Marjorie Och, Professor of Art History
Contemporaries acclaimed Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) as a rare genius. He was active as a sculptor before the age of nine, and the works from his youth already demonstrate a dazzling understanding of technique, an extraordinary sense of style, and an appreciation of the subtleties of narrative. (See Rachel Crist’s and Kaylah Rodriguez’s projects.) Like many of his predecessors, he was the son of an artist and he studied in the workshop of his father, the sculptor Pietro Bernini (1562-1629). This early socialization within the business of sculpture may explain Gianlorenzo’s artistic direction and entrepreneurial skills, but nothing really explains the child’s amazing comprehension of his craft.
The son quickly overtook the father, and Pietro’s recognition of Gianlorenzo’s talent was legendary even in the seventeenth century. The aristocracy of church and state called upon Bernini to give physical form to their visions of grandeur, both spiritual and secular. In architecture, sculpture, painting, and theatre, Bernini expressed for his patrons their own sense of wonder, accomplishment, and sheer power, sometimes provoking the jealousy and suspicion of peers and patrons. (See the projects of Lara Belfied, Nicole Dacales, Kerry Longbottom, Chelsea Neal, Hannah Ridenour, and Isabel Smith.) There was no other artist in the seventeenth century who could so completely fulfill the needs of the Age of Absolutism.
Why did the twentieth century pay so little attention to this artist? Why do we not see Bernini as did his contemporaries, that is, as the new Michelangelo? Do we no longer value the ease with which Bernini solved technical problems? Are we suspicious of Bernini’s apparent denial of the inanimate nature of stone? (See the work of Mary Williams.) Does this artist define what is Baroque or is he the culmination of what the Renaissance sought to achieve?
Students in the seminar “ARTH 470s: Bernini” considered these questions and many others as we explored the work, life, influences, and critical fortune of this remarkable individual whose architecture and sculpture not only define the city of Rome today, but expand the meaning of what it is to be an artist.
On behalf of everyone in the seminar, I gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Tim Owens, instructional technology specialist in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies here at UMW…thank you.
Photo left to right: Marjorie Och, Nicole Dacales, Rachel Crist, Kaylah Rodriguez, Isabel Smith, Chelsea Neal, Hannah Ridenour, Lara Belfield, Kerry Longbottom, and Mary Williams. Photo credit: Tim Owens. Photo source: Brooklyn Museum, Goodyear Archival Collection.