first architectural project was the magnificent bronze baldachin
(1624-1633), the canopy over the high altar of St. Peter's
Basilica, and the facade for the church of Santa Bibiana (1624-1626),
Rome. In 1629, before the Baldacchino was complete, Urban
VIII put him in charge of all the ongoing architectural works
at St Peter's. He was given the commission for the Basilica's
tombs of Pope Urban VIII (1628-1647 and, years later, Pope
Alexander VII Chigi 1671-1678. The Chair of Saint Peter (Cathedra
Petri) 1657-1666), in the apse of St. Peter's, is one of his
his other best-known sculptures: the "Ecstasy of St Teresa"
(1645-1652, in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria,
Rome), and the earlier commissions of "Apollo and Daphne",
and the "David" at the Borghese Gallery.
Bernini depicts David (illustration, left)
in motion, in contrast to the famous statue of David by Michelangelo
in which the character is preparing for action. The twisted
torso and furrowed brow of Bernini's "David" is
symptomatic of the baroque's interest in dynamic movement
over High Renaissance stasis. Michelangelo expresses David's
whole heroic nature; Bernini captures the heroic moment. The
white marble sculpture, which brought Bernini his first fame,
was commissioned from the twenty-five year old Bernini by
Cardinal Scipione Borghese, his great patron.
Bernini's architecture is as famous as his
sculpture: Besides his most famous work, the piazza and colonnades
of St Peter's he planned several famous palaces: Palazzo Barberini
(from 1630); Palazzo Ludovisi (now Palazzo Montecitorio, 1650);
and Palazzo Chigi (1664), all in Rome. In 1665, at the height
of his fame and powers, he made a voyage to Paris to present
Louis XIV with (rejected) designs for the east front of the
Louvre; it was executed in more classicising taste by Claude
And he designed some famous churches, though
the facade of St Peter's is not his (see Carlo Maderno ).
One of the small baroque churches in Rome presents an ensemble
of Bernini's work: Bernini was responsible not only for the
architecture of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, but also the enormous
statue of St. Andrew the Apostle over the high altar. In papal
villages near Rome, Bernini designed churches for Castel Gandolfo
and in Ariccia .
The first of Bernini's fountains was the Fountain
of the Triton (1640). His most famous fountain, the spectacular
Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) (1648-1651)
in the Piazza Navona, Rome, is also a source of anecdotes
about his rivalry with Francesco Borromini (whose Sant'Agnese
in Agony church faces the fountain): one of the Bernini's
river gods, it was said, cowers in terror at the unsteady-looking
facade of Sant'Agnese.
Also to remember: portrait busts of Cardinal
Scipione Borghese (1632, Galleria Borghese) and Louis XIV
(1665, Palace of Versailles).
The death of his constant patron Urban VIII
in 1644 released a horde of Bernini's rivals and marked a
change in his career, but Innocent X set him back to work
on the extended nave of St Peter's and commissioned the Four
Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona. At the time of Innocent's
death Bernini was the aribiter of public taste in Rome.
He died in Rome in 1680.