The Renaissance produced a wide range of influential artists, many of whom are lauded as the most talented artists of all time. However, the long-lasting influence of the Renaissance lies in the successors of the most famous Renaissance artists, such as Bernini. Bernini came into his own during the ending years of the Renaissance, and his new sculptural and architectural techniques helped to usher in the Baroque era of art and architecture. Bernini was an Italian, and was fortunate enough to be born into an era in which his skill as an artist and architect was both encouraged and supported by the upper echelons of society. Although he is less well-known than many of the earlier Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, he had an influence on art and architectural techniques that are still used today.
Although Bernini is primarily known as a sculptor, he was also an architect. Like many artists and inventors of his time, he did not feel the need to limit himself to a single discipline (Boucher). During the early years of his art career, he worked primarily as a sculptor; he quickly became known for his sculptures depicting traditional Greek and Roman fables (Boucher).
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this is his sculpture entitled Apollo and Daphne; in this sculpture, Daphne seems to be in movement, turning away from Apollo. There is movement in the clothing and tension in the muscles of the subjects. Bernini still utilizes the idealism in form that the Renaissance artists were so well-known for, but he incorporated a new sense of dynamic movement that became a hallmark of Baroque sculpture (Boucher).
However, Bernini was also famous for carrying out various religiously-themed sculptures; the height of his sculpting career, many scholars believe, was when he was commissioned to do the papal bust for the reigning Pope at the time (Boucher). Bernini’s sculpture is unique, in that it seems as though his subjects are merely frozen in movement; his sculpture ushered in a new style of sculpture, both similar and separate from the style utilized heavily in the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, artists were focused on portraying the ideal form, but Bernini was also concerned with conveying movement, emotion, and story with his sculpture.
As an architect, Bernini developed into maturity later in his life. However, he still produced a significant body of work, including the Piazza San Pietro and the piazza and colonnades at Saint Peter’s Basilica (Metmuseum.org). Bernini did not have the architectural prowess of many of his contemporaries, but he had a gift for renovation and changed the look and feel of many different churches and public buildings in Italy (Metmuseum.org). Accord
Bernini was, by all accounts, an exceptional thinker and artist. He took his technical cues from the artists that came before him-- the greats like Michelangelo, for example, but also lesser-known artists and the classical Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture (Boucher). He was, by many accounts, the foundation upon which the Baroque art and architectural styles were built, bridging the years between the Renaissance and the Baroque era and introducing a variety of new and different ideas and techniques.
It was the climate of the times that truly allowed Bernini to flourish as an artist. In previous eras, he may have struggled to make a living, having to resort to portraiture or continuing to sculpt busts rather than evolving to his grand fountains (Boucher). The atmosphere of patronage in Italy at the time contributed greatly to the rise of the arts. Italy was in a unique place politically, because of the rise of a middle class known as the bourgeoisie (Boucher). The bourgeoisie considered art as an ideal way to demonstrate their newfound wealth. Because of this, the Church was no longer the only patron, and artists such as Bernini could be commissioned to make grand pieces of art for a wide variety of different types of people with many different thematic ideas.
Bernini could not have made his start in the art world without the patronage of Pope Urban VIII. Bernini met Urban VIII during the time when the future Pope was still a cardinal, and the man gave Bernini his first commissions, allowing him to enter the art world at a young age (Marder). When Urban VIII was elected by the college of cardinals, he almost immediately called for a new piece of artwork to be created: a baldachin for the altar at St. Peter’s Basilica. Saint Peter’s baldachin, an altar piece that exists in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, is one of Bernini’s masterpieces. It is highly decorative, and is designed to draw every eye in the basilica into the center of the altar, which is a highly important place for the Catholic religion (Smithsonian). Unlike many altarpieces that came before it, Bernini’s baldachin is highly decorative, carved out of bronze and extremely large (Smithsonian).
This commission, given to Bernini and another artist by the name of Borromini by the Pope, would turn out to be one of his most famous pieces of art (Marder). Borromini and Bernini were direct rivals, in both art and personality. Bernini’s contemporaries describe him as likeable and charismatic, which allowed him to win people over with ease; it was in this way that he won Pope Urban’s favor, whereas Borromini was more subdued and not charismatic in the same way. Borromini and Bernini were openly competitive and hated each other, but they did work together on the baldachin at Saint Peter’s-- Bernini is often the only one remembered for this work, however (Marder).
Bernini’s charisma won him the support of many of the powerful individuals of his time; he was even responsible for creating the Pope’s sarcophagus after his death, a great honor for the artist (Marder). Even with the support of the Pope, Bernini was not without his detractors. Borromini, for instance, one of the other great artists of Baroque Rome, was a long-time rival for Bernini (Marder). Bernini’s religious fervor caused him to fall out of favor with Pope Innocent X (Marder). Because Bernini was forward-thinking and unwilling to compromise on his artistic ideas, he often clashed with artists and traditional thinkers of the day who were more concerned with tradition than with innovation (Marder). After the death of Urban VIII, Bernini’s religious and artistic ideals caused him to clash with Pope Innocent X, although he still received various commissions from individuals outside the Papacy (Marder).
The climate of the times was unique during Bernini’s era. He was born into a society that valued and nurtured his talent, allowing him to excel in ways that he may not have been able to had he been born into another society (Avery, Finn). Bernini created new ideas and ushered in a new age of art. Notably, the Baroque era of art allowed for art that explored themes other than religious themes. The exploration was slow at first, with Bernini and his peers exploring classical Greek and Roman mythology and other similar stories; however, pagan themes and even modern-day fables and stories became more acceptable as the Baroque era went on.
Over the course of his career, Bernini explored a variety of different stylistic approaches to art and architecture, but he became extremely sought after as an architect because of the way he melded his skill with sculpture and his skill with architecture. As an architect, he focused primarily on renovating and refurbishing existing buildings, or adding to the existing structures (GreatBuildings.com). The colonnade of San Pietro is one of the quintessential examples of Bernini’s architectural work. It is a colonnade that stretches along the piazza, and links the new Renaissance style of architecture with the more traditional Roman-style colonnade. He is responsible for the highly decorative style of Baroque architecture as well, as many of his architectural pieces incorporate large amounts of sculpture.
Bernini and his contemporaries broke tradition in architecture and sculpture and allowed the forward-thinking philosophical movement of the Renaissance to continue. It is important to note that artistic and architectural changes do not happen in a vacuum, and these changes were accompanied by changes in philosophy, politics, and society at large. Without these changes, the face of the world would be very different today.
Avery, Charles, and David Finn. Bernini: Genius of the Baroque. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997. Print.
Boucher, Bruce. Italian Baroque Sculpture. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Print.
Discovery Channel. The Power of Art - Bernini (complete episode). Digital image. 2013. Web.
Greatbuildings.com. "Bernini - Great Buildings Online." 1991. Web. 18 Apr 2013.
Marder, T.A.. "Bernini and the Art of Architecture." 1998. Web. 19 Apr 2013.
Metmuseum.org. "Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680)." 1990. Web. 18 Apr 2013.
Smithsonian magazine. "Bernini's Genius." 2008. Web. 18 Apr 2013.