The long-awaited exhibition of 50 Bernini works opened last week at The National Gallery of Canada here in Ottawa, and I'm definitely going to see it as soon as possible. I'll stand in front of a Bernini sculpture, like this one (top) of Pope Urban VIII Barberini (ca. 1632) and pretend that I'm actually standing in Rome's Galleria Borghese, where so much great Bernini is on display. I believe I'll even go alone, at least for the first visit, so it will feel like one of my Italian journeys. (The second photo is a 1623 marble bust of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who was Pope Urban VIII's uncle.)
The show, Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture is co-organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was born in Naples in 1598 and died in Rome at age 88 (!) was a sculptor, architect, designer, painter, and a playwright who transformed 17th century art. His name really is now synonymous with the Baroque.
Almost anyone who loves Rome learns a fondness for the Baroque -- it's seemingly everywhere. I found a new appreciation for the Baroque almost a year ago, during my winter visit to Rome when I took a four-hour walking tour with Context Rome. This focused on the Baroque period, and in particular, on rivals Bernini and Francesco Borromini, two great masters of the Baroque style and period. Previously, I had tended to see the Baroque style as a bit over the top, but as I've learned more about it, I've also learned to appreciate it more.
Anyway, who can resist Borromini's delightful Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza. It's considered a masterpiece of Roman Baroque church architecture, built in 1642-1660. I've never been able to get inside -- its visiting hours are extraordinarily limited! But last January, I had a quick peek at the interior and also took this photo. It was only about 4 p.m. -- still quite light out -- but you can see the nearly full moon to one side of the dome with its unique corkscrew lantern.
Okay, I couldn't resist another photo of this remarkable church.
But back to the exhibition.
Here's a description, from the National Gallery website: "(This) is the sole Canadian venue for this international exhibition that explores the remarkable development of portrait sculpture in 17th-century Rome with 27 busts; 10 paintings; 12 drawings. Thanks to Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his contemporaries – Alessandro Algardi, Giuliano Finelli, François Duquesnoy, and Francesco Mochi – the portrait bust became an innovative and groundbreaking art form.
"These sculptors sought to capture likeness, character, and even the appearance of life, coaxing a living, breathing portrait from the intractable medium of stone through their virtuosic skill in carving. The rare opportunity to view these artists’ works in close proximity sheds light on the remarkable artistic innovations of the period and provides a glimpse into the relationships among these artists as well as their individual styles."
The Baroque style of art and architecture was used as a tool of the Counter-Reformation, that is, the Catholic Church's reaction to the rise of Martin Luther and his new Protestant faith. The style emphasized the splendour and theatricality of the Catholic church and from the mid-17th century, the blossoming of Baroque in Rome transformed the nature of the city.
Fans of Rome know many of Bernini's sculptures, as well as Baroque architecture, that is scattered around the city -- from Sant' Andrea al Quirinale to the church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, to Santa Maria della Vittoria, home of Bernini's infamous sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Most important of all is probably the Palazzo Barberini, built for the most extravagant of Baroque popes, Urban VIII.
Bernini and Borromini both contributed to the architecture of the palace, which is packed with artistic treasures.