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