Cornaro crest

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini

Born: 7 December 1598, Naples

Married: 1639, Caterina Tezio

Died: 28 November 1680, Rome

Self Portrait


GIOVANNI LORENZO BERNINI was, in the assessment of Janson (History of Art, p. 410), the greatest sculptor-architect of the 17th century. He began his career as a student of his father Pietro Bernini (1582-1629), a sculptor who had himself worked at one time with Camillo Mariani.

Later he attracted the patronage of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, for whom he designed a palace. When Barberini was subsequently installed as Pope Urban VIII, 1623, Bernini was put in charge of building operations at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, where one of his early works, 1624-33, was the canopy [baldachin] over the high altar. He also created, 1657-66, the soaring marble, gilded bronze and stucco Chair of St. Peter [Cathedra Petri] for the Basilica.

Bernini's baroque style was a powerful influence on the architecture of his period. His most famous architectural works are the symmetrical curved colonnades of St. Peter's, the facade of Barberini's palace, and the arsenal at Civita Vecchia. Late in his career Bernini designed a series of three churches, culminating in the domed Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, 1658-70, in Rome.

In sculpture, Bernini's masterwork is the Cornaro Chapel at the Church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Rome, commissioned by Cardinal Patriarch Federico Cornaro (G-17). The centerpiece is The Ecstasy of S. Teresa of Avila, a large statue designed to be illuminated by reflected light from a hidden window. The figures of S. Teresa and an angel are seen upon a stage, witnessed by seven Cardinals and a Doge of the Cornaro family looking on from flanking balconies. The Fountain of the Four Rivers, 1648-51, in Piazza Navona is another of his celebrated sculptural groups.

1997-2000 C. I. Gable