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Seventeenth century Italian architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini is renowned for starting the Baroque period. His work is recognized throughout Italy. In this lesson, we will learn about his life and quotes.

Background

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was an Italian architect and artist in the seventeenth century who is best known for creating the Baroque Style. Bernini designed, sculpted, and built sculptures, tombs, altars, and chapels throughout Italy during his lifetime. In this lesson, we will examine the life and quotes of architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Early Life

Born in Naples on December 7, 1598, Gian Lorenzo Bernini began his career under the direction of his father, Pietro Bernini, a Florentine sculptor. At a young age, his remarkable talent earned him the patronage of Pope Paul V. He would later say that ”Three things are needed for success in painting and sculpture: to see beauty when young and accustom oneself to it, to work hard, and to obtain good advice.”

Sculpture: Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius Fleeing Troy
Troy sculpture

His work was inspired by his in-depth study of Michelangelo and of the ancient Greek and Roman marbles at the Vatican. He established himself as an independent sculptor, with his first life-size sculptures commissioned by Scipione Cardinal Borghese, a member of the papal group.

The series included Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius Fleeing Troy, Pluto and Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, and David (not to be confused with the well known Michelangelo sculpture). The series demonstrates Bernini’s development of his unique style that would be later termed as the Baroque Style. His sculptures enacted movement and true-to-life physical features of the mythological figures, while remaining grand and exquisite.

Bernini and Baroque Style

Bernini is credited for starting the Baroque Style of art and architecture, characterized by enormous pieces that generate illusion through an ability to enact movement. His sculptures and architecture shifted away from the Mannerist style, which relied on exaggerated qualities and ornateness.

Ultimately, his work resulted in elegant, larger-than-life sculptures that projected movement through swirls, and upward diagonals. Furthermore, his style hinged on a stunning combination of natural realism and dramatic affectation.

He advises that ”There are two devices which can help the sculptor to judge his work: one is not to see it for a while. The other… is to look at his work through spectacles which will change its color and magnify or diminish it, so as to disguise it somehow to his eye, and make it look as though it were the work of another…”

Bernini’s Mid-Career

The Patronage of Urban VIII

Baldachin at St. Peters Basilica
Baldachin

Under the influence and patronage of pontificate Urban VIII, Bernini built his masterpiece, the baldachin at St. Peter’s Basilica between 1624 and 1633. The baldachin is a gilt-bronze structure featuring twisted columns and crowning volutes with four angels supporting an orb and cross. The structure is nearly four stories tall and is considered the first integrated piece of Baroque architecture and art.

During this time, he executed a series of busts of Urban VIII, but none were as successful as his bust of Scipione Cardinal Borghese, which was revealed in 1632. The bust exhibits great movement with the cardinal in the act of speaking and moving.

In 1629, after the death of Roman architect Carlo Maderno, Bernini became increasingly productive in his architecture. Bernini became the architect for St. Peter’s and Palazzo Barberini, which resulted in more commissions than he could complete himself. Bernini required a team of skilled artists and architects to help him complete his commissions for Urban VIII. Tombs and fountains comprised the majority of his commissions.

The Patronage of Alexander VII

Pope Alexander VII supported Bernini throughout his mid-career. As Bernini matured, his work became more focused on architecture because he wanted to control the location that his statutes rested. One of his most inspiring contributions is the Cathedra Petri, which is a gilt-bronze cover for St. Peter’s wooden throne that was completed between 1657 and 1666.

In 1665, Bernini traveled to France on the courtesy of King Louis XIV. Bernini was asked to design a royal residence. He sculpted a bust of King Louis XIV; the portrait was so pristine that it became the standard for royal portraits for nearly 100 years.

Despite the warm welcome from the French, he accidentally offended his hosts by applauding Italian art and subsequently insulting French art. It is said that his insult cost him the commission for the Louvre.

Later Years

While much of Bernini’s later work is often forgotten because of his brilliant work at St. Peter’s, Bernini did produce many exquisite structures and sculptures in his later life. The marvelous Altieri Chapel in San Francesco a Ripa in Rome is one such example. Completed in 1674, the Altieri Chapel includes a statue of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni above the altar.

The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni in the Alteieri Chapel
Blessed Ludovica Albertoni

The chapel harked back to Bernini’s more traditional architecture that combined beauty with functionality. Bernini believed that ”the greatest praise belongs to an architect who knows how to connect the beauty of the building with the conveniences of life,” which is demonstrated in this chapel. The chapel is largely open and illuminated by light.

After serving eight popes, Bernini died at age 81 on November 28, 1680. His unique style persisted for another two decades after his death.

Lesson Summary

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was an Italian architect and artist in the seventeenth century known for creating the Baroque Style, characterized by enormous pieces that generate illusion through an ability to enact movement. He was very influenced by Michelangelo, and during his lifetime he generated dozens of exquisite sculptures, including Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius Fleeing Troy, Pluto and Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, and David, which show his break from Mannerism and the development of his own style.

Bernini was incredibly productive and worked under the patronage of Urban VIII and Alexander VII. Some of his most famous works include the baldachin of St. Peter’s, Cathedra Petri, Altieri Chapel, and a bust of King Louis XIV, which became the standard for royal portraits for a century.


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