Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) was one of the most prolific and enduring artists of the Baroque era. His works capture the transience of the moment through an energetic portrayal of the characters as they twist and writhe in their narratives. He received commissions from popes and monarchs alike creating innovative sculptures, paintings, and architecture which defined the 17th century.
Bernini’s spirit for recreating the energy of classic myths with new expressive movement and ornamental delight ushered in the Baroque Style embraced by monarchs across Europe. As they built their new palaces and gardens, they embraced the new vibrant style of the 17th century. The word itself “Baroque” denotes extravagance and ornate playful details. Bernini remains one of our masters of their age, but others like Rubens, Velasquez, Caravaggio and Gentileschi to name a few, added their own passionate interpretations of classical and religious themes.
Here, Bernini’s depicts David, the New Testament hero as he prepares to slay the giant Goliath with his sling shot. Bernini captures the moment of physical tension just before the sling shot is released. David scowls in determined anticipation.
Another well known Bernini sculpture, Apollo and Daphne, at the Galleria Borghese illustrates Apollo reaching out to grasp his love, the fleeing Daphne as her body transforms into a laurel tree. The transformation saves her from his endless pursuit.
From St. Peter’s Cathedral at the Vatican, Rome, Bernini created a colossal baldachin in bronze as a canopy over the burial site of Saint Peter. It serves as a grave marker, focal point near the high altar, unusual integrated architectural sculpture, reference to the columns brought by Emperor Constantine from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, and a propagandistic message about Pope Urban VIII (Barberini) through the many bee insignias in the design.
Under a commission by Pope Innocent X, Bernini created the Fountain of Four Rivers (1651) surmounted by an obelisk from the reign of the emperor Domitian. The oblong piazza has the form of the original Stadium of Domitian built in the 1st century AD for the games. The Pope saw an opportunity to promote his reign by renovating this part of town with a beautiful plaza given to the people. The four rivers in Bernini’s conception would flow from the four corners of the earth thereby implying that the Pope’s power was so great, it extended throughout the world. Through the water that the residents were encouraged to draw, they also received on a regular basis the suggestion of the Pope’s enduring generosity and leadership.