Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gian Lorenzo Bernini : Master Sculptor

The most prolific and influential artist of the 1600s (High Renaissance), Gian Lorenzo Bernini left a legacy of sculptures, buildings and fountains throughout Rome.Everyone knows the world’s greatest sculptor was Michelangelo, but who takes the secound place? Some say Auguste Rodin comes after Michelangelo but in my view it is Bernini.During his life time he was called the "Next Michelangelo".

A student of Classical sculpture, playwriter, and painter. Bernini possessed the unique ability to capture, in marble, the essence of a narrative moment with a dramatic naturalistic realism which was almost shocking. This ensured that he effectively became the successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation, including his rival, Alessandro Algardi. His talent extended beyond the confines of his sculpture to consideration of the setting in which it would be situated; his ability to synthesise sculpture, painting and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole has been termed by the art historian, Irving Lavin, the 'unity of the visual arts'.

By the time he had become a master sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini had been working on church sculptures for years with his father and would continue under the patronage of eight Popes for the rest of his career. He was and still is considered to have singlehandedly created High Baroque Sculpture, and today you can still see many of his works scattered throughout Rome and Vatican City although several of his works have been moved to museums and galleries around the world.
Bernini's self portrait

The Early Life of Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born on December 7, 1598 in Naples, Italy. His mother Angelica Galante was a Neopolitan and his father, Pietro Bernini, a Mannerist sculptor, was from Florence. When he was seven, his father brought Gian Lorenzo along when he went to Rome to work on several high profile projects. One of these projects was the sculpture of the Pauline Chapel, an addition to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which had been commissioned by Pope Paul V. Pietro used this as an opportunity to introduce his son, already a child prodigy, to the Pope and his nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who had not only a great deal of wealth but also a great appreciation for art. Growing up in Rome, he studied the works of Raphael and Michelangelo, but also Hellenistic and Roman sculptured. As a youth he also found a fondness for painting although sculpture remained his main focus. His painting, Saint Andrew and Saint Thomas is housed at the National Gallery in London and his other three works, Portrait of a Boy, Self-Portrait as a Young Man and Self-Portrait as a Mature Man can be found at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Bernini’s Sculptures

Bernini’s prominence as a sculptor increased greatly under the patronage of Cardinal Borghese. During this time he created The Great Amalthea with the Infant Zeus and a Faun and several busts including the bust of Pope Paul V. He also created some of his most admired masterpieces like Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, The Rape of Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne and Bernini’s own version of David.
Rape of Proserpina by Pluto
Under the reign of Pope Urban VIII, Bernini dominated the Roman art scene and his commissions were so numerous and grand that he had to employ most of the sculptors in Rome at the time to complete them all. Therefore most of his works from this time on followed his designs but were created by his assistants under his watchful gaze. Some of his later sculptures include the Ecstacy of St. Theresa in the Santa Maria della Vittoria (his greatest masterpiece), the Elephant and Minerva, Constantine and tomb of Pope Paul V.
Ecstacy of St. Theresa
Bernini’s sculptural group shows a cupid-like angel holding an arrow. His delicate touch and lithe figure give him an air of grace. With her head thrown back and eyes closed, Teresa herself collapses, overcome with the feeling of God’s love. Her physical body seems to have dematerialized beneath the heavy drapery of her robe. Twisting folds of fabric energize the scene and bronze rays, emanating from an unseen source, seem to rain down divine light. The combined effect is one of intense drama, the ethereality of which denies the true nature of the work of art. 
 Apollo and Daphne

The Roman Fountains of Bernini

The fountains in Rome are some of the most intricate and beautiful in the world, and some of the most well known ones came from Bernini’s studio. His fountains include the Fontana del Tritone (Fountain of the Triton), the Fontana delle Api (Fountain of the Bees) and the Statue of the Moor in La Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor). But the crowning achievement in his foray into fountains is the Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in the Piazza Navona, with four gods (one on each corner) representing the four major rivers of the world in his time, the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges and the Plate.
Fountain of the Moor
Fountain of Four Rivers
Fountain of Four Rivers

Bernini’s Architectural Achievements

As an architect, Bernini focused on the heritage of Imperial Rome. His first sojourns into architecture were the facade and refurbishment of the church of Santa Babiana and St. Peter’s baldachin inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Under Innocent X he fell out of favor with the church because of political reasons and his miscalculations in the design of bell towers for St. Peter’s Basilica. However his papal patronage was resumed by Pope Alexander VII Chigi when he was asked to design the piazza and colonnade in front of St. Peter’s. During this time he also designed the Scala Regia (the grand stairway leading to Vatican Palace) and the Cathera Petri (Chair of St, Peter).
St. Peter’s Baldachin inside St. Peter’s Basilica by Bernini.

Most of his architectural commissions were to redesign pre-existing structures, but he did construct three churches from the ground up, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale in Rome, San Tommaso da Villanova in Castelgandolfo and Santa Maria Assunta in Ariccia. He also built several palazzos such as the Palazzo Barberini, the Palazzo Ludovisi (now the Palazzo Montecitorio) and the Palazzo Chigi. In 1639, Bernini bought a property in Rome on the corner of via Mercede and via del Collegio di Propoganda Fide, and built himself the Palazzo Bernini, his own little palace. From here he watched his rival Francesco Borromini build the tower and dome of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte and rebuild the chapel that Bernini originally designed at the Collegio di Propoganda Fide.
Tomb of Pope Alexander VII
Bernini's Angel

In April 1665, he left his beloved Rome for Paris where he stayed until November. King Louis XIV had made several requests for Bernini’s work and Father Oliva, general of the Jesuits, finally encouraged him to make the journey. He proposed some designs to the King for the east facade of the Louvre, but they were rejected in favor of a French artist. After six months in France he became disillusioned with life at court and returned to Rome but not before establishing a disdain for everything French. Back in Rome, Bernini continues to create priceless sculptures until his death on November 28, 1680.

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