By Anne Leader and Alexis Culotta

Gianlorenzo Bernini was born 7 December 1598 in Naples. Like Michelangelo before him, Bernini was best known for his virtuoso sculpture but also excelled at painting and architecture. His dramatic designs and exquisite craftsmanship earned him the reputation of the greatest sculptor of his day, and he was widely sought after by cardinals, popes, and kings.

Bernini received his earliest artistic training in Naples in the studio of his father, Pietro. Exhibiting exceptional skill even in his early years, Bernini was ushered to Rome by his father who hoped to showcase his son’s abilities to Pope Paul V. It was the commissions from Cardinal Scipione Borghese, however, that secured Bernini’s status as a preeminent figure in the art world of 17th-century Rome.  These works, including the iconic Apollo and Daphne (1622-1625) and David (1623-1624), introduced Bernini’s unique style to Roman audiences and thereby secured his meteoric rise to artistic acclaim.

Nearly simultaneous to Cardinal Borghese’s commissions, Bernini turned to work on his magnificent baldacchino for Saint Peter’s, a space to which he would return for numerous projects over the subsequent decades. Indeed, his final design for Saint Peter’s was that for the frontal piazza, commissioned by Pope Alexander VII and developed between 1656-1667. By this point in his career, Bernini had been engrossed in significant artistic and architectural projects across the city. From The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa (1647-1652) in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria del Vittoria to the public sculpture, Elephant and Obelisk (1667), in Piazza della Minerva, Bernini’s immense talents were present throughout the city of Rome. He maintained his artistic practice until the final weeks of his life; he suffered a stroke and died died on 28 November 1680 in Rome at the age of 82. 

Pluto and Proserpina, detail. 1621-2, marble. Rome: Galleria Borghese.
Self Portrait, about age 25. Rome: Galleria Borghese.

Cathedra Petri, 1656-7, marble, bronze, glass. Rome: St. Peter’s.

Tomb of Pope Alexander VII, 1671-8, marble and bronze. Rome: St. Peter’s

Baldacchino, 1623-4, gilded bronze. Rome: St. Peter’s.

Apollo and Daphne, 1622-5, marble. Rome: Galleria Borghese.

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa and onlookers, 1647-52, marble. Rome: Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria.

Beata Lodovica Albertoni, 1671-4. Rome: Altieri-Albertoni Chapel, San Francesco a Ripa.

Piazza San Pietro, 1656-7. Rome.

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