone, Carolina. “Bernini: Sculpting in Clay.” The Sculpture Journal 22.2 (2013): 143,145,153. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Mormando, Franco. Bernini: his life and
his Rome. University of Chicago Press, 2011, books.google.com/books?id=oeJ0qXzP9HsC=frontcover#v=onepage=false.
Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Steves, Rick. “When in Rome, Revel in Baroque Treasures.” The Baltimore Sun Mar 02 2014. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
Steves, Rick. “Bernini’s Baroque Brilliance Transformed Rome; from Trevi Fountain to St. Peter’s Square, Art and Architecture Express Religious Emotion.” The Vancouver Sun Apr 01 2014. ProQuest. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.
“Rome and Southern Italy, 1600–1800 A.D. | Chronology | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/09/eusts.html.
Web. 9 Jan. 2018.