WC Art Encyclopedia Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Dec 7, 1598 – Nov 28, 1680) was an Italian sculptor. He is said to have developed the Baroque style of sculpture as he like no-one else before or after could capture in stone the essence of a narrative moment with a dramatic naturalistic realism. For his work he didn’t only look at the sculpture itself, but fitted it into the environment, where it was to be displayed. To heighten the dramatic effect of his work he often used hidden light sources.

Bernini also worked as architect and as such was commissioned the most prestigious project of his time, St. Peter’s Basilica. Piazza San Pietro in front of the Basilica is one of his most innovative and successful architectural designs.

Bernini was born in Naples. He was the sixth of thirteen children of Pietro Bernini, a Mannerist sculptor. At the age of 8 his father allowed him to accompany him to Rome, where he was involved in several high profile projects. There Bernini’s own talents and skills were discovered and he won the important patronage of the papal nephew Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

Borghese asked Bernini, whose prominence as a sculptor grew rapidly, for decorative pieces for the garden of the Villa Borghese. But his reputation as an artist was clearly made by four masterpieces, which Bernini executed between 1619 and 1625. These sculptures merge the classical grandeur of Renaissance with the dynamic energy of Mannerism while centering on a specific point of narrative tension in the stories, they try to tell, and hence started a new era in the history of European sculpture.

At the height of his fame King Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, requested repeatedly work from Bernini. So, Bernini travelled to France in 1665. Yet, he soon lost the favor of the court as he praised Italian art and architecture over the French and his plans for the Louvre were ultimately rejected. The only thing that remained of him in Paris was a bust of the King, which became the basis for the standard for royal portraiture for decades to come.

His fall from favor in France had no impact on his career in Italy however. He was given commissions like the tomb of Pope Urban VIII in St. Peter, created several fountains in Rome and was involved in important projects like the Ponte Sant’Angelo. In addition to that he became a sought after architect for sacred and secular buildings all over Rome. Most notable of all is probably his work on St. Peter’s Basilica which spanned over several papacies and different projects like the St. Peter’s Baldachin over the high altar of the basilica or the piazza and colonnade in front of it.

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