Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) is widely acknowledged as the greatest Baroque sculptor for his monumental works such as Apollo and Daphne (1622–25) and the Ecstasy of St. Theresa (1647–52). His unparalleled talent as a portrait sculptor transformed the practice and earned him the patronage of the Catholic Church and nobility in 17th- century Rome, as well as important commissions from foreign rulers.
The exhibition explores the interrelationship of painting and sculpture during the Baroque period, bringing together roughly 30 sculptures—created in marble, bronze, and porphyry—as well as a number of paintings and drawings from all over the world, including many sculptures that have never been seen outside of Italy.
Work by Bernini and others were loaned by the Palazzo Barberini, the Galleria Borghese, and the Museo di Roma in Rome; the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence; and the Vatican.
The first gallery celebrates Bernini’s early achievements, including two bronze portrait busts—commissioned together—of the deceased pope Paul V (1621-22, bronze) and the newly appointed Gregory XV (1621-22, bronze), among others.
The commission for these two sculptors came from a man named Scipione Borghese—the nephew of Paul V—a wealthy benefactor with whom Bernini found great favor in the 1630’s. Bernini’s bust of Scipione Borghese (1632, marble) is of great importance in his oeuvre as it not only depicts his first important patron—Scipione’s patronage launched Bernini’s great career—but also marks a significant innovation in his portrait style. The marble bust is the epitome of what became known as Bernini’s “speaking likeness,” which refers to his unprecedented ability to portray the sitter’s personality with psychological intimacy in a frozen moment of time and action. Scipione is captured in mid-sentence as he directly engages the viewer in conversation. The moment is spontaneous and fleeting as his biretta shifts back on his head and his shoulders animate the creases of his cape. Bernini’s innovation—portraying Scipione as the gregarious and imperious man he was known to be—changed sculptural portraiture forever and made it common practice to “animate” the marble with the sitter’s countenance and temperament.
A section of the exhibition is devoted to portrait busts and paintings of the Barberini family—who rose to prominence in 17th-century Rome with the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to the papal throne in 1623 as Urban VIII—and members of their entourage. Bernini’s portraits of Francesco Barberini (1620s, marble), Maffeo’s uncle, and Camilla Barberini (1620s, marble), Maffeo’s mother, will be on view, alongside numerous depictions by Bernini of Urban VIII himself, including two bronze busts, a marble bust, a bronze and porphyry bust, and an oil painting. A spiritually charged marble bust of Carlo Barberini (ca. 1630) by Bernini’s contemporary Francesco Mochi is also on display.
The work of Giuliano Finelli and Alessandro Algardi is also be on view—demonstrating the influence Bernini’s virtuosic realism had on Finelli and the naturalistic classicism developed by Bernini’s rival Algardi.
J. Paul Getty Museum Web Site