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Monthly Book Challenge > Bernini: His Life and His Rome

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message 1: by Heather (new)

Heather It looks like, based on our last poll, that our next book read for October will be Bernini: His Life and His Rome. Our November book will be The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren. Sound good to you all?

Thank you to all who have voted, I hope we can have a lot of participation in this thread. Happy Reading, everyone!

message 2: by Heather (last edited Sep 17, 2012 06:29AM) (new)


Sculptor, architect, painter, playwright, and scenographer, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) was the last of the great universal artistic geniuses of early modern Italy, placed by both contemporaries and posterity in the same exalted company as Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. And his artistic vision remains palpably present today, through the countless statues, fountains, and buildings that transformed Rome into the Baroque theater that continues to enthrall tourists.

It is perhaps not surprising that this artist who defined the Baroque should have a personal life that itself was, well, baroque. As Franco Mormando’s dazzling biography reveals, Bernini was a man driven by many passions, possessed of an explosive temper and a hearty sex drive, and he lived a life as dramatic as any of his creations. Drawing on archival sources, letters, diaries, and—with a suitable skepticism—a hagiographic account written by Bernini’s son (who portrays his father as a paragon of virtue and piety), Mormando leads us through Bernini’s many feuds and love affairs, scandals and sins. He sets Bernini’s raucous life against a vivid backdrop of Baroque Rome, bustling and wealthy, and peopled by churchmen and bureaucrats, popes and politicians, schemes and secrets.The result is a seductively readable biography, stuffed with stories and teeming with life—as wild and unforgettable as Bernini’s art. No one who has been bewitched by the Baroque should miss it.

Take it away, Carol!

message 3: by Carol (last edited Sep 20, 2012 12:27PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Thanks Heather!
My library doesn't have the book, so they placed a hold on it from other libraries in the state. Once I receive the book, I will set up a reading schedule.

Bernini: An Interview with Franco Mormando (11:48)

Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, 1645-52 (7:22)

Bernini's David, 1623-24 (3:55)

Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25 (2:44)

Bernini, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, 1658-70 (2:13)

Bernini, Saint Peter's Square (2:50)
much more:

The Fountain of the Four Rivers or Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi --

I realize that probably most everyone have seen Simon Schama's Power of Art on Bernini. But I'm posting it because I think that the filming (close ups, lighting, etc) of Bernini's sculpture/artwork is exceptional.
1 of 4 (14:44)
2 of 4 (14:34)
3 of 4 (13:15)
4 of 4 (14:49)

message 4: by Heather (new)

Heather Those look great, Carol! I'm at work and don't have access to look at those videos, but I look forward to getting home so that I can check them out. Bernini sure had quite an artistic influence in Rome! That is going to be a good book!

message 5: by Hady (new)

Hady Gómez (hadytangible) | 5 comments I Love that episode! uh I'm going to watch it again n_n

message 6: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments sorry about the links -- I changed the ones that were not working.

message 7: by Monica (new)

Monica | 909 comments Hello I am glad to see your passion continues. I'll lurk from time to time. Monica

message 8: by Carol (last edited Sep 28, 2012 12:49PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments My book finally arrived! I was wondering if those who are going to participate in reading & discussing Bernini: His Life and His Rome would just give a shout out, so we know how many we are.

Reading Schedule:

10/3 CH 1: The Neapolitan Meteor pp. 1--65 (65p)

10/10 CH 2: Impresario Supreme pp. 66--143 (77p)

10/17 CH 3: Bernini's Agony and Ecstacy pp. 144--194 (50p)

10/24 CH 4: Bernini and Alexander pp. 195-244. (39p)
10/24 CH 5: A Roman Artist in King Louis's Court pp. 245-288 (43p)

10/31 CH 6: "My star will lose its ascendancy." pp. 289-351 (62p)

The date is the first day to discuss that part of the book we read. I put CH 4 & 5 together since they were the smallest chapters and it would allow us to finish this book in October. In November we can read/discuss The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren by Jonathan Lopez.

