Friday, December 8, 2017

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, born on December 7th, 1598

Ecstasy of St. Theresa

Head of Medusa
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒan loˈrɛntso berˈniːni]; also Gianlorenzo or Giovanni Lorenzo; 7 December 1598 – 28 November 1680) was an Italian sculptor and architect. While a major figure in the world of architecture, he was the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. As one scholar has commented, "What Shakespeare is to drama, Bernini may be to sculpture: the first pan-European sculptor whose name is instantaneously identifiable with a particular manner and vision, and whose influence was inordinately powerful…."  

In addition, he was a painter (mostly small canvases in oil) and a man of the theater: he wrote, directed and acted in plays (mostly Carnival satires), also designing stage sets and theatrical machinery, as well as a wide variety of decorative art objects including lamps, tables, mirrors, and even coaches. As architect and city planner, he designed both secular buildings and churches and chapels, as well as massive works combining both architecture and sculpture, especially elaborate public fountains and funerary monuments and a whole series of temporary structures (in stucco and wood) for funerals and festivals.

Born in Naples to a sculptor, the sixth of nineteen children, he was early recognized as a prodigy (Age 8). He soon caught the attention of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew to the reigning pope, Paul V, who spoke of the boy genius to his uncle. Bernini was therefore presented before Pope Paul V, curious to see if the stories about Gian Lorenzo's talent were true. The boy improvised a sketch of Saint Paul for the marveling pope, and this was the beginning of the pope’s attention on this young talent. Once he was brought to Rome, he only left once to go to France and soon returned. Rome was Bernini’s city. “For Bernini there could be only one Rome. ‘You are made for Rome,’ said Pope Urban VIII to him, ‘and Rome for you’”. It was in this world of 17th-century Rome and religious power that Bernini created his greatest works,

Apollo and Daphne is another example of an erotic moment in Bernini's work. Commissioned by Cardinal Borghese - so much for the religious life in 17th century Rome - Apollo's frustrated touch on Daphne's face as she begins to turn into a tree to escape him, reveals the futility of some kinds of human desire. 

Apollo and Daphne

In the 1630s he engaged in an affair with a married woman named Costanza (wife of his workshop assistant, Matteo Bonucelli, also called Bonarelli. His bust of her, now in the Bargello, Florence, made during the during the height of their romance. She later had an affair with his younger brother, Luigi, who was Bernini's right-hand man in his studio. When Gian Lorenzo found out about Costanza and his brother, he went crazy. In a fit of mad fury, he chased Luigi through the streets of Rome and into the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, threatening his life. To punish his unfaithful mistress, Bernini had a servant go to the house of Costanza, where the servant slashed her face several times with a razor. The servant was later jailed, and Costanza was jailed for adultery. Slashing a woman's face was the kind of treatment given to prostitutes so in his anger, he treated this aristocratic woman as a prostitute. 

Bernini himself was exonerated by the pope, even though he had committed a crime in ordering the face-slashing. Soon after, in May 1639, at age forty-one, Bernini wed a twenty-two-year-old Roman woman, Caterina Tezio, in an arranged marriage, under orders from Pope Urban. She bore him eleven children, including youngest son Domenico Bernini, who would later be his first biographer.  

After his never-repeated fit of passion and bloody rage and his subsequent marriage, Bernini turned more sincerely to the practice of his faith, according to his early official biographers. He did become more devout, attending daily mass and practicing the counter reformation religious practices of the time. 

Thanks for a recent biography by Sarah McPhee, we know a lot more about Constanza. She belonged to the nobility and paid dearly for her affair with Bernini’s brother. She spent several months in a convent for prostitutes but was taken back by her husband and later, became one of Rome’s most successful art dealers, had a daughter by a highly placed prelate (never identified for the sake of discretion. The daughter married well with a large dowry provided by her mother. 

Bernini, Self Portrait

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Bernini, who lived until 1680 never saw Constanza again (as far as we know) but went from success to success. He had enough confidence in himself to snub an offer from Louis XIV to come to Versailles. He remained active until two weeks before his death, building secular palaces and religious edifices, fountains, chapels.. all that his wealthy patrons required of him. He created Baroque architecture and Rome is still full of the works that he built. When he died, he was buried with little fanfare in a simple tomb.This inscription was carved later. 

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

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

This is one artist I was aware of. I love the works of Bernini I've seen so far. I did not, however, know the story of Costanza, only the bust. Such a tragedy. Had it not been for the Pope, the rest of Bernini's life may have been quite different.