Gian Lorenzo Bernini, born on December 7, 1598, in Naples, Italy, stands as a towering figure in the realm of architecture, sculpture, and painting during the Italian Baroque period of the 17th century. Hailing from an artistic lineage, he honed his skills under the guidance of his father, the renowned Mannerist sculptor Pietro Bernini. Supported by various patrons, most notably the Borghese family, Gian Lorenzo embarked on his artistic journey in the mid-1610s, leaving an indelible mark with works such as “San Lorenzo de la Reticle” (1614), “La Cabra Amaltea” (1615), and “San Sebastián” (1616).
In 1629, Bernini ascended to the role of architect for the grand Basilica of San Pedro, a position that would launch his illustrious career in service to multiple pontiffs and monarchs. Among his most celebrated creations, the sepulcher of Urban VIII and the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament stand as timeless exemplars of his skill and vision. His sculptures, such as “Daniel and the Lion” and “Habakkuk and the Angel,” continue to captivate and inspire admirers of art and craftsmanship.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s legacy is one of unparalleled innovation, artistic prowess, and an enduring impact on the world of Baroque art and architecture. His mastery has left an indomitable mark in the annals of history.
FAMILY AND BEGINNINGS
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s early life and family background are integral to understanding his meteoric rise in the world of art. He was born to the esteemed Mannerist sculptor Pietro Bernini and his wife, Angelica Galante, in a household bustling with siblings, including Luigi, Dorotea, Eugenia, Agnese, Francesco, Vincenzo, Emiliana, Beatrice, Domenico, Camilla, Giuditta, and Ignazio.
At the age of six, the Bernini family relocated to Rome, a city that would become the cradle of Gian Lorenzo’s artistic journey. His father, Pietro, secured a position under the patronage of Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli-Borghese, a member of the influential Borghese family. Under this auspicious patronage, Gian Lorenzo began his apprenticeship in his father’s workshop, where he delved into the intricacies of painting and sculpture. It is during these formative years that Pietro’s influence and Gian Lorenzo’s fascination with Hellenistic sculpture found expression in his early works, such as “San Lorenzo de la Reticle” (1614), “La Cabra Amaltea” (1615), “Faun Joking with Cupids” (1616), and “San Sebastian” (1616).
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s prodigious talent swiftly garnered the attention of notable figures in Rome, especially the Borghese family, who generously supported him from his youth. Under their benevolent patronage, Bernini undertook the restoration and creation of significant sculptures and monuments that cemented his status as one of the preeminent artists of his era. His first major works in collaboration with the Borghese family included the “Borghese Groups,” comprising four sculptures that explored both biblical and mythological themes. These sculptural masterpieces were “Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius” (1618-1619), inspired by Virgil’s “Aeneid”; “The Rapture of Proserpine” (1621-1622); “David” (1623-1624); and “Apollo and Daphne” (1622-1625). In this fertile partnership, Bernini’s artistic genius blossomed and solidified his reputation as a luminary of the Baroque period.
GIAN LORENZO BERNINI’S ARTISTIC CAREER
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s artistic prowess and association with the powerful Borghese family propelled him into the upper echelons of Rome’s artistic elite. Following the resounding success of the “Borghese Groups,” he became one of the most sought-after and esteemed sculptors in the city, entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing a multitude of architectural projects within the ecclesiastical community.
His journey to architectural eminence began with the creation of a statue of Santa Bibiana, intended for the church bearing her name. This work was commissioned by none other than the Supreme Pontiff of the time, Urban VIII. Impressed and captivated by Bernini’s exceptional talent, Urban VIII bestowed upon him the title of “Architect of God” and, in a momentous appointment, entrusted him with the role of overseeing the architectural endeavors of the grand St. Peter’s Basilica in 1629.
In the lead-up to his appointment, Bernini had already embarked on a significant undertaking: the construction of a new altar for the basilica. This monumental project saw the creation of a vast bronze canopy, an awe-inspiring structure, supported by four columns crafted in the distinctive Solomonic style. This masterpiece, constructed between 1624 and 1633, not only showcased Bernini’s architectural virtuosity but also marked the beginning of his indelible imprint on the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica, a testament to his enduring influence in the realm of Baroque architecture.In the midst of these remarkable architectural and sculptural endeavors, Gian Lorenzo Bernini embarked on the construction of the Mausoleum of Urban VIII. This grand undertaking, however, experienced several years of delay and was ultimately completed in 1647. The mausoleum stands as a testament to Bernini’s dedication and craftsmanship, serving as a lasting tribute to the memory of Urban VIII.
