Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Nationality: Italian

Born: December 7, 1598

Born Place: Naples, Italy

Died: November 28, 1680

Death Place: Rome, Italy

Buried: Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Ita

On view: Borghese Gallery and Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, etc

Periods: Baroque, Mannerism

Gender: Male


Gian Lorenzo (7 December 1598 – 28 November 1680) was an Italian sculptor and architect. While a major figure in the world of architecture, he was, also and even more prominently, the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. As one scholar has commented, “What Shakespeare is to drama, Bernini may be to sculpture: the first pan-European sculptor whose name is instantaneously identifiable with a particular manner and vision, and whose influence was inordinately powerful….” In addition, he was a painter (mostly small canvases in oil) and a man of the theater: he wrote, directed and acted in plays (mostly Carnival satires), for which he designed stage sets and theatrical machinery. He produced designs as well for a wide variety of decorative art objects including lamps, tables, mirrors, and even coaches.

As an architect and city planner, he designed secular buildings, churches, chapels, and public squares, as well as massive works combining both architecture and sculpture, especially elaborate public fountains and funerary monuments and a whole series of temporary structures (in stucco and wood) for funerals and festivals. His broad technical versatility, boundless compositional inventiveness and sheer skill in manipulating marble ensured that he would be considered a worthy successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation. His talent extended beyond the confines of sculpture to a consideration of the setting in which it would be situated; his ability to synthesize sculpture, painting, and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole has been termed by the late art historian Irving Lavin the “unity of the visual arts”.


Bernini was born in Naples in 1598 to Angelica Galante and Mannerist sculptor Pietro Bernini, originally from Florence. He was the sixth of their thirteen children. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the definition of childhood genius. He was “recognized as a prodigy when he was only eight years old, [and] he was consistently encouraged by his father, Pietro. His precocity earned him the admiration and favor of powerful patrons who hailed him as ‘the Michelangelo of his century’”. In 1606 his father received a papal commission (to contribute a marble relief in the Cappella Paolina of Santa Maria Maggiore) and so moved from Naples to Rome, taking his entire family with him and continuing in earnest the training of his son Gian Lorenzo. Several extant works, dating from circa 1615-1620, are by general scholarly consensus, collaborative efforts by both father and son: they include the Faun Teased by Putti (c. 1615, Metropolitan Museum, NYC), Boy with a Dragon (c. 1616-17, Getty Museum, Los Angeles), the Aldobrandini Four Seasons (c. 1620, private collection), and the recently discovered Bust of the Savior (1615–16, New York, private collection). Sometime after the arrival of the Bernini family in Rome, word about the great talent of the boy Gian Lorenzo got around and he soon caught the attention of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew to the reigning pope, Paul V, who spoke of the boy genius to his uncle. Bernini was therefore presented before Pope Paul V, curious to see if the stories about Gian Lorenzo’s talent were true. The boy improvised a sketch of Saint Paul for the marveling pope, and this was the beginning of the pope’s attention on this young talent.

Once he was brought to Rome, he rarely left its walls, except (much against his will) for a five-month stay in Paris in the service of King Louis XIV and brief trips to nearby towns (including Civitavecchia, Tivoli and Castelgandolfo), mostly for work-related reasons. Rome was Bernini’s city: “’You are made for Rome,’ said Pope Urban VIII to him, ‘and Rome for you’”. It was in this world of 17th-century Rome and the international religious-political power which resided there that Bernini created his greatest works. Bernini’s works are therefore often characterized as perfect expressions of the spirit of the assertive, triumphal but self-defensive Counter Reformation Roman Catholic Church. Certainly Bernini was a man of his times and deeply religious (at least later in life), but he and his artistic production should not be reduced simply to instruments of the papacy and its political-doctrinal programs, an impression that is at times communicated by the works of the three most eminent Bernini scholars of the previous generation, Rudolf Wittkower, Howard Hibbard, and Irving Lavin. As Tomaso Montanari’s recent revisionist monograph, La libertà di Bernini (Turin: Einaudi, 2016) argues and Franco Mormando’s anti-hagiographic biography, Bernini: His Life and His Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), illustrates, Bernini and his artistic vision maintained a certain degree of freedom from the mindset and mores of Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism.


In the 1630s he engaged in an affair with a married woman named Costanza (wife of his workshop assistant, Matteo Bonucelli, also called Bonarelli) and sculpted a bust of her (now in the Bargello, Florence) during the height of their romance. She later had an affair with his younger brother, Luigi, who was Bernini’s right-hand man in his studio. When Gian Lorenzo found out about Costanza and his brother, in a fit of mad fury, he chased Luigi through the streets of Rome and into the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, threatening his life. To punish his unfaithful mistress, Bernini had a servant go to the house of Costanza, where the servant slashed her face several times with a razor. The servant was later jailed, and Costanza was jailed for adultery; Bernini himself was exonerated by the pope, even though he had committed a crime in ordering the face-slashing. Soon after, in May 1639, at age forty-one, Bernini wed a twenty-two-year-old Roman woman, Caterina Tezio, in an arranged marriage, under orders from Pope Urban. She bore him eleven children, including youngest son Domenico Bernini, who would later be his first biographer. After his never-repeated fit of passion and bloody rage and his subsequent marriage, Bernini turned more sincerely to the practice of his faith, according to his early official biographers, whereas brother Luigi was to once again, in 1670, bring great grief and scandal to his family by his sodomitic rape of a young Bernini workshop assistant at the construction site of the ‘Constantine’ memorial in St. Peter’s Basilica.