Please let me know if this works for you or not. We can always change it.

Jeannie and Louis Rigod (opalbeach) Carol, I will have to purchase the novel in Oct (SSA and all,) but will easily catch up by week two. I will pre-order November's selection in Oct also. Thank you for getting this together. Jeannie

message 10: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Thanks Jeannie! So far its just the two of us, hopefully after the weekend it will change.

message 11: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments FYI -- Bernini also made a few paintings . . .

Self Portraits --

Self Portrait, c. 1635, oil on canvas, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

David with the Head of Goliath, 1625, oil on canvas, Galleria nazionale d' Arte Antica, Rome

Saint Andrew and Saint Thomas, 1627

Head of Apostle, 1627-29

message 12: by Carol (last edited Sep 29, 2012 04:47PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Early sculptures by Bernini under the patronage of the Cardinal Borghese.

The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun, 1615, Carrara marble, Borghese Collection, Galleria Borghese

When Bernini was about seventeen, in imitation of ancient sculpture, he executed the group of The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun. Jupiter, the son of the god Saturn (who devoured his children because it was prophesied that one of them would usurp him). Jupiter's mother fled to Crete and gave birth to him in a cave. She gave Saturn a large stone wrapped in swaddling clothes which he unsuspectingly swallowed. Jupiter was brought up on the slopes of Cretan Mt Ida by nymphs who fed him on wild honey and on milk from the goat Amalthea.
Bust of Pope Paul V, 1617-18, Carrara marble, Galleria Borghese, Rome

"Damned Soul", marble, ca 1619, Palazzo di Spagna, Rome - allegorical busts also one entitled "Blessed Soul" but I cannot find an image online.

Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius, 1618-19, Galleria Borghese, Rome

This complex, life-sized, multi-figure sculpture depicts the critical moment in Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid, when the hero Aeneas flees the burning city of Troy with his aged father Anchises and young son Ascanius. Anchises brings with him the household gods, here represented by a statuette of the goddess Athena. The family's flight begins a series of events in Virgil's narrative that leads to the founding of Rome. Aeneas's devotion to his father, whom he refuses to abandon to the flames and ultimately carries from the burning city, was traditionally viewed as a prime example of filial virtue.
better light, close up image


Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25, marble, Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Daphne was a forest nymph who caught the attention of Apollo. Apollo fell in love with her but she rejected him, so Apollo pursued her but she had to run in order to get away. During the middle of this chase she asked her river guardian father to help her and he changed her into a Laurel tree. Apollo loved her so much that he took her leaves and branches and made a Laurel crown which become Apollo's symbol and crown.

message 13: by Divvy (new)

Divvy | 70 comments Hey Carol,
I picked up a copy of the book at work. (Sometimes it really pays to work at an academic library.) I'm planning on reading along with you. Divvy

message 14: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Thanks so much Divvy!

message 15: by Dottie (new)

Dottie Suggs (dottiesuggs) | 23 comments I have purchased the books for Oct and Nov, and will be reading with the group.

message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments That's great Dottie -- that makes 4!!

message 17: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples to a Mannerist sculptor, Pietro Bernini (1562-1629), originally from Tuscany, was a respected artist in his own right. Pietro Bernini did many commissions for Pope Paul V, Pope Urban VIII, and also Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

A few of his works . . .

The Assumption, 1607-10, marble, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome (click to enlarge image)

The Charity of St. Martin, c. 1610, marble, Certosa di San Martino, Naples

St. John the Baptist, 1612-15, Marble, Sant’ Andrea della Valle, Rome

Terms: Figures of Flora and Priapus, 1616, marble, Originally in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, Rome

Madonna and Child, Museo di san Martino, Napoli

Baptismal chapel in Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. In front, to the left: statue of St. John the Baptist is by Luigi Valadier (1825); in the background, the relief of the Assumption on the altar is by Pietro Bernini (1606). (Click on image to enlarge.)

