Before I went to Rome, I knew comparatively little about Baroque sculpture and architecture. I knew the Trevi Fountain was Baroque, but if you asked me to name a single Baroque sculptor, well, I couldn’t.
And then I met the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the guy who is widely thought to have invented Baroque sculpture.
After Rome fell in the 5th century AD, Rome was a dump for the better part of a thousand years. Sure, the Pope lived there (and even so, for a while, even the Pope decided to live elsewhere, in France!), but otherwise, Rome was a nothing place. In the height of the Roman Empire, a million people lived in Rome. In the depths of the Dark Ages, maybe 10,000 people, tops.
In the 16th and 17th century, though, the Renaissance brought money and power to the Popes, and Rome again. Art and architecture started to flourish once more. Popes thought big and dreamed big and started building projects and restoration projects. Bernini, who lived in the 17th century, helped steer the course of that restoration with his style.
You’ve already seen the work of Bernini in this space. Remember David?
My connection to Bernini on this trip, though, started at the beginning. The Hotel I stayed at was called the Hotel Bernini.
The reason for this turns out to be because of the Piazza in front of the Hotel. The Piazza Barberini has a fountain designed by Bernini, the Fontana del Tritone.
Back to the Villa Borghese, where you saw the David. Scipio Borghese was a nephew of a Pope, and that gave him a lot of power to get what he wanted. He got to be a cardinal, for example. What Scipio really loved and wanted was art, and he collected it like crazy. He has a few pieces by Bernini, including a bust he commissioned Bernini to do of himself.
This is Pluto and Prosperina, a classic story of Greek myth. Look at the delicacy of the image, with the tear, and Pluto’s fingers digging into her flesh.
This is Apollo and Daphne, the nymph who turned into a tree to avoid Apollo’s amorous advances. You can see in this image that she’s in the moment of transformation (look at her legs)
But like the fountain before, Bernini liked to do bigger projects. The fountains of the Piazza Navona, one of the biggest and most famous squares in Rome, are his work:
He also had a hand in the design in and around St. Peter’s square.
Still, even as I was wandering around museums of Rome, I randomly came across his work.
The face of that Medusa by the way, was of his mistress. He was fighting with her at the time.
Finally, Bernini died, and was buried in one of the big churches of Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore. I didn’t find his tomb, there was a church service going on at the time. Next time.