Shortly thereafter, Bernini undertook the creation of one of his most celebrated works, the “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” (1647-1651), a breathtaking marble sculptural group commissioned by Cardinal Cornaro. This remarkable masterpiece currently graces the Church of Santa María de la Victoria and continues to mesmerize viewers with its emotional and artistic depth.
During this prolific period, Bernini also crafted two additional iconic marble works. “La Verdad” (1645), a sculpture that exudes a sense of truth and authenticity, and the “Fountain of the Four Rivers” (1648-1651), located in Navona Square, both stand as pinnacle achievements in the artist’s illustrious career. These works are celebrated for their artistic brilliance and are often regarded as the zenith of Bernini’s creative output.During the 1660s, Gian Lorenzo Bernini completed his extensive work within the Basilica of St. Peter, leaving an indelible mark on this sacred space. His artistic contributions to the interior included the creation of his renowned sculpture “Cathedra Petri” (1666), a masterpiece that continues to grace the basilica’s interior, captivating visitors with its spiritual and aesthetic significance.
Furthermore, Bernini’s architectural prowess shone brightly during this period as he undertook the construction of the iconic elliptical colonnade that surrounds the exterior of the basilica. This extraordinary architectural achievement, known as the “Colonnade of St. Peter’s Square,” not only serves as a monumental embrace of the faithful but also remains a symbol of grandeur and spiritual significance.
In addition to the colonnade, Bernini designed the “Scala Regia” at the entrance of the basilica. This majestic staircase, characterized by its regal splendor, welcomes visitors with a sense of awe and reverence, setting the tone for the spiritual journey that awaits within the basilica.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s work during the 1660s solidified his legacy as a master of both sculpture and architecture, leaving an enduring imprint on the sacred and artistic landscape of St. Peter’s Basilica.In addition to his significant contributions to St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City during the same period, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s architectural talents extended to several other notable projects. Among these works, he designed and oversaw the construction of the Collegiate Church of Ariccia, a place of worship graced by his architectural vision and attention to detail.
Furthermore, Bernini played a pivotal role in the construction of the Chigi family’s church in Castel Gandolfo. His design and execution of this sacred edifice showcased his architectural excellence, enriching the spiritual and artistic heritage of the area.
Additionally, he was entrusted with the creation of Sant’Andrea for Camillo Pamphili, further highlighting his versatility and ability to craft spaces that seamlessly merged aesthetics and spirituality. These architectural undertakings underscored Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s enduring influence in shaping the architectural landscape of Italy during the 17th century and beyond.In the mid-1660s, Gian Lorenzo Bernini ventured to France, where he undertook the formidable task of reimagining and restructuring the Louvre, one of the most iconic landmarks in Paris. However, his innovative designs did not find favor with the French commissioners overseeing the project, and as a result, he made the decision to return to his native Italy after only six months in France.
During his short stay in France, Bernini received a significant commission to create the Equestrian Portrait of Louis XIV, the reigning monarch of France. This ambitious statue underwent several modifications to align with the preferences of the French authorities. Once completed, the Equestrian Portrait found its permanent home in the grand Palace of Versailles, further solidifying Bernini’s international reputation as a master sculptor.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sojourn to France and his work on the Equestrian Portrait of Louis XIV serve as a testament to his enduring influence on European art and his ability to leave a mark even in foreign lands.Upon Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s return to Rome, he received a significant and prestigious commission from Pope Alexander VII. This commission entailed the creation of a monumental tomb, a work of great importance. The Tomb of Alexander VII (1671-1678) stands as one of Bernini’s final masterpieces. In this remarkable funerary monument, the Pope is depicted in a symbolic struggle with death, surrounded by four allegorical figures representing key virtues: Charity, Truth, Prudence, and Justice.
These works, along with “The Bust of the Savior,” served as the culmination of Bernini’s illustrious career. His artistry profoundly influenced Italian Baroque art and left an indelible mark on 17th-century European architecture. His innovative and emotive style transcended borders, inspiring artists such as the British architect Christopher Wren and the Spanish architect Ventura Rodríguez, whose work carried the echoes of BeGian rnini’s brilliance.
Lorenzo Bernini, a towering figure of the Baroque era, left behind a legacy that continues to captivate and inspire admirers of art and architecture. He passed away on November 28, 1680, in his beloved city of Rome, but his influence endures, resonating through the centuries.