Fontana della Barcaccia ("Fountain of the Old Boat") is a Baroque fresh-water fountain in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, Italy, just below the Spanish Steps. It is so named because it is in the shape of a half-sunken ship with water overflowing its bows. The fountain was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII and was completed in 1627 by Pietro Bernini and his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The shape was chosen because, prior to the river walls being built, the Tiber often flooded and in 1598 there was a particularly bad flooding and the Piazza di Spagna was flooded up to a meter. Once the water withdrew, a boat was left behind in the square.

FYI . . .
The English poet John Keats could hear the sound of the fountain's water flowing soothingly from his deathbed. He said it reminded him of lines from the 17th-century play Philaster (1611) and was the source for his epitaph: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water.")

message 18: by Heather (new)

Heather I'll look into getting the book this week, Carol. Not making any promises, but it does look interesting! I'm enjoying your posts and look forward to at least following along. I'll let you know...

message 19: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Sounds great Heather!

message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments just FYI -- comparison between Renaissance and Baroque art

The Basics of Art -- The Renaissance

The Basics of Art-- The Baroque Period

message 21: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments RENAISSANCE --

Michelangelo's Pietà, 1498-1499, Marble, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà is unique to the precedents. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism. The structure is pyramidal, and the vertex coincides with Mary's head. The statue widens progressively down the drapery of Mary's dress, to the base, the rock of Golgotha. The figures are quite out of proportion, owing to the difficulty of depicting a fully-grown man cradled full-length in a woman's lap. Much of Mary's body is concealed by her monumental drapery, and the relationship of the figures appears quite natural.

Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pieta was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman around 50 years of age. Christ's face does not reveal signs of The Passion. Michelangelo did not want his version of The Pieta to represent death, but rather to show the "religious vision of abandonment and a serene face of the Son", thus the representation of the communion between man and God by the sanctification through Christ. The statue is one of the most highly finished works by Michelangelo.


The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is the central sculptural group in white marble set in an elevated aedicule in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

The two central sculptural figures of the swooning nun and the angel with the spear derive from an episode described by Teresa of Avila, a mystical cloistered Discalced Carmelite reformer and nun, in her autobiography, ‘The Life of Teresa of Jesus’ (1515–1582). This depicts her experience of religious ecstasy in her encounter with the angel. The effects are theatrical and illustrates a moment where divinity intrudes on an earthly body. Bernini's aimed to express the facial and body equivalents of a state of divine joy.

message 22: by Carol (last edited Oct 21, 2012 03:45PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments CHILDHOOD IN A “PARADISE INHABITED BY DEMONS”

In the 17th century, Naples, Italy was the third largest and most densely populated city (after Paris and London) with over 300,000 inhabitants. Despite the beauty of it’s historical architecture, wealth and fine arts it was filled with desperate poverty, criminality and various forms of immorality, incivility, violence and anarchy.

Naples was home to Bernini for the first 8 years old his life. An old cliche to describe the city was “a paradise inhabited by demons.” With regards to nature, Bernini’s childhood was an Eden. But in the interior city streets were narrow, dark and melancholy. One grim statistic in the 17th century refers to the Hospital of the Annunziata which received 500 abandoned babies every year. Most of the city’s problems steamed from its rapid growth and nature-drought, famine, epidemic disease, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (Vesuvius). The German poet, Goethe, exclaimed “See Naples and then die.”

[image error]
Mount Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii.

Vesuvius from plane

Bernini absorbed from his childhood environment much of the colorful exuberance, theatrical flamboyance and intense emotionalism that were defining qualities of the Neopolitan temperament. Bernini publicly played down his southern Italian birth and publicly declared that he was a “Florentine” (despite he had only been there no more than a week.) Florentine he claimed to be not only because of his father, but also because his subtle campaign he waged throughout his life to persuade his contemporaries that he was the “new Michelangelo” -- the supreme universal genius of his age. To pass as the new Michelangelo, a Florentine pedigree was highly desirable, for Florence had been the cradle of Michelangelo’s genius and of the very rebirth of Italian art in the Renaissance.

