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The Well Known Statues By Bernini In Rome Are Amazing!

The well know statues of Gian Lorenzo Bernini dominated the Roman world of art due to his amazing artistic abilities and his useful political connections.

The Rape of Proserpina by Bernini

The Life Of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in the late 16th Century in Naples, Italy and grew to become one of the most famous artists and architects of the Italian Baroque style. When Gian Lorenzo was still young, the family moved to Rome, Italy, where Bernini remained until he died at nearly 82 years old.

Bernini had a very full and successful career. He managed to be a dominant artistic force on other Roman artists and he enjoyed great relationships with the Popes, prominent men and the artists of his period. Bernini was a charming man and a brilliant conversationalist. He used his social skills, wit and aristocratic manners to ingratiate himself into the corridors of power in Rome.

Well Known Statues - Bernini's Apollo and Daphne

Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne

One relationship, in particular, was with Scipione Borghese whose family grew in wealth and power to include nobility, Cardinals and Pope Paul V. Borghese was an early patron of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and he was an avid collector of his sculptures that are on display all around Rome, but in particular the most famous works can be found in The Borghese Gallery.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini began his career with his father working in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. While working there he attracted the attention of the Pope and of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, under whose patronage he created the statues that are still found in Palazzo Borghese. After the accession of Maffeo Vincenzo Barberini to the papal throne as Urban VIII, Bernini’s position in the artistic field was established as he received the most important commissions until his death. In 1629 he was appointed the important and influential role of Architect of St. Peter’s Basilica and created his most prestigious works.

What Are The Well Known Statues Of Gian Lorenzo Bernini?

The fountains and sculptures of Gian Lorenzo Bernini can be found all over Rome. In addition to his own sculptures, his student also carried on his legacy around the city as well. Admittedly this is a little arbitrary, but I wanted to focus on the most well known (i.e. my favorite) works of Bernini, so I divide these works of art into two groups, Fountains and Sculptures.

Well Known Statues - Proserpina by Bernini

The Rape of Proserpina

Well Known Fountains Of Bernini

The Fountain Of The Four Rivers

My favorite Bernini fountain can be found in the center of Piazza Navona. The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) was designed by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini and built by a team of sculptors. There was a  competition to build the fountain, won by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who obtained the assignment by creating a silver scale model, about 5 feet high, and gave it to Olimpia Maidalchini, the Pope’s sister-in-law and a figure of great influence in papal Rome.

One reason this is one of my favorite fountains in Rome, in addition to its beauty and location, is the legend of the rivalry between Bernini and Francesco Borromini. There is an angle of a man shielding his direct line of sight in horror from the beautiful church of Saint Agnes in Agone by Borromini also in Piazza Navona. The idea was that Bernini wanted to insult Borromini because of their rivalry, but alas, it isn’t true because Bernini built the fountain long before the church was built.

Well Known Statues - Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers

Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers

Fontana Delle Api

When you go to Piazza Barberini to enjoy the more famous Fountain of Triton (Fontana del Tritone) you will not be far from another, smaller fountain silently sitting on the corner of Via Vittorio Veneto and Via di S. Basilio. Bernini gave the fountain the unusual shape of an open bivalve shell. The lower valve served as a basin, while the other valve was decorated at the base by three bees, which were the heraldic symbol of Pope Urban VIII’s family.

Famous Sculptures of Bernini

My favorite collection of Bernini statues is found at the Borghese Gallery, but there is more around the city. The Borghese Gallery is laid out to highlight the sculptures by placing them in the center of the room, with well designed lighting and access from all directions. Some others almost seem incidental. They are in a nondescript church that you might miss if you weren’t specifically looking for it. They are also on the street, but in the background of a more dominant statue.

Bernini’s Apollo And Daphne

This is a life-sized Baroque sculpture made of Carrara Marble (the good stuff) and is housed in the Borghese Gallery. It was commissioned, like so many others, by Scipione Borghese. The sculpture depicts the climax of the story of Apollo and Daphne in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The sculpture can and should be appreciated from all angles.

Well Known Statues - Bernini's David

Bernini’s David

Bernini’s David

Sticking with the theme, this is another life-sized sculpture made of Carrara Marble, housed in the Borghese Gallery, and was commissioned by Scipione Borghese. The sculpture depicts the scene from the Old Testament where the young shepherd Daivd is about to slay Goliath with his sling. The statue depicts a strong David figure which is similar to Michaelangelo’s David and in contrast with Donatello’s David.

The Rape Of Proserpina

Surprisingly, rape is a recurring theme in well-known sculpture around Italy and this is one of them. Some say that this Bernini sculpture is more accurately translated as: The Abduction of Proserpina, but I think either way, it wasn’t a good experience for Proserpina. The group sculpture depicts the abduction of Proserpina, who is seized and taken to the underworld by the god Pluto.

The Ecstasy Of Saint Teresa

This is one of those hidden Bernini works I was talking about. I learned about this sculpture years ago, and on a trip to Rome I decided to hunt it down. It lives in the Cornaro Chapel of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, which is an understated church that is tricky to find. The sculpture depicts Teresa of Ávila swooning in a state of religious ecstasy, while an angel holding a spear stands over her.

Well Known Statues - The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Where is Gian Lorenzo Bernini Buried?

Being such an important religious site, there is a long list of Popes and other dignitaries that call Saint Mary’s Basilica their final resting place. Gian Lorenzo Bernini is one such dignitary. The leading Italian sculptor and architect of his time has his Bernini family tomb in a prominent place in this Basilica among the Popes.

Where Can I See Bernini’s Well Known Statues?

The home of some of Bernini’s most important works is the Borghese Gallery, an art gallery in the Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome. The building was built using sketches by Scipione Borghese, who used it as a country villa and who later became a Cardinal and the nephew of Pope Paul V. Scipione Borghese was an early patron of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and he was an avid collector of his work.

More Information On Bernini’s Sculptures

This post is only a taste of the well known statues of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but if you would like to read more about his work and his life, these are some posts that you might also find interesting:

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