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Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo

Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo (1598–1680). Sculptor, architect, painter, and poet, who made an outstanding contribution to the evolution of Baroque. Born in Naples, his family settled in Rome (c.1605), where he spent the rest of his life. By the age of 20 he was famous, and from the election of Pope Urban VIII (1623–44) his rise was meteoric. In 1624 he began work on his gigantic baldacchino in San Pietro, Rome, a tour-de-force with four barley-sugar columns that alluded to the columns taken from the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem and set up over the tomb of the Apostle in the Constantinian basilica that preceded the later church. Those columns, and the extravagance and grandeur of the object, made clear the continuity of the Church from the Old Testament, and celebrated the Church Triumphant of the Counter-Reformation.

Bernini was a master of the theatrical, as his sensational Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome (1645–52), demonstrates. In the Ecstasy of St Teresa, a smiling angel thrusts its spear into the bosom of the swooning Saint, carried aloft in clouds, illuminated by gilded-rod sunbursts and concealed lighting, and placed within an aedicule above the altar. The whole vision is viewed by members of the Cornaro family, as though in theatre-boxes: it is a stunning, unforgettable, and magical creation (though deeply disturbing to puritanical dispositions). He also used theatrical techniques of false perspective, concealed lighting, and optical devices at the Scala Regia, Vatican Palace (1663–6), to emphasize the illusion of great length and size.

He designed the Four Rivers Fountain (1648–51) in the Piazza Navona, Rome (a powerful base for the Antique obelisk recovered from excavations), and the elephant carrying another Antique obelisk on its back outside the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. His designs for the Papal tombs in St Peter's ( Urban VIII, 1627–47, and Alexander VII, 1671–8) employed an essentially pyramidal composition where the figures were set against a fat obelisk-form. These were the precedents for countless such pyramidal funerary monuments set up in churches throughout Europe thereafter (there are many examples in England).

As an architect, Bernini was also outstanding. His finest church is Sant'Andrea al Quirinale (1658–70), an ellipse with the highaltar set on the short axis, and a series of chapels off the centralized volume. A triumphant, vigorous, richly coloured space, it was widely influential in RC countries during the Baroque period, notably in Central Europe. Also elliptical was his Piazza di San Pietro, with the Ancient Egyptian obelisk (re-erected by Domenico Fontana in 1586) at its centre, on the main axis of the basilica: the great colonnades of the severe Tuscan Order around the wider parts of the ellipse become straight colonnades as they approach Maderno's façade, but they are not parallel, being closer together as they branch off from the ellipse. These points, and the fact that the ground rises up to the steps before the façade, employ theatrical techniques to make the approach to the church seem longer and more impressive, while creating the illusion that Maderno's somewhat weak front is taller. There is a symbolic aspect too, for the great curved arms of the colonnade reach out to embrace the faithful to the bosom of Mother Church.

In secular architecture he was equally influential. His Palazzo Chigi (later Odescalchi) of 1664–6, which has a centrepiece of eight Giant pilasters with rusticated wings on either side, provided the precedent for many European princely palaces. At the same time he produced proposals for the east side of the Louvre in Paris; although never realized, it was an important model for other architects.


Avery (1997);
F. Borsi (1984);
Brauer amp; Wittkower (1970);
Fagiolo dell'Arco & and Carandini (1977–8);
Lavin (1980);
Lavin et al. (1981);
Marder (1998);
Varriano (1986);
Waddy (1990);
Wittkower (1981, 1982)

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"Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (jōvän´nē lōrĕn´tsō, jänlōrĕn´tsō bĕrnē´nē), 1598–1680, Italian sculptor and architect, b. Naples. He was the dominant figure of the Italian baroque. After receiving early training from his father, Pietro (1562–1629), an accomplished Florentine sculptor, Bernini worked mainly in Rome. Many of his early statues, such as the David (before 1623–24), Rape of Proserpine (1622), and Apollo and Daphne (1625), were done for Scipione Cardinal Borghese, one of the most important patrons of the period. These are all in the Borghese Gallery, Rome. Popes Urban VIII, Innocent X, and Alexander VII gave him unparalleled opportunities to design churches, chapels, fountains, monuments, tombs, and statues.

In 1629, Bernini was appointed architect of St. Peter's. He designed the ornate baldachin under the dome, the Cathedra Petri (the monument enshrining St. Peter's chair), and the exuberant marble decorations of the chapels and nave. During the 1640s he designed the Cornaro Chapel as well as that of Santa Maria della Vittoria. From 1656 onward he worked on the great elliptical piazza and the vast, embracing arms of the colonnades in front of the church.

During Innocent's papacy Bernini frequently worked for private patrons. He was commissioned to do the fountains in the Piazza Navona (1648–51). For St. Peter's Church, he created the Scala Regia and the heroic equestrian statue of Constantine (1654–70). He was assisted by a host of sculptors in these vast enterprises. Between 1658 and 1670 Bernini designed three churches: San Tomaso di Villanova at Castelgandolfo, Santa Maria dell'Assunzione at Ariccia, and Sant' Andrea al Quirinale in Rome. He established a new mode, dynamically linking sculpture and architecture. In 1665, Louis XIV invited him to Paris to finish designing the Louvre, but Bernini's plans failed to win approval. Returning to Italy, he continued to work on St. Peter's.

Much of Bernini's sculpture combines white and colored marbles with bronze and stucco, most effectively used in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, where he represented the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Often inspired by classical forms, Bernini transformed the marble block into a vital, almost breathing figure. A self-portrait drawn c.1665 (Royal Coll., Windsor) is an example of his superb draftsmanship. Bernini was known as a wit; he wrote comedies and made numerous caricatures. He produced several plays, all of which contained effective illusions. All of his important work is in Rome, with the exception of the Neptune and Triton (Victoria and Albert Mus.) and the bust of Louis XIV (Versailles).

See biography by F. Mormando (2011); studies by H. Hibbard (1965), R. Wittkower (2d ed. 1966), J. Blazostock (1981), F. Borsi (1985), I. Lavin (1985), and T. A. Marder (1998).

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"Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 14, 2017).

"Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from