Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a famous Italian artist, architect, sculptor and painter, but also stage designer, poet and dramatist. His talent and splendid works made him one of the major artists of all times and definitely the most important figure of the Roman Baroque.
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About his life.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples in 1598. He became a successful artist just from his teens when he worked for the most powerful families and the popes of Rome. Soon he became famous across the whole Europe. There were King Charles I of England and King Louis XIV of France among his royal patrons. Being simultaneously sculptor, architect, painter, stage designer, poet and playwright, Bernini created unique dynamic monuments that combined art of painting, sculpture and architecture into a single whole. His career lasted until his death in 1680.
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What were his major works?
- St. Peter Baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica, a sculpted gilded-bronze canopy, which was the first truly Baroque monument. It was developed during the pontificate of Urban VIII. It was intended to mark the place of Saint Peter’s tomb underneath. The structure is architecturally imposing: its height, for example, was greater than that of many buildings. But the execution relied primarily on sculptural gifts. Bernini was able to make hard material seem soft and malleable, giving a dynamic aspect to a static form.
- The Fountain of the Four Rivers was built in 1648 in Piazza Navona in Rome. It was commissioned by Pope Innocent X to glorify the Pope and his family. It supports an ancient Egyptian obelisk surrounded by marble sculptures, which represent four major rivers of the four continents that were known at that time.
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- Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria is the greatest Bernini’s masterpiece, created in the mature period of his art. Its main attraction is Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645–1652), the scupture which depicts the mystical experience of the great Spanish reformer of the Carmelites, Teresa of Avila. The use of light, trompe l’oeil frescoes, as well as marble, gilded wood and gilded bronze materials have created an incredible visual effect in this spatial structure.
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- Colonnade surrounding the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica is the greatest architectural achievement of Bernini. It consists of 284 Doric columns and 88 pilasters, situated in four rows. At the top of the colonnade there are 140 statues of popes, martyrs, evangelists and other religious leaders. All these statues were created by Bernini and his students. Bernini’s talent is especially noticeable if you carefully examine the location of the columns. The ellipsoidal colonnade of 2 semicircles (Piazza Obliqua), generally traditional for the Baroque, was turned 90 degrees so that the long transverse axis was not perpendicular but parallel to the façade. The rhythmic alternation of a fountain, an obelisk and another fountain, clearly dictates to the viewer’s mind that this is an ellipse. But the eye, accustomed to accurately determining the horizontal distance, still sees the circle.
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- Cathedra Petri structure, also known as the Chair of St. Peter or Throne of St. Peter, was designed to display the chair on which, according to ancient tradition, St. Peter sat and taught Roman Christians. Pope Alexander VII had the ivory-covered chair put into the gigantic bronze cathedra, with the statues of the Doctors of the Church, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine of the Roman Church and St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom of the Greek Church. The religious significance is extremely clear. The Doctors of the Church were always consistent with Peter’s teachings as they expounded theological doctrine.
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How can we identify Bernini’s Style?
- Bernini, perhaps more than any other artist of the time period, was responsible for defining the Baroque style of sculpture.
- Whether in his sculpture, architecture, or multimedia works, Bernini’s pieces can always be recognized by their minute attention to detail, grandiose theatricality, and ornate design.
- A high percentage of his work was religious by theme.
- Bernini created swirling, dynamic compositions in his sculptures which were meant to be viewed from all directions, inviting the viewer to be a part of the scene.
- His figures are posed on diagonals, characteristic of Baroque sculpture.
- Bernini paid a great deal of attention to texture in his sculptural works. His works are more than a visual experience: they are also a tactile experience.
- His figures are always somewhat idealized.
- A work of Bernini’s is never static. There is always illusion and sense of movement.
- Through, using a combination of sculpture, architecture and painting he created a new idea of what an artwork could encompass.
- Bernini used a method of casting called the lost-wax method.
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