Fathering a Master: Comparisons of Stylistic Intentions
by Kaylah Rodriguez
The work of Gianlorenzo Bernini is distinguished in its dynamic and naturalistic qualities, as well as its exceptional ability to convey emotion and a sense of movement. His works engage the viewer in a way few other works do and excel far beyond the standards and precedents established by his artistic predecessors. Although the work of Gianlorenzo is indeed distinguished and individual, there is an important yet frequently overlooked predecessor whose work is an evident source of influence on Gianlorenzo in a number of way. That predecessor is his father, Pietro Bernini.
Pietro was a Mannerist sculptor who completed works in his hometown of Florence, as well as Naples and Rome throughout his career. Although Pietro’s work never received the same renown as that of his son, it can be argued that Pietro sought many of the same artistic goals that the work of Gianlorenzo would indeed later achieve. Compositional dynamism, movement, emotion, and a naturalistic realism are a portion of the qualities both father and son sought for their work to embody, and that are present in the work of both artists. An important work of Pietro’s is his St. John the Baptist figure in the Sant’Andrea della Valle (see fig. 2). In this work, Pietro’s intention of a dynamic, engaging quality about the figure is evident. Pietro’s St. John does not stay confined within the niche in which it stands, but rather appears to be suspended in the moment just before stepping out of the space.
The St. John figure gazes outward past the viewer, integrating the figure’s perceived sphere of existence with the viewer’s. Gianlorenzo’s St. Jerome figure (see fig. 3) in the Chigi chapel of Siena Cathedral, embodies many of the same dynamic qualities as that of his father’s St. John the Baptist. With this figure, Gianlorenzo more effectively utilizes the space in which the figure stands as well as the positioning of the body and the flowing drapery to achieve the sense of dynamic movement and interaction with the viewer’s space that his father, Pietro, had intended for his St. John the Baptist figure.
Another important example of a source of Gianlorenzo’s stylistic influence is Pietro’s series of statues made between 1601 and 1606 for the Cappella Ruffo in the Chiesa dei Gerolamini (see fig. 4 and fig. 5). In these figures of St. Simon and St. Bartholomew, Pietro’s physiognomies play an important role in the later work of Gianlorenzo.
In an article for Sculpture Journal Hans-Ulrich Kessler states that “Gianlorenzo was between three and eight years old when these statues [St. John the Baptist and Capella Ruffo figures]…were made.
These are demonstrably decisive years in the development of a child, the years in which the perceptive faculty in particular is at its greatest.”
The perception of Pietro’s depiction of physical features is evident in Gianlorenzo’s early work, particularly that of Aeneas, Anchises, Anscanius Fleeing Troy (see fig. 1 and fig. 6)completed in 1618, when he was only twenty years old. This work depicts a narrative of three generations of men. Aeneas, with his son Anscanius alongside him, must carry his own father on his shoulders as they flee Troy because his father is no longer able to move at the same level and speed as that of his son.
Gianlorenzo’s treatment of the hair, beard and skin of all three figures, but particularly Anchises , bears a striking resemblance to the Capella Ruffo figures of his father Pietro. In both cases, the artist intent is a realistic naturalism, but just as Gianlorenzo’s Aeneas had succeeded his father in physical strength and ability, so do these works of Gianlorenzo indicate his artistic advancement beyond the limits of Pietro’s work.