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Works by Bernini, Borromini, and Caravaggio



Bernini’s works in Rome  

Gianlorenzo Bernini (Naples 1598 Rome 1680). He moved to Rome with his father Pietro when he was very young.

Bernini is the exponent of the Baroque style in Rome

  • The David,  1623, Galleria Borghese. It is thought David’s face to be his self-portrait. Gianlorenzo Bernini captures David as he is actually throwing the dart with his sling.
  • Apollo and Daphne 1622-1624 Galleria Borghese. Here Gianlorenzo Bernini represents Apollo who follows Daphne. Daphne is transformed in a tree of laurel to escape him. The work is very  elegant and well-proportioned.
  • Baldachin  of S.Peter’s Basilica 1624-1633, It was commissioned by  pope Urban VIII Barberini.  It has 4  bronze helical columns. Under the 4 pillars that support the dome, Bernini placed the statues of St. Veronica , St. Longinus, St. Andrew and St. Helena. In the loggia above the niches  he placed  some couples of helical columns. They are the original columns that decorated the main altar of the ancient  Church of the 6th sec.
  • Funeral Monument of pope Urban VIII Barberini - S. Peter’s Basilica. 1642-1647, of marble and bronze. Here  Bernini takes inspiration from Michelangelo and Guglielmo della Porta. The allegorical  figures stand, both tilted towards the center so that they create a push  upwards. A winged skeleton writes with gold the name of Urban VIII.
  • Ecstasy of St. Theresa 1644-1651, S. Maria della Vittoria in the Cornaro Chapel. It represents  the vision  of St..Theresa while she is looking at the angel piercing with an arrow. It is worth noting the staginess of the scene , the beams starting from the dome give a celestial air, the scene is in a  slightly higher position. The sensuality of the saint seems mundane instead of celestial.  The lateral scene is fantastic, from a small stage the Cornaro family overlooks attending really to the miracle.
  • The fountain of the four rivers 1647- 1651, P.Navona. It was commissioned by Pope Innocent X Pamphilji to decorate the piazza where it was already situated  the family palace.  Pamphilji family emblem is a white dove with an olive twig. In the centre there is  an obelisk of the Domitian period (I° cent.), around a natural cliff with a cave in the middle. On the rocks  4 giant statues sit, corresponding to the 4 rivers,  in turn symbol of the 4 continents known at the time: Danube (Europe), Nile (Africa), Ganges (Asia), Rio de la Plata (Americas).
  • The fountain of the Triton 1643, Roma, Barberini. The statue of the Triton sat on an enormous shell held by 4 dolphins,  in its hands (near the mouth)  there is a shell splashing water. Further down  we find the embleme of the Barberini Family (3 bees).
  • St. Peter’s colonnade,1657- 1665. Rome. Bernini’s major work. The colonnade has an elliptical map, so that it represents the embrace of the Church to Christendom.
  • Saint Peter’s Chair 1656-1666, St. Peter’s Basilica, of marble, bronze and gilt stucco. The chair is a wooden seat. Bernini dresses it with a majestic bronze throne and places it in the middle of the apse. It is supported by 4 enormous statues representing the 4 Doctors of the Church. (Greek and Latin Church) and around by angels. Over the throne the light goes in through an oval windows, with the Holy Spirit in the middle,  and it is decorated  by gilded sunrays.
  • The Royal Staircase (scala regia),1662- 1666, Vatican, The monumental nature of the staircase has a meaning of Ascension. A marvellous perspective  effect  is created  by the double ionic colonnade. The staircase highlights the magnificence of the Catholic church because  it indicates the entrance to the Vatican palace.
  • Saint Andrew’s at the Quirinal (Sant’Andrea al Quirinale), 1658- 1661, Elliptical plan. The geometric shape of the ellipse comes from the circle that is the perfect  geometric shape. The light originates from hidden sources, like in a  stage. The space expands in the radial niches  divided by pillars and by the dome.
  • Statue of Constantine 1654- 1670,  is placed in the hall of St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni 1671- 1674, of marble and alabaster. It is housed in the Church of Saint Francesco a Ripa, Trastevere district. The portrait of the saint is ambiguous, her twinges at the point of death  resemble an erotic excitation. The statue is characterized like the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (in the Church of  Saint Mary of the Victory), by a great plasticism of the shapes and by the softness of the marble.



