Birthday: December 7, 1598
Died At Age: 81
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Giovanni Lorenzo
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Naples, Kingdom of Naples (present-day Italy)
Famous as: Architect
father: Pietro Bernini
mother: Angelica Galante
children: Domenico Bernini
Died on: November 28, 1680
place of death: Rome, Papal States (present-day Italy)
Cause of Death: Stroke
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, also known as Giovanni Lorenzo, was a renowned Italian architect and sculptor. He created a number of prominent sculptures, mostly in the Baroque style. Bernini is often described as the worthy successor of the great Michelangelo. He decorated the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria Della Vittoria, in Rome by the instruction of Pope Innocent X. The masterpiece of ‘Teresa of Ávila’, made of white marble, in the center of the Cornaro Chapel, which is known as ‘Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,’ is one of his greatest works. Bernini completed the popular Baroque sculpture of ‘The Rape of Proserpina’ when he was just 23 years old. He was hailed for his unique style of making Baroque sculptures which could be seen in many buildings, chapels, churches as well as public squares in Italy. He earned his reputation as a great city planner who excelled in decorating public places, interiors of churches, and chapels. He was also skilled at creating massive funerary and festive arts. Many popes, including Pope Innocent X and Pope Alexander VII Chigi, considered him to be an excellent architect.
Childhood & Early Life
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born on December 7, 1598, in Naples, Kingdom of Naples, to Angelica Galante and Pietro Bernini. Bernini’s father was a renowned Late Renaissance sculptor.
He was trained by his father from a very early age, and when his father received a papal commission in 1606, the entire family moved to Rome. Pietro Bernini did some amazing work in Rome and took his son under his guidance.
Together, the Berninis built some of the great sculptures. Their works included Faun Teased by Putti, Bust of the Savior, and Boy with a Dragon, all erected between 1615 and 1617.
Bernini became very popular in his teens for his amazing work with his father. His name reached Pope Paul V who invited the talented sculptor to see his talent. Bernini recreated a sketch of Saint Paul which immediately made the pope recognize his genius.
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Bernini became Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s ‘numero uno’ and worked his magic in the Villa Borghese garden which he decorated. According to scholarly documents, Bernini made ‘The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun’ which is presently in possession of the Borghese Collection, kept at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
Bernini created many popular ‘busts’ (sculptures representing only the upper human body parts, mainly the head and the upper chest) in the late 1610s. Some of his popular ‘busts’ include the ‘Damned Soul’ and ‘Blessed Soul’.
In 1619, Lorenzo Bernini created ‘Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius’, a sculpture depicting a scene from ‘Aeneid’. His work made him more prominent in Rome, and he was commissioned for the papal portrait of Pope Paul V. The portrait of the pope, known as ‘Bust of Pope Paul V’, is on exhibition at the Galleria Borghese in Rome (or J. Paul Getty Museum.)
In the early 1620s, he created three more masterpieces, ‘The Rape of Proserpina’, ‘Apollo and Daphne’, and ‘David’, which are said to have ‘opened a new era in the history of European sculpture’.
‘The Rape of Proserpina’ is a Baroque marble sculpture depicting the abduction of Proserpina, while ‘Apollo and Daphne’ depicts the climax of the story of Apollo and Daphne. ‘David’ is a life-size marble sculpture depicting the third king of the United Monarchy of Israel and Judah, according to the Hebrew Bible.
Bernini was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to create the ‘St. Peter's Baldachin’ in Vatican City. He created the Baldacchino, a symbolic structure over the tomb of St. Peter, and other decorations. He decorated the four piers under the cupola, the Chair of Saint Peter, as well as the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the right nave.
He became St. Peter’s architect and created many sculptures, mostly after Carlo Maderno died. He created many funerary monuments, including that of Pope Urban VIII where he was depicted seated with his arms raised. He also created numerous tombs of popular religious figures.
One of Bernini’s signature works was decorating beautiful fountains for public places. The Triton Fountain in the Piazza Barberini is one of his genius creations showing four dolphins raising a huge shell holding the Sea God.
Between 1622 and 1625, Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the 243 cm long Baroque marble sculpture “Apollo and Daphne” which is currently housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The sculpture portrays an intense climax story from the Ovid's Metamorphoses, depicting Apollo and Daphne together.
Bernini’s greatest work has been decorating the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. He decorated the interior of the church, including sculpting the large Baroque bronze canopy, ‘St. Peter's Baldachin’. The canopy is created under the dome and marks the place of Saint Peter's tomb underneath.
Family & Personal Life
Gian Lorenzo Bernini fell in love with Costanza, the wife of his workshop assistant. Bernini showed his love towards Costanza by creating a ‘bust’ of hers without knowing she was having an affair with his younger brother.
When Bernini found out about the affair, he chased his younger brother Luigi through the streets threatening to take his life. He then sent a servant to slash Costanza’s face for which the servant was jailed but Bernini was exonerated by the pope.
In 1639, Bernini married Caterina Tezio, a Roman woman almost twenty years younger than him. Together, they had eleven children, and Bernini evolved into a family man, leaving behind his womanizing days.
On November 28, 1680, Gian Lorenzo Bernini died of a stroke and was buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, where his parents had also been laid to rest.