Giovanni (Gian) Lorenzo Bernini (1599–1680) – Impulsive, arrogant and ingenious favorite of the popes

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, colonnade in front of St. Peter’s Basilica (Piazza di San Pietro)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, colonnade in front of St. Peter’s Basilica (Piazza di San Pietro)

This ingenious sculptor and skilled architect was not only an outstanding artist but also a man who could skillfully shine in the Roman salons and win over exceptional funders, including the greatest patron of art at that time – Pope Urban VIII. Of course, the successors of Urban on the papal throne and there were six of them during the long life of Bernini, admired the artist, although they did not always like him. His career was a streak of successes save for one catastrophic architectural mishap.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, colonnade in front of St. Peter’s Basilica (Piazza di San Pietro)
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Self-portrait in his youth, Galleria Borghese, pic. WIKIPEDIA
Baccicio, Bernini’s portrait, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica - Palazzo Barberini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, statue of the blessed Ludovica Albertoni, Church of San Francesco a Ripa
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Self-portrait, Galleria Borghese
Tombstone of the Bernini family near the main altar, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius Fleeing Troy, Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Rape of Proserpina, Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, David, Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Truth, Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, statue of Pope Urban VIII, Musei Capitolini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Pope Innocent X, Galleria Doria Pamphilj
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Bibiana, Church of Santa Bibiana
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Santa Bibiana, church façade
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), Piazza Navona
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Fontana del Moro, Piazza Navona
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain), Piazza Barberini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Fontana delle Api (Fountain of the Bees), Piazza Barberini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldachin, Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the four pillars supporting the dome of the Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Longinus, Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, tomb of Pope Urban VIII, Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, main altar of the so-called St. Peter’s Cathedral, Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, tomb of Pope Alexander VII, Basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, statue of Daniel in the Chigi Chapel, Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Gabriele Fonseca, Church of San Lorenzo in Lucina
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, design of a Church Sant'Andrea al Quirinale
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, figure of an angel with the crown of thorns in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, memorial to Maria Raggi, Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Teresa, Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, figure of an angel in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Pope Urbana VIII, Museo Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, portrait of Pope Urbana VIII, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Ercole Ferrata, Minerveo Obelisk, Piazza Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, statue of Habakkuk in the Chigi Chapel, Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
Plaque commemorating the house in which Bernini lived (next to the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte)
Vestibule of the house in which Bernini lived and died, next to the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte
Gian Lorenzo Barberini, portrait  of Pope Urbana VIII, Museo Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Antonio Cepparelli, 1623 r., Museo di Arte Sacro, Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Antonio Coppola, 1612 r., Museo di Arte Sacro, Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, memorial to Pedro Montoya,  former sacristy of the church Santa Maria in Monserrato
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, bust of Pope Clement X, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini

This ingenious sculptor and skilled architect was not only an outstanding artist but also a man who could skillfully shine in the Roman salons and win over exceptional funders, including the greatest patron of art at that time – Pope Urban VIII. Of course, the successors of Urban on the papal throne and there were six of them during the long life of Bernini, admired the artist, although they did not always like him. His career was a streak of successes save for one catastrophic architectural mishap.

 

Bernini’s biographer, Giambattista Passeri describes him as an authoritarian person, often arrogant, with no room for objections, jealous of everyone who could win the pope’s favor. Beloved, surrounded by a throng of admirers, even by his contemporaries he was considered an artistic genius, a successor to the divine Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti). His designs and works were sought after and it was he who chose his clients. His impulsive character and far from noble deeds of his youth, such as having his lover splashed with acid or nearly killing his brother due to the same woman, were forgiven and ignored. Even his own mother, complaining about her son and his behavior in relation to his brother, in a letter to the papal nephew stated that he is behaving “as if he was a ruler of the world”. Pope Urban VIII, who nobilitated the artist bestowing him with the title of cavalieri,   would probably have forgiven his favorite even more, judging from his words directed to Bernini “It is your great fortune, Cavaliere, to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini become pope, but my fortune is far greater in that Cavaliere Bernini lives during my pontificate.” Is it possible to imagine words of greater admiration?

Bernini’s teacher was his father Pietro, who after coming to Rome received commissions for sculpture works. Watching and imitating him, Gian Lorenzo soon surpassed him in composition of works, their completion and ingenuity.  It is hard to believe that his first sculpture – The Goat Amalthea with infant Jupiter and faun, was completed by an eleven-year old boy (Galleria Borghese).

The artist’s first works (apart from the statues of St. Sebastian and St. Lawrence) were commissioned by the cardinal-nephew Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V. It was he, apart from Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (the latter Urban VIII), who noticed the exceptional talent of Gian Lorenzo and entrusted him with work on the sculptures destined for embellishing his newly-built art gallery (Galleria Borghese). During the pontificate of Urban VIII, the thirty-one year old artist assumed the respected function of chief architect of the Workshop of St. Peter’s Basilica (Fabbrica di San Pietro), the function which in the past had been held by Michelangelo himself. Due to numerous commissions Bernini had to develop a sizeable workshop, specializing in works of which he himself was often only a designer. This can account for the amount of works (over 100) as well as architectural designs, which were a work of his hands, during his 50-year career.




