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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) was an Italian sculptor and architect. He was the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. He was also a painter and a man of the theater. Bernini wrote, directed, and acted in plays for which he designed stage sets and theatrical machinery.

As an architect, Bernini designed buildings, churches, chapels, and public squares, as well as massive works combining both architecture and sculpture, especially elaborate public fountains and funerary monuments. Bernini’s technical versatility, inventiveness, and skill in marble elevated him above all other sculptors of his generation.

Bernini remained physically and mentally vigorous and active in his profession until just two weeks before his death in 1680 that came as a result of a stroke at the age of eighty-one. Many years later in 1898, on the anniversary of his birth, a simple plaque and small bust were affixed to the face of his home, proclaiming:

“Here lived and died Gianlorenzo Bernini, a sovereign of art, before whom reverently bowed popes, princes, and a multitude of peoples.”

A Tour of Gian Lorenzo Bernini Masterpieces

  • Apollo and Daphne
    • “Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini depicts a critical point in the story from ancient Greek mythology, retold by Hellenistic and Roman authors in the form of an amorous vignette. The story starts with Apollo, the Greek god, and patron of archery mocking the god of love, Eros (Cupid), for his use of bow and arrow. The insulted Eros then prepared two arrows, one of gold and one of lead. He shot Apollo with the gold shaft, instilling in the god a passionate love for the river nymph Daphne. He shot Daphne with the lead arrow, instilling in her a hatred for Apollo. Museum:  Galleria Borghese
  • The Rape of Proserpina
    • “The Rape of Proserpina” by Bernini depicts the Abduction of Proserpina, who is seized and taken to the underworld by the god Pluto. Pluto was the ruler of the underworld in classical mythology. The Greek mythological name for this god was Hades, which became more common as the name of the underworld itself. In the myth, Pluto abducts Persephone to be his wife and the queen of his realm. The story of the Abduction of Proserpina is told in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. In the ancient story, Zeus, King of the Gods, permitted Hades, who was in love with the beautiful Persephone, to abduct her as her mother Demeter was unlikely to allow her daughter to go down to Hades. Persephone was gathering flowers in a field when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth. Museum:  Galleria Borghese
  • David
    • “David” by Bernini is a life-size marble sculpture depicting the biblical David, about to throw the stone that will bring down Goliath, whom he then beheads. Compared to earlier works on this subject such as the David of Michelangelo, the sculpture broke new ground in its sense of movement and its psychological intensity. This sculpture shows a key event from the Old Testament during the war between the Israelites and the Philistines. Goliath was the battle champion of the Philistines, and he challenged the Israelite army to settle the conflict by single combat. David is a young shepherd who has gained fame as the king’s musician but accepts the challenge when no one else steps forward to defend the Israeli cause.  Museum:  Galleria Borghese
  • Saint Longinus
    • The Statue of Saint Longinus by Bernini was created for one of the niches at the crossing of St. Peter’s Basilica. In the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica within the four piers, supporting the dome, each pier has a niche. In niche one of the four statues associated with the basilica’s primary holy relics. This statue of Saint Longinus holding the spear that pierced the side of Jesus is one of these four statues. The sculptor, Bernini, has depicted a dramatic narrative showing Longinus’ conversion. Bernini’s skill in manipulating marble ensured that he became a worthy successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation. Museum: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Truth Unveiled by Time
    • “Truth Unveiled by Time” was created by Bernini in marble, showing “Truth” allegorically as a naked young woman being unveiled by a figure of “Time” above her. Unfortunately, the figure of “Time” was never executed. The female figure is holding the sun in her hand and represents naked “Truth” as her drapery appears to be leaving her body by the invisible hand of “Time.” Bernini wanted to add the figure of “Time” to the grouping, but time seems to have beaten Bernini, as he never completed his plan.

Bernini

  • Name:                 Gian Lorenzo Bernini (or Gianlorenzo Bernini)
  • Italian:                 Ratto di Proserpina
  • Born:                   1598 – Naples, Kingdom of Naples, in present-day Italy
  • Died:                   1680 (aged 81) – Rome, Papal States, in present-day Italy
  • Nationality:          Italian
  • Movement:          Baroque style
  • Notable works:

Gian Lorenzo Bernini Quotes

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“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.”

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“An architect proves his skill by turning the defects of a site into advantages.”

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“The white marble has to assume the likeness of a person. It has to have color, spirit, and life.”

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“What we have is given by God, and to teach it to others is to return it to him.”

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“To make a successful portrait, one should choose an action and attempt to represent it well; that the best time to render the mouth is when the subject has just spoken or is just about to begin speaking; that one should try to catch this moment.”

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“Sometimes, to imitate the original, it is necessary to put something that is not in the original into a portrait in marble.”

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“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, to disguise it somehow to his eye, and make it look as though it were the work of another.”

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A Tour of Famous Artists you Should Know

Women in the Arts

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“What we have is given by God, and to teach it to others is to return it to him.”
– Gian Lorenzo Bernini

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Photo Credit:  Gian Lorenzo Bernini [Public domain]

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