The 2018 Bernini exhibition at the Galleria Borghese was the most extensive collection of his works together in a single exhibition. The exhibition closed in mid-February. If you didn’t have a chance to see it before it closed, the Galleria Borghese and other locations spotted throughout Rome, are a veritable wealth of Bernini’s works. Not to be missed is a visit to Piazza Navona to see the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Just behind the Piazza a recently opened hotel, the Eitch Borromini, offers a fabulous view overlooking the entire Piazza Navona and Bernini’s fountain. Although the rooftop terrace is closed in the winter months it’s worth stopping by for a drink in the sixth floor bar to admire Bernini’s fountain from above.
Also not to be missed is a visit to the Santa Maria della Vittoria church where you can see Bernini’s exquisite sculpture of Saint Teresa in Ecstasy. The church interior has recently been refurbished and the sculpture cleaned so it’s more beautiful and breathtaking than ever.
You might want to consider a private tour of the Galleria Borghese to get the most out of your visit. Another option is a walking tour of Rome to explore the masters of the Baroque period, including Bernini.
Santa Bibiana, 1624 to 1626
This was an important sculpture in Bernini’s career as it was the first time that he executed a public work on a religious subject. The sculpture represents a saint from the early years of Christianity. Her eyes are looking upward in a state of ecstatic rapture. In the past Bernini had executed numerous nude sculptures and this is one of his first, and beautifully executed, sculptures of a draped statue. The folds in Santa Bibiana’s robe, and her hair, both capture light masterfully, quite similar to his better-known sculpture Apollo and Daphne. The sculpture was on loan to the Galleria Borghese exhibition from the small baroque Santa Bibiana church in Rome.
Bacchanal: a Faun Teased by Children, 1615
This work was executed by father and son but there are certain details in this sculpture that are clearly recognizable as those of Gian Lorenzo: the face of the putto on the panther is quite similar to that of his sculpture Pluto on a Dolphin, as well as the trunk of the tree and the epidermis of the faun. The sculpture was on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
David, 1623 to 1624
Bernini’s David sculpture represents his own face; someone held a mirror for him to look at while he studied his own face to execute the sculpture. Bernini is a master of capturing extreme emotion and you see this in the concentration and tension on his face.
Apollo and Daphne, 1623 to 1625
Originally this sculpture was destined to be only of Apollo, but it subsequently also became one of Daphne and is without a doubt one of Bernini’s most beautiful and best-known sculptures. It shows Apollo so desperately enamored with Daphne that he’s trying to keep her from turning into a laurel tree. The legend has it that to escape from the god Daphne had prayed to be dissolved or transformed and her wish was granted. The young nymph was turned into a laurel tree and this is depicted in Bernini’s amazing sculpture. This is without a doubt Bernini’s most famous sculpture on a profane subject just as the St. Teresa sculpture in the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome is his most famous on a sacred subject. When Canova first set eyes on the Apollo and Daphne sculpture he was astounded and exclaimed that it was “executed with such delicacy that it seems impossible; the laurel leaves are a marvel”. The beauty and movement in the sculpture begs the viewer to walk around the group to admire it from every angle. It’s for this reason that the Galleria Borghese placed it in the center of the room so that it can be fully admired from every angle.
Pluto and Proserpina, 1621 to 1622
As in the Apollo and Daphne sculpture Bernini is again portraying a woman trying to escape from a lover, and in this case succumbing to the god’s strength. Domenico Bernini wrote that this group “represents an admirable contrast between tenderness and cruelty”, and this is beautifully depicted in the sculpture. What I find so beautiful and amazing in this sculpture is how realistic the imprint of Pluto’s hand and fingers on the soft flesh of Prosepina’s thigh and waist are.
Sleeping Hermaphroditos, Roman marble from the second century BCE, and restored by Bernini in 1620; Mattress added in 1620
According to myth Salmace fell in love with Hermaphroditos and when she embraced him she merged with him and formed an androgynous creature. The beauty of this work, and the part that was executed completely by Bernini, was the addition of the soft marble mattress. It’s a masterpiece of tactile illusionism that only Bernini is masterfully capable of.
Bernini has done a number of wonderful putti sculptures:
Putto on a Dolphin, 1617 to 1618
Was on loan from the Staatliche Museum in Berlin
Putto on a Dragon, 1616 to 1617
Was on loan from the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles California
Another wonderful Bernini sculpture, that was on loan from the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid, is Saint Sebastian, 1616 to 1617:
Bernini has also done some wonderful bust sculptures.
Blessed Soul, 1619
Was on loan from the Spanish Embassy in Rome
And the deeply emotional bust, Damned Soul, 1619, was on loan from the Spanish Embassy in Rome
Bust of Diana De Paulo Roscioli , 1640
Was on loan from the Museo Capitolare Diocesano in Foligno
Bust of Costanza Piccolomini, 1636 to 1637
When Costanzo was 22 years old she became Gian Lorenzo’s lover, who was much older at age 38. Costanza was married to Matteo Bonarelli, who in 1636 worked in Bernini’s studio. Bernini eventually found out that Costanza had also become his younger brother Luigi’s lover and as a result he ordered a servant to disfigure her.
We always think of Bernini as a sculptor but he was also a notable and accomplished painter as well.
Portrait of Pope Clement IX, 1668 to 1669
Was on loan from a private collection
Portrait of a Youth, 1635 to 1640
Was on loan from a private collection in London
Portrait of a Beardless Youth, 1629 two 1630
Was on loan from a private collection in London
Bernini’s creative process was unique: he almost always prepared sketches first and then carved his marble sculptures, without first creating any mockup sculptures in other materials. Most other sculptors of the 17th century did many trials in wood, clay and other materials first before passing to marble. Bernini’s only exception to this are the mockups he prepared for the Fountain of the Four Rivers, in Rome’s Piazza Navona. For this one Bernini used a mixture of wood, slate, and terra-cotta mixed with plaster to prepare the mockup work that would then become his exquisite Fountain of the Four Rivers.
This mockup was sculpted in 1650 and was on loan from a private collection in Rome.
The Fountain of the Four Rivers was designed by Bernini for Pope Innocent X. The fountain’s base consists of a basin with travertine rocks that rise up to support the four river gods above them, topped by an ancient Egyptian obelisk and the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig on top. Together the fountain represents the four major rivers of the four continents over which the papal authority had control: the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia, and the Río de la Plata in the Americas.
Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome’s Piazza Navona as it looks today, surrounded by tourists.
If you’re interested in learning more about , there are some great books available.
Full disclosure: I make a small commission for purchases made through links on my website. Prices are identical to those on the Amazon website, but purchasing through my link helps support my work in bringing you great food and travel information!