Bernini was an great Italian sculptor, architect, artist, scene and machine designer. He was also a leading figure in the emergence of Roman and Italian Baroque.
He created the Baroque style of architecture and sculpture and developed it to perfection.
He was more celebrated as an prominent architect and a sculptor than as a painter. However, his paintings and in particular his Self-portrait (1665) an example of his superb draftsmanship. In addition he wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets and was a director of theatrical extravaganzas.
At 16 years old, he created the sculpture "The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence. When Cardinal Skopion Borghese saw this sculpture he decided to make Giovanni his personal sculptor.
Many of his early sculptures, such as the Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius (1619), Rape of Proserpine (1622), David (1623-24) and Apollo and Daphne (1625), were done for Scipione Cardinal Borghese, one of the most important patrons of the period. These are all in the Borghese Gallery, Rome.
His first architectural work was the remodeled Church of Santa Bibiana in Rome. At the same time, Bernini was commissioned to build a symbolic structure over the tomb of St Peter in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
His Creative style:
1. Syntheses. In his masterpieces he was able to synthesise sculpture, painting and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole has been termed by the art historian, Irving Lavin, the ‘unity of the visual arts’.
2. Affectedness, theatricality. Bernini possessed captured, in marble, the essence of a nature
with a dramatic naturalistic realism which was almost shocking. mystical combination of religious affectation, with marked sensitivity. He managed to achieve a mystical combination of religious affectation, with marked sensitivity For this purpose he used the such artifices as elongation of the body, expressive gesture, and simplified yet emphatic emotional expression.
3. The dynamism, flexibility and vitality. Bernini transformed the marble block into a vital, almost breathing figure. He managed to make his favorite material, marble, supple,” like wax "and reached the illusion of mobility of plastic forms.
4. Using of the special techniques. Bernini used light as an important metaphorical device and used such artifice as concealed lighting, often it was hidden light source. He also used theatrical techniques of false perspective and optical devices to emphasize the illusion of great length and size.
Bernini died at the age of 81, after having served eight popes, and when he died he was widely considered not only Europe's greatest artist but also one of its greatest men.
Bernini created some of the innovative stage sets in the theatre built by the Barberini family, which exhibited: floods, storms, chariots flying through the air, houses falling in ruins, the sudden appearance of temples, forests, and populous city streets.
He is known for his sarcastic cartoons graphics on his contemporaries and became the founder of the genre cartoons.
He was the last of Italy's remarkable series of universal geniuses, and the Baroque style he helped create was the last Italian style to become an international standard.
Bernini was known as a wit; he wrote comedies and made numerous caricatures. He produced several plays, all of which contained effective illusions.
All of his important work is in Rome, with the exception of the Neptune and Triton (Victoria and Albert Mus., London) and the bust of Louis XIV (Versailles).
After receiving early training from his father Pietro, at the age of seven he accompanied his father to Rome, where Pietro was involved in several high profile projects. There in Rome Giovanni began his career working for his father.
There, a boy prodigy worked so diligently that he earned the praise of the famous painter Annibale Carracci and soon came to the notice of Pope Paul V, who began patronizing him. It is necessary to note that during his long career, Bernini received many important commissions, many associated with the papacy.
Bernini's early works attracted the attention of the pope's nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Bernini gained the patronage exclusively under him and in 1621, at the age of only twenty three, Bernini was knighted by Pope Gregory XV.
His first works were inspired by antique Hellenistic sculpture. He was strongly influenced by his close study of the antique Greek and Roman marbles in the Vatican, and he also had an intimate knowledge of High Renaissance painting of the early 16th century.
His study of Michelangelo is revealed in the St Sebastian (c. 1617), carved for Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who was later Pope Urban VIII and Bernini's greatest patron.
At that time Popes Urban VIII, Innocent X, and Alexander VII gave him unparalleled opportunities to design churches, chapels, fountains, monuments, tombs, and statues.
Under the patronage of Urban VIII, the first of eight popes he was to serve, during 1624 and 1633 years, he created the famous immense gilt-bronze baldachin over the tomb of St. Peter in Rome. At that time he began to work on Triton Fountain (1624-1643) in Piazza Barberini, Rome.
In 1629, Bernini was appointed architect of St. Peter's Basilica and the Palazzo Barberini. Since then Bernini began to dominate in the Italian art world of the seventeenth century, flourishing under the patronage of its cardinals and popes. During the reign of Innocent X, Bernini was temporarily in disgrace. However at that time he created his one of the greatest masterpiece - the Cornaro Chapel in the small Roman church of S. Maria della Vittoria (1644-1655).
Bernini's most spectacular public monuments date from the mid-1640s to the 1660s.
During the 1640s he designed the Cornaro Chapel as well as that of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. The centerpiece of Chapel is his best known sculpture of The Ecstasy of St Teresa (1645-52), a depiction of a mystical experience of the great Spanish Carmelite reformer Teresa of Avila. It is a large statue (height 3.5m) designed to be illuminated by reflected light from a hidden window. This masterpiece is one of the most inspired monuments of art history and the greatest single example of Bernini's mature art.
During Innocent's papacy Bernini frequently worked also for private patrons. During 1648-1651 years Bernini created the one of his most spectacular works -The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome's Piazza Navona. The Fountain supports an ancient Egyptian obelisk over a hollowed-out rock, surmounted by four marble figures symbolizing four major rivers of the world. For St. Peter's Church, he created the Scala Regia and the heroic equestrian statue of Constantine (1654-70).
For the Chigi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, he carved two groups, Daniel in the Lions' Den and Habakkuk and the Angel (1655-61).
Between 1658 and 1670 Bernini designed three churches: San Tomaso di Villanova at Castelgandolfo, Santa Maria dell'Assunzione at Ariccia, and Sant' Andrea al Quirinale in Rome.
As early as 1656 he began to work on the great monumental composition the Piazza San Pietro -elliptical piazza and the vast, embracing arms of the colonnades in front of the church. This Bernini's masterpiece (1656-1663) is one of his most innovative and successful architectural designs and his greatest architectural achievement.
It is his architectural designs, including the great colonnade of St. Peters, brought him his greatest celebrity and worldwide glory.
In 1665, Louis XIV invited him to Paris to finish designing the Louvre, but Bernini's Innovative plans failed to win approval. Returning to Italy, he continued to work on St. Peter's.
Bernini would not marry until 1639. In the late 1630s he engaged in an affair with a married woman named Costanza. At age 41 he wed a 22 year old Roman woman, Caterina Tezio. She bore him eleven children. His youngest son Domenico Bernini became his first biographer.
Bernini died at the age of 81 in Rome on 28 November 1680.
He was the last of Italy's remarkable series of universal geniuses. His death marked the end of Italy's artistic hegemony in Europe.
He was buried in Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Italy.