BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo


BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo
(1598-1680)
   Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the best-known Italian architect of the Baroque era, was born during the time of the Counter-Reformation and became the major architect in the revitalization of the city of Rome after the establishment of Protestantism in northern Europe. During the 17th century, church patrons in Rome embarked on an architectural renewal of the city to "counter" the influence of Protestantism and to showcase the city's worldwide importance as the seat of Roman Catholicism. Bernini, who came from a family of sculptors attached to the papal court in Rome, was exposed from an early age to aristocratic culture and the art community. His earliest work was in sculpture; he gained a reputation for imitating classical models so closely that his works could be mistaken for antique.
   From this experience, Bernini moved on to architecture, working at Saint Peter's Church in Rome in the 1620s to construct a huge bronze baldachin over the crossing of the nave and in the 1660s to create a bronze altar in the choir of the church. In the 1650s, Pope Innocent X commissioned Bernini to create an enclosed piazza for Saint Peter's, and here Bernini designed a huge oval-shaped piazza connected to the smaller, existing trapezoidal square located in front of the church. Meant to symbolize the comforting "arms" of the church, the oval piazza allowed for the much larger open congregational space needed during annual celebrations and especially jubilee years. The colonnade that defines the oval was designed by Bernini as a continuous loggia topped by rows of statuary along the roofline. In the center of the piazza, a huge Egyptian obelisk anchors the symmetry of the design and is flanked by matching fountains on either side that bring water to the piazza. Marble lines located on the pavement of the piazza reinforce this oval plan and recall the intricate pattern found on the pavement of the Capitoline Hill piazza, designed by Michelangelo a hundred years earlier.
   Bernini's most famous building is his church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, built in Rome beginning in 1658 and paid for by the papal nephew Camillo Pamphili. This church, located on the Quirinale Hill, was limited in size by site restrictions and an awkwardly narrow space. Issues of space became highly pronounced in the Baroque period, when hundreds of new Catholic religious orders were established in Rome and needed their own churches. Sant'Andrea was constructed for the newly established Jesuit order. Although the site is small, Bernini set the church back off the street, thereby sacrificing interior congregational space, to provide for a small curved piazza that would give the building a stronger presence on its crowded street. He then gave the façade a semicircular set of steps leading up to a small portico with a curved roof that matches the curvature of the porch steps. Two large columns support the porch roof, and the corners of the façade are flanked by colossal pilasters that rise to a triangular pediment. The front is built as one tall bay unit, creating what is called an aedicular façade. Baroque churches differ from Renaissance buildings in that they tend to be larger, more monumental, and with a greater emphasis on sculptural details and a theatrical interest in the space surrounding the building. Despite its small size, Bernini was able to monumentalize the church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale. The oval interior of the church is richly decorated with colored marble and sculptured figures that interact across the congregational space of the room. For example, a painting of Saint Andrew, located over the high altar, appears again in sculpted form above the altar pediment. Here the saint is perched on a curved ledge that supports his body, pausing on his way up to heaven via the gilded dome of the church. It is this type of dynamic and theatrical approach to architecture that best epitomizes the Baroque style of Bernini in Rome.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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