Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo

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Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo (1598–1680). Sculptor, architect, painter, and poet, who made an outstanding contribution to the evolution of Baroque. Born in Naples, his family settled in Rome (c.1605), where he spent the rest of his life. By the age of 20 he was famous, and from the election of Pope Urban VIII (1623–44) his rise was meteoric. In 1624 he began work on his gigantic baldacchino in San Pietro, Rome, a tour-de-force with four barley-sugar columns that alluded to the columns taken from the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem and set up over the tomb of the Apostle in the Constantinian basilica that preceded the later church. Those columns, and the extravagance and grandeur of the object, made clear the continuity of the Church from the Old Testament, and celebrated the Church Triumphant of the Counter-Reformation.

Bernini was a master of the theatrical, as his sensational Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome (1645–52), demonstrates. In the Ecstasy of St Teresa, a smiling angel thrusts its spear into the bosom of the swooning Saint, carried aloft in clouds, illuminated by gilded-rod sunbursts and concealed lighting, and placed within an aedicule above the altar. The whole vision is viewed by members of the Cornaro family, as though in theatre-boxes: it is a stunning, unforgettable, and magical creation (though deeply disturbing to puritanical dispositions). He also used theatrical techniques of false perspective, concealed lighting, and optical devices at the Scala Regia, Vatican Palace (1663–6), to emphasize the illusion of great length and size.

He designed the Four Rivers Fountain (1648–51) in the Piazza Navona, Rome (a powerful base for the Antique obelisk recovered from excavations), and the elephant carrying another Antique obelisk on its back outside the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. His designs for the Papal tombs in St Peter's ( Urban VIII, 1627–47, and Alexander VII, 1671–8) employed an essentially pyramidal composition where the figures were set against a fat obelisk-form. These were the precedents for countless such pyramidal funerary monuments set up in churches throughout Europe thereafter (there are many examples in England).

As an architect, Bernini was also outstanding. His finest church is Sant'Andrea al Quirinale (1658–70), an ellipse with the highaltar set on the short axis, and a series of chapels off the centralized volume. A triumphant, vigorous, richly coloured space, it was widely influential in RC countries during the Baroque period, notably in Central Europe. Also elliptical was his Piazza di San Pietro, with the Ancient Egyptian obelisk (re-erected by Domenico Fontana in 1586) at its centre, on the main axis of the basilica: the great colonnades of the severe Tuscan Order around the wider parts of the ellipse become straight colonnades as they approach Maderno's façade, but they are not parallel, being closer together as they branch off from the ellipse. These points, and the fact that the ground rises up to the steps before the façade, employ theatrical techniques to make the approach to the church seem longer and more impressive, while creating the illusion that Maderno's somewhat weak front is taller. There is a symbolic aspect too, for the great curved arms of the colonnade reach out to embrace the faithful to the bosom of Mother Church.

In secular architecture he was equally influential. His Palazzo Chigi (later Odescalchi) of 1664–6, which has a centrepiece of eight Giant pilasters with rusticated wings on either side, provided the precedent for many European princely palaces. At the same time he produced proposals for the east side of the Louvre in Paris; although never realized, it was an important model for other architects.


Avery (1997);
F. Borsi (1984);
Brauer amp; Wittkower (1970);
Fagiolo dell'Arco & and Carandini (1977–8);
Lavin (1980);
Lavin et al. (1981);
Marder (1998);
Varriano (1986);
Waddy (1990);
Wittkower (1981, 1982)

Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo

views updated May 08 2018


The greatest sculptor and architect of the Italian baroque; b. Naples, 1598; d. Rome, Nov. 28, 1680. A child prodigy, Bernini learned the rudiments of his art from his father, Pietro, a Florentine late mannerist sculptor. In 1605 the family moved to Rome, where Bernini remained, except for a six-month sojourn (1665) at the court of Louis XIV in Paris. He was named architect to St. Peter's, where for more than 50 years he directed vast enterprises in the area of the Vatican (see st. peter's basilica). Throughout the city he renovated and designed churches, squares, chapels, tombs, palaces, and fountains; he invented the full baroque portrait bust; he officiated in a gamut of civic undertakings from the planning of illuminations, carnival floats, fireworks, and catafalques to the presentation of operas and comedies for which he created the costumes and stage machinery. Bernini was one of the last of the "universal men." He gave Rome its baroque character and Europe a new sculptural style that reigned for several centuries.

Bernini's early reputation was made with three lifesize marble groups (161824): "Aeneas and Anchises," "Pluto and Proserpina," and "Apollo and Daphne," as

well as with "David," executed for Cardinal Scipione Borghese. He divided his attention equally between antique sculpture and contemporary painting; his astonishing craftsmanship delighted in technical feats of realism until then considered outside the realm of sculpture. The Roman Curia, notably Popes urban viii, innocent x, and alexander vii were Bernini's principal patrons. Among his achievements in St. Peter's are some of the most opulent expressions of the Ecclesia triumphans: the "Baldacchino" (162433); the decoration of chapels and nave; the "Scala Regia" (166366); the "Cathedra Petri" in the apse (165766); and the design for St. Peter's Square (165667). As in all Bernini's churches, S. Andrea al Quirinale (165867) combines architecture, sculpture, and ornamentation to form an indivisible unity whose purpose is to illumine the mystery of St. Andrew's salvation. So, too, in the Cornaro Chapel (164552, S. Maria della Vittoria), with the altar of St. Teresa in ecstasy (see teresa of avila, st.), and in the Altieri Chapel, with Bl. Lodovica Albertoni (167174, S. Francesco a Ripa), a theatrical setting is used to transport the faithful to the realm of exultant mystical reality. A fervent practitioner of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Bernini summoned every resource of his stupendous baroque rhetoric to deny the barrier between the real and imagined, the better to celebrate the spirit of 17th-century


See Also: baroque art; church architecture, 7.

Bibliography: Sources . f. baldinucci, Vita di Bernini (Florence 1682), ed. s. s. ludovici (Milan 1948). p. f. de chantelou, Journal du voyage en France du chevalier Bernin, ed. l. lalanne (Paris 1930). See also the Vitae of g. baglione (1642), l. pascoli, 2 v. (173036), and g. b. passeri (1772). Literature . e. benkard, G. L. Bernini (Frankfurt a.M. 1926). l. grassi, Disegni del Bernini (Bergamo 1944); Bernini pittore (Rome 1945). v. martinelli, ed., Bernini (Milan 1953). a. muÑoz, G. L. Bernini: Architetto e decoratore (Rome 1925). r. pane, Bernini architetto (Venice 1953). m. reymond, Le Bernin (Paris 1911). m. von boehn, Lorenzo Bernini, seine Zeit, sein Leben, sein Werk (2d ed. Bielefeld 1927). r. wittkower, G. L. Bernini, the Sculptor of the Roman Baroque (New York 1955).

[r. m. arb]

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Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini

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