Bernini: Erfinder des barocken Rom. Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig. Exhibition, 9.11.2014 – 1.2.2015.
Bernini: Erfinder des barocken Rom. Exhibition catalogue, edited by Hans-Werner Schmidt/ Sebastian Schütze/Jeannette Stoschek, Leipzig: Museum der bildenden Künste, in association with Kerber Verlag 2014.
Il laboratorio del genio: Bernini disegnatore. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini, Rome. Exhibition, 11.3.2015 – 24.5.2015.
Bernini disegnatore: nuove prospettive di ricerca. Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte and Universität Wien, Rome. International conference, 20. – 21.4.2015.
By Shawon K. Kinew (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
On a cold winter’s day in Leipzig, a self-portrait of the Roman Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in old age was draped on the side of the glass cube that is the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig. The banner, from which Bernini’s stark black chalk eyes stared out (in the self-portrait in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle), was intended to promote the museum’s exhibition Bernini, Erfinder des barocken Rom, curated by Jeannette Stoschek and Sebastian Schütze. Leipzig’s was the first comprehensive exhibition of its size devoted to Bernini’s drawings, organized around the museum’s incredible collection of seventeenth-century Italian drawings. Above Bernini’s portrait banner stood a yellow crane while pink pipes channeled water out of a construction zone. The meaning of this strange sight was as clear as the recent interest in this artist: Bernini is currently under construction.
This past winter, two monographic exhibitions on Bernini were mounted simultaneously in Europe – in Madrid at the Prado, and a second in Leipzig and Rome. They come after a number of high-profile exhibitions in recent years including Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture in 2008 (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles & National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa) and Bernini Sculpting in Clay in 2012 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York & the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth). The opening of both European exhibitions coincided with the reinstallation of Bernini’s bozzetti in the Harvard Art Museums, where the clay sketches were placed in a “jewel box” expressly designed by Renzo Piano to house them. Bernini’s work as a draftsman was also explored as part of a larger exhibition dedicated to Bildhauer-Zeichnungen at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini: Sculptors’ Drawings from Renaissance Italy, 23.10.2014–19.1.2015). Finally, upon the closure of the recent shows in Europe, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles announced on Twitter that it had acquired a “rediscovered” portrait bust of Paul V by Bernini himself. In light of the renewed interest in Bernini over the past decade, there was something particularly potent about all of these events coinciding in 2014. What did 2014 bring to Bernini studies?
Perhaps no museum outside of the Vatican is better endowed than the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig to take on the challenge of a monographic exhibition of Bernini. This is due to its collection of over 200 drawings by Bernini and his workshop acquired by the Leipziger librarian Dr. Gottfried Christian Götze from the Prior Francesco Antonio Renzi in the early eighteenth century. The provenance of the drawings can be directly linked to Queen Christina of Sweden, who famously visited Bernini in his workshop, where he received her in his sculptor’s smock. The Queen was unperturbed by his casualness: the observation of Bernini’s creative process had long been a pastime of Rome’s elite. In fact, this is what the exhibition provided, and what its title alludes to: we see Bernini at work creating; we see the progression of large-scale projects from the first idea to the revision of almost completed projects; we see Bernini as he pokes fun at aristocrats, cardinals, and popes in his caricatures – but nowhere do we see an actual, finished “Bernini”.
Every Bernini exhibition wrestles with this essential fact of its artist: he did not travel and few of his sculptures left Rome in their time. Though famous throughout Europe, Bernini was and remains synonymous with Rome. The one time Bernini left Rome as an adult was when he travelled to Paris in 1665 at the behest of Alexander VII and Louis XIV, and he was already an old man. Conscious of the spectacle his presence caused as he made his journey through the continent, Bernini joked that it was as if an elephant travelled (“che viaggiava l’Elefante”).1 This metaphor is not so far off: how does one effectively communicate or bring a career dominated by elephant-sized marbles to the world outside Rome?
In Leipzig, these questions of why Bernini and why Leipzig appeared to have been felt. One room told the story of the Renzi drawings and Götze, another was dedicated to nineteenth-century black-and-white photographs of Bernini’s fountains in Rome, presumably for visual aid and some context for the many projects represented in the exhibition. Most curious was a back wall featuring contemporary art inspired by Bernini – some even for sale in the gift shop – including a mezzotint from the Leipzig painter Michael Triegel, who, like Bernini, was charged with a papal portrait (the 2010 painting of Benedict XVI).
These were interludes for the public in what was a rigorously academic and connoisseurial achievement in Leipzig, and in its smaller, Roman version, Il laboratorio del genio: Bernini disegnatore. Almost every major monument Bernini worked on was represented with the exception of Ponte Sant’Angelo, a project whose development is, tellingly, well represented in many extant clay models. It was disappointing that on such an important occasion to view drawings from disparate collections alongside one another for the first time that only facsimiles, and not originals, were available from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.
