About the Exhibition

To visualize life-size and colossal sculptures in marble and bronze, the great Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) began by rapidly modeling small sketches in clay. Fired as terracotta, these studies are bold, expressive works in their own right. Together with related drawings, they preserve the first traces of Bernini’s fervid imagination and unique creative process, which produced some of the most spectacular statuary in Rome, including the fountains in the Piazza Navona and the angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. This exhibition will feature for the first time approximately 40 of these terracotta sketch models, shown together with 30 drawings. Due to unprecedented loans especially granted for this occasion, the exhibition will be the first to retrace Bernini’s unparalleled approach to sculptural design and his impact on the fabric of Baroque Rome.

Fountains    See more images
Bernini is now probably best known for his spectacular fountains, woven throughout Rome’s urban fabric. They often celebrate the successful channeling of sources of water into the city, as well as the patrons who commissioned them. Masterpieces of sculpture and architecture, they are dazzling in their structural complexity. A variety of marine creatures, shells, and river allegories emerge from their gushing forms. Bernini’s fountains did not merely serve a practical function or embellish the urban landscape; rather, they completely transformed the space around them, forming part of an elaborate choreography of the senses that extended even to the resounding effects of the waters.

To design these daring fountains, Bernini produced an array of bold anatomical studies both on paper and in clay, from the red-chalk drawing of the Triton Fountain to the terracotta lion and numerous male nudes he fashioned for the Four Rivers Fountain, his masterwork in this genre. Bernini used these models to resolve practical matters of structure and composition; they further served to guide the team of sculptors that carved the final statues. As soon as the Four Rivers Fountain was unveiled, Pope Innocent X commissioned another for the south end of the piazza. After two failed attempts, Bernini won the pope’s approval with a model—his largest and most polished—for the Fountain of the Moor.



Saints and Chapels    See more images
Bernini infused his religious statuary with palpable emotion, re-creating the mystical ecstasies of saints with a creative fervor both powerful and provocative. About the mid-1640s he designed his most famous religious work, a chapel commissioned by Cardinal Federico Cornaro in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. In it, Bernini unified architecture, painting, and sculpture within a space that is often compared to a theatrical stage. The centerpiece of the Cornaro Chapel is its sculpted altarpiece, widely regarded as the epitome of Baroque art. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa presents the saint in reverie during an encounter with an angel. The saint’s head, sunk back in a swoon, is carefully positioned to take advantage of the natural light enfolding the marble group. From this point onward, Bernini always used directed, and often concealed, light to lend potency to his depiction of vision and miracle.

Bernini and his assistants populated numerous other Roman churches with saints, including Santa Maria del Popolo, where Daniel in the Lions’ Den stands in a chapel commissioned by the Chigi family, and San Francesco a Ripa, where The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, his last religious work, is placed in the smaller, more intimate Altieri Chapel. Like Saint Teresa, she is depicted in the throes of a mystical experience and bathed in a seemingly supernatural light.



Working in Saint Peter's Basilica    See more images
Bernini completed many projects for Saint Peter’s Basilica under the aegis of various popes. At twenty-five years old, the sculptor was summoned by Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) to undertake the colossal bronze Baldacchino over the high altar, the crossing piers, and the pope’s own tomb. The earliest surviving models that can be attributed to Bernini date to Urban VIII’s papacy, including Charity with Four Children and the two models for Saint Longinus.

Cardinal Fabio Chigi was elected Pope Alexander VII in 1655. He initiated several new urban-planning projects, as well as majestic works for Saint Peter’s. Bernini was the mastermind behind this intensive activity, conceiving such daring sculptures as the Cathedra Petri (Chair of Peter), the mammoth bronze throne—surmounted by the gilded-stucco Celestial Glory—that forms the visual and religious climax of Saint Peter’s nave.

In 1674, Bernini completed his last enterprise for Saint Peter’s, a monumental tabernacle for the consecrated Host. He had made a design for the project in the late 1620s, but it was left unexecuted. Several drawings document the changes in the altar’s design over this period, but the surviving clay studies all date to 1672, when Bernini resumed the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament for Pope Clement X. The tabernacle is a circular tempietto (“little temple”) decorated with bronze statuettes and flanked by two kneeling over-life-size angels. It was on these figures that Bernini concentrated his attention, adjusting his designs to render the divine in human form.


The Ponte Sant'Angelo    See more images
Bernini’s last great urban design in Rome was the restoration of the Ponte Sant’Angelo, the ancient bridge spanning the Tiber River that leads to the papal fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. It was for a long time the principal pilgrimage route to Saint Peter’s Basilica. Since its completion by Emperor Hadrian in AD 134, the bridge underwent little change until 1667, when the recently elected Pope Clement IX Altieri commissioned a new design—one that would make the path to Saint Peter’s more of a true procession, culminating in the visual crescendo of Bernini’s newly devised piazza in front of the basilica.

Bernini added a new archway to the bridge and envisaged ten over-life-size angels, each carrying a symbol of the Passion to form a symbolic Way of the Cross. He planned to sculpt only two himself—the Angel with the Superscription and the Angel with the Crown of Thorns—allocating the others to eight talented sculptors. To guide his collaborators and ensure that all ten angels would reflect his designs, Bernini first examined their stances on paper and then moved to clay, focusing particularly on the angels he intended to fashion himself. Indeed, more terracottas survive for these two sculptures than for any others in his entire body of work. They provide exceptional insight into Bernini’s approach to sculpting figures that both mirror and contrast with one another.

Before the decoration of the bridge was completed, Clement IX saw the two marble angels by Bernini, and, deciding they were too fine to be displayed outdoors, ordered copies made for the bridge. The statues by Bernini have been in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte since 1729.