Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the greatest artists of the Baroque era and revolutionized sculpture. His artwork went far beyond what artists were expected to do – it was intended to elicit viewers’ emotions and deepen religious experiences.
He paid great attention to texture in his sculptures, such as the billowing swirls of fabric or the softness of skin. These details combined to create an intense sense of energy and dynamic force.
Bernini’s specialty was portraits, from popes and kings, noblemen and aristocrats alike. At this time, face-to-face contact was essential as sitters were expected to meet multiple times over an extended period before their sculpture could be completed.
One of Bernini’s earliest marble busts, commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese for his villa in Rome, was Apollo and Daphne. This depiction of Daphne’s transformation from girl to woman showcases his mastery over marble manipulation and classical sculpture. It would become one of many iconic sculptures throughout his career.
The figures twist and move, breaking free of traditional niches and pedestals to invite viewers to walk around the work, taking in its full meaning from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, Apollo’s robe whirls around him, adding to the sense of movement and drama present throughout.
Bernini was an incredible artist with natural talent who achieved success in all forms of sculpture, including architecture from his youth. As such, he quickly rose to become one of Italy’s most sought-after and esteemed sculptors. At eleven years old, Bernini received his first commission from Pope Pius XII; throughout his career, he worked for eight different popes.
By the end of his life, Bernini had amassed an impressive body of works and cemented himself as one of the premier artists of his era. His relationship with the papal court spanned fifty years, and he enjoyed close connections to every pope throughout this time period, spending significant amounts of time with each one.
As a sculptor, Bernini had the unique talent of capturing decisive moments in someone’s life with remarkable accuracy. Utilizing his mastery of carving and interpreting human form, he painted subjects’ faces with expressive facial expressions as well as animated draperies and parted lips that suggested speech. His subjects’ portraits captivated viewers’ attention for their dramatic natures and captivating compositions.
His most iconic work is the 1665 marble bust of Louis XIV (Chateau de Versailles), depicting him wearing a stately portrait costume that exudes grandeur and an elegance of spirit. This sculpture is considered one of the finest examples of baroque style architecture to this day.
The Rape of Proserpina
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s iconic sculpture The Rape of Proserpina, depicting the mythical tale of Pluto’s abduction of Proserpina, remains in the Borghese family’s possession to this day.
The story of Proserpina’s rape can be found in both Claudian’s De raptu Proserpinae and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, explaining why she goes into Hades for half a year. After hearing her cry for help, the god of the underworld takes her away from her mother Ceres.
Bernini used marble, renowned for its texture, to create this sculpture as lifelike as possible. This allowed him to achieve realistic skin and hair on Proserpina’s legs.
He was also adept at creating convincing muscles that protruded from her limbs, an ability highly valued in this type of art. The muscles pressed into the sculpture demonstrate just how much attention to detail Bernini paid to this aspect of his work.
Bernini masterfully combined Mannerism and vital energy in this sculpture, capturing the emotion behind it and captivating viewers’ attention. He bent and stretched figures to convey their tense struggle, encouraging viewers to move around so they could take in the entire scene.
The Rape of Proserpina was sculpted between 1621 and 1622 and it is considered one of Bernini’s most renowned works. This success cemented his status as a master of Baroque sculpture at the time.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a passionate supporter of both Bernini and Caravaggio, commissioned this statue. As an avid collector of fine arts, his collection included numerous works by both artists – thus making it possible for him to afford this statue.
The Rape of Proserpina is one of Bernini’s most celebrated masterpieces and an outstanding example of Baroque style art, which integrates sculptures and paintings to form a seamless whole. This artistic movement emphasizes ornate design elements, lavish theatricality, and intricate detail to create captivating works of art.
Apollo and Daphne
Apollo and Daphne is one of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s iconic pieces in the Baroque style, depicting Daphne’s transformation into a tree. This masterwork showcases his incredible skill as it can be viewed up-close.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned the sculpture in 1622. He was an affluent and powerful patron who loved art, and dedicated his wealth to collecting works of art from around the globe.
Bernini’s first commission from Scipione marked his foray into baroque art, featuring movement, exuberant details, contrast, intense colors and grandeur to create an atmosphere of awe. This period saw many great masters of this genre come to fruition during this period.
Bernini successfully captured Daphne’s transformation into a tree in this work through cinematic optical effects that show her fingers and toes turning into leaves and branches sprouting out of her hands. This life-size sculpture is crafted out of marble for an incredibly realistic appearance.
Baroque sculptures often feature human forms alongside abstract elements. It’s an amazing demonstration of how the artist was able to blend different styles and techniques together, creating a remarkable work of art.
Though it’s an impressive sculpture, its composition can be somewhat confusing as it changes each time you look at it. At first glance, Daphne appears to be chasing Apollo; but as your eyes move around the sculpture, different stages of her metamorphosis take hold.
Once you take a closer look, the tree appears to be growing up her torso. This feature of the sculpture is crucial as it draws attention to the transformation that has taken place.
During the Baroque era, many artists were inspired by the story of Apollo and Daphne to create art. Bernini particularly used this theme in both his Rape of Proserpina and David sculptures. With this stunning sculpture, he captured precisely when Daphne transformed into a tree through various elements such as bark and leaves created by Giuliano Finelli.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini revolutionized Roman art during the seventeenth century with his daring interpretations of subjects and forms. Be known for his theatrical flair, his sculptural works fused sculpture, architecture, and painting into an arresting visual language that continues to resonate today.
He is widely considered the creator of the Baroque style, producing an array of decorative art objects and designing stage sets, theatrical machinery and horse-drawn coaches that embodied its love of detail and ornamentation. One famous example is the Baldachin at St Peter’s Basilica – a masterpiece that perfectly encapsulates his unique vision.
A baldachin is a canopy or draped covering that typically hangs above an altar or throne. Originally made from cloth from Baghdad, it eventually evolved into luxurious fabric featuring gold thread and silk thread in both warp and weft layers.
Baldachines have been found in numerous locations, some dating from the Romanesque era like Ravenna or Rome. While examples from the Gothic era are less common, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris boasts an exquisite example from 1247-50.
Bernini’s baldachin at St Peter’s Cathedral marks a landmark in Baroque church interior design and furnishing. This monumental bronze canopy rests atop eight helical columns, each bearing an ornate gilded cross on a sphere.
This stunning masterpiece stands 29 metres (95 feet) high and is crowned with an orb, icon of the Holy Spirit and cross. It took nine years to construct this breathtaking work of art – truly a work of remarkable beauty!
His sculptures were the first to incorporate architectural elements, and its rich decoration shows off his fascination with symbolism. The gilded cross on a globe is symbolic of Christ’s role as judge and redeemer, while angel statues stand either side to represent Christ’s role as judge and redeemer.