Ponte Vecchio, which overlooks the Arno River, Florence

Palazzo Pitti on Boboli Gardens' side, Florence

Florence Cathedral

When Bernini was not immersed in training as a sculptor, he like most boys of middle class families was learning about the three Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic at home. Bernini was not one who spent much times reading books. Usually only went to a book when he needed it for the production of his art.

In early 1660 he received a summons to go Rome from the Pope. For an artist in early 17th century Catholic Europe, a papal commission was the highest honor imaginable, as well as the promising ticket to wealth and fame. Pietro packed up the family and went to Rome, he was eager not just for him but also for his son, Gian Lorenzo.

Rome was one of the destinations for artists and artisans of all types -- painters, sculptors, architects, engravers, stuccoists, goldsmiths, carpenters, masons, and stone carvers. Some came as temporary visitors to study the exquisite monuments of ancient architecture and modern masters -- Raphael and Michelangelo. In the 16th century much work was available for artists in Rome.

The popes were pouring out large sums of money into the rebuilding, modernizing and embellishments of the Eternal City. The campaign for the restoration of the Glory of Rome was set in motion by the Popes of the 15th century when the Renaissance, born in Florence, truly hit Rome. The rebuilding of Rome became an abiding papal priority, if not an obsession. Pietro Bernini was one of the numerous beneficiaries and, by the end of his life, his son Gian Lorenzo would beat every record to become the number-one beneficiary of all time.

In terms of population Rome ranked 5th in Italy. Its inhabitants were clustered near the bend of the Tiber River which was a vulnerable flood plain. The Romans were plagued and exposed to other terrible epidemic diseases, due to constant flooding. Only 80% of the population had some employment, the rest received charitable donations such as bread, called “Pagnotta” --their daily loaf, but it was never enough. During the great famine of 1648 families had no bread, and people ended up killing themselves and/or their children. Famine of epidemic proportions was as frequent as flooding and often drove the population to the brink of rebellion. Pope Innocent was accosted by a mob of angry, starved Romans, crying out for bread. Innocent weakly tried to assure them, “Do not worry, bread will, indeed, be found.” “Yes,” the mob shouted back , “it will be found right in your house.”

Bernini did not have to worry about his daily bread, since from the start of his career, he was extremely well compensated. Over a long lifetime, Bernini undertook commissions for eight popes, transforming the look of 17th-century Rome as Michelangelo had helped shape Florence and Rome a century before. Much of the Baroque grandeur of the Eternal City—its churches, fountains, piazzas and monuments—can be credited to Bernini and his followers.

message 23: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Mine's on the way (I am a fast reader, so hopefully will catch up).

message 24: by Heather (new)

Heather These are wonderful posts, Carol! I know you're busy these days so I really appreciate the time you are putting into this book read!

message 25: by Dvora (new)

Dvora I planned to join in on this read but when I went to order the book I found it was only in hardcover and much more expensive than my usual buy. Since I have to buy all the books I read (no English language library here) I decided to pass on this one.

message 26: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Carol wrote: Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25, marble, Galleria Borghese in Rome.

One of my all time favorites.

And... the book came today.... I bought it used/mint condition from a third party bookseller through Amazon...

message 27: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments I think I am still a little behind the schedule, I am bit past page 100. Anybody who doesn't have the book: Carol's posts are an excellent summary.

I was in a sculptor's studio today, and I mentioned I was just reading a book about Bernini.

I was telling her all kinds of stuff about Bernini, she was somewhat surprised he used assistants and how laden with intrigue the art world was back then. (Yes I know there's plenty of intrigue in the art world today, but usually nobody gets stabbed or poisoned!)

message 28: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Speaking about the use of studio assistants, that's a very interesting topic. Exactly what constitutes the "hand of a master" like Bernini, when a lot of details were farmed out to apprentices? What is it that makes us see it as by him or her?