  • The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun (c. 1609–1615) Marble, height 44 cm (17 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Bust of Giovanni Battista Santoni (c. 1613–1616) Marble, life-size, Santa Prassede, Rome
  • A Faun Teased by Children (1616–17) Marble, height 132 cm (52 in), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (1617) Marble, 66 cm x 108 cm (26 in x 43 in), Uffizi, Florence
  • Saint Sebastian (1617–18) Marble, life-size, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
  • Bust of Giovanni Vigevano (1617–18) Marble tomb, life-size, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
  • Bust of Pope Paul V (1618) Marble, 35 cm (14 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius (1618–19) Marble, height 220 cm (87 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Damned Soul (1619) Marble, life-size, Palazzo di Spagna, Rome
  • Blessed Soul (1619) Marble, life-size, Palazzo di Spagna, Rome
  • Neptune and Triton (1620) Marble, height 182 cm (72 in), Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • The Rape of Proserpina (1621–22) Marble, height 225 cm (89 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Bust of Pope Gregory XV (1621) Marble, height 64 cm (25 in), Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
  • Bust of Monsignor Pedro de Foix Montoya (c. 1621) Marble, life-size, Santa Maria di Monserrato, Rome
  • Bust of Cardinal Escoubleau de Sourdis (1622) Marble, life-size, Musée d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux
  • Apollo and Daphne (1622–1625) Marble, height 243 cm (96 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Bust of Antonio Cepparelli (1622) Marble, Museo di San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, Rome
  • David (1623–24) Marble, height 170 cm (67 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Saint Bibiana (1624–1626) Marble, life-size, Santa Bibiana, Rome
  • St. Peter’s Baldachin (1623–1634) Bronze, partly gilt, 20 m (66 ft), St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Bust of Francesco Barberini (1626) Marble, height 80 cm (31 in), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • Charity with Four Children (1627–28) Terracotta, height 39 cm (15 in), Vatican Museums, Vatican City
  • Tomb of Pope Urban VIII (1627–1647) Bronze and marble, larger than life-size, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Saint Longinus (1631–1638) Marble, height 440 cm (174 in), St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Two Busts of Scipione Borghese (1632) Marble, height 78 cm (31 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Bust of Costanza Bonarelli (1635) Marble, height 72 cm (28 in), Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence
  • Bust of Thomas Baker (1638) Marble, height 82 cm (32 in), Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Bust of Cardinal Richelieu (1640–41) Marble, life-size, The Louvre, Paris
  • Truth Unveiled by Time (1645–1652) Marble, height 280 cm (110 in), Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Memorial to Maria Raggi (1647–1653) Gilt bronze and coloured marble, life-size Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
  • Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647–1652) Marble, life-size, Cappella Cornaro, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
  • Loggia of the Founders (1647–1652) Marble, life-size, Cappella Cornaro, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
  • Corpus (1650) Bronze, life-size, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
  • Bust of Francesco I d’Este (1650–51) Marble, height 107 cm, Galleria Estense, Modena
  • The Vision of Constantine (1654–1670) Marble, Vatican Museums, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
  • Daniel and the Lion (1655) Terracotta, height 41.6 cm, Vatican Museums, Vatican City
  • Daniel and the Lion (1655–56) Marble, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
  • Habakkuk and the Angel (1655) Terracotta, height 52 cm, Vatican Museums, Vatican City
  • Habakkuk and the Angel (1656-1661) Marble, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
  • Altar Cross (1657–1661) Gilt bronze corpus on bronze cross, height 45 cm (18 in), St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Chair of Saint Peter (1657–1666) Marble, bronze, white and golden stucco, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Statue of Saint Augustine (1657–1666) Bronze, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Saints Jerome and Mary Magdalen (1661–1663) Marble, height 180 cm, Cappella Chigi, Siena Cathedral, Siena
  • Constantine, Scala Regia (1663–1670) Marble with painted stucco drapery, Scala Regia, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
  • Bust of Louis XIV (1665) White marble, height 105 cm, Salon de Diane, Musée National de Versailles, Versailles
  • Elephant and Obelisk (erected 1667) Marble, Piazza di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
  • Standing Angel with Scroll (1667–68) Clay, terracotta, height: 29.2 cm, Fogg Museum, Cambridge
  • Angels of Ponte Sant’Angelo (1667–1669) Marble, Ponte Sant’Angelo, Rome
  • Angel with the Crown of Thorns (1667–1669) Marble, over life-size, Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, Rome
  • Angel with the Superscription (1667–1669) Marble, over life-size, Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, Rome
  • Bust of Gabriele Fonseca (1668–1675) Marble, over life-size, San Lorenzo in Lucina, Rome
  • Equestrian Statue of King Louis XIV (1669–1684) Marble, height 76 cm, Palace of Versailles, Versailles
  • Herm of Saint Stephen, King of Hungary Bronze, Cathedral Treasury, Zagreb Cathedral, Zagreb
  • Blessed Ludovica Albertoni (1671–1674) Marble, Cappella Altieri-Albertoni, San Francesco a Ripa, Rome
  • Tomb of Pope Alexander VII (1671–1678) Marble and gilded bronze, over life-size, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Self-Portrait as a Young Man (c. 1623) Oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Portrait of Pope Urban VIII (c. 1625) Oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome
  • Saint Andrew and Saint Thomas (c. 1627) Oil on canvas, 59 x 76 cm, National Gallery, London
  • Self-Portrait as a Mature Man (1630–35) Oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Portrait of a Boy (c. 1638) Oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome
  • Christ Mocked (c. 1644–55) Oil on canvas, Private Collection, London

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 19 July 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

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