Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini was born in 1598 in Florence, Italy. A prominent Baroque sculptor, his most famous works include the David and the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. He was also the architect for St. Peter's Basillica, and he designed the eliptical piazza just outside of it. He designed the fountains at Piazza Navona, and he was the architect for several churches, including San Tomaso di Villanoca, Santa Maria dell; Assunzione, and Sant' Andrea.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, also known as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini Le Bernin, falls into a category I find fascinating in all the arts...the youthful prodigy.  Born in Naples, in 1598, he trained with his father, Pietro, a talented sculptor, and by the age of seventeen he had received a commission from Pope Paul V. He was one of the most talented Baroque artists of the 17th Century.  Too late in history to be a man of the Renaissance, Bernini was nonetheless a Renaissance man; sculptor, painter, architect, state designer, playwright, composer of music, and, by all account a great wit.  He lived into his eighties and displayed throughout his life enough energy and enthusiasm and inventiveness for a dozen ordinary people.

Nearly all of Bernini's life was spent in Rome, and he outdid even his great predecessor Michelangelo in papal patronage, serving seven popes over a period of half a century. The master always of the grand design, he executed many huge projects, including the Cornaro Chapel, in Santa Maria della Vittoria,  grouped with St. Teresa in Ecstasy and the piazza and colonnade of the Vatican.  Several outdoor fountains in Rome, elaborate figural sculptures, are also of his design.  The fountains are typical of Bernini, for, grand showman that he was, he loved to incorporate such effects as light, smoke, or in this case water in his creations.  Often he was called upon to plan important public events, such as state funerals or celebrations in honor of the saints.

As a sculptor, Bernini excelled at the portrait bust, (the head-and-shoulders likeness in marble of an individual).  One of the loveliest of these depicts Costanza Bonarelli, the wife of Bernini's assistant who was also Bernini's mistress.  Sometime in the mid 1630s, the current Pope, Urban VIII, urged the artist to terminate this relationship and take a wife.  So, in 1639, Bernini, then forty-one years old, married a young woman half his age, Caterina Tezio.  The story is told that Bernini felt compelled to give away the portrait bust of Costanza Bonarelli, which until then he had kept in his home.  The artist's wife eventually bore him eleven children, nine of whom survived to maturity.

Bernini's fame as an architect and sculptor spread throughout Europe.  In 1665, Louis XIV, King of France, summoned the artist to Paris to work on a new design for the Louvre palace.  The trip was not a success.  Bernini's plan for the Louvre was rejected, and the artist alienated his hosts by expressing his preference for Italian art and contempt for French art.  He returned to Rome, where he remained until his death in 1680.

One major work did result from Bernini's trip to Paris, a splendid portrait bust of Louis XIV, carved after Bernini had made numerous sketches of the king going about his daily activities.  It was in Paris, too, that the artist reportedly explained the problems of portrait sculpture:

"If a man whitened his hair, beard, eyebrows and--were it possible--his eyeballs and lips, and presented himself in this state to those very persons that see him every day, he would hardly be recognized by them...Hence you can understand how difficult it is to make a portrait, which is all of one color, resemble the sitter."

His works are housed at many museums around the world such as:

  • Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia
  • Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio
  • Château de Versailles, France
  • Chrysler Museum, Virginia
  • National Gallery, London, UK, among many others.

Schoolman, Regina, The Story of Art, 1998

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