There are a lot of art forms that are intrinsically collaborative, like movies and the theater--and there is an auteur theory that the director is the "author" of the film. Or like architecture, where the architect never does the physical work. There's even the conductor, who puts his or her stamp on a classic composition without playing a note.

message 29: by Dottie (new)

Dottie Suggs (dottiesuggs) | 23 comments Carol- Your posts are wonderfully enriching to this book. thank you for all of the visuals.

message 30: by Carol (last edited Oct 15, 2012 01:01PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Thanks Dottie & Ed . . . old habits are hard to break (worked in PR, Marketing & Communications).

I'm sorry but now I am behind in reading the book!! My husband & I flew out west for a 10 days - San Bernardino Mts, CA to Salt Lake City, UT -met Heather! visited Temple Square, 2002 Winter Olympic Park & watched amazing freestyle skiers, and spent a day in Park City (Sundance Film Festival held). Drove through ID, MT & into Yellowstone Natl. Park & Grand Teton Natl. Park in WY -- amazingly beautiful! Took many pics!! Exhausted!!

message 31: by Carol (last edited Oct 21, 2012 03:56PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Hi! I am finally back on my feet. I was wondering where everyone is in the book? I am almost done with Chapter 2 (out of 6 chapters). Anyone want to discuss?

message 32: by Carol (last edited Oct 22, 2012 12:01PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments FYI -- NYTimes article - "Bernini: Sculpting in Clay"

"The clay itself, visibly imprinted with Bernini's fingers . . . "
I will have to catch a train to NYC!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. 10/3/2012--1/6/2013
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX 2/3/2013--4/14/2013

message 33: by Ed (last edited Oct 21, 2012 08:45PM) (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Sure let's discuss. I got a bit ahead. I am finding the endless politics interesting, but it's almost eclipsing Bernini.

I was fascinated to learn that there is a special lens to bathe St. Teresa in a golden light on her feast day.

message 34: by Carol (last edited Oct 22, 2012 12:07PM) (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments

In what I have read in the first 2 chapters is that Bernini seems to be quite the confident individual who has learned how to deal with the popes to get what he wanted. I think Bernini is an "alpha male" living in Rome which was a very male society (66,281 males including 6,000 clergy and "religious" types, to 39,449 females which including 918 prostitutes). It seems that Rome also had its issues - lack of food, rampant disease from constant flooding, prostitution, abandoned infants (average 946 babies per yr.), and sorcery/ superstitious practices.

It is obvious that Bernini was a child prodigy and an exceptional artist as he won over the Popes during his career. Bernini was a very driven man throughout his life -- following an intense work schedule in uninterrupted, exhausting labor which continued into his 70s. (So much pressure that he regularly suffered from migraines daily.) He was a man who never had any close, trusted friends or confidants. In 1634, a fire almost destroyed all Bernini had and after brought on a serious illness (malaria?) which weaken the 37 year old and brought him to the brink of death. The Popes sent personal physicians to give medicine and examine him twice a day. Bernini survived.

Even though Bernini began a new chapter in his life, he returned to his former lover Constanza Piccolomini Bonarelli. She was a married to one of Bernini's collaborators, sculptor Matteo Bonarelli. They had a hot affair that lasted about 2 years. Bernini watched her home to discover that she was having a relationship with Bernini's brother, Luigi. Bernini was angry and sent one of his servants to slash her face with a razor, which he did. (Shocking to me, it was a common and conventional public ritual of revenge routinely carried out by men upon their faithless female lovers or misbehaving prostitutes.) I found it strange that back then Constanza's husband, Matteo, referred to his wife as "my most beloved wife." Matteo "put his wife out to earn" which allowed Bernini to have the affair without any serious harm from an avenging husband.