Francesco Borromini

Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) strove very much to express his talent as an architect. He was born at Lake Lugano and followed his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, absorbing the tradition of skilled Ticinese master masons and stone cutters, as well as architects and sculptors.

Once in Rome in 1620, Francis studied the classical architecture.

In the field of the ancient art, he was impressed by the curvilinear walls and continuous surfaces of the Domus Aurea and of the Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) in Tivoli. He achieved the best results by creating brilliant solutions consisting of continuous curves, concave and convex lines. He also studied the use of light in the Byzantine art to achieve striking effects. Moreover, he assigned an unusual decorative function to Gothic elements. Borromini also studied the architectural works of Brunelleschi and Michelangelo. The resulting effect, as well as a symbiosis between the inside and outside, is achieved through the use of poor materials such as brick, travertine, stucco, plaster.

In the church of St. Ives alla Sapienza (1642 - 1660), Borromini seemed to overcome gravity by means of an upward motion toward the sky, with a frenetic rhythm animated by light, thus creating a hymn to the Divine Wisdom.

He showed a great inventiveness when he got a map through the intersection of two triangles ,thus obtaining a metaphor for the Trinity in the triangle and a metaphor for the Divine Wisdom in the hexagon. Another reference is represented by the bee of Pope Urban VIII Barberini’s emblem.

The lantern surmounted by a cross on the top of the spire seems to form a pillar of fire, which, just like the path of philosophical knowledge, moves upwards toward  the achievement of knowledge, in fact it culminates  with a crown of flames representing Charity (inseparable from Wisdom) put into effect by St Ives and embodied by the Pope, the Vicar of Christ chosen by the Holy Ghost (= Divine Wisdom / Charity).

In fact, the decoration of the helix on the lantern dome reproduces the gems and pearls of the papal tiara with three overlapping crowns, the symbol of the triple papal authority as father of princes and kings, ruler of the world and vicar of Christ.

Also in the decoration inside the dome of St. Ives, Borromini praised the popes by means of the heraldic elements of their houses:  the mountains and the star of the Chigi family for Alexander VII and  the emblem of the Pamphilj family featuring a dove with an olive branch  for Innocent X.

Even the smallest decorative details made by Borromini enshrined the Christian symbolism, with particulars referring to the martyrdom of St. Alexander and Fortunatus, to whom the church is dedicated  together with St. Ives: wreaths and garlands of laurel as a symbol of immortality, palm leaves for the triumph over death, lilies for pure and blessed souls. The donation of grace and divine wisdom is also represented by the arrangement of the seraphs (symbols of Charity) on the top of the dome, as well as of the cherubs (symbols of Wisdom)  above the windows.

Francesco Borromini is described as a man always wearing black clothes and a wig, very fond of his job, intransigent and in a perpetual attitude of defiance. From his mother, Borromini inherited a tendency to depression. This difficult character caused him some problems with his customers, as well as a frequent bitterness and a lot of disappointments.

Moreover, he was severely affected by the modifications of several projects, as well as the inability to carry them out according to his own artistic vision.

In the gallery of the Palazzo Spada, (1652 - 1655), Borromini executed a bizarre series of columns, deformed by the peculiar perspective (of just 862 cm), which showed, in rapid sequences of light, the proportions of the small statue on the bottom as, in fact, they were not.

With the aggravation of his discomfort, the decline became unstoppable, also due to the isolation of the customers and his personality ever more fragile, and Francis finally committed suicide in 1667.

Only few great artists in the architectural history took inspiration from his ideas to elaborate works equally brilliant.

The Borrominian spirit, however, was so universal that it survived for centuries after his death: the helicoidal shape of St. Ives is indissolubly linked to the domes by Guarino Guarini in Turin, up to the Guggenheim Museum in New York designed by Wright, through the design of the Russian architect Tatlin on the occasion of  the Third International in 1919. This is a further proof of the fact that Borromini is still considered a pioneer.




When Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio went to Rome at the end of 1592 , the city that had just taken the form of a European capital thanks to the imposing urban interventions commissioned by Sixtus V and executed by his trusted architect Domenico Fontana.

As was usual at the time, Caravaggio frequented the Lombard community which gathered around the confraternity of Sant’Ambrogio (St. Ambrose) al Corso, whose seat was near the Palazzo Colonna, together with artisans, masons and architects coming from Brescia and Bergamo.

