Discover Bernini’s Masterpieces in Rome
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) is known around the globe as the father of Baroque sculpture style. Throughout his life he played many roles as an architect, painter, writer, and actor – but his most valued masterpieces are his sculptures. And, fortunately for us, Rome holds the vastest collection of Bernini artworks in the world. You simply couldn’t explore Rome without wandering past a Bernini sculpture if you tried. But, of course, you wouldn’t want to miss them, so we’ve comprised a list to help you find the best of Bernini in Rome. Enjoy!
Bernini’s Self Portrait – Taken from Wikipedia
St Peter’s Basilica and Square
Photo taken from https://civitavecchia.portmobility.it/en/st-peters-square
Perhaps the most impressive, and largest in scale, of Bernini’s contributions is that of the Colonnades of St Peters Square. Of course he didn’t build them with his own hands, but he did design the layout. And the symbolism in his design is profound! When approaching the façade from street level, the dome is meant to act like a head, the church as its body, and the colonnades then form the open arms, which, together, create an inviting welcome for guests entering. Meanwhile, an aerial view provides a different perspective wherein St Peters Square and its colonnades form the shape of a keyhole, in reference to the keys handed to Peter by Christ: the key to Heaven and the key to the church.
In St Peters Basilica, Bernini slaved over the Baldachin, the bronze canopy that towers over the high altar, from 1623-1634. Of the 4 sculptures surrounding the Baldachin, that of Saint Longinus holding a spear can be accredited directly to Bernini, while his pupils made the other 3. Bernini himself is also responsible for the bronze encrusted Chair of St Peter, which can be found behind the baldachin slightly illuminated by a tiny window, and the extravagant tomb of Pope Urban VIII, the artist’s dear friend and most generous patron.
This cinematic piazza centers on Bernini’s grand Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fountain of Four Rivers, which was completed in 1651. It supports an impressively large Egyptian obelisk of travertine and depicts four river gods, which were meant to represent four major rivers of the four continents which had fallen under papal authority: Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
The Borghese Gallery
With perhaps the most exquisite and dense collection of Bernini works in Rome, the Borghese collection features some of the artist’s earliest works, from his late teens and early 20s. We won’t list them all, but some highlights include his mystical sculpture of Apollo and Daphne (1625), his strong interpretation of David (1622), and his hyper realistic portrayal of Pluto and Persephone (1622), also known as “The Rape of Persephone”.
Leading to the entrance of Castel di Sant’Angelo, the Bridge of Angels welcomes visitors to gaze at Bernini’s 10 angels. Commissioned by Pope Clement IX and designed in 1669, we simply couldn’t imagine this bridge without them.
The Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna)
At the bottom of the Spanish Steps lies Bernini’s Fontana della Barcaccia, or Fountain of the Ugly Boat. In collaboration with his father, Pietro, the half sunken ship was made to honor a legend which suggested that, during a flood in 1598, a ship had been carried to this very place. Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to celebrate the restoration of the ancient Aqua Vergine aqueduct, the fountain was decorated with the Urban family motif of suns and bees and completed in 1627.
Piazza Barberini centers on Bernini’s 1943 Fontana del Tritone, or Triton Fountain. The geyser, which was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to commemorate his restoration of the Acqua Felica Aqueduct, features a merman resting upon dolphin fins whilst drinking from a conch shell. Branching off of the square, one can also find the relatively petite Fontana delle Api, or Fountain of the Bees, completed in 1644. Nearby is the grand Palazzo Barberini, now known as the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, which Bernini helped to design; its gallery also houses some of Bernini’s paintings (what a multitalented guy!)
Neighboring the Pantheon is Piazza Minerva, which presents Bernini’s unique Elephant of 1667. While the presence of obelisks displayed the power and wealth of Rome, a cardinal, whose window faced the square, rejected the pagan obelisk and considered it sacrilege to have it standing on Roman ground. Bernini was a bit irked and, therefore, used the elephant’s back as a pedestal for the 6th century relic and it’s rear end as an “up yours” greeting for the cardinal to see from his window each day.
The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria
Bernini designed the chapel of this church, which also houses his stunning masterpiece of Saint Theresa in Ecstasy. Completed in 1652, Bernini considered this to be his own most beautiful piece. The flowing fabric and soft features are absolutely breath-taking.
The Church of San Francesco a Ripa
This modest church in the backstreets of Trastevere is home to Bernini’s Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. Completed in 1674, it serves as another exquisite example of the artist’s unparalleled talent.
The Capitoline Museum
The permanent Capitoline Museum collection includes Bernini’s marble bust of Medusa along with a stunning larger-than-life sculpture of his top patron, Pope Urban VIII.
Author: April Nicole
April is an American writer and photographer who has lived in Rome since 2013. She enjoys exploring the museums of the city, as well as indulging in authentic Italian cuisine!