Bernini settled down by marrying a beautiful socially respectful woman in May 15, 1639. His wife, Caterina Tezio, 22 years, came from a wealthy upper middle class family. Her father, a lawyer and a special "citizen" of Rome. She had received schooling beyond the usual female training in domestic matters. She was the "kind of woman he desired" and told Pope Urban. At the age of 41 Bernini was a more devout, conscientious Catholic. They stayed married for 34 years (until she died in 1673.) The had 11 children - 6 girls and 5 boys (2 died at birth). In all his children, not one carried on his "prodigious genius."

I was surprised about the "Bernini Baroque Family von Trapp." Bernini being the "type A" driven perfectionist was also talented in theater. Everything from writing to set design (which was considered the "best part of all his comedies"). In 1639 John Milton attended one of these performances, "Let he who suffers, have hope," featuring a slice-of-life musical intermezzo staged by Bernini. These plays were full scaled, multimedia events as extravagant and costly in their staging, costuming, and musical accompaniment as any Broadway production today. Bernini was entirely a man of his times: he was doing what so many of his literate contemporaries were doing in Rome. The period of the Roman Baroque represents one of the golden ages of theater in Italian history.

Much of the comic spirit of Bernini's play drives from the fact that many of them were written to provide free, public entertainment for Carnival (Mardi Gras). Carnival season was an annual 10 days of rowdy, scandalously licentious celebration preceding Lent. Other entertainment (we would see as morally offensive) was races of naked Jews and hunchback considered "freaks" of nature who deserved to be ridiculed and pelted with rotten food as they ran down the Corso. Another more gruesome form of Carnival entertainment was an elderly frail Jew was forced into a barrel who interior was covered with exposed nails and then the barrel was pushed down the street to cheering crowds of Romans, especially the nobility. This was a city who population routinely attended public executions for their entertainment value.

Bernini's sole surviving script, "The Impresario," was written as an isolated act of artistic self-defense and self-promotion during the bleak period of the artist's career in the early anti-Barberini and anti-Bernini years of the reign of Pope Innocent X.

Bernini was a "Rome homebody." He spent most of his life in the city itself and he had little time to travel. Bernini would not go to the world outside Rome, instead it came to him, both in the form of international commissions and an unbroken stream of foreign visitors to his studio. Any trips he took outside of Rome was "work-related." Commissions came from King Charles I of England, Queen Henrietta Maria (didn't happen), Squire Thomas Baker (bust paid 6,000 scudi where Bernini worked secretly on it because Pope Urban forbid him to accept the commission), Cardinal Richelieu, prime minister of France and a bronze crucifix for King Philip IV.

In July 1644, Urban died and part of Bernini must have signed relief. Pope Urban has been such an unstable character. The 1644 papal conclave began and 49 days late, they chose a new pontiff who would represent near deadly disaster for Bernini.

message 35: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments There is one week left to discuss this book. I assume that all those who were interested in participating must have had more important things to deal with. It seems that this book discussion is turning out to be just like the last book discussion (The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris). With the holidays around the corner, and the lack of participation, I think we should read Jonathan's The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren at another time.

message 36: by Heather (new)

Heather That's probably a good idea, Carol. I remember last year around the holidays it was difficult to keep a discussion going. You are doing a great job with the interesting information for those of us who are not currently reading the book but still have an interest. Thank you for your time!

message 37: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Bernini was no longer the official artist of the papal family, free to accept commissions from whomever he wished. In January 1647 he agreed to design and build a chapel for the eminent Cardinal Federico Cornaro, in honor of both Cornaro’s illustrious family and one of his favorite saints, the recently canonized (1622) Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic, Teresa of Avila.

