Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture

Authors : Andrea Bacchi, Julian Brooks and Jennifer Montagu (ed.), with the collaboration of Anne-Lise Desmas

Organizing sculpture exhibitions is a difficult task as the size and weight of the works make them difficult to transport, sometimes even impossible, at other times highly unadvisable. Baroque sculpture is even harder to present outside of its context, as it generally is an integral part of it. However, sculpted Baroque portraits are easier to deal with, and constitute in fact a subject which had not really fallen under scholarly notice previously (except for an exhibition in Sarasota and Hartford in 1985, but limited to busts held in North American collections). This is now the goal of the Getty Museum and the National Gallery in Ottawa. Although we were not able to see the exhibition we thought it important to talk about its excellent catalogue.
Three essays place the theme in its context, with Bernini’s figure obviously dominating the scene, followed closely by Algardi, François Duquesnoy and Francesco Mochi.

Giuliano Finelli (1601-1653)
Bust of the Cardinal Scipion Borghese,
Marble - H. (with socle) : 99.1 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Metropolitan Museum

The authors also reattribute a place, not far behind these three major sculptors, to Giuliano Finelli, a student of Bernini known only to specialists, characterized by the extreme refinement in the way he treats the marble and the virtuosity with which he handles the trepan. The exhibition displays the beautiful bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (ill. 1 ; cat. 5.4) which he executed shortly before that of Bernini [1] (Rome ; Galleria Borghese ; cat. 4.1), while the cardinal thought that the latter, entirely at the service of Urban VIII, had permanently renounced commissioning private portraits. The prelate’s eyes seem very much alive, his mouth open as if he were going to address us, recalling the notion of “speaking resemblance”, employed for the first time by Rudolf Wittkower concerning Bernini’s busts [2], analyzed at length in the catalogue.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) et
Pietro Bernini (1562-1629)
Portrait of Antonio Coppola, 1612
Marble - 67.8 (with socle) x 48 cm
Rome, Museo della Chiesa di
San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
Photo : D. R.

The publication looks at the different functions of the sculpted Baroque portrait. Besides the busts which were made for their own purpose and meant to ornate the owner’s homes, many were executed for tombs or church décors. Certain likenesses, sculpted for monuments or chapels dedicated to a family, were removed at a point in their history and transformed into independent works. At times, their quality was such that they were never installed. This is the case for example for the Portrait of Antonio Cerri by Algardi (ill. 2 ; cat. 5.6), which was replaced in the Cerri chapel in the Gesù church by a copy due to Domenico Guidi, one of his best students. Another, but different, example is provided by the bust of Camilla Barberini (Copenhaguen ; cat. 2.1), probably commissioned for a chapel in Sant’Andrea della Valle with a pendant (still not found) representing her husband Antonio Barberini. We do not know if the two works were in fact installed, but they were in any case quickly replaced, as of 1626, not by replicas but by portraits in relief carved in porphyry by Tommaso Fedele. The Bernini bust was identified thanks to the resemblance with the likeness of the wife on the relief executed by Fedele.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) et
Pietro Bernini (1562-1629)
Portrait of Antonio Coppola, 1612
Marble - 67.8 (with socle) x 48 cm
Rome, Museo della Chiesa di
San Giovanni dei Fiorentini
Photo : D. R.

Attribution problems are at least as complex as in the case of paintings, at times even more so. The Portrait of Antonio Coppola (ill. 3 ; cat. 1.2 but not displayed) thus raises some interesting questions. It was rediscovered in the 1960’s in the cellar of the basilica of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and its attribution wavers between Pietro Bernini and his son. According to the catalogue authors, this was probably a joint collaboration. Although still only thirteen years old, we know that Gian Lorenzo was a child prodigy who quickly contributed to the commissions his father received. The quality of the bust — which seems to surpass Pietro’s talents — and documentary evidence leads specialists to think that his son was largely responsible for it.
Let us recall on this point that Bordeaux is proud to own not only two sculpted angels by Pietro Bernini , held in the church of Saint Bruno (and reproduced in the catalogue), but above all an admirable bust by Bernini himself, representing Cardinal François de Sourdis (ill. 4 ; cat. 1.7), on deposit at the Musée d’Aquitaine and little known to the public despite its importance. An exhibition on Bernini and France would one day constitute an interesting event.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
Portrait of the Cardinal de Sourdis, 1621-1622
Marble - 75 (with socle) x 61 cm
Bordeaux, Musée d’Aquitaine
Photo : Mairie de Bordeaux

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)
Portrait of Urban VIII,
about 1631-1632
Oil on canva - 67 x 50 cm
Rome, Museo Nazionale d’Arte Antica,
Galleria Barberini
Photo : Wikipedia

The relation between painted and drawn portraits with sculpted ones is also examined here. A whole section is devoted to Bernini’s impressive studies in red chalk and two crayons. Only one of them (where the model is represented in profile, unlike the others) is a preparation for a sculpture, that of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (cat. 3.6). The others, in three-quarters, show rarely identified figures and are often mistaken for self-portraits. They were most likely friends of the sculptor and the sheets reveal a sense of intimacy usually lacking in these busts, except for the famous one of his mistress Costanza Bonarelli (cat. 4.3 ; Florence, Bargello). Some of the catalogued paintings are however a far cry from the painted sculptures, both by their focus and their function, and seem to be here only because they belong to the two museums organizing the show. This is the case for the work by Domenico Fetti, Portrait of a Man Holding a Score from the Getty (cat. 5.5) and the Portrait of Cardinal Lelio Biscia by Andrea Sacchi (cat. 2.10) belonging to Ottawa. Others, though, are quite comparable to the busts : the Portrait of Urban VIII (ill. 5 ; cat. 2.4), freely painted by Bernini is close in its centring and in the vivacious look of his eyes, to his marbles representing the same figure. The Portrait of Clement IX by Pietro da Cortone (private collection ; cat. 6.9) also reflects an exceptional intensity.

Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
Portrait of Richelieu, 1640 ou 1642
Oil on canva - 67 x 46 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musées de Strasbourg

The most obvious connection between painting and sculpture is that of the canvases which served as models for the sculptors. The Triple portrait of Charles the Ist by Van Dyck, used by Bernini for the king’s bust (destroyed in a fire in 1698) was lent by the Queen of England (cat. 6.2) as well as the Portrait of Richelieu in Profile by Philippe de Champaigne by the Musée de Strasbourg (ill. 6 ; cat. 6.3). The Triple Portrait in the National Gallery in London is now thought to be a replica, partly due to the workshop, of the one used by Bernini which might have been cut, with the one in Strasbourg being a fragment of it. The catalogue closes with a useful illustrated repertory of sculpted busts by Bernini which would have been even more pertinent if it had included the other sculptors present in the exhibition.

Andrea Bacchi, Julian Brooks and Jennifer Montagu, with the collaboration of Anne-Lise Desmas, Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture, National Gallery of Canada and J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008, 326 p., $70.00 (hard cover), $44.95 (paper), ISBN : 978-0-89236-931-7 (hard cover), ISBN : 978-0-89236-932-4 (paper). There is also a French version of the catalogue.

The exhibition took place at the J. Paul Getty Museum from 5 August to 26 October ; it is currently showing in Ottawa, at the National Gallery of Canada from 28 November 2008 to 8 March 2009.

Didier Rykner, mercredi 3 décembre 2008


[1] Or rather those of Bernini, since we know that the artist had to redo his bust a second time due to the appearance of a flaw in the marble.

[2] To be precise, he used this expression first in speaking of the preparatory drawings for the busts.

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