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Posted by on Mar 10, 2013 | 32 comments

Travel Inspiration – Bernini: Sculpting in Clay


Update: This article has made the short list for Best Single Post Art and Culture, in the Italy Magazine 2014 Blogger Awards. Please click on the link and vote for Adventures of a Carry-on. Grazie!


Here’s the link: Adventures of a Carry-on Best Single Post Art and Culture


Italy Magazine Blogger Awards 2014

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. We become laser focused on taking care of the mundane details of life, often with our heads down reading our iPhones, or headphones on at the gym, rushing through the grocery store at the end of a long day so we can get what we need and get out 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 could 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 known 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 at The Kimbell 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 to 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.

  1. Great article Penny, I love the Ponte Saint Angelo, when I was in Rome a couple of years ago I loved taking photos of the bridge with views of St Peter’s Basilica. It’s really interesting to learn about one of the sculptures behind the beauty of Rome – Bernini was clearly an infinitely talented guy.

  2. I’ve never been to Rome. Will it dislodge Florence as my favourite city, Penny? Good luck with the awards. You have my vote.

    • Thank you Matthew. I can’t speak on Florence. I’ve not spent enough time there.

  3. I’ve never heard of the Bernini, so I found this really interesting. Also impressed that the Kimbell Museum had this exhibition. I visited Fort Worth for the first time last year and was blown away with how cultural the city was.

    • Fort Worth is a lot of fun. If you are ever back in the area let me know!

  4. It’s rare that we study in-depth something of interest but whenever I have – from winetasting to gardening to photography, I have always felt enriched by the experience. And I appreciate how little I knew before I began the journey.
    Brilliant piece and thanks for the education.

  5. Great post Penny, you of course have my vote!

  6. I haven´t been to Rome yet, it is high up on my travel to do list, thanks for transporting me there virtually through your blog!

  7. I’ve been to Rome, but somehow missed the Ponte Sant’Angelo. I won’t make that mistake again. Thanks for sharing this enlightening article about the beauty of Bernini.

  8. I’ve been to Rome but do not remember this Ponte. I regret not taking an art history class during my exchange to get a deeper look into the classic artists. I look forward to going back and making sure this is on my must-see list.

  9. This is a great post. I admit that when I’ve been to Rome, I’ve been so caught up in the “biggies” that I’ve not )yet!) slowed down to appreciate the less obvious treats for the eye.

    I also appreciate that you’ve provided some background on Bernini here. Most travel bloggers fail to do that.

    • Hey Jen, thank you for the kind comments. I know what you mean about seeing the sites never realizing what you’re walking by on your way to the “biggies”

  10. It’s true that we’re often too focused to take notice of things. Amazing how old and beautiful Europe is, even when you’ve been a million times, and how you can always encounter more!

  11. I like the line, “They were too beautiful to be outside.” Dramatic!

    • As you can see, they really are! I think it’s amazing that absolutely anyone can walk into a church and view these masterpieces. Italy is full of this sort of wonderful art and sculpture

  12. I’ve walked across that bridge quite a few times and the angels are huge and command an impressive view, not to many the amazing landscape surrounding the immediate area, magnifico!

    • I’m happy to say I finally made it there and each angel was closely inspected. LOL

  13. Very interesting–and well-written–post. I’ve been across the Ponte Sant’Angelo and only glanced at the angels because I was so focused on the Castello. Your article reminds us that Rome is a city of many layers. Sometimes we can look at it as a whole, but it’s also worth it to focus in on something specific. Kind of like using a zoom lens, vs. a wide-angle! 😉

    • I think that’s pretty much what happened to me originally Larissa. :)

  14. 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. :)

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

  16. 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. :)

  17. 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!

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

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


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