Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Naples 1598 – Rome 1680)
Portrait of Urban VIII
102 cm (height)
In viewing this work, we immediately grasp Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s extraordinary power to elicit a living breath from inert matter. He does this with tiny details that may appear secondary: the slightly parted lips, the hair unshaven on the cheeks, the button partly unfastened on the mozzetta, the irises of the eyes carved with the tip of the drill. These details set the fleeting present moment in stone, seize the instant and instill the portrait with great immediacy and psychological individuality. All these factors bear witness to the masterly technique by which Bernini gleaned particular effects from the marble, not by virtuosity for its own sake, but to endow the portrait with such naturalness that the viewer feels truly in the pope’s presence. As the man of letters Leio Guidiccioni observed in 1633, the skillful suggestion of movement in the head and shoulder conveys us the impression we are kneeling before a speaking likeness of the pontiff, who with a benevolent gesture of blessing beckons us to rise.