It’s well nigh impossible to visit Rome and not come into contact with the work of Bernini, the Renaissance sculptor and architect who was one of the leading artists of his time and a successor to the mantle of Michelangelo.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a genius – let’s just get that out of the way. Moving beyond the creation of mere objets destined for adoration, he took into account the setting in which each piece would be situated, synthesizing sculpture, painting and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole. He used light in a revolutionary way, much like Carravagio did a generation before: hidden, the light source was able to intensify a moment of religious adoration or enhance the narrative of a dramatic moment. In marble, don’t forget; the man was able to bring this bear while working in marble.
Enjoying the patronage of the Popes, Bernini’s output was vast: he designed the piazza and colonnade outside St. Peter’s, the Ponte Sainte’Angelo across the Tiber, a handful of massive fountain complexes that to this day remain a focal point of daily Roman life, and hundreds genre-bending sculptures admired for their dynamic movement. The man also revolutionized the art of marble portraiture, eschewing the stony silent bust in favor of presenting his subjects in mid-conversation or leaning out of the frame. To put Bernini’s life into a global context, understand that in his later years he was invited to present designs at the court of the Sun King, Louis Quattorze.
Above, the bust of Christ is his last known work. Completed shortly before his death at the age of 82, it was discovered only recently discovered along the ancient Appian Way, inside the Church of St. Sebastian. For a little contrast, below is a detail from the gargantuan Fountain of the Four Rivers that dominates the Piazza Navona and the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, which depicts Theresa of Avila anticipating the angle’s arrow and the piercing of God’s love.