One of the most striking realizations that came from seeing all this paper together was the plurality and different modes and even hands in Bernini’s drawings. In some part, this can be explained – these are drawings culled from a long career. Still, the economy of line in a brown pen sketch of putti in flight has little in common with drapery studies in red chalk or a fully realized presentation drawing for the Tomb of Urban VIII except that these fall under the rubric of works by Bernini, for example. What was plainly evident in the Leipzig and Rome shows was just how busy the artist was, constantly creating, revising, refining and, in some cases, justifying his work.
An underlying narrative that emerged in both exhibitions was that of Bernini’s failures and the capacity of a drawings exhibition to tell this story. An illustration of Bernini’s bell towers for St. Peter’s was displayed as part of the exhibition design in Leipzig upon entering the show, as if hinting at what a glimpse of Bernini on paper can yield which a trip to Rome cannot: the projects that simply do not exist. A surfeit of paper was produced to investigate the problem of the bell towers and the cracked façade of St. Peter’s. This was probably also the least accessible part of the exhibition to non-specialists. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see how this investigation was carried out in the seventeenth century and what the findings were. There was a real danger to Bernini’s drawing and design (both disegno in the Italian language), a danger in a life grounded on paper and not in the real world of the shifting sediment beneath St. Peter’s. In Palazzo Barberini, midway through the exhibition, one room grouped the Four Rivers Fountain, Truth Unveiled by Time, the elephant and obelisk monument (eventually of Piazza della Minerva) and the Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV. The first two, in Bernini’s narrative, were triumphs over his tarnished reputation after the destruction of the bell towers; the third was an exercise in patience after his design failed to be realized during the Barberini papacy, only to be coopted and funded by the Chigi; and the last, Bernini’s second most famous failure, a sculpture by an aging Roman talent brutally mutilated by French taste. Perhaps what we discover in the study of Bernini’s drawings is how much more radical his ideas were initially in the design process. The gap beneath the Four Rivers Fountain is one instance in which we see his daring but the trunk of his elephant on paper swings so far from its body that it defies its execution in marble. The same can be said of Time flying above Truth, or even the massive globe Truth initially lies on in an early drawing.
In April, Tod Marder and Sebastian Schütze organized with their respective institutes, the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte in Rome, and the Institut für Kunstgeschichte der Universität Wien, a two-day conference, Bernini disegnatore: nuove prospettive di ricerca at the Istituto Storico Austriaco in Rome. The conference celebrated the basis of the Leipzig and Rome shows in Heinrich Brauer’s and Rudolf Wittkower’s Die Zeichnungen des Gianlorenzo Bernini, published by the Hertziana in 1931. Marcello Fagiolo and Tomaso Montanari both investigated the changing and often ambiguous iconography of Bernini’s drawings. Jeannette Stoschek, Delfín Rodríguez Ruiz, Daniela del Pesco and Sebastian Schütze all in some way explored the mobility of Bernini’s drawings – in the history of collecting and their role in diplomatic gift giving. Tod Marder and Susan Klaiber presented on the historiography of the drawings and Wittkower’s particular contribution. Ann Sutherland Harris discussed some recent attributions made to Bernini’s corpus, which will form part of the critical edition of Brauer-Wittkower she and Marder are currently undertaking. Louise Rice reevaluated the role of the presentation drawing in the design process. Rice argued they were not “tools of persuasion” but instruments that facilitated the patron’s participation in the design process. Elisabeth Kieven, in her paper on Bernini’s architectural drawings, touched upon a rapid sketch of the top of Baldacchino (BAV Barb. Lat. 9900, fol. 2) discussed in many of the presentations, and how the drawing must have been made in conversation, its rapidity a sign of its functionality as a reminder of corrections needing to be made. Recurring themes throughout the conference were the role of drawings for Bernini (for example, when and why did he turn to paper over clay) and the role of the workshop (what Bernini drew and did not draw), prompting Fagiolo to claim that bottega (workshop) had become something like a parolaccia (a dirty word) in the field. Throughout the discussion, aspects of Bernini’s character on paper emerged: was this an artist who ever drew for the sake of drawing or did his drawings always have a purpose?
We know Bernini carefully curated his own image, leaving notes with his sons for his biography and drawing self-portraits at different ages. If Michelangelo burned his drawings, who knows what lengths Bernini went to when editing and reediting the pieces of paper floating around his workshop and home. This past year’s interest in Bernini and the comprehensiveness of the Leipzig show will spawn new questions and research into the artist. But those black chalk eyes might never reveal themselves.
Printversion: Frühneuzeit-Info 26, 2015, S. 324-327.
- Filippo Baldinucci: Vita del Cavaliere Gio. Lorenzo Bernino, Florence: Vincenzio Vangelisti 1682, p. 46.