Bernini, Gianlorenzo (1598-1680): Italian sculptor, architect and painter. He was the son of a sculptor and studied with his father who also helped him gain early patronage. Extensive patronage from the powerful Borghese and Barberini families contributed to his notoriety, but, from the beginning, Bernini was a virtuosic sculptor. For Cardinal Scipione Borghese, he produced a series of sculptures of subjects from Ovid's Metamorphoses and from the Bible (1618-25). These works show Bernini's ability to use the observer's space to expand the possibilities of sculpture beyond the medium itself. Apollo and Daphne, for instance, shows Daphne trying to escape from the pursuing Apollo and turning into a laurel tree as she does so. The observer must walk around the sculpture to witness Daphne's transformation, thus denying a unitary viewpoint. This type of multiple viewpoint was common in Mannerist sculpture, but in works such as David (also produced for Borghese), Bernini goes a step further and shows David in the process of slinging a stone at the imaginary Goliath, who seemingly occupies a place behind the observer of the sculpture.
Virtuosity of design and conception was complemented by a willingness to use different sorts of marble, as well as both painting and architecture to enhance sculptural form. Bernini's facility drew him to the attention of Pope Urban VIII (Barberini), who made him the principal architect for St. Peter's in 1629. In this capacity, he contributed both the Baldacchino (1624-33), with its mingling of architectural and sculptural features, the Cathedra Petri (Throne of St. Peter) (1657-65) and the oval colonnade surrounding the forecourt. He also produced for St. Peter's the tomb of Urban VIII, with its rich mixture of materials. Bernini also contributed fountains and churches (e.g. S. Andrea al Quirinale) to Rome, and with Borromini, Cortona and others, he helped give Rome a Baroque aspect.
Urban VIII's successor, Innocent X, was less impressed with Bernini's ability; but Bernini was not short of commissions and during this time, he produced the Ecstasy of St. Theresa for the Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria (1645-52). He also produced a number of portrait busts, which revealed his facility for capturing character. In 1665-6 he went to Paris following the invitation of Louis XIV, who wished to make use of his skills as an architect. However, the trip was not very successful and resulted in little but an elaborate portrait bust of Louis XIV. Bernini was best known for his blending of media, which gave his sculpture the fluidity of painting and his architecture the plasticity of sculpture. His popularity declined after his death and he was an anathema to generations of academic artists who favoured a more classical style.
- From The Bulfinch Guide to Art History