Fine Artists:  Gian Lorenzo Bernini Italian Sculptor 1598-1680

Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpture of DavidGian Lorenzo Bernini, who worked chiefly in Rome, was the pre-eminent Baroque artist. Eminent as a sculptor and architect, bernini was also a painter, draftsman, designer of stage sets, fireworks displays, and funeral trappings. The Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini almost singlehandedly created high baroque sculpture. His work in architecture, although more conservative, ranks him among the three or four major architects of the 17th century.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Naples to a Mannerist sculptor, Pietro Bernini, originally from Florence. His mother was Neapolitan. But Bernini was Roman: he was brought to Rome as a child; he remained there almost all his life; and he absorbed completely Rome's dual heritage of empire and papacy. At the age of seven he accompanied his father to Rome, where his father was involved in several high profile projects. There as a boy, Bernini's skill was soon noticed by the painter Annibale Carracci and by Pope Paul V, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini gained the patronage exclusively under Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the pope's nephew. ”

In his youth Gian Lorenzo Bernini made the customary studies of the work of Raphael and Michelangelo. But Hellenistic sculpture and Roman sculpture in the Hellenistic tradition were to influence his development far more, and it was largely from these ancient sources that he drew the powerfully dynamic and fluid style that was to characterize his mature work. Contemporary painting as well, by Caravaggio, the Carracci, and Guido Reni, was to play a role in his stylistic formation.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini "The Ecstasy of St. Theresa" baroque sculptureUnder the rule of the Barberini pope, Urban VIII, Gian Lorenzo Bernini dominated the artistic scene in Rome. His commissions were so large that he had to draw into his studio most of the sculptors then working in Rome. From this time on, Bernini's bigger works were usually executed by assistants, working from his designs and under his close supervision.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's first architectural project was the magnificent baldachin, the canopy over the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica, and the fašade for the church of Santa Bibiana in Rome. In 1629, before the Baldacchino was complete, Urban VIII put him in charge of all the ongoing architectural works at St Peter's. He was given the commission for the Basilica's tombs of Pope Urban VIII. Among Gian Lorenzo Bernini's other best-known sculptures are the "Ecstasy of St Teresa" (shown here), "Apollo and Daphne", and the "David" (shown top of page)at the Borghese Gallery. With Urban's successor, Innocent X, Bernini's fortunes changed. Finding the papal treasury empty and the purses of his predecessor's family filled beyond their wildest dreams, the new pope drove the Barberini from Rome and rejected everyone, Bernini included, who had belonged to their circle. At the same time sculptors and architects who had been envious of Bernini's fabulous success rushed to attack him on trumped-up charges that the lofty bell tower Bernini had erected on the facade of St. Peter's was pulled down. But Bernini's trials were short-lived. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was soon back in favor, hard at work for Innocent X, who had found it impossible to find another artist with half Bernini's talent. For the rest of Gian Lorenzo Bernini's life each succeeding pope sought Gian Lorenzo Bernini's services.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini "Fountain of Triton" sculptureBernini's sculptural output was immense and varied. At the end of April 1665, at the height of Gian Lorenzo Bernini's fame and powers, he traveled to Paris, remaining there until November. Bernini's international popularity was such that on his walks in Paris the streets were lined with admiring crowds. This trip, encouraged by Father Oliva, general of the Jesuits, was a reply to the repeated requests for his works by King Louis XIV. Here Bernini presented some (ultimately rejected) designs for the east front of the Louvre. Bernini's adventurous concave-convex facades were discarded in favor of the more stern and classic proposals of native Claude Perrault. Bernini soon lost favor at the French court because he praised the art and architecture of Italy at the expense of that of France.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini said that a painting by Guido Reni was worth more than all of Paris. The sole work remaining from his time in Paris is a bust of Louis XIV, which set the standard for royal portraiture for a century. True to the decorative dynamism of Baroque, Roman fountains, part public works and part Papal monuments, were among Gian Lorenzo Bernini most gifted creations. Gian Lorenzo Bernini's fountains are the Fountain of the Triton (shown here) and the Barberini Fountain. The Fountain of the Four Rivers 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 fašade of the church was completed.
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Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Italian Sculptor  "Fountain of Triton" sculpture, "The Ecstasy of St. Theresa", sculpture of David