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Posted by on Mar 10, 2013 | 10 comments

Travel Inspiration – Bernini: Sculpting in Clay

How many times have you walked by a building, a garden, a storefront, even the produce aisle in your favorite market…and never really saw it? I’m willing to bet it happens every day, because I do it too. It’s all too easy, when we are are at home or at work, taking care of the mundane details of life, head down reading the messages on our iPhones, headphones on at the gym, rushing through the grocery store at the end of a long day so you can get what you need and get out of there as quickly as possible.

Earlier this week I went to the exhibition Bernini: Sculpting in Clay at the Kimbell Museum of Art in Ft. Worth, Texas. Though I’ve been to Rome many times and I’ve seen many of Bernini’s real sculptures and fountains in their home environment, I was curious to see the clay models up close, at The Kimbell Museum, a beautiful space filled with natural light.

Bernini is all over Rome. Even if you never stepped inside a church or museum, you can not possibly visit Rome and without seeing at least one fountain by Bernini. The guy was prolific and very successful, working for Popes and the nobility of the day. He’s often credited with Rome becoming known as a “city of fountains.” The most widely know of these fountains is the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, a top tourist spot in Rome.

Born in Naples in 1598 to a father who was also a sculptor, Bernini was a natural. In a biography of Bernini, it is said that he carved a bust of stone when he was only 8 years old that was “the marvel of everyone.” Bernini died in Rome, in 1680, at the age of 81, after becoming one of the most influential artists of all time and transforming the look of seventeenth century Rome.

The exhibition consists of approximately forty small terracotta sculptures (called bozzetti) and thirty artist’s drawings and sketches. On the walls behind the clay models hang huge black and white photographs of the actual marble sculptures, in Rome.

My favorite part of the exhibition was the gallery devoted to the Ponte Sant’Angelo. In 1667, Pope Clement IX, commissioned Bernini to restore the bridge. Bernini’s vision was to sculpt ten larger than life angels carrying a symbol of the passion to adorn the bridge and create a procession leading to Piazza San Pietro, another Bernini masterpiece.

Bernini Sculpting in Clay at the Kimbell Musuem of Art.

Photo from the exhibition

The angels are beautiful – so beautiful that when Pope Clement saw the two angels that Bernini himself had sculpted, he declared they were too beautiful to be outside, and commanded Bernini to sculpt replacements. (the other eight were sculpted by his assistants.) The original angels live at Sant Andrea della Fratte.

Standing in a museum, in Texas, I was struck by the fact that, as many times as I’ve been to Rome, I’ve never even walked across the Ponte Sant’Angelo or seen the angels up close – and I realized I have missed a very important piece of the history of Rome, and some amazing art.

Who would have thought that an exhibition of small clay models could inspire a trip to Rome, to study the completed sculptures? Knowledge creates understanding and understanding creates interest.

I gained a new appreciation for Bernini and the influence he had on the design of Rome, the home of the Catholic church. St. Peter’s Square is like a mini Bernini museum, and he designed the sweeping colonade that defines Piazza San Pietro. I could have easily missed going to the exhibition and justified that by the fact that I’ve been to Rome, I’ve seen the real thing. Instead, I plan to go back to Rome and this time, I will consciously seek Bernini with my head up and my eyes open.

Totally History has a nice bio on Bernini.

A biography: Bernini and The Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture

Visit Bernini at Santa Maria Maggiore.

All material ©pennysadler 2013.

  1. I have been to Rome twice in the past 18 months and driven past this ponte. Trust me, when we return in September ’14 we will not just merely “see it in passing” again!

    • I’m so happy to hear you feel the same. It was a lovely experience to finally, truly, “see it.” I also wandered over to Sant’Andrea della Fratte and saw the two original angels Bernini sculpted. I’ll be writing about that soon. :)

  2. Love this. It makes ME want to head there – AND wish I was at the Kimbell, too.

  3. I have to admit that I’m one of those who’ll just pass by a building without really looking. How interesting to find out about the Bernini models! Thanks, Penny.

    • I think we all do this more than we realize. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  4. That’s a nice review of the Bernini models shows at the Kimbell, Penny. An inventory of Bernini’s house after his death states that the upper rooms were filled with ‘clay models, many broken’. They must have been thrown out!

    • Crazy! Thanks for the comment and information. There’s so much to read on Bernini, I’m going to be busy until I leave for Rome later this year!

  5. Very nice writing Penny – you taught me something today.

    • That’s a very nice compliment. Thank you so much!


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