The Influence of Bernini on Rodin: Portrait Busts

By Mary Williams

Bernini and Rodin both completed numerous portrait busts of public figures, women from romantic affairs, and family members.[1]  Rodin developed a different style of portraiture from Bernini; however his inspiration for the works his style began with his trip to Italy and the work’s of Bernini. Some of the first works Rodin completes are portrait busts.[2] His work Father Eymard exemplifies how Rodin’s portraiture was more rigid and stoic in his earlier development. With knowledge of Bernini’s work, Rodin was able portray the physical likeness and personality of the sitter.

Figure 22: Bernini, "Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese," 1632, Rome, Galleria Borghese (source-

Figure 22: Bernini, “Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese,” 1632, Rome, Galleria Borghese (source-

Bernini’s Bust of Scipione Borghese began a new style of portraiture in Italy (Figure 22).[3] The cardinal is in the act of speaking and his buttons are not in line. The small elements of informality in Bernini’s sculpture allow the cardinal to be more approachable. The viewer becomes a participant in the conversation Scipione Borghese is having. Bernini’s portrait also embodied the liveliness of the figure. The turn of his head, crinkled folds of his clothing, and the act of conversation create a sense of movement in the portrait. Scipione Borghese comes alive to speak and interact with the viewer. Bernini achieved his lifelike sculpture by making sketches of the Scipione Borghese in his daily life. His sketches captured how the cardinal behaved naturally. Rodin admired the busts Bernini created, and his portrait busts reflect the qualities Rodin learned from the Baroque sculptor.

In 1884, Rodin began work on Bust of Henri Rochefort, the French political activist and editor (Figure 23). Rochefort sat for his portrait, but he quickly became impatient with Rodin. Rodin sculpted in clay, and his repeated additions and subtractions to the figure frustrated Rochefort. Rodin did not appreciate his critical attitude, and decided to adapt his sculpture to highlight the angry and unpleasant nature of the sitter.[4] Truman H. Bartlett recounted the conflicts during the portrait’s completion and discovered the public reception of the work.

Figure 23: Rodin, "Henri Rochefort," 1884, this casting in Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art (source-

Figure 23: Rodin, “Henri Rochefort,” 1884, this casting in Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art (source-

Bartlett explained, “Though not completed it was cast in plaster, and declared to be, by Rochefort’s assistant editors and friends, not only a superb likeness, but an astonishing piece of individualization.”[5] Rodin used a clay model rather than sketching the face, but he followed the same principles of Bernini. Bernini sketched as the cardinal went through his work of the day; while Rodin altered the clay figure Rochefort’s true personality was revealed. Using the new formula for portraiture that Bernini developed, Rodin sculpted the sitter realistically and brought life to the work.

[1] For information on the complete portraits of Bernini and Rodin see the following. Andrea Bacchi, Catherine Hess, et al, Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture (Los Angeles, California: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008). Albert Edward Elsen, Rodin’s Art: The Rodin Collection Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts (Oxford University Press, 2003).

[2] Judith Cladel, Rodin, trans. James Whitall (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company)

[3] Howard Hibbard, Bernini (London: Penguin Books, 1965) 90-94.

[4] Catherine Lampert, Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1986) 106.

[5] Truman H. Bartlett, “Illustrated Life of Rodin: the foremost of French sculptors of the day,” American Architect and Building News 25, no. 696 (April 1889): 198.