Maybe, it was thanks to the contacts of his uncle priest, that Caravaggio found hospitality at Monsignore Pandolfo Pucci, the steward of Camilla Peretti, the sister of Pope Sixtus V.

For Monsignore Pucci, Caravaggio painted some copies of religious paintings in exchange for room and board. After a few months, Caravaggio took up residence at  a certain Tarquinio, the owner of two taverns in the neighbourhood. Here he began to paint pictures "to be sold”: they were mainly easy-to sell medium size canvases portraying  genre scenes.

From the inn of Tarquinio, Caravaggio moved to the workshop of Lorenzo, a Sicilian painter. Here Caravaggio  dedicated himself to portraits, showing his ability to paint "from real life" , as well as his necessity to always have a model to portray. Then Caravaggio attended the workshop of Gramatica, a Sienese portraitist already renowned, where he executed his first half-length portraits, experimenting the use of strong contrasts of light and shadow.

Continuing his ascent in the Roman artistic environment, Caravaggio managed to join the workshop of Cavaliere d'Arpino, one of Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini’s favourite artists. 

Cavaliere d'Arpino held the Roman stage together with Federico Zuccari and Pomarancio. Caravaggio spent eight months in his workshop. Cavaliere d'Arpino had just completed the frescoes on the vault of the Contarelli  Chapel in the Church of  St. Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi). In 1593 Caravaggio executed the sketches and drawings prepared by Cavaliere d'Arpino, who “made him paint  flowers and fruits."

The cooperation with Cavaliere d'Arpino ended after a mysterious accident: in fact, Caravaggio was hit by the kick of a horse that made his leg swell.  When he left the hospital, he did not return to the workshop.

Caravaggio found hospitality at the palace of Monsignore Fantin Petrignani in Campo Marzio, then he devoted himself again to portraying paintings "to be sold", easel canvases. The works dating back to this period may include the Boy with a Basket of Fruit and the so-called Young Sick Bacchus, which probably represents the first  self-portrait.

Due to his scarce earnings he could not grant himself the luxury to ask models to pose for his compositions , therefore  Caravaggio relied on mirrors, depicting himself like a young Bacchus crowned with ivy, a bunch of grapes in his hand and a melancholic smile.  Scholars say that the wan complexion and the livid lips of the young man portrayed can be the symptoms of convalescence after his admission to the hospital.

Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte was favourably impressed by Caravaggio’s paintings, therefore he not only  purchased some of them,  but also offered him hospitality in his house, granting him a monthly salary. The meeting with the cardinal - a leading figure of the curia, trustee of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and member of the pro-French faction - proved to be decisive for the success of Caravaggio, allowing him to draw the attention of the wealthy and refined collectors of the time. For Del Monte the painter executed some of his masterpieces, including The Fortune Teller, The Cardsharps , The Lute Player , today belonging to a private collection, The musicians, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, John the Baptist and St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy. Beyond  these works, Caravaggio executed also the mural that decorates the vault of a room in the Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi and the two works kept in the Uffizi Gallery: the parade shield featuring Medusa, donated by the Cardinal to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando de 'Medici and, perhaps, the Bacchus.

The decision to stay until 1600 at the house of the learned Cardinal Del Monte - a refined lover of music, science and art -  allowed Caravaggio to expand its interests, gain insight into the representation of bodies shaped by light and deepen his knowledge of the rules of perspective.

The analysis of the works carried out in this period  show that Caravaggio developed his own style, sharply refusing  the academic conventions. His interest in the representation of reality led him to  learn the lesson of the Northern painters, as well as to introduce the still life painting into his compositions, for example  vases, flowers and fruit, depicted with the same precision with which he portrayed the human bodies.

 Although it is not correct to say that the Basket of Fruit is the first example of Italian still life painting, it is certain that thanks to Caravaggio this genre achieved the same dignity as portraits  and history painting.

By then Caravaggio was well known among the art connoisseurs and therefore commissions constantly increased.

Between 1594 and 1599 Merisi realized the Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the Penitent Magdalene, for the Doria Pamphili collection.

The banker Costa commissioned Judith Slaying Holofernes, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy and Martha and Mary Magdalene, with Martha scolding Mary for her vanity.

The nobleman Ciriaco Mattei asked Caravaggio to portray John the Baptist.  According to Bellori, with these works, the artist began to "strengthen the dark  colours”, gradually replacing the light and bright colours of the first paintings with a contrast of lights and shadows increasingly more violent and dramatic.








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