Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture / Getty Museum, Los Angeles

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture
Exhibition > October 26, 2008

The first exhibition ever to focus on Bernini’s accomplishments as a portrait sculptor – demonstrates the artist’s unprecedented ability to depict the character of the sitter through a dynamic, life-like rendering, as well as the subsequent impact this innovation had on sculptural portraiture.

© J. Paul Getty Museum

Gian Lorenzo Bernini [1598–1680] is widely acknowledged as the greatest Baroque sculptor for his monumental works such as Apollo and Daphne [1622–25] and the Ecstasy of St. Theresa [1647–52]. His unparalleled talent as a portrait sculptor transformed the practice and earned him the patronage of the Catholic Church and nobility in 17th- century Rome, as well as important commissions from foreign rulers.

The exhibition is organized chronologically to provide a comprehensive presentation of Bernini’s artistic development and a cohesive understanding of his oeuvre.
The first gallery will celebrate Bernini’s early achievements, including two bronze portrait busts—commissioned together—of the deceased pope Paul V (1621-22, bronze) and the newly appointed Gregory XV (1621-22, bronze), among others. The busts were commissioned to underscore the intellectual continuity between their two pontificates and Bernini brilliantly renders Paul V with naturalism and symmetry and Gregory XV with majesty and dignity. The works were separated in the 1890’s and this will be the first time they have been displayed together since.

A section of the exhibition will be devoted to portrait busts and paintings of the Barberini family—who rose to prominence in 17th-century Rome with the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to the papal throne in 1623 as Urban VIII—and members of their entourage. Bernini’s portraits of Francesco Barberini (1620s, marble), Maffeo’s uncle, and Camilla Barberini (1620s, marble), Maffeo’s mother, will be on view, alongside numerous depictions by Bernini of Urban VIII himself, including two bronze busts, a marble bust, a bronze and porphyry bust, and an oil painting. A spiritually charged marble bust of Carlo Barberini (ca. 1630) by Bernini’s contemporary Francesco Mochi will also be on display.

Though Bernini’s sculptural masterpieces are the core of the exhibition, his magnificent portrait drawings will also be included. While his portrait busts depict dignitaries, these more intimate works on paper portray with remarkable freshness unidentified persons, such as Portrait of a Boy (ca. 1630) and Portrait of a Man with a Moustache (ca. 1630). This section will also include two very special self-portraits Bernini created—one in 1630 as a young man and the other in 1665 when he was more advanced in age.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, [Italian, 1598 – 1680]
Costanza Bonarelli, about 1636–1638
H: 25 x W: 14 x D: 10 in. (72 x 35.6 x 25.4 cm)
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence
Courtesy of the Istituti museali della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino. Photograph: Arrigo Coppitz

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, [Italian, 1598 – 1680]
Self-Portrait, about 1625
Black and re chalks, heightened with with chalk
Unframed: 27.5 x 21.5 cm [10 13/16 x 8 7/16 in.]
Framed (approx) : 60.5 x 45 cm [23 13/16 x 17 11/16 in.]
Purchased (Hope Fund), 1944, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxfor, England

The work of Giuliano Finelli and Alessandro Algardi will also be on view—demonstrating the influence Bernini’s virtuosic realism had on Finelli and the naturalistic classicism developed by Bernini’s rival Algardi.

Alessandro Algardi

Alessandro Algardi, [Italian, 1598 – 1654]
Portrait of a Gentleman (formerly identified as Ambrogio Spinola),
about 1640
H: 83 x W: 80 x D: 45 cm [32 11 11/16 x 31 ½ x 17 11/16 in.]
Private collection

What is Baroque?

Baroque, the European artistic style of the 1600s, targeted the senses using virtuosity and realism, reaching the mind through emotion rather than reason. The term Baroque was coined in the 1700s from the Portuguese word for an irregular pearl, barroco, suggesting the work was composed of distorted forms of histrionic subjects. Baroque art has qualities of theatricality, movement, and exuberance. Artists—like others of the time who were interested in studying, understanding, and recording the world—applied their faculties of keen observation to render details of the physical world and of human psychology.

Bernini’s work embodies the quintessence of Baroque energy and dynamism, often capturing a fleeting action in an instant. This bust of Costanza Bonarelli marks the culmination of Bernini’s experimentation in presenting immediate, informal, and lifelike portraits. Art historian Rudolf Wittkower, who revived interest in Bernini, called the bust “one of the most remarkable portrait busts of the whole history of art.”

Work by Bernini and others will be generously loaned by the Palazzo Barberini, the Galleria Borghese, and the Museo di Roma in Rome; the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence; and the Vatican. Important loans will also come from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England; the Musée du Louvre and the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles; the Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin; the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen; and several private collections around the world.


The exhibition will also be accompanied by a full-color catalogue.

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