Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bernini in the Galleria Borghese

Several prominent names have been associated with the papacy over the centuries, an astounding number of which were within a relatively short time frame between the 15th and 17th centuries. Just to mention a few, the Della Rovere family gave us two popes, Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and Julius II (1503-1513). The Farnese family is represented in papal history by Paul III (1534-1549). From the Borghese family came Paul V (1603-1621). The famous Barberini family is represented by Urban VIII (1623-1644). He was followed by Innocent X (1644-1655) of the Pamphilj family and Alexander VII (1655-1667) of the Chigi family.

All of these popes commissioned important works of sculpture and paintings from the

most famous artists of the era, such as Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael, Bernini and many more. Our attention today falls on one of these artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and his special relationship with the Borghese family, namely Paul V and especially his nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

A curiosity

When Bernini was eight years old he was already the talk of the town for his incredible talent as an artist. Cardinal Borghese was so impressed with this child prodigy that he brought him to meet his uncle, Paul V. The Pope put the young boy to the test, telling him to sketch a human head, then and there in his presence. Using paper and pen provided to him, the eight-year-old, not the least bit intimidated, began to sketch. After a few minutes he stopped and asked the pontiff: "Do you want a man or a woman? Young or old? Sad or cheerful expression"? The Pope was impressed and amused by the questions and he told him just to draw the head of St. Paul, his patron saint. Bernini finished the sketch in 30 minutes in the presence of the Pope and several cardinals. The pontiff's comment was: "This child will be the Michelangelo of his age". The Pope gave the boy twelve gold coins which Bernini kept until the day he died, over 70 years later. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Bernini and the Borghese family.

The Borghese family owned an immense piece of property in Rome which still bears the family name, Villa Borghese, today a sprawling public park. On this spacious site between 1607 and 1613 the Borghese Pope had a magnificent building constructed called Villa Pinciana (photo 1) after the name of the hill where it is located. He gave this magnificent villa to his nephew, Cardinal Scipione, who began to furnish it with his personal and extensive collection of artwork. The cardinal showered Bernini with commissions, putting many of his sculptures on display in his villa. This is the building which we know today as the home of Galleria Borghese, one of the most prestigious museums in Europe.

What follows is a list of seven amazing sculptures of Bernini in the museum today, along with a short description of the subject matter and a few curious comments.

Photo 2: David

The biblical story of David and Goliath has been a favorite subject of artists for centuries. This work was commissioned by Cardinal Borghese when Bernini was 25 years old. David is depicted at the culminating moment, just as he is about to hurl the stone with his slingshot.

A curiosity

The face of David is one of several self portraits by Bernini. An eagle is depicted on the base of the statue, representing the eagle on the coat of arms of the Borghese family.

Photo 3: Apollo and Daphne

Apollo, the god of youth and manly beauty, fell in love with Daphne, a beautiful young nymph. She, however, disdained his attentions and attempted to avoid him. One day Apollo was chasing the poor girl and in order to escape his clutches she asked the gods to turn her into a laurel tree. Bernini masterfully depicts the moment at which the god reaches Daphne just as her body begins to change into a tree. This work was commissioned by Cardinal Borghese in 1622 when Bernini was 24 years old.

Photos 4: The Rape of Proserpina

Pluto, god of the Underworld, carries down to Hades a beautiful young girl, Proserpina. This sculpture, created by Bernini at age 24, perhaps more than all his other works, displays the incredible skill and genius of the artist.

Photo 5: The She-goat Amaltea

A legend says that the god Zeus was nursed as a baby by the nymph Amaltea, depicted as a she-goat and considered the personification of abundance. This was the first work created by Bernini for Cardinal Borghese in 1615 when the artist was only 17 years old.

Photos 6 and 7: Busts of Scipione Borghese

In 1632, while Bernini was busy decorating the interior of St. Peter's Basilica, he began work on a portrait-bust of Cardinal Borghese, his great patron. In the final phase of the work a lesion emerged on the surface of the marble near the forehead of the bust. Bernini himself repaired the abrasion, but, being a perfectionist, he was not satisfied with the result, so he decided to carve a new one. Photo 7 is the original and photo 8 is the second version.

A curiosity

According to Francesco Boldinucci, writing in 1692, Bernini finished the second version in 15 days; three days according to Domenico Bernini, the artist's son, writing in 1713.

Photo 8: Bust of Paul V Borghese

This is another work by the youthful Bernini carved in 1617 when he was 19 years old. According to Domenico, in his biography of his father, the pontiff was so pleased with the little bust that he kept it permanently on his writing desk.

I can't praise this museum enough. It is also home to many other sculptures by other artists, as well as several paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael and many others. Maybe I should do a part 2 of the Galleria Borghese in an upcoming post?


Charlie Cassreino said...

Galleria Borghese is incredible, especially with Vince as your guide. Thanks again Vince.

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