Bernini: Villa Borghese III

The next statue that Bernini carved while his Apollo and Daphne was sitting unfinished in his workshop, was the David. Friend and foe alike agreed that this statue really was a masterpiece. Floor plan of the room in the Villa Borghese where Apollo and Daphne (and their current location in the museum) were located originally.

Bernini ‘David’ h. 170 cm c. 1623 – 1624    Side    Rear

Bernini 'David' Villa Borghese
photos: Steven Zucker and rear: Sailko

Even though this statue was also brilliantly carved, it did not include any of the technical feats that we saw earlier. The way Bernini represented David is completely new in the long tradition of sculpture. Even though the effect, as viewer to be eye to eye with the David, is unfortunately partly negated by the way the museum has chosen to put the statue on display. In the 17th century, the statue was standing on the floor, without the present high plinth. As a result, the viewer was eye-to-eye with the life-sized marble sculpture. What is immediately notable today, is the statue’s squint-eyed gaze that is not aimed at the viewer, but at an unseen figure in this room: Goliath. As you can see, David is about to sling a stone at Goliath. Standing in front of the statue, you can beautifully see how tense and utterly concentrated David is for the decisive fight to the death.

Bernini ‘David’    Hand    Sling and hand

Bernini 'David' Galleria Borghese
photos: Steven Zucker and hand: Lucas Stanley

After Bernini Bozzetto David h. 46 cm 1650-1650

All of his muscles are taut in preparation for the explosion of power that will hurl the stone that must hit its mark if David is to survive. His whole posture, the position of his legs and the rotation of his upper body show that David is mustering all his power. Gian Lorenzo gave David his own face. Filippo Baldinucci describes how Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (Caravaggio) when he visited Gian Lorenzo in his workshop put a mirror in his hand so the sculptor could study his own face. Bernini’s choice of moment from the Biblical story of David and Goliath was completely new. I will try to explain the difference between Michelangelo’s David, which was carved nearly 100 years before, and this statue by Bernini by means of an A3-sized drawing.

The three statues that Bernini carved for Scipione between 1621 and 1623 Scipione are of course three-dimensional. And yet, the sculptor never intended people to walk around his sculptures. Quite the opposite; the sculptures were placed against a wall as you can see in the floor plan above. Baroque sculpture is often labelled as a style that was intended to be seen from all sides. In Gian Lorenzo’s case this is clearly not true. Bernini made a conscious decision regarding the spot from which the viewer was to look at his ‘children’. The sculpture of Pluto abducting Proserpine was positioned in such a way that you could only look at it from the front, quite different from its current position, while Apollo and Daphne could only be looked at from the side. You would look the David right in the eye, so also from the front. Their current positions allow the viewer to look at the sculptures from all sides.

Bernini ‘Pluto abducting Proserpine’

Galleria Borghese: Bernini 'Pluto abducting Proserpine'
photo: Steven Zucker

What the David’s original arrangement (against the wall) hid from sight is that too much marble went lost during the sculpting. This is hardly noticeable in the current arrangement. While Bernini and his assistant Giuliano Finelli made no mistakes when sculpting Apollo and Daphne, the David was not so error-free. The David’s heel tells the story. The colour reveals that a different piece of marble was attached later on.

After his three main sculptures we will look at, and compare two of Gian Lorenzo’s portrait sculptures, the first of these is a portrait of Paul V dating from 1618 (Wikipedia  and   Two busts of Scipione Borghese).

Bernini two busts of Scipione Borghese

Bernini Two busts of Scipione Borghese  Galleria Borghese
photo: Enric Martinez i Vallmitjana

Bernini ‘Paul V’ h. 33,5 cm 1618 Galleria Borghese

Bernini 'Paul V' Galleria Borghese
photo: Sailko

Bernini ‘Pope Paul V’ h. 79 cm 1621    Face    Profile

Bernini 'Pope Paul V' Paul Getty Museum
photos: Paul Getty Museum

Bernini ‘Scipione Borghese’ h. 78 cm 1632
Crack in the marble

Bernini 'Scipione Borghese'
Crack in marble
photo: Sailko

It’s a fairly traditional portrait that he carved as a 20-year-old. Much more interesting is the bust that he carved of his client, the man who lived in this museum, Scipione Borghese. This marble portrait sculpture was carved by ‘our sculptor’ 14 years after the bust of Paul V, but what a difference! Cardinal Scipione moves his head and speaks to someone. Here, just like with the David, the work suggests a second person in the room. When Bernini had finished the bust, he was shocked to discover a crack in the marble running exactly along the forehead. According to his biographer, Gian Lorenzo carved a new bust in just 15 nights. Bernini first showed Scipione the bust with the crack. The cardinal attempted to hide his disappointment, but at that moment Gian Lorenzo showed him the new bust and the cardinal began to smile.

Bernini ‘Scipione Borghese’ h. 78 cm 1632
Face    Side and rear

Bernini 'Scipione Borghese' Galleria Borghese
photos: Sailko

Bernini ‘Portrait of Scipione Borghese’ preliminary study c. 1632

Before Bernini carved a marble bust, he usually made several drawings of his model. He used an unusual technique to make these drawings:

“When working with models, Bernini preferred they moved about. He made the subject of his portrait walk around the room and talk, because he believed that a moving person revealed more of their true nature, which is wat a portraitist needed. However, the model had to sit still for a detailed study of individual parts.”
Quoted and translated from: Antoon Erftemeijer, Rembrandt’s Monkey, Artists’ anecdotes from classical antiquity to the present day. Becht, Haarlem 2000 page 183.

After making a fairly large number of drawings, Bernini always made a small model (bozzetto) out of clay or wax. Only then did he start work on the block of marble. He did the carving free-hand, in this regard, the bozzetto was no more or no less than a source of inspiration.

This museum also has bozzettos by Bernini on display. The Vatican Museum has a few large bozzettos of the angels on the bridge leading to the Vatican on display near the Pinacoteca. What is interesting about these bozzettos, is that you can see exactly how these models were made. In this case out of gypsum, steel wire, rags and paper.

Giuliano Finelli ‘Scipione Borghese’ 1631 – 32′       Scipione’s face

By the way, Bernini’s assistant, Giuliano Finelli, also made a portrait bust of Scipione Borghese (Wikipedia).

We will look at several other statues, including a work by the famous Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. This sculptor immortalized Napoleon’s sister Paoline Borghese in marble.

A. Canova ‘Paolina Borghese’ h.92 cm w. 192 cm, 1805-1808      Front      Side      Back
Lorenzo Valles ‘Paulina Borghese in Antonio Canova’s studio’

photos: Architas; Sailko and Daderot

She lies almost completely naked on a sofa. When asked if she wasn’t embarrassed posing for the sculptor like that, she reportedly replied that this was most definitely not the case, after all, the workshop was well-heated. If you look closely at this sculpture you can see that it was not just Bernini who was capable of great technical feats in marble.

If we have any time left, we will take a look at a number of paintings, particularly by Caravaggio, the painter who I will discuss extensively in programme 3. Caravaggio had a profound influence on Bernini, particularly on the way he portrayed frightened, talking or laughing figures, often with sparkling eyes.

Caravaggio ‘Boy bitten by a lizard’
Caravaggio ‘Boy bitten by a lizard’
 Bernini ‘Damned Soul’
 Bernini ‘Damned Soul’

Continuation Rome day 4: Bernini in the Santa Maria del Popolo