Saturday, January 26, 2013

Artist of the Day: Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Bernini, Costanza Bonarelli
h/t to Clive James of The Atlantic dot com for these paragraphs on Bernini.  Ellipses mine.

"Bernini left nothing out of the range of emotions, and this in turn left some of his work ripe for scandal. He was ripe for that anyway. His libido was always in a rage. If his wife had lived longer, he would have generated even more children than the 11 he did. Just before he married her, he was having an affair with Costanza Bonarelli, the model for the beautiful bust that is now in the Bargello collection, in Florence. When I first visited the Bargello, I hadn’t yet been to Rome, so she was my first 3‑D Bernini. I could see immediately how the texture of the carving either didn’t fit into the Renaissance at all or else brought it to an end. The naturalism was bewildering, because you would have thought that some of the earlier sculptures in the collection were already as natural as could be. Between that head and the pretty, slightly plump young woman who inspired it, there is no distance that we might call monumentality. The sculpture simply says that Bonarelli was once alive, even though Bernini came close to killing her. She was already someone else’s wife, but when Bernini caught her having an affair with his brother, he went berserk, drawing his sword and chasing his brother in and out of churches. Meanwhile, to his eternal shame, he directed a factotum to slash Bonarelli’s face. This is a very nasty moment in the narrative. . .[the] excuse for Bernini is that such a retributive mutilation was a widely spread practice among men of the day. Perhaps, but you can’t help wondering whether the force of his passion was really an argument for the fineness of his feelings.

Nevertheless, the Bonarelli is a fine piece of sculpture. They all are, as long as Bernini did them. Such was the demand for his style that he had to call in lesser artists to supply the demand. But when he was the author, the result was a hit every time, with the exception of the equestrian statue of Louis XIV, which the king himself thought was a dud. Similarly, Bernini’s succession of designs for the Louvre Palace in Paris ended up going nowhere, at the price of a huge drain on his energy. He was accustomed to having his energy drained, but outright failure was never typical. What was typical was a lucrative success, in a long career that culminated in his shaping and decorating an entire church, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale. As with all the other projects that involved architecture along with sculpture, he was the complete master of both media, and if he was constantly pushed beyond his natural pace, well, being pushed was his pace. He seems to have slept soundly enough; it was to others that the cost was heartbreaking. The ordinary people of the city picked up the tab, because all the outlay came out of money that the popes stole from them in lieu of providing the simple social amenities that might have saved their lives. Nevertheless, there is no arguing with the results obtained by the dream team of Bernini and Pope Urban VIII. The Rome we see today is the Rome they built."

Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Teresa
Here's Simon Schama's Bernini episode which opens with the Ecstasy of St. Teresa, tells the story of the Bonarelli and illustrates the magic of Apollo Chasing Daphne.  Dig in.

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