Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) was the greatest sculptor of the baroque era, a genius architect and a fine painter.
Bernini’s sculptures are full of life, vitality, and movement, the subjects often caught in a moment of action, the flowing robes and drapery flapping in the wind. Bernini’s works are the epitome of the baroque’s extravagant theatricality.
With friends of 060608.it we propose a route to the discovery of this great master.
Our journey starts out from Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Via XX Settembre, at the corner with the square, Largo Santa Susanna.
The interior of this single-nave church features some of the most elaborate of all Baroque adornments, in the form of works in marble, stucco works and friezes. In the Cornaro chapel, located in the left transept, we find the most lyrical of Bernini’s sculptural groups, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. The work seems to be suspended in the cloudy heavens, bathed in a flood of golden light. The arrow of a smiling angel touches the Saint’s heart, causing in her abandon and ecstasy. The Cornaro chapel (1644-1652) represents one of the high points of Bernini’s career as an artist. It is noteworthy, above all, because it exemplifies his considerable skill in evoking a sense of the mysterious and spectacular in a setting of subdued light. Such works should be viewed, ideally, in the afternoon.
Via del Quirinale leads to the Church of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (1658-1671). This elliptical church is richly adorned with polychrome marble works, gilding and stucco works. It is a true masterpiece of architectural, decorative and pictorial harmony.
While small in scale, the interior of the church conveys a sense of grandeur, enhanced and underscored by the rich tones of the marble as viewed in the subdued light of the church’s corpus. This atmosphere of magical intensity reaches its highest point in the statue of St Andrew, who seems to be on the point of abandoning the building on his ascent to heaven.
Our next stop is Piazza Barberini, nearby. Here we find a unique, truly spectacular work– the Fontana del Tritone (1642-1643). Here, Bernini used travertine instead of his usual marble. Four dolphins, their mouths on the level of the basin’s water, raise, with their tails, the arms of the House of Barberini. On the open valves of a large conch, a triton blows a shell-horn from which water is spurted upward.
Nearby is the Fontana delle Api, or ‘fountain of bees’, on the corner with Via Veneto. While less spectacular, this fountain, too, is delightful! The water falls into a shell-basin, while bees – a heraldic device of the Barberini family – gather to drink there.
Let us now move on to the spectacularly stage-like square, Piazza Navona.
In the centrally positioned fountain, ‘of rivers’, the Fontana dei Fiumi (1651), we see that Bernini’s powers of imagination knew no bounds. At the heart of the work, within a generously proportioned round basin, we find a freestanding, many-grottoed rocky outcrop or crag. On it are lions and other fantastic beasts. On this outcrop, we find, seated, the personifications of rivers (the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and Rio de la Plata), symbolising the four corners of the Earth known to the men of those times. With considerable daring, Bernini placed upon the crag an obelisk.
We now move on to the majestic square before St Peter’s, Piazza San Pietro (1656-1667), an enormous oval space bound in by two semicircular colonnades made up of four rows of Doric columns. This work, Bernini felt, would give concrete form to the concept of the loving ‘arms’ of a Mother Church. Pilgrims, as they made their way along the narrow winding streets of the neighbourhood would then be confronted with this stunning, immense plaza, open to the skies, inspiring in them a sense not only of wonder but also of awe and subjection.