Cornaro had plenty of money and wanted his small chapel to have a theatrically orchestrated ensemble of sculpture, painting, architecture, richely colored marble and cleverly devised natural lighting, ended up costing him the breathtaking amount of 12,089 scudi (in todays world, half a million dollars). The entire ensemble was overseen and completed by a mature Bernini during the Pamphili papacy of Innocent X. The public response was overwhelmingly positive. Art Critic Giambattista Passeri describe the chapel as “a work of perfect beauty.”

arrow pointed toward the center of her body

the golden arrow

The two central sculptural figures of the swooning nun and the angel with the spear derive from an episode described by Teresa of Avila, a mystical cloistered Discalced Carmelite reformer and nun, in her autobiography, ‘The Life of Teresa of Jesus’ (1515–1582), she stated,

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”

The effects are theatrical, and the chapel illustrates a moment where divinity intrudes on an earthly body. Rome took no offense at the statue for its alleged blasphemy, for profaning the sacred. Certainly for its degree of sensuality. What was going on in Bernini’s head as he designed and executed this state? What was he thinking? How did he justify in theological terms his interpretation of the scene?

her toes

In a guidebook of circa 1677-81 in describing the statue sees nothing sensual nor sexual at all; for him the saint is “depicted in the act of rising abruptly from her bed out for the terror she feels at the apparition of an angel, doing so with a movement that very well expresses her feeling of fear mixed with a certain degree of submission -- and in this one cannot find anything more natural and more perfect.” Bernini pointed out that his artistic depiction of her essentially conformed to the saint’s own detailed description of her experience.”

Mascardi’s oration on Teresa sees it as “a mystical marriage” of an ascetic female virgin with the Divine Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.” Did Bernini take great liberties with the saint’s autobiography? Bernini’s saint Teresa is no the advanced middle aged, heavy featured matronly 45 year old nun who suffered from atrocious, debilitating physical maladies with flesh mortifying penitential discipline like fasting, abstinence and physical self-abuse in the form of whipping with a flagellum (common practices among Catholic nuns and priests at strict reform orders like Teresa.)

Ecstacy of Teresa

Instead Bernini's Teresa is very much a young, attractive maiden, with fresh, glowing, wrinkle free features and one naked, perfectly formed, lily white foot sensually protruding from beneath her garment. The garment is not a coarse, limp, much washed habit in cotton and wool of poor, humble Carmelite with a limited budget for wardrobe. It is, rather, a silky, sumptuous, voluminous piece of apparel, looking more like the expensive, luxurious ball gown of a well-endowed, worldly patrician woman. There is no other artist, in rendering the scene before or after Bernini dared as much in transforming the saint’s appearance. There is no record of Bernini’s being scolded by any member of the ecclesiastical hierarchy for his Teresa or for any of his works -- until the last decade of his life with Pope Innocent XI .

message 38: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments It's interesting and reassuring that our institutions are no more corrupt (and actually less so?) than in the good old days.

message 39: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Dvora wrote: "I planned to join in on this read but when I went to order the book I found it was only in hardcover and much more expensive than my usual buy. Since I have to buy all the books I read (no English..."

I've finished it. I could let you have it for the cost of shipping.

message 40: by Dvora (new)

Dvora You're a sweetheart. But unless you have a PayPal account or accept credit cards :) sending you the money would entail additional costs and make the whole thing not worth it. I can probably find it used from England. But thanks for thinking of me!
Ed wrote: "Dvora wrote: "I planned to join in on this read but when I went to order the book I found it was only in hardcover and much more expensive than my usual buy. Since I have to buy all the books I re..."

message 41: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Dvora wrote: "You're a sweetheart. But unless you have a PayPal account or accept credit cards :) sending you the money would entail additional costs and make the whole thing not worth it. I can probably find ..."

I did check the cost for sending a hardcover book to Spain from the US at the local UPS store, and it is more expensive than buying a brand new book, unfortunately.

message 42: by Dvora (new)

Dvora I thought it might not be practical. Postage here is even more expensive (it would cost be twice the postage to return something by mail that came from the UK). I remember years ago sending my dad some excellent Spanish chocolate, but the postage was double the price of the sweets. Thanks anyway, it was good of you to think of me.
Ed wrote: "Dvora wrote: "You're a sweetheart. But unless you have a PayPal account or accept credit cards :) sending you the money would entail additional costs and make the whole thing not worth it. I can ..."

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