Today's Birthdays: December 7
He was the dominant figure of the Italian baroque. After receiving early training from his father, Pietro (1562–1629), an accomplished Florentine sculptor, Bernini worked mainly in Rome. Many of his early statues, such as the David (before 1623–24), Rape of Proserpine (1622), and Apollo and Daphne (1625), were done for Scipione Cardinal Borghese, one of the most important patrons of the period. These are all in the Borghese Gallery, Rome. Popes Urban VIII, Innocent X, and Alexander VII gave him unparalleled opportunities to design churches, chapels, fountains, monuments, tombs, and statues.
In 1629, Bernini was appointed architect of St. Peter's. He designed the ornate baldachin under the dome, the Cathedra Petri (the monument enshrining St. Peter's chair), and the exuberant marble decorations of the chapels and nave. During the 1640s he designed the Cornaro Chapel as well as that of Santa Maria della Vittoria. From 1656 onward he worked on the great elliptical piazza and the vast, embracing arms of the colonnades in front of the church.
During Innocent's papacy Bernini frequently worked for private patrons. He was commissioned to do the fountains in the Piazza Navona (1648–51). For St. Peter's Church, he created the Scala Regia and the heroic equestrian statue of Constantine (1654–70). He was assisted by a host of sculptors in these vast enterprises. Between 1658 and 1670 Bernini designed three churches: San Tomaso di Villanova at Castelgandolfo, Santa Maria dell' Assunzione at Ariccia, and Sant' Andrea al Quirinale in Rome. He established a new mode, dynamically linking sculpture and architecture. In 1665, Louis XIV invited him to Paris to finish designing the Louvre, but Bernini's plans failed to win approval. Returning to Italy, he continued to work on St. Peter's.
Much of Bernini's sculpture combines white and colored marbles with bronze and stucco, most effectively used in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, where he represented the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Often inspired by classical forms, Bernini transformed the marble block into a vital, almost breathing figure. A self-portrait drawn c. 1665 (Royal Coll., Windsor) is an example of his superb draftsmanship. Bernini was known as a wit; he wrote comedies and made numerous caricatures. He produced several plays, all of which contained effective illusions. All of his important work is in Rome, with the exception of the Neptune and Triton (Victoria and Albert Mus.) and the bust of Louis XIV (Versailles).
See studies by H. Hibbard (1965), R. Wittkower (2d ed. 1966), J. Blazostock (1981), F. Borsi (1985), I. Lavin (1985), and T. A. Marder (1998).
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