October 06: Rock Star

2016/10/06 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1665 Gianlorenzo Bernini concluded his three-month trip to Paris.

In the seventeenth century there was no one as famous as Bernini except, maybe, the Pope or possibly the King of France–but not by much, and probably not with the same kind of unbridled rockstar-sighting swoon-enducing enthusiasm that surrounded Bernini any time he walked down the street.  Although his star dimmed under the scornful criticism of eighteenth-century Neo-Classicists, later audiences have fanned the flames of Bernini fever.  With Christopher Wren and Francesco Borromini, Bernini (1598-1680) was one of the three greatest architects of his century, and there was simply no other sculptor like him–maybe ever.  With superhuman skill he excavated profound emotion within complicated poses in religious groups (The Ecstacy of St. Teresa, David) and Classical subjects (Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina), and brought a new vivacious energy to portraiture (Costanza Bonarelli, Scipione Borghese).

His reputation as sculptor and architect attracted the attention  of the King of France.  Building projects like the Baldachin and Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, which he completed before 1665, were on Louis’ mind when he invited Bernini to work on the projected east facade of the Louvre.  For all the King’s enthusiasm, Bernini met with a cool reception from the rest of the French court, who were none too keen on a curvaceous Italian addition bubbling out of the east side of the renowned French palace.  Among them, the well-connected physician-slash-aspiring-architect Claude Perrault had much to lose by Bernini’s involvement with the project, and let his opinion of the Italian, and his work, be known.  Even if he was not used to universal adulation and thus felt any slight severely, Bernini understood the Frenchman’s attitude, and was likely none too impressed by the physician’s playing at architecture.  Bernini’s final assessment of Perrault was that he was “not fit to clean the soles of his shoes.”  Bernini abandoned France knowing his project for the Louvre would not be built, but having left behind a sculpture for the grounds at Versailles–which, in a final insult, was later “refinished” by French hands to make it more acceptable in the King’s garden.

Image: self-portrait of the cavaliere (from this source)

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