Fathering a Master: Gianlorenzo’s Portrait of Pietro
by Kaylah Rodriguez

Gianlorenzo’s oil portrait of his father Pietro survives in the form of a contemporary copy in the Academia di San Luca in Rome. The original portrait dates to 1629 [1], the year of Pietro’s death (see fig. 16).

16. Gianlorenzo Bernini. “Pietro Bernini” (Contemporary Copy), original  date 1629, Academia di San Luca (source—Bernini: His Life and His Rome, Mormando).

Fig. 16. Gianlorenzo Bernini. “Pietro Bernini” (Contemporary Copy), original date 1629, Academia di San Luca (source—Bernini: His Life and His Rome, Mormando).

As mentioned in previous sections, realistic naturalism is a prominent stylistic element of Gianlorenzo’s work as a whole, and specifically his portraiture. His figures are portrayed in a manner that expresses something of the actual nature of the individual represented, as can be seen is his portrait busts[2] of both Cardinal Scipione Borghese (fig.17) and Constanza Bonarelli (fig. 18).

17. Gianlorenzo Bernini. “Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese,” ca. 1632, Rome, Villa Borghese (source—artstor.org)

Fig. 17. Gianlorenzo Bernini. “Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese,” ca. 1632, Rome, Villa Borghese (source—artstor.org)

Each of these works presents an invitation to perceive something of the nature of the individual’s relationship with Gianlorenzo. In the case of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Gianlorenzo depicts the Cardinal in what appears to be the middle of a sentence. His honest, lively, and candid portrayal of the Cardinal suggests a level of familiarity and informality about their relationship. In the case of Constanza, the intimate nature of the relationship between her and Gianlorenzo is alluded to through the sensual depiction of her partially exposed breast and tousled hair. In this portrait, the viewer may perceive a sense of raw vulnerability in Constanza as she gazes intently and pensively, comfortable with and unaware of the viewer observing her.

18. Gianlorenzo Bernini. “Costanza Bonarelli,” ca. 1635, Florence, Museo nazionale del Bargello (source—artstor.org)

Fig. 18. Gianlorenzo Bernini. “Costanza Bonarelli,” ca. 1635, Florence, Museo nazionale del Bargello (source—artstor.org)

Although these examples are slightly later works than Gianlorenzo’s portrait of Pietro and are sculpture rather than painting, many of the same methods of analysis and interpretation may be applied. When considering this portrait in light of the insights that many of Gianlorenzo’s later works provide, a greater understanding of the relationship between Pietro and Gianlorenzo may be gained.

Gianlorenzo depicts his father as a man with a calm and serene nature. Pietro’s unaggressive but firm expression conveys a certain gentleness, humility, and steadfastness. Bernini’s biographer Franco Mormando describes Pietro in this particular rendering as “a handsome man of dignity, intelligence and authority, with fine regular features and a dark-eyed, piercing glance like that of his son.”[3] Gianlorenzo paints Pietro’s face in a manner that suggests both respect toward his father and confidence in relation to him—qualities that indicate the same kind of relationship as the one determined by the Oedipal analysis of David in the previous section.

[1] This is also the year in which Gianlorenzo completed his second fountain, the Barcacciaa project which Pietro is rumored to have been potentially involved with and even possibly given the original commission for.

[2] For further information on Bernini’s portrait busts, see Portrait Bust of Louis XIV or Portrait Busts .

[3] Franco Mormando, Bernini: His Life and His Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 40.