“On this day in 1598, Italian master sculptor, artist, and architect Giovanni Bernini was born. Widely regarded the originator of the Baroque style of sculpture, Bernini served eight popes during his lifetime and lent his talent to a number of landmarks in Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica.
Born in Naples to Pietro Bernini and Angelica Galante, the young Bernini was steeped in art from a young age. His father was a Mannerist sculptor and at age seven, Bernini accompanied his father to Rome, where the elder Bernini had been commissioned for several important projects. There, as a young boy, Bernini’s talents were recognised by painter Annibale Carracci and by Pope Paul V. He soon gained the patronage of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, under whom he quickly gained prominence. Among his early Hellenistic-inspired sculptures was Apollo and Daphne (1622-25), a marble sculpture inspired by one of the stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, depicting the moment when Apollo finally captures the object of his love, Daphne, a virginal water nymph who is, at the moment of her capture, transformed into a laurel tree by her father, Peneus, a river god. During the time he sculpted Apollo and Daphne, Bernini also created David, his famous sculpture depicting the Biblical David, torso twisted, brow furrowed, poised to throw the stone that will kill Goliath. Bernini also sculpted the celebrated Ecstasy of St. Theresa and The Rape of Proserpina, as well as busts of Pope Paul V and Louis XIV.
Bernini was also a talented architect who designed architectural decorations for existing structures, including the Piazza San Pietro, the piazza and colonnades, and the St. Peter’s baldachin, the bronze columned canopy over the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. As celebrated as he was in Rome, Bernini’s designs for the Louvre in Paris were ultimately rejected by Louis XIV. However, under the patronage of a series of popes, Bernini continued developing his Baroque style in Rome, creating famous fountains like the Fountain of the Triton, the Fountain of the Bees, the Fountain of the Four Rivers, and the statue of the Moor in the Moor Fountain, in Piazza Navona.
A master portraitist, Bernini also painted portraits of Costanza Bonarelli, with whom he had an affair, as well as commissions for subjects including Louis XIV, Cardinal Richelieu, and Charles I of England.
After a lifetime as a prolific master painter, sculptor, and architect, and one of Rome’s most celebrated artists, Bernini died in Rome in 1680, at the age of 81. He was buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. He was best known for his dramatic sculptures, which captured narrative moments with awe-inspiring realism.”
Credit: © Michele Falzone / Alamy
Caption: Bernini’s baldachin, or canopy, towers at 20 metres inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.