The Ponte Sant’Angelo

Nicole Dacales

Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was a monumental sculptor of his time.  He revolutionized the style of the Italian Baroque.  The Italian Baroque style was a result of the Counter Reformation.  The church wanted to promote the production of powerful, dramatic, and impactful art that conveyed the narratives of the gospel.  At an early age Bernini was observing and learning from acclaimed sculptures of antiquity such as The Laocoön, Apollo Belvedere and the Hellenistic torso of Hercules.[1]  These sculptures of antiquity were significant for they defined determining techniques that would forever be applied to the theory of art.  The inspiration from these renowned sculptures is reflected throughout the life works of Bernini.  Bernini achieved an artistic style that captured immense realism and was able to suggest that cold hard marble was as warm, smooth and comforting as human flesh.  His mature works of art investigate subjects that deal with emotion and faith.  Bernini was continuously creating sculptures exhibiting dramatic movement, effective emotion and complex poses.

Castle Sant'Angelo and Ponte Sant'Angelo

Castle Sant’Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo
Fig. 1

Bernini’s final project was the redesign and decoration of the Ponte Sant’Angelo.  This was a grand project for a grand location.  The Ponte Sant’Angelo was a viral bridge that connected the Holy City the city of Rome.  At the time it was the only bridge crossing the Tiber River that connected those two sections of Rome.  Bernini was a very passionate man and applied his immense passion to the redesign of the bridge.  He designed a bridge that was to be embellished with Angels carrying Instruments of the Passion.  Bernini’s intentions were to create a cohesive religious experience beginning at the entrance to the Holy City and continuing to the Basilica of St Peter.  Bernini was dedicated to his faith and applied his dedication to the creation of the entire experience of the Holy City.  One intention of the bridge was to prepare pilgrims for the ultimate destination of their spiritual journey within Rome.[3]  Bernini ran a large workshop that helped him with his large commissions.  For the Ponte Sant’Angelo project Bernini selected eight artists who were all sculptors to collaborate with him on the decoration of the bridge.[2]  Bernini only sculpted two of the ten angels himself and the rest were sculpted by the selected members of his workshop.  Bernini made sketches for how each of the angels should look.  These sketches were passed down to a draughtsman who would make a copy and then pass it along to the sculptors.[3]  Each artist chosen for the tasked carved an angel designed by Bernini; but each angel was executed as a creation of the individual artists skill and creative liberties rather than replicating a Bernini.  The artist’s works are coherent and consistent but each angel is a product of the individual artist’s interpretation of Bernini’s sketches.


[1] Howard Hibbard, Bernini (Penguin Books 1990), 23-30, 198-205

[2]William Tronzo ed., St Peter’s in the Vatican(Cambridge University Press 2005)

[3] Bruce Boucher, Italian Baroque Sculpture (Thames and Hudson 1998)