After the death of Urban VIII, Bernini experienced a period of disfavor of the following pope, Innocent X. This was due to the antagonism felt by the pope to the favorite of his predecessor, whom he simply loathed as he did the whole Barberini family. Bernini himself was accused, not without reason, of not overseeing the statistical calculations during the construction of towers, which were to flank the front of St. Peter’s Basilica (San Pietro in Vaticano), which resulted in a rockburst affecting one of them. The tower which threatened to collapse and damage the façade of the church, was demolished. However, Bernini still enjoyed the respect of clients, while the next pope – a representative of the Chigi family, Alexander VII, entrusted him with his most important artistic undertakings. The following popes – Clement IX and Clement X also employed his services, only Innocent XI, with his aesthetic approach to art and unfavorable view of foundations ravaging the papal treasury, entrusted him only with covering the nude personification of Truth embellishing the tombstone of his predecessor (Alexander VII).

Bernini was considered the greatest artist of his time and enjoyed fame not only in the Apennine Peninsula. His sculptures and designs were sought by rulers of France, England and Spain. His works full of life and pathos, or at different times dramatic almost ecstatic gestures and movements, suggestively expressing inner turmoil of the figures presented, but also simple, albeit exceptionally capturing the psyche of the portrayed busts, set new trends in European art. Similarly monumental, simple in its form architecture, marked with a return to the forms of antique art – a great order, tympana, porticos and columns – paved the path to classical baroque, which stood in complete opposition to its other version, which was proposed in the designs of Bernini’s competitor – Francesco Borromini.

Bernini sculpted and designed until his very last days. When a few days before his death, weakened, he noticed that he has no feeling in his right hand, he was supposedly to say to his son: “It is only right that even before death this hand should take a little bit of rest, since it had labored so hard in life”. At the moment of his death he left his descendants, what was at that time considered, an immense fortune – 400 thousands scudos.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s final resting place – in a family tomb in the floor of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, on the right side, not far from the main altar – remains almost unnoticeable to the uninitiated tourist. It is decorated by only a simple Latin sentence, which reads: HERE THE NOBLE BERNINI FAMILY AWAITS THE RESSURECTION.

Bernini’s most important sculptures and buildings in Rome:




Galleria Borghese

  • Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius Fleeing Troy (1619)
  • The Rape of Proserpina (1622), a gift from Cardinal Scipione Borghese to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi
  • David (1623–1624), commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Peretti Montalto, after his death purchased by Cardinal Scipione Borghese
  • Apollo and Daphne (1622–1625), commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese
  • The Truth(1646–1652)
  • The bust of Scipione Borghese (1632), two versions

Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museum)

  • The statue of Pope Urban VIII

Galleria Doria Pamphilj

  • The statue of Pope Innocent X
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini

  • Portrait of Pope Urban VIII (painting)
  • Bust of Pope Urban VIII, two versions
  • Brust of Cardinal Antonio Barberini
  • Bust of Pope Clement X

Church of Santa Bibiana

Piazza Navona

Piazza Barberini

  • Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain),1642–1643
  • Fontana delle Api (Fountain of the Bees)

Piazza Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Basilica San Pietro in Vaticano

  • Baldachin (1633), thirty-meter bronze dome weighing 90 tons, rising above the tomb of St. Peter, was the frame for the so-called papal altar, placed there. The design was commissioned to 25-year old Bernini thanks to patronage of Urban VIII
  • Design of central space under the dome (1629-1638) adapted by Bernini for exposition of holy relics in balconies embellished with twisted columns
  • Longinus (1628–1638), represented with his attribute – a lance
  • The tomb of Pope Urban VIII (1647), completed three years after the pope’s death from carrara marble and gilded bronze – the massive figure of the pope seated on the throne, who in an authoritative gesture greets the faithful
  • Main altar of the so-called St. Peter’s Cathedral, showing the Throne of St. Peter (according to tradition St. Peter was to sit upon it during his sermons)
  • Scala Regia (1663–1664), one of the entries to the Apostolic Palace situated on the right side of the basilica
  • Designing of St. Peter’s Square (Piazza di San Pietro) (1655-1667) – by the order of Alexander VII, Bernini created a huge, round square surrounded by a colonnade in front of St. Peter’s Basilica (San Pietro in Vaticano)
  • The tomb of Pope Alexander VII (1678), completed many years after the pope’s death, financed by his nephew, Cardinal Flavio Chigi, located in the left nave of the Vatican Basilica
 

Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo

Church of San Lorenzo in Lucina

  • Bust of Gabriele Fonseca (1672), commissioned by a trusted doctor of Innocent X

Church of San Francesco a Ripa

  • Statue of the blessed Ludovica Albertoni (1674), commissioned by Cardinal Paluzzo Paluzzi Altieri degli Albertoni, papal nepot of Clement X, initiator of creating a family chapel in the church

Church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

  • Design of a baroque church built as an ellipse (1658-1670)

Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte

  • Two Angels, completed by the artist himself

Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

  • Tombstone statue of Maria Raggi

Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria

  • Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1647–1651), altar group completed at the request of the Venetian Cardinal Frederico Cornaro

Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, Museo di Arte Sacro

  • Bust of Antonio Cepparelli
  • Bust of Antonio Coppola

      Former sacristy of the Church Santa Maria in Monserrato

  • Memorial to Pedro Montoya

Also see: category Virtual trip, Bernini