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Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini

Italian Sculptor and Architect

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini Photo
Movement: The Baroque

Born: December 7, 1598 - Naples

Died: November 28, 1680 - Rome

"The white marble has to assume the likeness of a person, it has to have color, spirit and life."

Summary of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini

Passion, above all else, ruled Italian sculptor and architect Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. His extreme religious piety combined with a lifelong study of the sculptural form led to the introduction of a dynamic and exuberant style, focused on emotional expressionism, which perfectly embodied the Baroque period. Like Michelangelo before him, he became a master of marble, while remaining equally fluent in other media. His manner and vision was so innovative, it pioneered a new era in European sculpture that has influenced the form to this day.

Bernini was also a leading figure in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture along with his contemporaries, the architect Francesco Borromini and the painter and architect Pietro da Cortona. His designs helped restore Rome to its former architectural glory through an extensive urban planning project taken on under his patronage by the powerful Roman Popes of the time.

Key Ideas

Bernini's insistence that beauty should be found in observing humans and nature instead of studying Classical statues or Renaissance paintings was a move away from the traditional ways of creating work. His progressive focus on human emotion and sensuality became important to later artists all the way up to the modernist period. His dramatic depiction of the flesh was also new in art, introducing a technical expertise that continues to be studied.
Bernini popularized the concept of "speaking likeness" in his work. He felt that capturing a person in mid-conversation, or just at the moment of uttering a word was the truest way to capture the authentic personality of his subjects.
Bernini transformed the purpose of sculptural busts, which in the past were limited to serving as formal portraits for tombs. In his hands, they became an art form to present informal portraits of the living, a practice that hadn't been widely used since Ancient Rome.
Bernini changed the way sculptures were presented. He oftentimes created them "in the round," meaning works that stood alone in grand spaces, meant to be seen on all sides from different perspectives by the viewer, enhancing the overall experience and intimacy with a piece.
Heavily inspired by the theatrical, Bernini wrote, directed, and acted in plays, especially carnival satires. This flair for drama not only influenced his architecture and sculpture, but also led to his designing of stage sets and theatrical machinery, as well as a wide variety of decorative art objects including lamps, tables, mirrors, and even horse-drawn coaches epitomizing the Baroque love of detail and the ornate. This contributed to the artist's ability to synthesize sculpture, painting, and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole.
Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini Photo

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini was born in 1598, the sixth of thirteen children of Angelica Galante and Pietro Bernini. Bernini's childhood was spent in Naples and he began sculpting from an early age working closely with his father, a successful Mannerist sculptor who carried out prestigious commissions in Naples and later Rome. Bernini was a deeply religious Catholic and created his first work at the age of eight. His father encouraged his skill, recognizing early the prodigy he would become. In fact, he was presaged, "the Michelangelo of his age," according to Giovanni's son and biographer Domenico Bernini. This lifelong dedication to practice would lead to Bernini's development of his own style which would go on to greatly contribute to the Baroque movement.

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